The Policies of Place: A critical regionalism approach to local media regulation in the digital age

TitleThe Policies of Place: A critical regionalism approach to local media regulation in the digital age
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Ali, C.
Affiliation (1st Author)Doctoral Candidate Annenberg School for Communication University of Pennsylvania
Section or WGPolitical Economy Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodePEW4c
Slot Code (Keyword)PEW4c
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitleTV industry and Political Economy
Submission ID6525

Local broadcasting is at a crossroads in Western media systems. Local journalism is in decline, while non-news local content is absent. In addition, the economic sustainability of local broadcasting is challenged by both the cyclical decline from the 2008 recession, and the structural challenges brought on by audience and advertiser gravitation to online, digital, and mobile platforms. In response, regulators have developed a number of initiatives, including subsidies, intensive research projects, and even the creation of new television systems. While continuing to deal with these emergent challenges, however, there remains a more enduring tension within the discourse of local media regulation,, how to define “the local” in local broadcasting, and local media more generally. Regulators and scholars have grappled with the epistemological nature of the local, debating whether “communities of place” or “communities of interest” should be the priority for regulatory initiatives. Consequentially, they have framed these “spatial” and “social” components of local media regulation - or “localism” - as a dichotomy, and have branded these elements as antagonistic. As a result, the larger epistemological question remains under-theorized and under-considered,, how can we think through these issues in a productive fashion, rather than reducing them to an artificial dichotomy of “spatial” versus “social?” This paper proposes that the theory of critical regionalism (Frampton, 1983, Powell, 2007) could be a useful theoretical lens from which to approach this question. Developed in neo-Marxian architectural theory, critical regionalism recognizes the importance of place, but avoids reductionism. Instead, places are constructed through any number of actions, viewpoints, and discourses (Powell, 2007). The local is articulated as a site of hybridity and experimentation, connected to the notion of place and geographic communities, but also impacted by power dynamics and in a dialogic relationship with globalization and capitalism. For the study and implementation of localism policies, critical regionalism also carries with it normative implications, arguing that “it matters not only how the map is drawn, but also who is drawing it and why,” (Powell, 2007, p.7). In other words, it exposes the taken-for-granted implications of the local. For our purposes, the point is not to re-invent the local within regulatory discourse, but to understand how it has been, and is being, discursively constructed. Critical regionalism thus offers an opportunity to think critically about the definition of the local, and develop concrete interventions within regulatory paradigms. Through a critical discourse analysis of local media regulation from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, this presentation will first explore the epistemological challenges of defining the local within regulatory discourse, paying particular attention to the dichotomy built up between communities of place and interest. It will then discuss how a critical regionalist approach can help think through this impasse and help develop meaningful interventions to strengthen local media ecosystems. This study contributes to the growing, but still limited, corpus of scholarly literature on localism in media policy, particularly comparative localism research, and offers a fresh, critical perspective on the issues and challenges of the local within media policy.

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