I attended the ‘What is Media?’ conference that’s annually held by the University of Oregon, Portland. This event brought together academics and non-academics over a series of days to discuss the meanings of media in a contemporary context. I was particularly interested in this conference because the title ‘what is media?’ is an interesting. Academics typically refrain from defining concepts – with good reason. But without meaning how do we ‘understand’, ‘give meaning to’, or ‘participate’ in these discussions?
Philosopher John Locke argues, “the achievement of human knowledge is often hampered by the use of words without fixed signification.” I somewhat agree with this… I guess my main contention with the development of concepts is who gives meaning and how meaning is applied. Often definitions occur in a top-down fashion. I have seen this in exploring concepts such as youth and community media.
As an emerging researcher it’s important to contextualised terms before proceeding into a dialogue and this is one of the points that was underscored at this conference. At the What is Media? event presenters spent some time conceptualising and contextualising their research before delving into their discussions – which answered various questions around “What is Media?”
One of the panels I looked forward to was the “Freedom of Information Act 50 Years Later.” This subject is of particular interest to me because for two reasons: The first reason relates to the poor state of the FOI legislation in the Caribbean. As of Feb 2015, among 20 Caribbean countries, “8 have FOI laws (Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St. Vincent, Antigua, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Guyana), 5 have drafted Bills (the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia), and 7 have no laws at all 4 of these are British Overseas Territories (Montserrat, Dominica, Suriname, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands).” Most of the countries with FOI laws face further complications with a supporting legislative framework; only Jamaica has a Whistleblower legislation. The second reason I was interested in this subject matter was through my work on the Arab Citizen Media project.
At this panel, the discussion focussed on FOIA within the context of America and the need for Journalists to use these laws in innovative ways. I must admit my disappointment because the discussion was American-centric, especially in a 7 member panel. The reality is that this subject is of broader concern to countless societies. In fact, in a survey conducted regarding FOI laws around the world only “102 out of the nearly 200 nations worldwide have enacted a freedom of information law.” Even more depressing is that many nations with FOI laws have a weak supporting framework. The upside of this panel was in understanding some of the creative routes journalists use in cases where the FOI laws haven’t been particularly useful.
Overall this conference was valuable because I was able to share my work in an international context for the first time. I presented my research on “Legitimising community media through an impact assessment framework” In my presentation, I argue that scholars should explore an impact assessment framework for community media by measuring the degrees of participation, access, advocacy, and democracy community media achieves through impact assessment.
My panel was intriguing and each of our research presentations connected in a unique way. In fact, my own research ideas around funding benefitted from presentations given by co-panellist Benjamin Anderson on “The Commercial Imperatives of Alternative Media: Funding Dissent or Sell-Out?” and another presenter Adilya Zaripova “Exploring Specifics of Crowdfunded Media.” Look out for my blog where I talk about a presentation my colleague Siobhan and I worked on for the KickStarting Media Symposium held at Bath Spa University.