Private corporations design and operate the networks of information and communication protocols, which are the foundations of media infrastructures, particularly in the Global North, but also in the Global South.
These entities have inherent regulatory power because they hold direct technical authority over the networks and protocols. Google, Twitter and Facebook are global platform companies that each hold a dominant position in the market. They enjoy a correspondingly greater and more widespread regulatory power. These platforms are driven solely by profit.
It is common to tell the story of global media networks expanding as if they spread freedom liberally and equally everywhere. When we ask who space is for, the story becomes more complex.
Inequalities exist in the basic media access between nations and continents. While global elites are more connected, this is not the case for those who work with them. Media systems are an excellent communication tool for people who speak Western languages and have the physical ability and purchasing power to do so.
In Colombia, the cost of a home Internet service is 20% (US$48), which is equivalent to minimum wages ($217/month), making it unaffordable for most workers.
Justina, who is a full-time housekeeper in Barranquilla, told us recently that she has to buy a $1 Tigo pre-paid card from the corner shop, which gives her only 48 hours of Internet access.
Media production is even more unequal. Even if migrants can get an idea of the country in which they want to settle through a smartphone, they are unlikely to be able to control how they will represent their arrival.
Fox New’s portrayal of refugees and immigrants, in particular, is often based on conservative views.
Media representations of world problems come from a small pool of perspectives. Subsequently, our media systems highlight certain voices while marginalizing others, particularly people of color, people with disabilities, migrants, women, and girls.
The media portrays a world that is only experienced by a select few. From Hollywood, where 97% of all directors are men, and only 7% are racially diverse, to digital platforms, where the elites have found new ways to gain followers, we see a world only lived by a small number. In the public discussion about access, it is important to think of ways that opportunities for visibility and content creation can be made more accessible.
There is a myth about rural communities, Indigenous Peoples, and The Global South not being interested in the media and digital world. But sadly, our current media infrastructures have little or no input from these large segments of humanity.
Australian Indigenous media practitioners gather to discuss and learn new skills at the industry conference.
What if the media infrastructure and digital platform were designed to take into account the diverse languages, resources, and needs of communities?
The results can be transformative. For example, the Talea de Castro indigenous community in southern Mexico developed the Rhizomatica Administrative Interface (RAI), an interface graphic for a local cell phone network that is responsive to local language and communication needs.
Members of Rhizomatica demonstrate how to use a communal cell phone. Rhizomatica Wiki
The algorithms that determine what users can access on digital platforms are often driven by a logic of advertising that is anti-diversity and reproducing social capital for those who have power.
Two principles for reform
The media and information regulatory system reveals a subtler, yet equally potent inequality. National and multi-national regulatory bodies of the mass media age are struggling to adjust to the age of smartphones and tablets.
Corporations have the most influence on what is watched, by whom, and when, as content delivery shifts to mobile devices. It is now corporations and not regulators who set the parameters for what content can be viewed on which device and how.
The issue is that media regulation and digital platforms are too important to be left to a handful of powerful organisations who make decisions, implement policies and design online architectures in secret. Transparency and civic participation should instead be the guiding principles for Internet governance, policy, and regulatory frameworks.
The ability of the Internet to monitor is crucial. This applies not only when we purchase goods and services onlineonline but in everyday social interactions.
Corporate networks can use the data generated by the increasing dependency of all communication flows to create algorithmic distinctions between citizens and consumers.
Many parts of the globe and a large part of the population have access to an array of online sources of information, news and popular culture. This includes search engines, social media platforms, and other content aggregators. These tools are designed to help people find, organize, and make sense of all this.