Media and Citizenship Revisited: The role of growing middle classes for new and traditional media in developing and emerging countries

The role of media as an intermediary actor between governments and citizens is dramatically shifting due to the digital change. This is also due to the middle classes. Whereas middle class groups in recent years perceived that their citizenship rights are being hollowed out, the rise of new information and communication technologies gave them a powerful tool to make themselves publicly heard. In short: Yesterday’s media consumers are today’s producers. But at the same time, the emerging middle classes require additional media offerings. These evolutions require in many ways a fresh view on the relationship between media and citizenship. It is common sense that media, communication, social and civic participation are interconnected. But there is little common understanding regarding the consequences of this observation. This panel addresses the effects through different perspectives.

In a human rights perspective, the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and association constitute the normative pillars of pluralistic and independent media. Phenomena like the ongoing surveillance revelations disclosed by Edward Snowden raise questions of how to deal with citizenship and basic and political human rights in times of modern digital communication. In many societies, ‘traditional media’ enjoy a surplus of rights and individual protection. Such rights derive from their obligation to perform as watchdogs of the political sphere, to provide for transparency, to keep the general public informed and to provide an open platform for public discourse. How can the traditional media’s experiences in dealing with such rights and obligations help us to reinvent the conditions and frameworks of modern civic communication?

In a political perspective, the fact that everyone can create content sheds new light on the traditional media’s watchdog role. How can accountability of governments and other institutions be best achieved? Are citizen journalists competitors or accomplices of traditional media when it comes to denounce political misbehavior? And what are the political implications of this development?

In an economical perspective, the fact that in development countries until 2020 approx. 370 million people will ascend into the middle classes, will require new media formats. How will this new and growing part of society use media? What are the proposals of traditional and new media to this audience, which in developed countries is core audience of media?

In a development perspective, the overarching question is: What can civic journalism contribute to social, economical and political development? What are the conclusions and possible solutions that practitioners in media development can offer? Vice versa, how can media accompany growing middle classes with attractive, service oriented information, education and entertainment formats and products?

In a global perspective, is a polycentric world able to develop a common vision of citizenship and participation in a digitally globalized civitas?

And after all, what does all that mean for media development?