The Silent Takeover - Media Capture in the 21st Century

November 22-23, 2018
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastr. 17, 10785 Berlin-Tiergarten

organised by MiCT, Reporters Without Borders Germany (RSF Germany) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

Imagine that you own a media house.

You meet us at a cocktail reception at a charity event. You know us. We all went to the same private school.  

You mention that your media house is struggling. The advertising market in our fictional country is fiercely contested and the number of private media houses exceeds the demand. We are in the 21st century. Traditional media businesses are facing many challenges; the online market has changed the game. In fact, you are glad that you do not have to pay for your cocktails here. 

We are rich and we have rich friends. We have an excellent network. We offer you that a friend of us (who also happens to be a member of the ruling party) could invest in your media house. You would keep the majority of the shares. We tell you that he has been looking for such an opportunity for quite a while and the investment fits his business plan. He also owns several banks and can open a lot of doors for you and your company. In order to avoid public concerns, we ask you not to mention our names if someone should ask for the ownership structures of your media house. You agree.  

One day, you get a call from us. Someone has offered you inside information on a corruption scandal within the government. It could cost us our political reputation, if you published the leaked information. It might also cost you your business partner. What will you do?  

Our 2018 FoME Symposium puts the complex triangle of “Politics – Private Interests – Media” at the center of debate. We observe that people in power often no longer need to openly exert their power over media in forms of censorship or force. Instead, supportive and subtle rather than repressive forms of political and business-related intervention in the media sector seem to become the method of choice We will discuss which factors foster what academic literature calls Media Capture, to what extent this expanding strategy influences democracy, pluralism and freedom of the press and how to prevent “The Silent Takeover” of the free media.

This takeover can have many different faces: media can be founded, owned, financed, supported and/or operated by actors with political interests. These interests often go along with economic benefits, and it is sometimes hard to grasp where political interests end and economic interests begin.

The mentioned triangle appears to exist everywhere. While the forms and degree of Media Capture observed in countries in transition and fragile states may seem more severe/pressing, even democratic countries with pluralistic media markets seem to face similar issues.  One aspect remains the same: Media Capture is a problem as it involves the risk to affect and change political and social dynamics.

At our 2018 FoME Symposium, we will look at different forms of Media Capture from various angles. During the two-day program, we will analyze the different shapes this insidious process can take, assess its apparent consequences and discuss solutions in a number of sessions ranging from panel discussions to hands-on workshops.

For media development experts, one focus has to be: how can we criticize existing networks, raise awareness for potential threats for free media, and offer solutions through media development cooperation tools without taking the moral high ground?

Media Capture is not an entirely new phenomenon. However, it is more topical than ever: The current global crisis of traditional financing models for media and the necessity to find new business models opens doors for investors with more or less hidden agendas. At the same time, media gets under pressure as heterogeneous actors, who contest traditional reporting and provide alternative interpretations, capture discourses on social media which manifests as “Social Media Capture”.

The German Forum for Media and Development (FoME) is a network of institutions and individuals active in the field of media development cooperation. With our annual flagship event, we bring together media development experts from around the world to discuss a topical issue. As many of us are practitioners, we may also possess the opportunity to contribute to the implementation of some of the outcomes of our symposium.

FoME 2018 will be hosted by the Division for International Cooperation of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). In more than 100 country offices, the FES gives advice and support for the establishment and consolidation of structures within civil society and politics to promote democracy and social justice. The symposium is co-organized by Reporters Without Borders (RSF Germany) and Media in Cooperation and Transition (MiCT).

The organizers would like to warmly welcome you to Berlin. We look forward to two days of fruitful and interesting debates. We are excited to gather an impressive number of media development experts! 

Anja Wollenberg (MiCT), Lisa Kretschmer (Reporters Without Borders Germany (RSF Germany), Christopher Forst (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung)

Curators of the 2018 FoME Symposium