Connecting Research and Advocacy for
Media and Communications in the Public Interest
Originally prepared by Aliza Dichter, Center for International Media Action (CIMA)
for Social Science Research Council "Media Democracy" meeting, October 23, 2003
(Updated January 27, 2004)
What would a research agenda shaped by advocates and organizers look like?
following suggestions and questions were drawn from interviews with
grassroots activists and community organizers who work on media and
communications policy and advocacy, as well as many other conversations
where advocates articulated their research needs. They are intended as
a contribution to ongoing discussions about how advocates and academics
can work together in the interest of advancing media and communications
for public-interest goals and social-justice values.
this is not a list of research questions to be adopted by scholars in
isolation. To the extent possible in a given research context,
investigations would be enriched by establishing relationships with
advocacy groups, community media groups or other
activists/practitioners. Some of these questions could be or are being
tackled by community members as action research projects, others might
be participatory projects with partnerships between scholars and
activists or practitioners.
As noted by the meeting
participants and others, connecting research and advocacy is
complicated by the challenges of timing, such as the advance-planning
needs of academics (e.g. for grantwriting) as well as academic concerns
for objectivity/independence from political agendas and research
"subjects." Experiences from collaborations between researchers and
reflective practitioners in other fields may help us to meet those
The questions below are organized into three categories reflecting the advocacy perspective:
1) What are we fighting for? – the big vision, the best proposals
2) Evidence for our arguments – reporting on the social impact of media policies and practices
3) How to win? How to fight? – informing political strategy
research already exists on many of the questions and topics outlined
below. However, this research needs to be made more useful to the
1) Translate existing research into a useful form, disseminate and make accessible to advocates:
- Create summaries of existing research, data and findings on particular topics
- Aggregate summaries and translated research into a central location
- Generate list of available researchers and scholars and their areas of expertise as a "referral guide" for advocates
2) Create tools from research, like the Center for Public Integrity's ownership database:
- For evaluating media corporations
- For determining the impact of policies
- For evaluating the media/communications conditions in a given community
- For evaluating advocacy efforts
3) Create a system for on-demand, activist-driven research based on campaign and advocacy needs:
- A program to match graduate school researchers with advocacy groups
- A system to receive research queries from advocates and submit to a researcher pool
- Resources, data sets and information available to aid community-initiated participatory research projects
that these project ideas need to be developed in collaboration and
consultation with public-interest advocates as well as with grassroots
activists and community organizers, to ensure they are developed in a
useful and accessible form.
Research questions from the advocacy perspective:
1. What are we fighting for?
in the general vision (what does a good media system look like?) and
the specific (what models of spectrum allocation have supported
community uses?), advocates can look to researcher to help us work
through the big questions:
- What models of media policies and
regulations contribute to a diverse, democratic, participatory media
that meet social and community needs? Stories, examples and theories
from around the world.
- What would victory look like? What
kinds of regulatory structures, government agencies, licensing schemes,
accountability mechanisms, franchise (or other corporate/civic)
agreements, laws, etc-- what kinds of "media systems" would exist in a
policy regime that met our goals/values. (ie: media that enable the
public to equally communicate and participate, get information, access
and share their cultures, discover diverse viewpoints and creative
content, retain privacy, avoid censorship by economic or political
- What corporate practices and policies (eg
"civic journalism," community review boards) can we learn from and
advocate for to improve media's role in communities and informed
- What are the implications of future technologies,
architectures and protocols/standards for social justice, community
development, democratic values? We need to know what to support, what
to build, what to use.
- What are the implications of specific
proposed policies or emerging systems on the potential for free,
participatory, democratic, uncensored, accessible, diverse,
noncommercial media? What are the implications of specific global
initiatives, trade treaties?
- We need theories and models for
economically viable and sustainable independent, noncommercial and/or
- How do people use ICTs and media
in non-commercial ways? What are the community, public, civic uses of
spectrum, broadband, CCTV, Internet, newspapers, even bulletin boards
that have developed or have potential?
- How have media/comm.
policies in the past affected specific constituencies? How might
proposed policies affect specific constituencies? (eg: the poor,
seniors, rural communities, youth, "minorities," women) – note that
some forms of discrimination are illegal and thus we might oppose
policies as discriminatory.
- What are the concerns of global
civil society around media and communications issues? What should U.S.
advocates know about the impact of US government and corporate
activities on communities and social justice in other countries?
- What frameworks can we be advancing to structure policy around our
values? For example, "diversity and localism" is a key framework for
FCC ownership policy. It what ways can this framework serve to advance
our goals, and how can it work against it? (for example, the landmark
UCC v. FCC case was in part a civil rights challenge to "localism")
What can we learn from the existing "public-interest" frameworks
currently undergirding the policy structure and how we might adopt or
2. Evidence for Our Arguments
the difference in time cycles is a challenge here. Advocates need
research to use as evidence in a timely way, to be able to respond to
challenges, meet deadlines for filing comments, capture press attention.
- We need access to core data about industry, programming, users,
"audiences"- data that is currently only collected by industry and in
proprietary formats. The research questions for collecting this are
also set by industry interests. We need quantitative studies on
existing media conditions, practices of media companies.
need frameworks for assessment and analysis of media policies,
practices and systems that don't rely on market-competition economics
or audience ratings.
- We need to establish what sorts of media
resources and access and structures within a community contribute to
healthy communities, sustainable societies, authentic democracy and
- We need frameworks for assessing the impact,
successes and value of community media (including low power radio,
public-access TV, community web centers, media arts centers, community
newspapers) to get policy, funding, support. Ratings don't tell the
- Does ownership matter? We need research data and
studies of how ownership and concentration affect agenda-setting,
freedom of speech and public policy.
- We need research on the
role of media arts and media education in youth and community
development (both specific research studies and tools for our own
- Campaign-specific research needs
- eg: the impact of duopoly ownership
- stories about impact of media concentration
- critiques of the methodology of FCC and industry research
- content analysis linked to public policy/community impacts
- local research as needed
- document and analyze comments to the FCC
- refutations of spectrum arguments about interference, open-market trading, etc
3. How do we win? How to fight:
To support the continued development of our work, we need:
- Evaluations of our work, both specific external assessments of our
strategy tactics and impacts and also frameworks, tools, resources and
partners to do this ourselves.
- Stories from the field and
evaluations of advocacy and community media impact that can be used to
make a case to funders to increase dollars to the field.
- Research on the role of media in social change, from examinations of
the Right's long-term media strategies to proposals for integrating
media technologies and outlets into social movement and community
- Power analyses and political/economic
analyses of what the power structure looks like in terms of shaping and
controlling the media system, how agendas are set and thus strategic
points for intervention.
- Access to comparative research,
documentation, histories and analyses that link media advocacy to
lessons from other movements and public-interest policy efforts.
questions have been informed by discussions with many media advocates
and organizers. Particular thanks to Inja Coates, Dharma Daily, Seeta
Peña Gangadharan, Deedee Halleck, Art McGee, Jenny Toomey, Pete Tridish
and Martha Wallner for sharing their thoughts.