Laura L. Stein and Lindita Camaj
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Freedom of information (FOI) laws around the world, also known as right to information and access to information laws, establish rights and procedures around access to public information. This article reviews normative assumptions behind FOI legislation, including rationales stemming from human and political rights frameworks, participatory democratic theory, and transparency and accountability initiatives. Although the freedom of information concept first arose as part of 18th century enlightenment thinking, recent FOI law took shape in the mid-20th century, influenced by post-World War II human rights treaties, incentives provided by transnational organizations and funders, and individual country support for access to government information. Today, the majority of the world’s countries have FOI laws, most of which were adopted after 1990. FOI laws commonly address who can request information, who must provide information, what information is accessible, what information must be proactively disclosed, and what information is exempted from the law. FOI laws also establish procedural rules around information requests, including mandated response times for requests, appeals processes for denied requests, penalties for improperly withholding information, process fees, and government reports on the law’s usage. Only a small percentage of people make FOI requests in most nations. Although it varies from country to country, requests from specific groups, including private individuals, commercial businesses, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations, often predominate. FOI requests may be political, professional, or personal in nature, although many FOI laws prohibit governments from asking about or evaluating the reasons for an information request. The ability of FOI laws to provide effective access to information depends on several factors. These include how the laws are written, public awareness of FOI, the cooperation and compliance of government agencies and institutions, and broader political and social conditions affecting FOI implementation and use. Scholars have measured the effects of FOI laws in both quantitative and qualitative terms. While quantitative data yield a picture of who uses FOI laws and how frequently, qualitative and anecdotal data provide ample evidence that such laws have had a positive impact on individuals’ abilities to obtain and use public information. Finally, FOI laws are necessary, but not sufficient, mechanisms for producing more accountable governments. They are unlikely to accomplish government reform on their own, but they can help expose and reform democratic deficits and push governments toward broader democratic reforms.
Conflict, as part of interpersonal interactions, occurs in specific cultural settings. Viewing conflict as cultural behavior helps explain why disputes over seemingly similar issues can be handled so dissimilarly in different cultures. There have been numerous cross-cultural comparison studies of different conflict management strategies, most of them utilizing a “national culture” approach. The findings reported in the cross-cultural conflict literature point to a picture that collectivists value harmonious interpersonal relationships with others, preferring indirect or avoiding styles of dealing with conflict and showing concern for face-saving. Understanding the range of behavior choices and strategies available to manage conflict as well as differences in preferred styles adds considerably to people’s skills as effective communicators.
Internet neutrality—usually net(work) neutrality—encompasses the idea that all data packets that circulate on the Internet should be treated equally, without discriminating between users, types of content, platforms, sites, applications, equipment, or modes of communication. The debate about this normative principle revolves around the Internet as a set of distribution channels and how and by whom these channels can be used to control communication. The controversy was spurred by advancements in technology, the increased usage of bandwidth-intensive services, and changing economic interests of Internet service providers. Internet service providers are not only important technical but also central economic actors in the management of the Internet’s architecture. They seek to increase revenue, to recover sizable infrastructure upgrades, and expand their business model. This has consequences for the net neutrality principle, for individual users and corporate content providers. In the case of Internet service providers becoming content providers themselves, net neutrality proponents fear that providers may exclude competitor content, distribute it poorly and more slowly, and require competitors to pay for using high-speed networks. Net neutrality is not only a debate on infrastructure business models that is carried out in economic expert circles. On the contrary, and despite its technical character, it has become an issue in the public debate and an issue that is framed not only in economic but also in political and social terms. The main dividing line in the debate is whether net neutrality regulation is necessary or not and what scope net neutrality obligations should have. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States passed new net neutrality rules in 2015 and strengthened its legal underpinning regarding the regulation of Internet service providers (ISPs). With the Telecoms Single Market Regulation, for the first time there will be a European Union–wide legislation for net neutrality, but not recent dilution of requirements. From a communication studies perspective, Internet neutrality is an issue because it relates to a number of topics addressed in communication research, including communication rights, diversity of media ownership, media distribution, user control, and consumer protection. The connection between legal and economic bodies of research, dominating net neutrality literature, and communication studies is largely underexplored. The study of net neutrality would benefit from such a linkage.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
One of the most difficult puzzles of contemporary international relations is how to balance the human rights of freedom of opinion, religion, and expression, which are set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with calls for criminalization of blasphemy (defamation of God, religion, religious dogmas, personalities, scriptures, and artifacts) on the part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the League of Arab States, and Iran in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 in the United States, as well as publication of Danish and French cartoons that satirized Prophet Mohammed and equated Islam with terrorism. These calls have to be reconciled with articles 18 and 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The question is how to strike a balance between freedom of expression, which includes non-verbal symbolic speech and legal expressive conduct, and calls for respect for religion (in word and deed), as well as the installation of a global, antiblasphemy regime under international law.
Calls for international criminalization of blasphemy and enactment of antiblasphemy laws that would globalize respect for religion under international law began in 1988, when Salman Rushdie, a British-Indian novelist, published the novel Satanic Verses, an unorthodox narrative of the life of Prophet Mohammed and of Islamic dogma. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, promptly issued a fatwa (religious decree) pronouncing the death sentence on Rushdie. In 2001, Buddhists, art historians, and scholars around the world were horrified when the Taliban destroyed the 1700-year-old statues known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, in Afghanistan. Since 2013, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has gone on a rampage, destroying ancient, pre-Islamic, Greco-Roman, Christian, and other monuments in Iraq and Syria. The actions of the Ayatollah, the Taliban, and ISIS represent a deployment of the argument of force and coercion rather than the force of argument and co-operation to impose acceptance of religious dogmas, personalities, and narratives.
People of all religious faiths condemned the death sentence passed on Salman Rushdie, as well as the destructive actions of the Taliban and ISIS, drawing a distinction between expressions—books, cartoons, news reports, and the like—that criticize religion, and illegal actions. However, the major religions do not make a distinction between expressions and actions, words and deeds. They interpret national and international law as criminalizing all antireligious expressions and actions and call for a global antiblasphemy regulatory regime. This would be tantamount to a universal, antihumanist counter-declaration that places religious rites and sentiments over human rights. The question is whether putting religion and other metaphysical worldviews beyond the reach of critical examination and scholarly interrogation is consistent with the libertarian values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Legal interpretations of the human right of freedom of expression and of the politico-theological concept of blasphemy are grounded in specific national, religious, historical, and politico-cultural contexts. These “contextual matrixes” determine how these concepts are interpreted in everyday life. Pierre Legrand called this phenomenon “law-as-culture,” because the law reflects the religious and moral values, cultural norms, and community standards of specific jurisdictions.
The different national and cultural postures toward freedom of expression and blasphemy can be explained by the concept of “establishmentality,” a neologism that describes different politico-cultural mentalities or logics with respect to the role and place of religion in the life of the state, the law, and the public sphere. In Muslim countries with constitutional or statutory state religions—Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Maldives, and others—the penalty for blasphemy is death. Blasphemy is also criminalized in the rest of the Middle East. In Western countries with established (state) religions—the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries—blasphemy laws have either been repealed or are not being enforced. By way of contrast, the United States has an anti-establishmentarian constitutional regime. The First Amendment is a charter of negative rights that forbids the establishment of religion (creation of a state religion). In the last few years, the OIC and the Arab League have put pressure on the United Nations to ban blasphemy and institute a regime that puts religion and religious sentiments above criticism. The danger is that the establishment of a universal anti-blasphemy right, grounded in the theological concept of respect for religion, would clearly be at variance with the freedom of opinion, religion, and expression provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Jon F. Nussbaum and Amber K. Worthington
Health and risk message design theories do not currently incorporate a lifespan view of communication. The lifespan communication perspective can therefore advance theorizing in this area by considering how the fundamental developmental differences that exist within and around individuals of different ages impact the effectiveness of persuasive message strategies. Designing health messages for older adults therefore requires an examination of how theoretical frameworks used in health and risk message design can be adapted to be age sensitive and to effectively target older adults. Additionally, older adults often make health decisions in conjunction with informal caregivers, including their adult children or spouses, and/or formal caregivers. Message design scholars should thus also consider this interdependent influence on health behaviors in older adults. Strategic messages targeting these caregivers can appeal to, for example, a caregiver’s perception of responsibility to care for the older adult. These messages can also be designed to not only promote the older adults’ health but also to alleviate caregiver stress and burden. Importantly, there is an unfounded stereotype that all older adults are alike, and message designers should consider the most beneficial segments of the older adult audience to target.
There is no immediate or absolute relationship between the media and democracy in the sense that, without media, there could be no democracy. Similarly, it does not follow that with the (modern) media comes democracy. Autocracies exist wherein the media supports a political system, and likewise, democracies exist wherein the media works to undermine a political system. However, most often the media and democracy are viewed as supporting each other. This connection is the product of a long historical development, one peculiar to European (and North American) societies, involving not only institutions and practices directly linked to the media-based and democratic processes, but numerous other institutions (such as education, the political system, religion, etc.) as well.
The media are not the only institutions that promote (or do not promote) democratic legitimacy. Other major institutions of such influence include education, religion, public authority, cultural institutions, and political systems, among others. From a wider societal viewpoint, the role of the media is rather reduced in influence. If, for example, an education system is based on ethnic or other forms of segregation, or if there is widespread religious intolerance, or if public authority suffers from corruption, it is obvious that the media has only so many resources to encourage systemic legitimacy. The fundamental interrelatedness of different social institutions makes it difficult, or even impossible, to study the media as a phenomenon isolated from the rest of society. For this reason, we should be careful when making comparisons between the media in different countries, even the media outlets within liberal democracies.
In addition, there is no consensus as to the right balance of media and other social institutions in a democracy. Throughout the history of democracy, the relations between institutions (the political system, economy, media, and civil society) have undergone renegotiations and adjustments during times of crisis. Over the past few decades, this relationship appears to have reached a new crisis, one that continues to this day and still lacks a clear solution. In many countries, civil society–based media reform movements have been established with clear goals to further democratize media systems. One of the key arguments of these movements has centered on the contradiction between the constitutional obligations of democratic countries and the reality that, in practice, these rights do not apply equally to all. There remain major differences today between different social groups in terms of open access to and the unrestricted availability of information, the ability to utilize information according to one’s needs, having a voice represented by decision-makers, and respect for privacy and personal integrity.
Robin L. Nabi
Emotion has been incorporated into media effects research in multiple ways, which can be broadly summarized as considering emotion as a predictor of media selection, an outcome of media exposure, and a mediator of other psychological and behavioral outcomes resulting from media exposure. Specifically, evidence suggests that the desire for particular feeling states influences the media that people choose to consume. Much research also considers the feeling states resulting from exposure, including fright reactions and enjoyment. Finally, there are well-established lines of inquiry into how emotional responses to media influence the processing of those messages in terms of attention, processing depth, and cognitive and behavioral outcomes. More contemporary research is extending these research programs, examining how emotional media messages are socially shared with others as well as the positive emotional effects that may emerge in response to media exposure.
Digital technologies are frequently said to have converged. This claim may be made with respect to the technologies themselves or to restructuring of the media industry over time. Innovations that are associated with digitalization (representing analogue signals by binary digits) often emerge in ways that cross the boundaries of earlier industries. When this occurs, technologies may be configured in new ways and the knowledge that supports the development of services and applications becomes complex. In the media industries, the convergence phenomenon has been very rapid, and empirical evidence suggests that the (de)convergence of technologies and industries also needs to be taken into account to understand change in this area. There is a very large literature that seeks to explain why convergence and (de)convergence phenomena occur. Some of this literature looks for economic and market-based explanations on the supply side of the industry, whereas other approaches explore the cultural, social, and political demand side factors that are important in shaping innovation in the digital media sector and the often unexpected pathways that it takes.
Developments in digital media are crucially important because they are becoming a cornerstone of contemporary information societies. The benefits of digital media are often heralded in terms of improved productivity, opportunities to construct multiple identities through social media, new connections between close and distant others, and a new foundation for democracy and political mobilization. The risks associated with these technologies are equally of concern in part because the spread of digital media gives rise to major challenges. Policymakers are tasked with governing these technologies and issues of privacy protection, surveillance, and commercial security as well as ensuring that the skills base is appropriate to the digital media ecology need to be addressed. The complexity of the converged landscape makes it difficult to provide straightforward answers to policy problems. Policy responses also need to be compatible with the cultural, social, political, and economic environments in different countries and regions of the world. This means that these developments must be examined from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and need to be understood in their historical context so as take both continuities and discontinuities in the media industry landscape into account.
Yvonnes Chen and Joseph Erba
Media literacy describes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media messages. As media messages can influence audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward various topics, such as attitudes toward others and risky behaviors, media literacy can counter potential negative media effects, a crucial task in today’s oversaturated media environment. Media literacy in the context of health promotion is addressed by analyzing the characteristics of 54 media literacy programs conducted in the United States and abroad that have successfully influenced audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward six health topics: prevention of alcohol use, prevention of tobacco use, eating disorders and body image, sex education, nutrition education, and violent behavior. Because media literacy can change how audiences perceive the media industry and critique media messages, it could also reduce the potential harmful effects media can have on audiences’ health decision-making process.
The majority of the interventions have focused on youth, likely because children’s and adolescents’ lack of cognitive sophistication may make them more vulnerable to potentially harmful media effects. The design of these health-related media literacy programs varied. Many studies’ interventions consisted of a one-course lesson, while others were multi-month, multi-lesson interventions. The majority of these programs’ content was developed and administered by a team of researchers affiliated with local universities and schools, and was focused on three main areas: reduction of media consumption, media analysis and evaluations, and media production and activism. Media literacy study designs almost always included a control group that did not take part in the intervention to confirm that potential changes in health and risk attitudes and behaviors among participants could be attributed to the intervention. Most programs were also designed to include at least one pre-intervention test and one post-intervention test, with the latter usually administered immediately following the intervention. Demographic variables, such as gender, age or grade level, and prior behavior pertaining to the health topic under study, were found to affect participants’ responses to media literacy interventions.
In these 54 studies, a number of key media literacy components were clearly absent from the field. First, adults—especially those from historically underserved communities—were noticeably missing from these interventions. Second, media literacy interventions were often designed with a top-down approach, with little to no involvement from or collaboration with members of the target population. Third, the creation of counter media messages tailored to individuals’ needs and circumstances was rarely the focus of these interventions. Finally, these studies paid little attention to evaluating the development, process, and outcomes of media literacy interventions with participants’ sociodemographic characteristics in mind. Based on these findings, it is recommended that health-related media literacy programs fully engage community members at all steps, including in the critical analysis of current media messages and the production and dissemination of counter media messages. Health-related media literacy programs should also impart participants and community members with tools to advocate for their own causes and health behaviors.
Bill D. Herman
The volume of information on the Internet is incomprehensible and growing exponentially. With such a vast ocean of information available, search engines have become an indispensible tool for virtually all users. Yet much of what is available online is potentially objectionable, controversial, or harmful. This leaves search engines in a potentially precarious position, simultaneously wanting to maximize the usefulness of results for end users while also minimizing political, regulatory, civil, and even criminal difficulties in the jurisdictions where they operate. Conversely, the substantial logistical and legal obstacles to regulating Internet content also leave policymakers in an unenviable position, and content that the public or policymakers may well want regulated—even that which is patently illegal—can remain virtually impossible to stamp out.
The policies that may affect online search are incredibly varied, including contract law, laws that affect expression and media producers more generally, copyright, fraud, privacy, and antitrust. For the most part, the law that applies was developed in and will still apply to offline contexts as well. Internet search is still an area filled with its own vexing policy questions. In many cases, these are questions of secondary liability—addressing whether the search provider is liable for search results that link to websites that are beyond their control. In other areas, though, the behavior of search providers will endure specific scrutiny. While many of these questions could be or actually are asked in countries around the world, this article focuses primarily on the legal regimes in the United States and the European Union.