A view from the European North: media policy and regulation in the Finnish academia

Focusing on the history and  present of the teaching of media policy & regulation in Finland, Prof. Hannu Nieminen in this paper maps the trajectory of Media and Communication Studies & Research in the European North.  Below is the first part of the paper.

Distinguished Mr. Chairman, distinguished Guests of Honour, dear colleagues!

First, let me congratulate the Centre for Media, Culture and Governance for organizing this conference – it is not often that we can get together to discuss these questions in such an international composition. My sincere thanks to Professor Das and his colleagues for the invitation to address the conference – this really is an honor to me.

In my presentation, titled “A view from the European North: media policy and regulation in the Finnish academia” I will proceed as follows:

Structure

  1. Nordic countries: an introduction
  2. Media and communication studies & research in the European North
  3. Teaching media policy & regulation: the Finnish case
  4. M.Soc.Sci in Media and Global Communication in Helsinki University

Let me first say briefly something about the Nordic countries.

1. Nordic countries: an introduction

By the expression “Nordic countries” we mean the community of five countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. They have a long common history – once they were even all part of the same political unity, the Kalmar Union (1397–1523) – although today they all are independent states.

Hannu 1

As you can see (in Map 1), Nordic countries are the most sparsely populated area in Europe. First, they cover quite large area in the North: in geographic terms, Nordic countries comprise about 13 per cent of all the land area of Europe (excluding Grönland).  Second, their population is however quite small –it is about 25 million people in total,  comprising only about 3 to 4 per cent of the whole European population. This means that these countries (with an exception by Denmark) are the most sparsely populated area in Europe:  while the European average is about 116 people per square kilometer, it is between 15 and 20 people in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Thirdly, the problem is that even this small population tends to concentrate to the metropolitan area – which means to the South of the countries, close to the capital cities (see Map 2).

Hannu 2

All this is to accentuate the importance of an effective public infrastructure of transport and communication for the national development of these countries: distances between the settlements are long, and for effective government you naturally need well working communication networks. This has meant that historically there has been a major emphasis in these countries to maintain good public services in all areas of transport and communications, concerning not only roads and railroads and postal services, but also radio and television broadcasting and especially telecommunication networks.

Today the Nordic countries are internationally known for their high standards of the social welfare state. The hard living conditions in the North – with long winters and short summers – have required the establishing of a strong central government and extensive public sector. Some of the basic features of the Nordic model are:

  • the Rule of Law and guarantees for basic civil rights,
  • social and political equality, including a strong emphasis on  gender equality as well as free education on all levels,
  • high standard of social security,
  • the social contract between employers workers unions and the Government, promoting economic stability,
  • highly developed public use of the ICT.

In order to provide all this, all Nordic countries have also relatively high taxation – which, however, in today’s ideological atmosphere has become a subject to heavy criticism from the supporters by  the fashionable neoliberal order.

I move now on to my second topic:

2. Media and communication studies and research in the European North

Some words first for the background.

2.1 Background: the media in Nordic countries

It can at least partially be accredited to the historical factors that I mentioned earlier – long distances and the need of effective government – that the media has occupied such an important place in Nordic societies. From the at least mid-19th century newspapers have been elemental for the development of democracy, as the newspapers gave then an access to the so called lower classes –peasants and workers – to the information concerning common national issues; earlier this was restricted only for the consumption of the educated elites. This is why the Nordic countries have also been called “reading democracies”.

Hannu 4

In their well-known classification of media systems from 2004, Daniel Hallin and Paolo Mancini labeled the Nordic countries belonging to the category of “Democratic corporatism” (Hallin & Mancini 2004). Although their classification has met with many criticisms, also from Nordic scholars, it is well recognized that the media systems in those countries share many common features. (See Nord 2008.) If we look at the different media and communication sectors, these shared characteristics include:

  • first, a  high consumption of the print media (including newspapers, journals, and books)
  • second, a strong or even the dominant position of public service broadcasters, despite a strong competition from the commercial sector,
  • third, highly developed telecommunication sector, both in fixed fiber optic connections and increasingly in broadband mobile networks too.

Now, let me give you a brief historical outline of the development of the Nordic media and communication studies:

2.2 Five periods in the development of Nordic media and communication studies:[1]

It seems natural that because of the importance of the media – especially the print media – that the professional education of journalists would have started early in the Nordic countries, too. However, it was not quite so. Although the the world’s first council for press ethics was established in Sweden in 1916 (Pressens Opinionsnämnd, PON), journalism education started in these countries only later – and research in journalism and other forms of communication started even later.

The development of the Nordic media and communication education and research can be divided in five historical periods (see Nordenstreng 2011): professional journalism education (1920-1960); Mass Communication Research (the 1960s; New Left/Critical Theory approach (the 1970s); post-structuralism & the linguistic turn (the 1980s); and the diversification of the field (from the 1990s on).

  1. Professional journalism education (1920-1960)

The first European journalism education institutions were established in Switzerland (Zürich 1905), Germany (Leipzig 1916) and France (Paris & Lille ca. 1920). The first Nordic institution with the degree studies in journalism started in Finland in 1925 (Sanomalehtitutkinto, a Degree in Newspaper Journalism, at Yhteiskunnallinen Korkeakoulu, School of Social Sciences), and it was only after the Second World War when journalism education started in the other countries in the European North.

Hannu 5

In the beginning education was rather distant from research and it consisted mostly of professional skills – including journalism ethics and an introduction to mass media institutions. Media-related research was conducted mostly in other disciplines, especially in political science (Staatswissenschaft) and history departments. Media and communication research as we understand it today, started only on the next period:

2.      Mass Communication Research (the 1960s)

Many of the professional education institutions were “upgrader” into proper university departments in the course of the 1960s, with a requirement to promote academic research on their substance field. Now the USA based empirical sociology had arrived – or invaded, if you like – European social sciences in the course of the 1950s, and it soon took over as the theoretical and methodological mainstream in the Nordic journalism and communication research, too.

Although this US-origined empirical sociological and socio-psychological tradition soon grew dominant, there still remained an important enclave of the older tradition, that of the press historical research, which kept the old connection to the humanities still alive.

The first Finnish doctoral dissertation in media and communication took place in 1966 in the University of Tampere by Pertti Hemanus, who was later a long-standing professor of the department, on the subject “Crime News in Helsingin Sanomat” (in Finnish). Only two years later in 1968, there was the first international doctoral defence – meaning that the work was written and defended in English, by  Osmo A Wiio, who became later the founding father  and the long-standing head of the communication department at the University of Helsinki.

As a whole, for the Nordic media and communication research community the 1960s were a time of rapid expansion and internationalization. Many Nordic scholars (Kaarle Nordenstreng, Osmo A. Wiio, Tapio Waris, Jaakko Lehtonen and others) were active in the international organizations, most notably in the IAMCR, NCA and ICA, and they created the networks which have benefited us in the North for the years since.

3.       New Left/Critical Theory approach (the 1970s)

The 1970s brought about a major change. Especially in Finland and Denmark, but to a lesser extent also in Sweden and Norway, the MCR tradition had to give way to a more critical approach, influenced much by Marxism and the neo-Marxist tradition of Critical Theory. There was a strong emphasis on critical political economy of the mass media, much encouraged by the generally leftist or social-democratic “Zeitgeist” – that is, the progressive social and political spirit of the times, which also promoted an active dialogue between communication researchers and policy makers. Nordic governments carried out progressive media and communication policies: the program of press subsidies was put into practice; public service broadcasting was strengthened; public education was expanded; libraries were given new resources; new university departments of media and communication were established; etc.

All this brought Eventually about a conservative backlash. All areas of society and culture became heavily politicized, including universities and the academia. In social sciences, and especially in media and communication studies, frontlines were formed and counter-networks established. The crude battle line was drawn between the media industry versus the “Marxist” education and research. However, this did not affect so much the curricula and teaching as it affected the image and relations of cooperation between the academia and the industry.

4.       Post-structuralism & the linguistic turn (the 1980s)

As in many Western countries, social sciences experienced a major paradigmatic turn in the early 1980s with the coming of so called “linguistic turn”. This pervaded media and communication studies as well. A new vocabulary entered the field: instead of “mass communication research” the new departments practiced “media studies”; instead of empirical and historical research of communication, the mainstream turned now to media texts – discourses, representations, identities. The dominant methodology was now, as it was generically called, discourse analysis.

Hannu 6

It is not to say that all critical perspectives had been given away but the epistemological standpoints and the foci of critical research changed. The new critical mainstream was now something that is often called post-structuralism, especially in its forms of feminist and gender studies.

At the same time, there was a further institutional expansion, as new departments and new sub-disciplines were established. In Finland the 1980s saw the founding of, among others, the departments of film studies (originating from literature studies); organizational communication and PR (coming from both political science and business studies);  speech communication (combining rhetoric and applied linguistics); information studies (coming from computer science). Inter-disciplinarity was the theme of those days.

All this happened while a fundamental change took place in the European media and communication policy. Liberalization and de-regulation of media industries were started in most European countries in the late 1980s. In Finland, this concerned first the cable television and local radio broadcasting. At this point, the voice and opinion of the academia was not any more asked or heard – and admittedly, the volume of the voice was already much weakened from what it used to be some ten years earlier.

5.      Diversification of the field (from the 1990s on)

In the course of the 1990s two closely related things happened to media research: first, there was a phenomenal expansion in the publication of media and communication related subjects – both in the number of articles in international journals, and in the books and textbooks (see Nordenstreng 2012). And secondly, it became obvious that the multiplication of sub-disciplines had resulted to such a fragmentation of the field that since then, it has been difficult to define any mainstream in teaching and research any more. In Finland, the teaching programs in different departments used to be complementary – introductory courses and Bachelor degrees had been much the same. Now each department started to develop their own programs with little or no correspondence between their curricula.

The variety that we find today in the Finnish academia is shown by the titles of research approaches and programs:

journalism studies, audience studies, production studies, digital culture, visual communication, media policy, media education, media economy, media & communication regulation,  media history, media anthropology, organizational communication & PR, media management, speech communication, political communication, health communication, media art & design, media law, ICT, IPR, etc.

The question is, is this diversification and fragmentation unavoidable? Is there a need for a new mainstream in teaching and research?

My answer to the first question is an empathetic yes – the diversification of the field is certainly something irreversible. To the second my answer is more qualified: I don’t think a new mainstream to be realistic or even something that we should want of wish for – our experiences from the old mainstreams are not always only positive.

What I think is needed, and I am obviously not alone here (see Nordenstreng 2012), is a kind of a meta-perspective of the field going back to the basic epistemological and methodological questions defining our scientific enterprise. The field of media and communication studies houses today a number of different and even contradictory epistemic approaches. The purpose and goal of such a critical mapping should not be to deny or justify one or some of these approaches, but to give us a clearer picture of the field and to inform us about the needs of further theoretical and methodological development.

*          *            *          *           *

Let me add also some comments on the debate on the terminology. In Nordic countries we do not seem to have any coordination in how to define out departments and disciplines – nor do we have any coherence. [2] For example, different concepts have been used in Sweden:  MKU – Medie- och kommunikationvetenskap (media and communication science); Journalistik, medier och kommunikation; Mediekunskap (media studies). In Norway, the departments are called IMK – Institutt for medier og kommunikasjon (Department of media and communication); and Institutt for informasjons- og medievitenskap (Department of Information Science and Media Studies).

In Finland, departmental definitions include Journalism and mass communication (Tampere); Media and communication studies (Helsinki); Communication sciences (Jyväskylä); Media Studies (Turku). I agree that we would greatly benefit from having more conceptual clarification as now neither students nor teachers know exactly what the disciplines include, and what is expected of them in the terms of skills and competences.

(Hannu Nieminen is Professor of Media and Communication Policy & Head of Discipline, Media and Communication Studies at University of Helsinki, Finland)

NOTES

[1] My warmest thanks to professor Kaarle Nordenstreng for his kind help with this periodization.

[2] Many thanks to professor Ullamaija Kivikuru for her kind advice on the terminological variance in Nordic countries.

Image Courtesy

Image 1: CCMG

Image 2: http://www.nordregio.se/en/Maps–Graphs/01-Population-and-demography/Population-density-in-2011/

Image 3: http://www.nordregio.se/Maps–Graphs/.

Image 4 : A slide from Prof. Hannu Nieminen’s PPT

Image 5: CCMG

Image 6: CCMG

This entry was published on May 17, 2013 at 11:33 pm. It’s filed under Communication Studies, Media Policy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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