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Edited By Jan Servaes

The European Information
A reality check

Edited by
Jan Servaes
Published in Paperback in UK in 2003 by
Intellect Books, PO Box 862, Bristol BS99 1DE, UK

Published in Paperback in USA in 2003 by

Intellect Books, ISBS, 920 NE 58th Ave. Suite 300, Portland, Oregon 97213-3786, USA

Copyright © 2003 Intellect

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without written permission.

Copy Editor: Holly Spradling

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Electronic ISBN 1-84150-893-4 / ISBN 1-84150-106-9

Printed in Great Britain by Antony Rowe Ltd, Eastbourne.

European Consortium for Communications Research

This series consists of books arising from the intellectual work of ECCR members. Books address
themes relevant to ECCR interests; make a major contribution to the theory, research, practice
and/or policy literature; are European in scope; and represent a diversity of perspectives. Book
proposals are refereed.

Series Editors

Denis McQuail
Robert Picard
Jan Servaes

The aims of the ECCR:

• To provide a forum where researchers and others involved in communication and information
research can meet and exchange information and documentation about their work. Its disciplinary
focus will be on media, (tele)communications and informations research;

• To encourage the development of research and systematic study, especially on subjects and areas
where such work is not well developed;

• To stimulate academic and intellectual interest in media and communications research, and to
promote communication and cooperation between members of the Consortium;

• To co-ordinate information on communications research in Europe, with a view to establishing a

database of ongoing research;

• To encourage, support, and where possible publish, the work of junior scholars in Europe,

• To take into account the different languages and cultures in Europe;

• To develop links with relevant national and international communication organisations and with
professional communication researchers working for commercial and regulatory institutions, both
public and private;

• To promote the interests of communication research within and between the member states of the
Council of Europe and the European Union; and

• To collect and disseminate information concerning the professional position of communication

researchers in the European region.
By way of introduction 5

Introducing the issue

1. Jan Servaes – The European Information Society:
1. A wake-up call 11

Checking discourses, policies, and findings

2. Paschal Preston – European Union ICT Policies: Neglected
2. Social and Cultural Dimensions 33
3. Caroline Pauwels & Jean-Claude Burgelman –
3. Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information
3. Society: A critical analysis 59
4. Francois Heinderyckx – Issues in measuring Information
4. Society adoption in Europe 87
5. Nico Carpentier – Access and participation in the discourse
5. of the digital divide: The European perspective at/on the WSIS 99
6. Cees J. Hamelink – Communication Rights and the European
6. Information Society 121

Checking in more detail

7. Robert G. Picard – Business Issues facing New Media 149
8. Peter Johnston – Perspectives for Employment in the
8. Transition to a Knowledge Society 165
9. Andrea Ricci – The Political Internet:
9. Between dogma and reality 177
10. Brian Trench – New roles for users in online news media?
10. Exploring the application of interactivity through
10. European case studies 205
By way of conclusions
11. Luisella Pavan-Woolfe – Social and Human Capital in the
11.Knowledge Society: Policy implications 225
12. Jan Servaes – Digital citizenship and information inequalities:
Challenges for the future 231

List of acronyms 239

Note on contributors 241

By way of introduction

The globalization of social, cultural and economic relations is facilitated, and at the
same time conditioned by developments in the information and communications
technologies (ICT) and infrastructure. Human knowledge brought mankind from an
oral to a literate culture, thanks to the invention of the print media. The
development of the electronic media in the last century paved the path for the
information age, in which spatial and temporal constraints are lifted. “In every
society, the production, distribution, and use of information play vital roles in the
management of events… The development of these Information Societies has
been characterized by the innovation and adoption of technologies, changes in
mass media systems, and changing patterns and procedures for individual and
group decision-making. Attention has shifted in these societies from the
development and utilization of technologies to a concern for their impact upon
each society” (Edelstein, Bowes & Harsel, 1978: vii). The consequences of this
revolution in human communications are multidimensional in character, affecting
economical, political and social life on national, international and local levels.

The focus of this book will be on Europe. However, as argued by John Pinder
(1995) or Cees Hamelink in his contribution to this book, it is rather difficult to
qualify what is meant by the notion of the ‘European Information Society (EIS)’.
Therefore, we cannot but take other geographical dimensions into consideration as

Though many authors (see, e.g., Dordick & Wang, 1993; Martin, 1995; Webster,
1995) express serious doubts about the validity of the notion of an information
society, a variety of criteria could be used to analytically distinguish definitions of
an information society (IS). Frank Webster (1995: 6), for instance, identifies the
following five types of definitions: technological, economic, occupational, spatial,
and cultural. The most common definition of an IS is probably technological. It
sees the information society as the leading growth sector in advanced industrial
economies. Its three strands – computing, telecommunications and broadcasting –
have evolved historically as three separate sectors, and by means of digitization
these sectors are now converging.
Throughout the past decade however a gradual shift can be observed in favor of
more socio-economic and cultural definitions of the IS. The following definition,
drafted by a High Level Group of EU-experts, incorporates this change: “The
information society is the society currently being put into place, where low-cost
6 The European Information Society

information and data storage and transmission technologies are in general use.
This generalization of information and data use is being accompanied by
organizational, commercial, social and legal innovations that will profoundly
change life both in the world of work and in society generally” (Soete, 1997: 11).

Others prefer to use the term knowledge society to clarify the shift in emphasis
from ICTs as ‘drivers’ of change to a perspective where these technologies are
regarded as tools which may provide a new potential for combining the information
embedded in ICT systems with the creative potential and knowledge embodied in
people. “These technologies do not create the transformations in society by
themselves; they are designed and implemented by people in their social,
economic, and technological contexts” (Mansell & When, 1998: 12).

Also in other ways, this book intends to move away from the technological hurrah
to a more historical and contextual assessment of the opportunities and dangers
on the information highway ahead of us. One of the fundamental questions is
whether the information society in Europe will also be a welfare society? The
welfare society which is one of those great captivating ideas Europe wants to
cherish (Calabrese & Burgelman, 1999). Undoubtedly the evolution towards an
information society puts pressure on the classical ways in which the welfare
society has been constructed. And this at the level of political philosophy – for
instance: what means citizenship in a digital environment? (see Castells, 1997; or
the contribution by Andrea Ricci) – as well as at the level of social and economic

These discussions imply choices in such areas as universal availability, investment

in education, regulation, the role of public authorities, and the balance between
individual privacy and community security, and between information freedoms and
communication rights (see Venturelli, 1997, or the contributions by Cees Hamelink
and Peter Johnston). One of the hottest issues in debates on the information
society is the digital divide between the ‘information haves’ and ‘have-nots’ (the so-
called ‘information underclass’). According to Hacker and van Dijk (2001), there
are four main hurdles of access to the information society producing these
inequalities: (a) lack of basic skills and ‘computer fear’; (b) no access to computers
and networks; (c) insufficient user-friendliness; and (d) insufficient and unevenly
distributed usage opportunities. Especially the contributions by Jan Servaes,
Francois Heinderyckx, and Nico Carpentier address these issues in some detail.

The European communications environment is undergoing a number of major

structural changes. The Single European Act (SEA), adopted by all national
parliaments in the European Union, which entered into force on 1 July 1987, has
By way of introduction 7

introduced a new strategic vision – the 1992 objective for completion of the internal
market. It created the framework for Europe 1992, and therefore it can be said to
be the most important reform of the Treaty of Rome since its inception on 25
March 1957.
As the Single European Market-idea is based on the philosophies of mutual
recognition and subsidiarity – mutual recognition by member states of the
differences in national laws so long as these do not distort inter-community trade,
and subsidiarity whereby international bodies should not assume powers over
national issues and that national governments should not take control of matters
better dealt with on a regional level – it is increasingly becoming governed by
international and supranational regulations.

Therefore, the SEA has introduced new dynamic elements to generate the
convergence of the member states of the European Union. International regulation,
as laid down in the Council of Europe's Convention on Transfrontier Television
Broadcasting (1989), and supranational regulation, as expressed in the EU Council
of Minister's Broadcasting Directive (1989), has contributed to a more competitive
communications environment, both at national and supranational levels.
Nowhere, perhaps, as argued by Caroline Pauwels and Jean-Claude Burgelman,
are these changes more profound than in the field of broadcasting, which is
ceasing to be an activity almost entirely regulated by national legislation.
Furthermore, one could argue that different logics are guiding the EC policies in
different hardware and software sectors. Therefore, the telecommunications policy
with an emphasis on liberalization and deregulation differs from the policy
recommendations in the broadcasting field where some measures (e.g., the quota-
system) could be interpreted to be protectionist. For instance, with regard to anti-
cartel legislation, there is at present no cohesive legislative provision in the
European Union.

The EU industrial policies have changed during the eighties from a defensive
towards a more offensive policy. Two sectors where this policy change has
become very obvious are telecommunications and informatics. This has led to a
technological convergence of communications and computer technology into
Information Communication Technologies (ICT). This convergence will have
considerable implications for policy formulations at distinct levels. However, it is
feared that the EU is not really anticipating an overall policy on the problems of
convergence within the EU. Only at operational levels some concern is expressed
and isolated initiatives are initiated. A more comprehensive and centralized
structure is urgently needed to tackle this convergence issue.
8 The European Information Society

As the two historically, separately evolved sectors of telecommunications and

broadcasting converge, the different policy consequences of the economic versus
the cultural, and local versus international interests have to be taken into account.
It is no longer sufficient to concentrate on a distinct sector from only a
technological or an economic perspective. Therefore, a multi-dimensional analysis
of the different policy options and their respective consequences is necessary.

This discussion can also be observed at the more theoretical level. Jan Van
Cuilenburg and Denis McQuail (1998) distinguish between three different historical
phases of media policy in the US and Western Europe. During the first phase (until
World War II) media policy was largely dominated by the tensions between state
and corporate interests at a national level. Afterwards (from the fifties into the
eighties) a shift took place from economic and national concerns to more socio-
political considerations. This phase is often summarized with a reference to public-
service broadcasting as the political ideal for media policy, notably in Western
Europe. There was a strong policy commitment to universal service, diversity of
content, democratic accountability, public financing and non-profit making.
Caroline Pauwels and Jean-Claude Burgelman argue that these concepts are
largely insufficient in view of the problems and challenges that new information and
communication technologies pose for the information society.

Such a broad perspective coincides with the third phase, as identified by Van
Cuilenburg and McQuail. They describe how from 1980 onwards several
technological, economic and socio-cultural trends have fundamentally changed the
context of media policy.

In general one could say that both national governments and the European Union
as a governing body are faced with a dilemma when it comes to developing a
communications policy. If they would give preference to economic and technical
considerations, they would stimulate the media policies in the direction of
uniformization and large-scale developments. Quantitative criteria, which are
mainly based on 'technical' (or hardware) considerations, do play a more important
role than qualitative criteria that build upon the 'content' (or software) of media
products. The latter approach would be more in line with a cultural policy, which
emphasizes pluriformity and small-scale autonomy (see also Becker, 1995).

The contributions in this book take shape at three levels:

At one level, the policy of an EIS will be analysed in terms of its underlying
assumptions and discourses. Although most of the articles deal with this point,
especially the ones by Jan Servaes, Paschal Preston, Caroline Pauwels and Jean-
By way of introduction 9

Claude Burgelman, Francois Heinderyckx, Nico Carpentier, and Cees Hamelink

discuss EIS policies in some detail.

Starting from the assumption that information and communication technologies

undoubtedly possess the potential to contribute to social change, these authors
question whether this potential will be converted into advantages for everyone
under the given scenario's the EU has planned. As large-scale application of
information and communication technology increases, new problems will arise
which 'the market' as such will not being able to resolve. More and better
regulatory mechanisms, this book argues, will have to be developed to deal with
these. If it should appear that the means proposed by the EU representatives are
inadequate to arrive at the intended result, then the current ICT strategy will have
to be amended, or, if necessary, an alternative strategy will have to be proposed.

A second level of critical issues deals with the tension between the national and
the supranational (the EU) and how this might affect EIS policy and planning in the
distinct nation-states. As in every dossier, different national authorities in Europe
react differently to the plans of Brussels (and this mainly due to national

At a third level, specific issues or cases are being scrutinized: business issues
facing new media (by Robert Picard), the impact of the EIS on employment and
work (by Peter Johnston), the prospects for on-line voting and e-democracy (by
Andrea Ricci), and the new roles for users in on-line news media (by Brian

The book concludes with a number of recommendations for both policymakers and

Jan Servaes
10 The European Information Society

Becker J. (1995), “Information for all or knowledge for the elite? The contours of a
dissimilar European information policy”, Prometheus, vol. 13, no. 1, June.
Calabrese A. & Burgelman J-C (eds.) (1999) Communication, Citizenship and
social Policy: Rethinking the limits of the welfare state, Boulder: Rowman &
Castells M. (1997), The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vols I, II
& III, Oxford: Blackwell.
Dordick H. & Wang G. (1993), The Information Society: A retrospective view.
Newbury Park: Sage.
Edelstein A., Bowes J. & Harsel S. (eds.) (1978) Information Societies: Comparing
the Japanese and American Experiences. Seattle: School of Communications,
University of Washington.
Gates B. (1995), The road ahead, London: Viking Penguin.
Hacker F. & Van Dijk J. (2001), Digital Democracy: Issues of Theory and Practice,
London: Sage.
Mansell R. & Wehn U. (1998) (eds.), Knowledge Societies: Information Technology
for Sustainable Development. Report for the United Nations Commission on
Science and Technology for Development, New York : Oxford University Press.
Pinder J. (1995) European Community. The building of a union. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Soete L. (1997), Building the European Information Society for us all. Final policy
report of the high-level expert group. Brussels: EU-DGV.
Van Cuilenburg J & McQuail D. (1998) “Media Policy Paradigm Shifts: In search of
a New Communications Policy Paradigm”, Picard R. (ed.), Evolving Media
Markets, Turku: The Economic Research Foundation (pp. 57-80)
Venturelli S. (1997), “Prospects for Human Rights in the Political and Regulatory
Design of the Information Society”, Servaes J. & Lie R. (eds.), Media and Politics
in Transition. Cultural identity in the age of globalization, Louvain: Acco, (pp. 61-
The European Information Society:
A wake-up call*

Jan Servaes

In many ways the European plans to build an Information Society (IS) emerged as
a reaction to Japanese and American initiatives (Edelstein, Bowes & Harsel,
1978). As in many other previous technological projects, European policies on
information and communication technologies (ICT) were lagging behind the
policies of its main global competitors.
This situation has changed slightly since the beginning of the eighties, when it
became clear that information and communication would be one of the main
technological factors and markets for the future. From then onwards Europe has
spend a growing amount of its R&D on ICTs.
This went hand in hand with a radical change in policy orientation. Starting from
the Green Paper on Television Policy (Television without Frontiers) in 1984, the
area of communications became gradually and more or less totally liberalized.
From 1998 onwards, the whole ICT field became deregulated.

Though, in the eighties, the term information society as such wasn't used in the
R&D and policy discourse of the EU, the idea underlying it was nevertheless
captured in most R&D programs in terms of 'wired society', 'broad band networks'
and so on. Thus the EU didn't start from scratch in this field. On the contrary, a
very considerable research effort was made. Nevertheless, in terms of user
acceptance, these first generations of large-scale R&D projects in integrated
communications were not very successful.
This might explain why, when the idea of an ‘information highway’ was officially
'launched' by the Clinton-Gore administration, Europe almost immediately
integrated it into its own discourse. First, under the label of trans-European
networks, in the so-called Delors White Paper (1993), but much more prominently
12 The European Information Society

in the Bangemann report (1994) with an unconditional belief in the market as the
driving force.

What resulted is the EU way to build the information society: pushing politically the
wiring of Europe and the building of its highways, but leaving it up to the private
sector to implement. Europe clearly wanted no lagging behind this time and, at the
same time though not explicitly, got a brand new 'grand societal project' for its
official policy. The information society indeed became a discourse in which it was
possible to integrate many of the at first sight disparate European ambitions: from
competition policy over competitiveness to maintaining cultural diversity and

Two waves of IS-rhetoric … and several

contradictory discourses
The first initiative of the European Commission in its ‘information society planning’
of the nineties was the white paper ‘Growth, Competitiveness and Employment’ of
1993. The Commission under the chairmanship of the former French Socialist
Minister of Finance, Jacques Delors, prepared this paper. It starts from a Social-
Democratic concern for job creation and equal opportunity combined with a focus
on Europe’s competitiveness in an increasingly internationalizing world economy.
This rather neo-Keynesian white paper was followed by the much more neo-liberal
Bangemann report in 1994 on the basis of an initiative by the Council. This report,
chaired by the former German FDP (liberal) Minister Martin Bangemann, focuses
more on the issues of liberalization of telecommunications and the primacy of the
private sector in the development of an information society.

Therefore, the information society policies of the European Union in the nineties
can be presented as two waves, one in the first part of the decade with an
emphasis on liberalization of telecommunications and information technology
development, and the other in the second half of the 1990s with more focus on
social aspects of information society developments. This understanding is, to a
large extent, well founded especially if the first wave is seen as being represented
by the Bangemann report and the ‘Action Plan’ of 1994. The development in the
EU information society policy has thus been characterized by an oscillation
between broader social concerns and a more technology and market-oriented
focus. However, by doing so, it probably portrays the development in too rosy
colors as a continuous development without the differences of opinion or
emphases that have existed.
The European Information Society: A Wake-up call 13

In 1995, for instance, a high-level expert group (HLEG) and an Information Society
Forum were established to analyze “the social aspects of the information society”
as the HLEG poses it in its final policy report ‘Building the European Information
Society for us all’ (Soete, 1997). As a justification for this focus, HLEG wrote: “Until
that time, the debate on the emerging information society had been dominated by
issues relating to the technological and infrastructure challenges and the
regulatory economic environment” (CEC, 1997a). There was, therefore, a
perceived need for re-focusing on the social dimensions of the ‘European model’,
in line with the white paper ‘Growth, Competitiveness and Employment’, as stated
in the HLEG-report.

In yet another document, ‘The Social and Labor Market Dimension of the
Information Society – People First – the Next Steps’ (CEC, 1997b), the
Commission suggests that information society policies should have as basic aims
to “improve access to information, enhance democracy and social justice, promote
employability and lifelong learning, strengthen the capacity of the EU economy to
achieve high and sustainable growth and employment, achieve and enhance equal
opportunity between men and women, promote inclusion and support people with
special needs and those lacking opportunities to improve their position, and
improve quality and efficiency of public administration”. In other words, the
Information Society will solve all problems of humankind.
Often, the recommendations are less ambitious and comprehensive. Quite a
number of them give priority to social and labor market dimensions (see, for
instance, CEC, 2002a+b; Johnston, 2000; or Johnston’s contribution to this
volume), but also other issues such as political integration, EU-citizenship and
cultural diversity feature prominently In other contexts, other issues have been
given priority. Especially, educational policies and lifelong learning and the
combination of information technology-related policies with other policy areas have
come to the fore in the last couple of years.
One of the reasons for the change of priority in favor of social concerns is that the
liberalization of telecommunications has developed in a satisfactory way seen from
the point of view of the Commission. However, the basic aims listed still remain an
expression of a development in the EU information society policy.

Questions, questions, questions

Though it remains to be seen whether a mixture of Marshall Plan type of ‘grand
works’ (the Delors imprint) with an unconditional belief in the market as the driving
force (the Bangemann influence) has a feasible future, the information society has
become a discourse in which it is possible to integrate many of the at first sight
14 The European Information Society

disparate European ambitions. Or, as argued by Garnham (1997): the claims

made for telecommunications and IT, as catalyst for economic development should
be seen as good old political rhetoric. "It meets the needs of politicians because it
promises a technological fix to deep seated social and economic problems, but as
a 'new' initiative it distracts attention away from the failure of previous similar
initiatives to solve these problems" (Garnham, 1997: 327).

Furthermore, the policy of an IS has to be checked against its underlying

assumptions. Starting from the assumption that information and communication
technologies undoubtedly possess the potential to contribute to socio-cultural
change, it can be questioned whether this potential will be converted into
advantages for everyone under the given scenario's the EU has planned. As large-
scale application of information and communication technology increases, new
problems will arise which 'the market' as such will not being able to resolve. More
and better regulatory mechanisms will have to be developed to deal with these. If it
should appear that the means proposed by the European Commission
representatives are inadequate to arrive at the intended result, then the current
strategy will have to be amended, or, if necessary, an alternative strategy will have
to be proposed. In other words, is it enough to state, as the fifth framework
(1999–2002) for R&D of the EU did, that it has to be a “user friendly information
society in the benefit for all” to make it happen?

Sophia Kaitatzi-Whitlock (2000) notices that so far the questions that dominated
policy discussions about the ‘information society’ deal firstly about the ‘astonishing’
quantities of films, shows, data etc. that can be consumed online and on the spot,
and secondly, about the variety, the level and the speed of services that can be
performed from home. Both sets of issues stress the consuming function. Such an
approach obscures another set of questions that have to be addressed but remain
default. What agency enhancing potential is actually offered to the citizen by the
information society? How far does the famous interactivity element reach? What
skills, and job-creating capabilities are conferred by information technology sold on
the market? What new outlooks, options are provided to individual members of
society? What familiarization processes have been initiated? These issues need to
be focused closely and systematically. Unless, these questions find viable
solutions, citizens and underfunded consumers will not create demand for supplied
information networks, contents and tools.

In general, the European Commission realizes that it still has a long way to go.
Therefore, top aide Maria Rodrigues, the chief organizer of the EU’s first-ever IT
summit which took place in March 2000 during Portugal’s presidency of the Union,
readily admitted that “we have to recognize that Europe is late compared with the
The European Information Society: A Wake-up call 15

US regarding the transition to an innovation and knowledge society. We must

speed up this transition not just because we are late but also so that we can find
our own way -- a European model” (in Jones, 1999: 30). Since this Lisbon summit
official texts of the European Commission teem with new terms coined with
reference to the Information Society, such as ‘New Information and
Communication Technologies (NICTs)’, ‘on-line world’, ‘knowledge and innovation
economy’, ‘e-Europe’, etc. Specific aims include: adopting a legal framework for e-
commerce; fully liberalized telecommunications markets by 2002; cutting the cost
of Internet use; all schools to have Internet access in 2001 and all teachers to be
skilled in Internet use in 2002; Internet access to basic public services by 2003;
and an e-Europe action plan specifying targets for interconnected low-cost, high-
speed Internet and telecommunication networks (see CEC, 2001, 2002c; or
Mather, 2000).

Is the European IS-policy sustainable?

Relating to telecommunications and with the benefit of hindsight, the question can
be raised whether information society policies have not just functioned as the
sugar around a policy of telecommunication liberalization. Telecommunication
liberalization was the main issue in the Bangemann report of 1993 and the ‘Action
Plan’ of 1994 and is still the most marked result of the information society
initiatives taken from the beginning of the 1990s.
However, such an understanding would be a misconception of the general outline
of the EU information society policy. Telecommunication liberalization is not an
alien element in this policy but an important integral part. Although there are
disagreements on specific policy elements and directions, information society
policies are answers to technological and international economic developments
and general policy trends with a clear liberal taste, which is also why there is an
overall consensus around EU information society policies even though they
fluctuate and have different emphases depending on the people involved and the
phases of development.

Regarding the field of telecommunications and broadcasting a distinction between

liberal economic (in favor of deregulation) and cultural policies (mostly in favor of
regulation) respectively is visible in Europe.
Early analyses of EU public policy show that the EU was not anticipating an overall
policy on the convergence of these formerly distinct services (see Burgelman &
Pauwels, 1991, as well as their contribution in this volume, and Venturelli, 1998).
In telecommunications development the emphasis is on liberalization and
deregulation, providing private corporations with a maximum of freedom to invest
on the telecommunication networks.
16 The European Information Society

Public policy in the broadcasting field is guided by another logic. In the media
sector political concerns to safeguard a public sphere of pluralism and national
sovereignty leads to the ambition to offer a diverse media system, containing
public as well as private media (Wang, Servaes & Goonasekera, 2000; Servaes &
Heinsman, 1991).
As the two historically, separately evolved sectors of telecommunications and
broadcasting converge, the different policy consequences of the economic versus
the cultural, and local versus international interests have to be taken into account.
Research indicates, however, that the national, and especially the European
policies regarding telecommunication services in general and broadcasting in
particular are based on economic instead of cultural considerations. This trend has
even increased after 1992 (Weymouth & Lamizet, 1996; Natalicchi, 2001).
Also the public service broadcasting structure and philosophy have undergone
major changes throughout the last decades. These changes, initiated by internal
as well as external factors, have affected the organizational and finance structures,
and the programming of public service broadcasting (Wolton, 1990).
Therefore, it is questionable whether the European policies will be in the
advantage of the so-called smaller countries in the EU, like for instance Belgium or
the Netherlands (Servaes, 1993), on the one hand, and whether these policies will
be able to secure a free and balanced flow of information, ideas, opinions and
cultural activities within the EU on the other hand. In other words, it is no longer
sufficient to concentrate on a distinct sector from only a technological or an
economic perspective; a multi-dimensional analysis of the different policy options
and their respective consequences is necessary.

Therefore, it could be argued that the EU strategy is not sustainable in the medium
and long term. The reason for this is that policymakers and market parties have
thoroughly neglected the principle of balance between productive and consumptive
functions. This is caused by the fact that the Commission and the politically
accountable EU policymakers and institutions have assigned the transition to the
digitized information economy to market forces and logics alone (see also
Preston’s analysis in this book). Similarly this is the reason why the EU failed to
develop a longer-term vision of the future global networks.

The convergence issue

The convergence between telecommunications and broadcasting occurs at three
levels: at the levels of networks (infrastructure), service provision, and corporate
organization (Wang, Servaes & Goonasekera, 2000).
In Europe policy decisions or policy perspectives are mainly technology and/or
commercially driven. A lot of attention focuses on the research concerning (and the
The European Information Society: A Wake-up call 17

implementation of) hardware. A lot of money is spent for the development of

network infrastructure, broadcasting facilities etc. (Foley, 2000, Heinderyckx, 1998;
Salak, 2000).
Second, regarding media ownership, we always seem to meet the same players in
the different sectors on different global, regional and national levels. These are
telecommunication operators, major publishing firms and media moguls. In most of
the countries we observe that one or two of these actors (or a merger of them)
control the telecommunication sector, major parts of the broadcasting sector and
sometimes an important part of the print media (Doyle, 2002, Grimes, 2000).
Third, because of these concentration tendencies, national governments are afraid
of broadcasting monopolies. Their legal reaction is the promulgation of anti-trust
and anti-concentration laws. Examples of this legislation are the prohibition of
controlling more than two national television networks and the restriction of market
share percentage in the media landscape.
Last, the emphasis in public policy making is on hardware. Software/content
development is heavily neglected.

Underlying assumptions
At least five assumptions or hypotheses can be derived from a review of the
literature (see, e.g., a number of special issues: Burgelman & Servaes, 1996;
Servaes, 1991, 1997; Servaes & Burgelman, 2000; Servaes, Burgelman &
Goonasekera, 1997; Servaes & Wang, 1997).
The first one is that the visions are so alike, even if countries are different in many
ways. Today, the visions in the different countries of the EU are very much in sync.
There seems to have been a harmonization going on which has taken some time
to initiate.

The second assumption is that everybody agrees on the visions and policy
directions even though there are different interests in society -- which especially
should come out in ‘revolutionary’ transformations. The establishment of an
information society is often described as a revolutionary development, likened with
the transition from an agricultural society to an industrial society. However, the
industrial revolution surely resulted in fierce clashes between groups, classes,
ideologies, etc. This does not seem to be the case with the ‘information revolution’.
At a slightly less dramatic level, it can be noticed that in some countries, there are
center-left governments and in others center-right governments. Still, the plans are
very much the same, even when countries shift political orientation of their
governments. This becomes obvious from the analysis on the Nordic countries by
Henten and colleagues (1996, 1999, 2000). To an ‘outsider’ the Nordic countries
may seem similar, there are many differences in economic structure which also
18 The European Information Society

applies to the ICT-producing industries. Henten and colleagues showed that the
information society thinking of different European countries differed to a noticeable
extent. The reason, that could be established, dealt with the differences in
productive structures of the countries and the differences in points of departure
and focus.
The latter conclusion is also supported by the analysis of the Greek case in
analyses by Tonchev (2000) or by Sarikakis and Terzis (2000). Greece is a EU
member State but at the same time is part of the Periphery standing in between
the rich industrialized North and the poor developing South. Sarikakis and Terzis
argue that, despite the citizens’ needs and wishes, the promotion of the European
Information Society in Greece is characterized by disproportionality. Another kind
of capital difference between groups with different socio-economic status is
emerging. The 'Knowledge-Gap' phenomenon becomes evident in that a high
percentage of the population is excluded as users of the new media, due to
reasons related to their educational and financial status. Additionally, a new
phenomenon of “pleonastic exclusion” is taking place, as a result of the enormous
numbers of channels of communication, which forces audiences to a continuous
selection-exclusion of information sources.

A third and related assumption is the widespread support for the same visions in a
period where the ‘great narratives’ are said to be vanishing. Information society
visions have clearly become such a new narrative.
A fourth and, once again, connected assumption is that there is so much
information society planning going on in a time when state planning is considered
to be obsolete because of the policies of liberalization and the flexible
circumstances that an information society is supposed to require.

A fifth assumption is based on the strong move to create a ‘European culture’

through communications, particularly TV broadcasting. This is seen in some of the
EU-directives, such as the emphasis on 51 percent of European material in
television programming, etc. In many regions of Europe the most important
development in the communications industry has not been the further dominance
of global media, but the emerging of cultural-linguistic television markets.
Triggered by policy deregulation and the rediscovery of autonomy by communities
within a state, – e.g., the Welsh and Gaelics in the UK, and the Catalans and
Basques in Spain – local and regional programmes have become increasingly
popular. Many of the ‘proximity television’ programmes are part of a public system.
In the long run, market forces are expected to play a decisive role in their further
development. But as it is only in those ‘nations without state’ that proximity
television has enjoyed the most powerful support, whether the market will work for,
or against, the further development of proximity television will depend upon the
The European Information Society: A Wake-up call 19

strength of the cultural and linguistic factors (Collins, 2002; De Moragas Spa &
Lopez, 2000).

Divergent policies
Though a user-driven (and consequently more content oriented) and user-specific
policy framework may be preferred, a more corporate driven economic rationale
seems to become the norm. Both policy perspectives start from quite opposite
assumptions, as shown in the following scheme (further developed in Burgelman &
Verhoest, 1996):

Current corporate-driven policy Preferred user-driven policy

• Agitated market/uncertain revenues • 'Controlled' market/'guaranteed'
• Competition • 'New deal' type of policy
• Short term • Long-term objectives
• Technology push/technology specific • User-driven solutions
• The medium is the message • Content oriented

Analyzing the ‘digital divide’

Apart from contradictory policies and questionable assumptions, also the problem
of the measurement of the Information Society appears to be crucial for the
organization of the scientific debate, for the industrial development and for the
implementation of public policies.

The results of the Commission Surveys “Measuring Information Society” in 1995

(pilot), in 1997 (Eurobarometer 47), in 1999 (Eurobarometer 51) and in 2000
(Eurobarometer 53) present a timely information resource for all those scholars
who still today, when the Internet seems to have become ‘free and ubiquitous’,
think that the Information Society must remain a problematic field of scientific
research and an overriding public policy for Europe.

The results of the surveys are striking. It becomes very clear that the rhetoric
scenario, which depicted a uniform, regional transition towards “a society founded
on electronics”, was radically contradicted by the data that emerged from the
surveys. [The general findings from these surveys are estimations, the accuracy of
which, everything being equal, rests upon the sample size and upon the observed
percentage. Though mostly confirmed by other sources, at least in the ranking of
20 The European Information Society

the countries, the actual figures are difficult to compare by lack of consistency in
question wording].
For extensive interpretations and discussions of these surveys, see Ricci (1997,
1998, 2000), Sarikakis & Terzis (2000), and Servaes & Heinderyckx (2002). See
also Heinderyckx’ contribution to this volume.

2 + 1= 3 technology clusters
By reviewing descriptively the results of the 1995–1997– and 1999 surveys one
notes that different technologies are used with various intensity across the
European Union. Some countries are more oriented towards the television, others
to the computer technology cluster:

Television Computer

Video recorder Personal Computer

Satellite dish CD-ROM

Pay television Modem


Teletext Internet or Minitel

The MIS 2000 survey confirmed these findings. The very nature of a technological
cluster and the position, the functional area it intends to fill, is important. Therefore
some additional questions and hypotheses were added to the research design,
and as a result a third ‘wireless’ or ‘mobile’ cluster came into the picture:
Consequently, an additional distinction could be made between the two already
identified clusters and a new emerging ‘wireless’ cluster.
The European Information Society: A Wake-up call 21


Mobile phone



WAP or i-Mode

Of all the technologies surveyed in 1999, the video recorder is the most mature. It
has reached the flat part of its diffusion curve so that it is gradually being used by
similar proportions of people in most countries and demographic groups. Only
Greece and Portugal show significantly lower penetration rates.

Satellite dish, by contrast with the VCR, is a much younger technology. The range
of penetration levels (between 2% in Greece and 52% in Austria) is the highest of
all technologies surveyed. Various factors attached to each country explain most of
the discrepancies. For example, Belgium and the Netherlands are very heavily
cabled (more than 90%), so that there is only a narrow market for satellite dishes.
High penetrations in Germany and Austria are best explained by the wide choice of
German speaking channels readily available by satellite. Other sources confirm
Austria as the European country where satellite dishes are most implemented.

The varying proportions of people resorting to pay television are to be considered

in connection with the media landscape so particular to each country. In Sweden,
the high rates are due to the success of a few stations (Filmnet, TV1000, Canal+).
In the UK, success is the result of a long established tradition of pay television
(Sky is the best example). France offers a wide choice of pay channels, and fifteen
years of success for Canal+ account for most of the high proportion of users.
France and Spain also have a head start with digital packages, which fall into this
category. The development of digital packages and of terrestrial digital
broadcasting will considerably modify the choice of pay television made available
throughout Europe, so that this variable is likely to move significantly in the near

The teletext technology is widely available on most television sets manufactured in

the past ten years. Only old or low-end receivers are deprived of that feature.
However, the data indicate that a number of people are either unaware that their
22 The European Information Society

television set is equipped, or are unable or not willing to use teletext. The skills
required to operate teletext properly are indeed quite different from those
necessary to just operate a TV set.

The use of a personal computer is no longer marginal. A little over a third of all
Europeans say they use a computer. Scandinavia and the Netherlands show
significantly higher penetration figures. Do bear in mind that the question asked in
this survey was about use, not ownership, so that these differences cover the
penetration of computers in the workplace, at school, at the university as well as at

The use of CD-ROM shows slightly more contrast among countries ranging from
53% in Sweden to 6% in Greece. If we assume that computers equipped with CD-
ROM readers are either recent or high end machines only, combining PC and CD-
ROM use figures may be interpreted as an indication of the average age or quality
of the computers used in different countries. However, one can assume that many
people do use a personal computer and not a CD-ROM, even if there is one, be it
by lack of skill or absence of need or even interest.

The modem is yet another additional feature requiring extra skills and cost
(including running communication costs). Motivation and need for using a modem
do appear quite contrasting between the eight countries to the right of the
European average (16% or less of users), and the United Kingdom, Luxembourg,
Finland, the Netherlands and particularly Denmark and Sweden where the modem
achieves penetration figures as high as 58%, comparable to CD-ROM and not so
far from PCs.
Unsurprisingly, the shape of the Internet users graph bears a strong resemblance
to that of modems, illustrating the fact that it is the Internet that is driving the
modem market.

The Euro barometer findings of 1999 are mostly confirmed by other sources (see,
e.g., Sciadas, 2002), at least in the ranking of the countries (actual figures are
difficult to compare by lack of consistency in question wording).
In addition, the MIS 2000 survey finds that more than half of the EU countries
show more than 50% of households having a mobile phone, with Finland reaching
80%, while Germany shows less than 40%.
Most demographic variables bring significant contrast. Proportions vary according
to professional status: 75% among the self-employed, two thirds among the
employed and 43% among those not working. Household income shows linear
correlation between about one third of lowest income and three quarters of the
The European Information Society: A Wake-up call 23

highest. Larger households are also more likely to have a mobile phone. Level of
education also shows a strong positive correlation.
Gender is, on average, the least discriminating variable, while countries, income
and terminal education and age are the most significant sources of disparities. This
indicates, “strong and distinctive national practices and habits, and traces of a
complex social divide based on income and level of education” (INRA, 2000: 17).

Some observers notice that Europe may have a competitive advantage in the
mobile sector. Some key players in the electronics business – especially Nokia
and Ericsson – are based in Scandinavia. They contribute to a rapid growth in
wireless technology. The Nordic region, for instance, has an internet penetration of
41% compared with 37% in the US and 21% in the rest of Europe; mobile-phone
penetration in capitals Stockholm and Helsinki is more than 90%. Another key to
Europe’s success is, according to Almar Latour (2000), its new equity culture:
“Fueled by the arrival of the Economic and Monetary Union, a new breed of risk-
taking CEOs have stepped up the merger-and-acquisition activity in Europe.
Meanwhile, young entrepreneurs are founding their own companies at a pace
Europe has never seen before”.

The country divide

On average, Europe shows a balanced growth between Television and Computer
technologies on the one hand, and between these two ‘older’ clusters and the new
‘mobile’ cluster.

When one merged the penetration figures of the three clusters, one could identify
six groups: types of
1-Sweden and Austria both show much higher than average penetrations of the
three technologies.
2- Greece and Portugal, on the other hand, are significantly much lower on all
3- Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Germany form a compact group around the
European average and seem to balance the use of the three types of technologies.
4- Austria is higher than average on the television axis and about average on
computer, but lower on the mobile cluster. The United Kingdom is higher than
average on the television axis and about average on computer, but higher on the
mobile cluster while Austria is more oriented to the ‘old’ technologies, the UK
combines the television and mobile cluster.
24 The European Information Society

5- On the contrary, Luxembourg, Finland and the Netherlands are about average
for television, but much higher up the PC technology and wireless axis, so that
these countries appear more oriented towards new technologies.
6- France stands on its own, with PC technology use about average and below-
average use of mobile technologies, and it is still significantly below average for
television (mostly due to a very low use of teletext).

On the basis of the Information and Communication Technology Adoption Scale

(ICTAS), which can be used as an integrated indicator of the use of modern
information and communication related technologies (clustered around the
television and the computer), the gap between northern and southern Europe is
quite striking and quantifiable: the medium user countries form a central block of
continental Europe (plus Ireland), the heavy users are found in Northern Europe,
the light users are at the periphery of Southern Europe (Greece and Portugal).

Need, price, and complexity

What is keeping people from using these technologies?
The notion of perceived need is central. Over half of the Europeans who are not
interested in on-line services say they don’t need them in their private life. Even a
number of heavy using countries show high proportions of non-users feeling no
need for on-line services. This fits perfectly into functionalist theory, and more
particularly in uses and gratifications theory that sees media in general as a mean
to satisfy various needs. However, the concept of need and its use by respondents
is to be taken with caution. Denying a need is in some cases a legitimate cover-up
for ignorance, fear or lack of financial means.

Therefore, second to the absence of need is price, then perceived complexity.

Here again, there is no clear-cut dichotomy between northern and southern
Europe, with Germans, Belgians and Austrians just as repelled by complexity as
Portuguese and Spaniards.

Young, well-educated, rich males on the run

Women are more deterred by complexity than men. Noticeably, proportions of
people finding these technologies too complicated vary more significantly along
demographic variables identified as key in predicting technology adoption: age,
income and level of education. This shows that younger, wealthier and better-
educated Europeans are less likely to find on-line technologies too complicated.
The European Information Society: A Wake-up call 25

This is yet another confirmation that these three demographic variables can be
quite powerful in segmenting the technology market inasmuch as they are reliable
predictors of restraint to adoption on the basis of perceived over-complexity. Any
product development or marketing campaign will have to be concerned about the
seeming or factual complexity of any innovation. It is likely that, among less
deterred groups, complexity might, in fact, encourage the adoption of innovations
which, for that particular target, will have to prove an increase in complexity or
functionality while the opposite is true for convincing non-users that it is all too
complicated for them.

The lack of time is an obstacle of increasing importance as we go higher up the

income. Portugal, Greece and Ireland show significantly lower levels of
respondents deterred by lack of time.
The age factor is also crucial in studying new technologies. We all know people
around us who show some level of reluctance towards technologies for which they
feel insufficient need or skills. The generation gap is obvious. This is where the full
meaning of new in ‘new technologies’ comes to light. For a technology to change
status from ‘new’ to ‘aging’ or ‘obsolete’ only takes the next innovation to hit the

How new is ‘new’?

There is a second dimension to the novelty of new technologies in the sense that it
was unknown to its users beforehand. Depending on your age or your length of
service, your ability or likeness to modify your behavior and adopt a new
technology will vary. Senior people are therefore more likely to remain longer on
the non-adopter side while, at the other end of the age spectrum, the younger
population will have little difficulty in adjusting.

Generation gap isn’t, in this particular case, to be seen as just another sign of older
people’s conservatism. New technologies, and the changes in behavior associated
with them, have to pass the hurdle of lifestyle and habits, which grow deeper,
rooted as time passes. Something new might not seem like an improvement if only
because of the immense time investment necessary to learn or re-learn previously
acquired and much practiced behaviours. Younger people have little merit in their
ability to adopt innovations. In fact, it is worth stressing that to a child, the keyboard
of a computer is not newer than a pencil; learning how to type and send an e-mail
is not any harder (probably less) than learning how to hand-write a letter, fold it into
an envelope and apply a stamp; using a traditional phone confined to the wall plug
26 The European Information Society

might even seem unnatural as compared to using a mobile phone; just as going
shopping might seem unpleasant and unwise as compared to ordering on-line.
Naturally this is all a matter of education, depending mostly on efforts developed
by schools and parents. Yet one can hypothesize that younger generations will
grow to be more enthusiastic adopters as they grow older, that is if they can be
kept in a innovation-adoption dynamic which would prevent another generation
gap when too radical an innovation would, in some time, leave them at the door,
just like today’s elderly seem to have missed the current train of innovations (see
also Picard’s contribution).
Therefore, Ricci (2000) argues that explanations can be found in what Kotler calls
‘personal factors’: position in the life cycle, economic conditions, and more
generally ‘life style’ appeared to be strongly correlated to use of and interest for

Active, passive, heavy and non-users

When one tries to evaluate with quantitative instruments the evolution of the
informatization of our societies, abundant evidence emerges confirming that the
penetration of the key technologies is indeed increasing with variable ratios in all
EU member states.

If we try to categorize the different users, we could say that there indeed is an
‘informatized/computerized society’ with a minority of Europeans which are heavy
users of information technologies. This social trend has also given rise to a counter
trend of ‘conscious un-informatized’ which are educated, upper-class individuals
who deliberately and consciously choose not to abide to the rules of consumption
of a societal model, which they consider to be in contradiction with their system of
values. In between one finds two other types: a community of moderate or low
users which is either essentially ‘passive’ or ‘active’ to the media system and which
uses enough technologies to bear all the consequences of the competition
between media. These communities may either adopt a passive or active stance in
media consumption, use of TV technologies, and seek entertainment as a
substitute to interpersonal communication or as a way to re-acquire a
psychological relief against the complexities and the pressures of living in a
modern society.
The European Information Society: A Wake-up call 27

By way of conclusion
Seven general conclusions can be drawn:

Firstly, whether we like it or not, the information society in Europe is 'a society in
formation' and certainly not immanently emerging. The dynamic character of its
policy has the benefit to point to large possible degrees of policy impact. In other
words: the information society is not pre-determined (see also Garnham, 1994).

Secondly, there is no single road to the Information Society. Every country has its
own particularities and these are very heavily determined by national political
objectives. As a result, there is no single road to the Information Society. Every
country has its own particularities and these are very heavily determined by
national political objectives. As in every dossier, subsidiarity plays an important
role here too and different national authorities in Europe react differently to the
plans of Brussels (and this mainly due to national specificities).

A third somewhat contradictory conclusion is that there is so much information

society-planning going on in a time when state planning is considered to be
obsolete because of the policies of liberalization and the flexible circumstances
that an information society is supposed to require. However, it is clear that the
traditional neo-Keynesian way of state interventionism in public life is not the way
information society policy is being made. In fact a more ‘remote’ but nevertheless
active state seems to become the model here.

A fourth and related conclusion is the widespread support for the same visions in a
period where the ‘great narratives’ are said to be vanishing. Information society
visions have clearly become such a new narrative. This explains why, from 1994
onwards and in a Europe without communism, the EU policy both accelerated the
liberalization of its communications markets and did put an enormous effort
towards more general awareness-building measures and PR campaigns. As we
already noticed elsewhere (see Servaes & Burgelman, 1996), historians of this
period will undoubtedly uncover the beginning of a ‘digital gold fever' that got into
the discourse and policy of the EU.

Fifthly, the Internet in its most popular form (the World Wide Web) seems to hold
characteristics, which might grow into true media integration. However, at the
content side it remains to be seen whether it will not become another divide
comparable to the ‘old’ media. As is usually the case with new technologies, it
remains to be seen how much ICTs will be used on top of existing devices and/or
28 The European Information Society

will gradually replace them.

Sixthly, another kind of capital difference between groups with different socio-
economic status is emerging. A high percentage of the population is excluded as
users of the new media, due to reasons related to their educational and financial
status. Digital divide is enduring mostly because it underlies core social divides.
Therefore, strategies to fill the gap can not be globalized.
Lastly and additionally, a new phenomenon of ‘pleonastic exclusion’ is taking
place, as a result of the enormous numbers of channels of communication, which
forces audiences to a continuous selection-exclusion of information sources. In
other words, ICTs adoption is not to be taken for granted.

* This chapter builds on Servaes (2002) and Servaes & Heinderyckx (2002)

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Weymouth T. & Lamizet B. (eds.) (1996), Markets & Myths. Forces for change in
the European media, London: Longman.
32 The European Information Society

Wolton D. (1990), Eloge du grand public. Une théorie critique de la télévision,

Paris: Flammarion.
European Union ICT Policies:
Neglected Social and Cultural

Paschal Preston

For more than a decade now, existing ICT research and information society
policies have generally been subjected to sharp and strong critique by social and
cultural theorists. The latter have tended to criticise such policies for a lack of
attention to social and cultural concerns, or at least for their inadequate treatment
of such issues. My own view is that such critiques have been, for the most part,
perfectly valid and justified in their essence and orientation. But they have often
been conducted at a highly abstract level and thus fail to engage directly with the
empirical or descriptive levels of the policies in question.

In this chapter, I want to start with a descriptive review of the EU’s ICT research
policies and related information society strategies from the mid-1990s up to the
early years of the new century. In section two, I will attempt to describe the key
aims, orientations and financial resource allocations associated with these
overlapping policy initiatives. Here, I will seek to describe the evolution of the EU’s
ICT research policy agenda and its linkages, the notions or construction(s) of an
‘information society’ and/or ‘knowledge-based’ society in Europe. I will also
consider the manner and extent to which such policy initiatives address the
domains of technical knowledge on the one hand and those of culture and other
forms of information ‘content’ on the other.

Having undertaken this empirically-focused, descriptive review of the EU’s ICT

research and related information society policies, I will then move on to consider
some of the more important strategic stakes and criticisms. The treatment here will
be necessarily brief for reasons of space, and so I propose to highlight a few key
issues that seem relevant to the wider policy debates in the run up to the WSIS
34 The European Information Society

In what follows, I should flag at the outset that my attention will focus on European
Union level policy thinking and practices. It should be borne in mind, however, that
this is not merely a matter of considering or criticising the actions of some nameless
Eurocrats based in Brussels or Luxembourg. It must also be remembered that the
core orientations and direction of EC level policies are, in practice as well as in
principle, subject to the approval and decision-making of national government
representatives, especially in the powerful if secretive arena of the ministerial councils
of the EU. They are also subject to the lobbying and pressures of interests that reside
in and operate at the national level throughout the member states of the Union. Thus,
it is important to note that the flaws and weaknesses evident in selected aspects of
‘Europe’s way to the information society’ as discussed here, also reflect and express
those which generally prevail at the national level throughout this major world region.
In addition, the research and writings of colleagues elsewhere suggests that most, if
not all, of the critical comments concerning the EU’s ICT research and related policy
strategies in this chapter can be equally applied to national-level strategies and
initiatives across most member states.

Overview of the EU’s ICT Policies & Initiatives since

early 1990s
"Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be
counted." (Albert Einstein)

Role of ICT Research and the ‘Framework’ R&D Programmes

Educational exchanges and research collaborations across the member states
have been important elements in the overall project of constructing a more
integrated European Union in recent decades. Since the 1970s, the European
Commission has launched a number of successive initiatives which aim to promote
exchanges of students between educational institutions and especially to foster
collaborative research projects or knowledge sharing between researchers based
in universities and related institutions. Indeed, the Treaty establishing the
European Community (part 3, title XVIII, art. 166, page 114) provides for the
creation and funding of multi-annual research and development (R&D) initiatives,
generally known as ‘framework programmes’. The Fifth Framework programme
(FP5) covered the period 1998–2002 and the Sixth programme (FP6) will span the
period 2002–2006.
Considerable resources have been invested in the EU’s fourth and fifth framework
R&D programmes since they commenced in the 1980s. The total budget for the
European Union ICT Policies 35

Fifth Framework programme amounted to 14.96 billion euro and that planned for
the Sixth Framework programme amounts to 17.5 billion euro or 3.9% of the EU’s
total budget, as indicated in Table 1.

Table 1
FP5 & FP6: The EU’s Framework Programmes for Research and

FP5 (1998-2002) FP6 (2002-2006)

‘Framework’ R&D 14.96 Bn Euro 17.5 Bn Euro

Programme Budget
Share of total EU budget 4.0 % 3.9 %

Source: EU IST directorate’s ‘Factsheet’

The particular field of research concerned with the development of new information
and communication technologies (or ICT) has been accorded a major role within
the overall budgets of the EU’s framework programmes since the 1980s. The term
new ICT is now usually taken to refer to this cluster or interrelated system of
technological innovations in the fields of microelectronics, computing, electronic
communications including broadcasting and the Internet. Thus, new ICT comprises
the cluster or family of interrelated technical innovations, based around ‘a common
digital’ mode, and they are generally concerned with the handling, storing,
processing and distribution of information or, as some would have it, ‘knowledge’.
The term new IT was first used to refer to this field of technological innovations in
the 1980s (e.g. Hall and Preston, 1988). But this term was gradually changed to
new ICT as the communicational dimension became increasingly significant
(Preston, 2001).

New ICT may be also defined as one of those relatively rare major new technology
clusters or systems which have a pervasive applications potential. This notion
suggests that they can or may be applied or adopted across a very wide range of
industrial, social and cultural activities, in much the same way as electricity at the
turn of the twentieth century, for example. However, the forms and extent of such
applications, no less than the origins or supply-side aspects of new ICT, are not
determined by any single technological ‘logic’ or trajectory. Rather these are and
will be influenced by a wide set of institutional, socio-economic, policy and other
factors, In any case, although researchers may disagree about the precise role
36 The European Information Society

and influence of technological and/or other factors in this process, new ICT has
been widely viewed the most significant contemporary technology cluster with
important economic, social cultural and policy implications (Preston, 2001).

Thus it may not be surprising to find that technological research related to the new
ICT field has been a key focus within the successive ‘Framework’ programmes
since the 1980s. Indeed, it is estimated that this particular field of technological
research received EC funding of some 12.5 billion euro between 1984 and 2002
(EC, 2000a: 1).

Because of its contemporary role and importance, research related to the

development and production of new ICT (hardware and software) devices and
systems can be found in many sub-programmes or research fields within the EU’s
framework programmes. But a large (unknown) portion of ICT related research is
funded via one specific sub-programme or research stream in the most recent
Framework programmes. Within the Fifth Framework programme (FP5) covering
the period 1998–2002, the ‘User-friendly Information Society’ was the main
research stream concerned with the development of new ICT and this was
allocated some 3.6 billion euro. The successor ‘Information Society Technologies’
research stream within the Sixth Framework programme (spanning the period
2002-2006) is scheduled to be allocated some 3.625 billion euro. Further details on
the categories of research and distributions of funds under these two most recent
Framework programmes can be found in Table 2.

Table 2
Key Themes & Budget Items in EU’s ‘Framework Programmes’ 5 & 6

FP5 (1998-2002) Budget FP6 (2002-2006) Budget

(Euro M) (Euro M)
.1) R&D & 10,843 .1) Focusing & 13,345
demonstration activities Integrating Community
Research (a
.1.a) Quality of Life & 2,413 .1a) Life Sciences, gneomics 2,225
Management of living & Biotechnology for health
.1b) User-friendly 3,600 .1b) Information Society 3,625
Information Technologies
.1c) Competitive & 2,705 .1c) Nanotechnologies and 1,300
sustainable growth nano-sciences, materials
European Union ICT Policies 37

.1d) Energy, Environment & 2,125 .1d) Aeronautics & space 1,075
Sustainable Development
.1e) Food Quality & Safety 685
.1f) Sustainable 2,120
development, global change
& ecosystems
.1g) Citizens & governance 225
in a knowledge-based
.1h) Activities ‘covering a 1,300
wider field of research’
.1k) Non-Nuclear work of 760
.2) International role of 475 .2) Structuring the Euro- 2,605
Community Research pean Research Area
.3) Promoting 363 .3) Strengthening the 320
Innovation & SME foundations of the ERA
.4) Human research 1,280 .4) Nuclear Energy 1,230
potential & socio- Programme
economic knowledge
.5) Direct Actions : JRC 739
.6) EurAtom programme 1,260
Overall Total 14,960

Notes: a) A more detailed breakdown of FP6 sub-categories is available from source.

Source: Author’s re-working of data downloaded from EC’s CORDIS web site [13 Dec.

Technological Projections: From ICT to IS, eEurope & the ERA

So much for the key formal or explicit research policies related to the development
of ICT. But these do not mark the limit or boundaries of 'new ICT-related policies'
and initiatives within the European Union, or indeed, in most other regions of the
contemporary world. The scope, role and implications of new ICTs are now (and,
especially since the early 1990s) widely perceived and taken to apply to a whole
range of other policy discourses and practices. One expression or manifestation of
this shift can be found in the very titles given to the ICT-related research streams
within the EU Fifth and Sixth Framework programmes. These successive EU
38 The European Information Society

technical research initiatives are referred to as 'the User-friendly Information

Society' and 'Information Society Technologies' sub-programmes respectively.

There are several reasons why the apparent scope and role of new ICT-related
research and other policies have expanded significantly in my view. In part, this is
because of the contemporary role and pervasive applications potential of new ICT
and in part, it reflects the fact that these technologies are precisely concerned with
the handling and processing of one other pervasive resources that is also heavily
laden with conceptual difficulties: information and/or knowledge.

But there is a further reason which I will briefly flag here but examine further in
subsequent sections. This refers to the fact that the thinking and practices of the
relevant industrial and policy elites are generally stamped by a very particular set
of conceptualisations or understandings of the role of new ICTs and their socio-
economic and policy implications on the one hand, and the notion of an emerging
information society on the other.

To return to the development of the EU’s ICT research and related policies, we can
note a significant turn in the 1993–94 period. This was the time when the same
time as the Commission was preparing plans for the Fourth framework R&D
programme and just as the Internet, helped by its World Wide Web overlay
interface, began its rapid diffusion phase. It was also when some influential
politicians got bitten (or ‘byten’) by the digital deliria bug--that is quite some time
before the stock market and private sector analysts caught the goldrush
fever of the late 1990s. Al Gore had successfully managed to co-pilot the Clinton-
Gore electoral-promise wagon via the virtual reality of an ‘information
superhighway’ in the USA. Now, as US vice president, he was by 1994 seeking to
project his vision-thing to a more global audience. In the run up to the Kyoto
conference of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Al Gore, declared
to the wider world that it must now build and run nothing less than a Global version of
the Information Infrastructure (GII):

"The linking of the world's people to a vast exchange of information and ideas is a
dream that technology is set to deliver. President Bill Clinton and I believe that the
creation of a network of networks, transmitting messages and images at the speed of
light across every continent, is essential to sustainable development for all the human
family… It will bring economic progress, strong democracies, better environmental
management, improved healthcare and a greater sense of shared stewardship of our
small planet…legislators, regulators and business people must now build and run a
Global Information Infrastructure (GII)….All governments, in their own sovereign
nations and in international co-operation, …[must] build this infrastructure…it must be
European Union ICT Policies 39

a co-operative effort and it must be democratic… The economics of networks have

changed so radically that a competitive, private market can build much of the GII…
this is dependent, however, upon sensible regulation". (Al Gore, ‘Plugged into the
world’s knowledge’, in ‘The Financial Times’, 19 Sept. 1994).

The political and industrial elites involved in shaping the EU’s research and related
industrial and communications policies were not deaf to such promises and
challenges originating from the other side of the Atlantic—or to their rhetorical and
material implications. For such actors, after all, the core stakes boiled down to
economic interests and crucially involved transnational trade and investment policy
considerations, whatever the technology-centred vision-ware might suggest. They
were, no doubt, aware that a full decade before Al Gore graced the vice-
presidential electoral stage, US industrial and foreign policy strategists had
identified communication networks, ICT-related services and the notion of an
‘information society’ as ‘a strategic new element in the American global equation’
(see Preston, 2001).

Even before that, the European Commission’s research and industrial innovation
strategy, much like the EU’s overall project for greater economic integration, was
essentially based on the view that this would enhance the competitiveness of
European industry vis-a-vis US and Japanese competitors. Besides, the EC had
commenced a programme for a radical re-regulation of the telecommunications
sector in 1988 that was very similar to the competitive vision of a ‘network of
networks’ which was instituted in the USA only a few years previously. In addition,
the industrial and policy elites on both sides of the Atlantic were also actively re-
positioning their international trade and industrial policies following the GATT (later
WTO) ‘Uruguay Round’ of negotiations. The latter had established a new regime
for the liberalisation of trade and investment in services, where
telecommunications and other ICT-based services, alongside financial, media and
other ‘information’ related services were perceived to play an increasingly
important role in the revised rules of the economic competition game. This was
echoed by new initiatives in the early 1990s to further deepen the regional
globalisation economic, political and indeed cultural ‘integration’ at the EU level
and to create ‘a single market’ for all kinds of services, including the media and
cultural industries.

The interwoven narratives around the deepening globalisation of trade and

investment, the liberalisation of regulation, telecommunications and information
services policies and EU ‘competitiveness’ were brought together and explicitly
expressed in a number of important EU policy documents published in the
1994–94 period. First, there was the Commission’s strategic white paper on
40 The European Information Society

Growth, Competitiveness and Employment--Challenges for entering in the 21st

century, colloquially called 'the Délors Report' (EC, 1993a). This was closely
followed by a report from the powerful Commissioner responsible for industrial and
telecommunications affairs entitled Europe and the Global Information Society:
Recommendations to the European Council (EC, 1994a). Often referred to as 'the
Bangemann Report', this document was more than an EU retort to the somewhat
short-lived G7 and other ‘global information society’ initiatives which followed in the
years immediately after Al Gore’s original proposals. The ‘Bangemann Report' had
more major and lasting influences on the framing of subsequent EU policies for
ICT research and communication services. Indeed, for some years following its
publication, this report was repeatedly cited as a sort of ‘bible’ or master mantra by
Commission documents and officials dealing with a very wide spectrum of
industrial and social policy initiatives. For example, it was explicitly invoked as a
framework for an important 1994 document setting out a new industrial and policy
strategy for the audio-visual sector in the European Union’s single market context
(EC, 1994b).

In the EU’s R&D, industrial and communications policy arenae, the Bangemann
report’s most obvious influence was to insert the term ‘information society’ as the
key term in the vocabulary rather than IT or ICT. This semantic shift was meant to
reflect a greater emphasis on demand-side rather than technology-centred
approaches to R&D and a more (neo-)liberal view of the role of market forces and
competition in the allocation of economic resources, including those related to
telecommunications and to the selection and direction of new technological
developments. The approach was also intended to signal a response to the
criticisms of prior EU framework research programmes which had highlighted a
predominant focus on the further development of scientific and technical
knowledge and relative lack of attention to industrial applications or demand-side
aspects of ICT or other technological fields.

At the same time, not least for those associated with ‘the Social Europe’ agenda,
the shift in vocabulary was taken to imply something rather different. It was taken
to imply that there was or may be something special about more ‘Europe’s Way’ to
the information society which reflected a traditional orientation towards a robust
welfare state and a social democratic conception of citizenship rights (EC, 1996a,

Even if such shifts in vocabulary were too late to influence the terminological
framing of the EU’s Fourth Framework R&D programme they were clearly manifest
in the two subsequent programmes (as indicated in Table 2). Despite these
semantic shifts however, the impacts of the post-Bangemann report policy shifts
European Union ICT Policies 41

appear to be less evident in the core R&D policy arena than in other areas of
communication and information services policy. For example, there has been no
significant shift in the character or orientation of the research activities funded
under the Fifth framework programme compared to the previous programmes.
Despite the substitution of information ‘society’ for ‘technology’, the vast majority of
the funding remains allocated to the scientific and technical activities concerned
with the further development of new knowledge or technologies. The shift to
applications is more pronounced in the vocabulary framing the various research
action lines than in the substance of the work undertaken.

Despite much rhetorical emphasis on the importance of the social and economic
applications and implications of new ICT and an emerging ‘information society’,
there has only been a small increase in the share of funding allocated to social
science or humanities based research in FP4 and FP5 compared to earlier
programmes. One estimates suggest that explicit socio-economic research activities
accounted for about 1% of the Fifth Framework R&D programme’s overall budget
(EC, 2002a:22).

But even that minor shift seems very temporary as the penultimate draft
documents for the new Sixth Framework programme signal a much reduced role
for socio-economic research compared to the previous programme.

Over the past couple of years and in the run-up to the launch of the FP6, the EU’s
research and technology policy agenda has been increasingly framed around two
other related master concepts: eEurope and the European Research Area (ERA).
Both have been directly influenced by the proceedings of the European Council
meeting held in Lisbon in 2000 which expressed the ambitious aim of making
Europe “the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of
sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social
cohesion” (EC, 2002a:7). This goal has been linked to an expanding emphasis on
the role of R&D for European competitiveness, especially at the the European
Council’s Barcelona meeting in 2002 where the “Heads of State and Government
committed themselves to investing 3% of GDP in R&D by 2010”, (ibid: 7). Policies
to develop and promote moves towards a more integrated European Research
Area (ERA) are viewed as essential or closely linked to the EC’s declared ambition
to “become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy of the
world” (EC, 2002a).

In December 1999, the Commission launched its eEurope initiative. This has the
declared aim of ensuring that “the European Union fully benefits for generations to
come from the changes the Information Society is bringing” (cited in Arlandis et al.,
42 The European Information Society

2001:19). Over the past two years, the eEurope initiative and its action plan have
been refined through a number of subsequent documents. The eEurope action
plan is defined as ‘part of the Lisbon strategy to make the European Union the
most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy with improved
employment and social cohesion by 2010’ (EC, 2002b: 2). A subsequent document
states that eEurope “is not only about making European industry more competitive;
it is also about ensuring that all citizens… have access to modern communications
technologies to improve the quality of life” (EC, 2002c:3). Indeed, it suggests that
“the new knowledge-based society must be an inclusive society” and that “in
emphasising digital inclusion, the European Commission aims to distinguish the
European approach to the information society from other regions of the world” (EC,
2002c: 4).

EU policies for Information ‘Content’ and Culture

Since the early 1990s at least, many of the EU’s ICT research, innovation and
related industrial strategy documents have emphasised the growth potential of the
information ‘content’ services sectors, especially those based on the application of
new digital tools and systems. Indeed, the Bangemann report and other EU policy
documents published in the 1993–94 period, emphasised the growth of ‘high-level,
grey-matter’ occupations in such media and ‘content’ services, predicting that the
number of such jobs in the EU area would double by the year 2000.

As we might well expect with research strategies increasingly framed around the
notions of ‘an information society for all’ and seeking to construct ‘a knowledge-
based eEurope’, recent EU R&D programmes have specific funding lines
orientated towards information ‘content’ applications. The most important example
here is the ‘User-friendly Information Society’ stream of FP5 (1998–2002) and, in
particular, its key action or funding line entitled ‘multimedia content and tools’. A
budget of some 564 million euro has been allocated to this research action in order
to address ‘the development of tools and systems for managing, disseminating and
using digital content’.

The very title and key descriptors of the ‘multimedia content and tools’ sub-
programme would seem to suggest an equal balance between two separate but
complementary streams of research and development activity: those concerned
with the production of new digital media ‘tools’ on the one hand, and the new kinds
of new knowledge, creative and innovative initiatives required to successfully
adopt, combine and appropriate such tools for the production of digital content
artefacts or services, on the other hand. But the more detailed descriptions of the
kinds of activities targeted by this sub-programme, and the kinds of project
European Union ICT Policies 43

proposals actually selected for funding tell a very different story. They are more
heavily biased towards the technical, engineering and programming knowledge
fields concerned with development of digital ‘tools’ such as software and/or
hardware-based devices, systems or platforms. Consequently, the equally
important new kinds of knowledge and research activity related to the
‘downstream’ or application layers of innovation in the digital content field are
relatively neglected.

Even in this sectorally targeted sub-programme, there is minimal recognition of the

role and importance of the new creative and hybrid forms of knowledge directly
related to the innovation process in the digital content field. These include research
related to the specific authoring, design and textual strategies which best fit, match
or mobilise the potentialities of the new technical systems, and/or to the new kinds
of publishing, editorial, distribution and marketing strategies and business models
appropriate for successful product and process innovation in the (still small and
emergent) digital content sector.

Admittedly, some of these research agenda items are also addressed as minor
themes in other EC programmes such as the MEDIA initiative, and they are
formally part of the agenda in the eContent programme launched in 2001. (The
MEDIA initiative will be discussed a little further on). The eContent programme is
one of the two actions proposed in the ‘eEurope Action Plan’. Its main focus is on
stimulating the digital content market through the following action lines: (a)
Improving access to and expanding use of public sector information; (b) Enhancing
content production in a multilingual and multicultural environment; and (c)
Increasing dynamism of the digital content market (see Table 3 for more details on
these two programmes).

The eContent programme, which has been allocated EUR 100 million for the
period 2001–2005 “focuses on commercial use of European digital content”. It
aims to promote the production, use and dissemination of European digital
products and services by “supporting cooperation between companies in the field
and the public and private sectors”. The key actions in receipt of funding relate,
inter alia, to public-sector services which use the information and “the development
of digital databases and the necessary software tools”. The Commission states
that this programme does embrace a concern for “multilingual access to
multimedia products and services distributed via digital networks and adapting
them to local cultural requirements”. The research actions may “involve subjects
such as art, cultural heritage, archives, libraries and tourism” (Commission’s
‘Europa’ web site).
44 The European Information Society

But the actual operation and implementation of the eContent programme so far
does not appear to have been strongly orientated to cultural information. Overall,
the major focus of the eContent programme appears to lie with ‘producer’ and
instrumental forms of information services more directly relevant to industrial and
organisational functions or uses.

Thus even in the case of EU programmes apparently orientated towards digital

media, the level of attention and funding accorded to the new design, authoring,
publishing of knowledge forms and competencies related to ‘content’ production
activities by the mainstream ICT research programmes is relatively small. The
extent to which these properly ‘content’ -related knowledge and activity fields are
neglected, least compared to the activities and knowledge domains directed at the
further development of technical systems and tools, is quite striking. Indeed, it is all
the more so given the context of EU policy discourses which appear to place so
much emphasis on ‘an information society for all’ and seeking to construct ‘a
knowledge-based eEurope’.

Table 3
EC’s Major Programmes related to ‘Culture’ & ‘Content’

Programme Focus and Scope (a Perio Budget

d (M Euro)
.A) ‘CULTURE’ Related (b
Culture 2000 This programme ‘helps to finance 2000-- 167
cooperation in all areas of the arts’ and 2004
‘aims to promote the cultural diversity of
the European Union, creativity,
exchanges between those involved in the
cultural sector in the EU, and to make
culture more accessible to the public’
MEDIA-3 The MEDIA programme ‘supports the 2001-- 400
development, distribution and promotion 2005
of European audiovisual works’. The
sectors concerned are fiction (cinema &
TV), creative documentaries, animation
and multimedia.
.B) ‘CONTENT’ Related
FP5 Multimedia The FP5 IST research stream relates to 1998-- 564
Content & Tools ‘the development of tools and systems for 2002
Programme managing, disseminating and using digital
content’. The programmes brief cites
some examples of content with a cultural
European Union ICT Policies 45

FP5 Energy, This programme includes a key action 1998-- 170
Environment & Sus- called "The city of tomorrow and cultural 2002
tainable Developmen heritage". About one third of the budget
programme goes towards ‘identifying and assessing
damage to cultural heritage, whether built
or movable heritage’. The action
‘promotes the protection and sustainable
management of cultural heritage, its
preservation and development, and steps
to make it more accessible to the public’.
The ‘eContent ‘ This programme ‘focuses on commercial 2001-- 100
programme use of European digital content’ and ‘aims 2005
to promote the production, use and
dissemination of European digital
products and services by supporting
cooperation between companies in the
field and the public and private sectors’.
tourism. It is ‘also concerned with multi-
lingual access to multimedia products and
services distributed via digital networks
and adapting them to local cultural
The ‘TEN- TEN-Telecom ‘promotes the marketing of 2000-- 276
Telecom’ European digital goods and services in 2006
areas of common interest’, including
programme education and culture. Providing funding
of up to 50% for feasibility studies and
10% of the necessary investment, it ‘aims
to help European companies through the
critical phase of launching these
a) This table reflects the EC’s own claims about the scope of its key ‘culture’ and content-
related activities.
b) In addition, we should note the EC’s education and training programmes, SOCRATES
and Leonardo da Vinci (allocated respectively EUR 1.85 & 1.15 billion for 2000-2006). Both
cover a range of disciplines and provide funding for projects in the field of education and
training, including educational projects in schools on cultural themes and those which raise
cultural awareness. One of the key themes of the programmes is language learning. Also,
the ‘Youth’ programme 2000-2006 (budget of EUR 520 M) plays a part in the cultural field
by financing youth exchanges.
Source: Author’s estimates and tabulation based on EU documents.
46 The European Information Society

Implications for the domain of ‘culture’

I will now wind up this descriptive review of the EU’s ICT-related policies by
considering their implications for the domain of ‘culture’. This is a rather elusive if
important arena where there are important overlaps with the discussion of
information and content matters immediately above.

As the Commission itself acknowledges, it is difficult to provide a succinct

“overview of the European Union's various cultural activities and programmes”
(Commission’s ‘Europa’ web site) . Perhaps, the most prominent and culture-
specific activity or programme of the EC is the “Culture 2000” programme. As the
title suggests, this initiative specifically targets cultural cooperation--I will address
its key features in more detail a little later. But, in addition, the Commission itself
tends to emphasise that many of its research and other policy programmes
embrace a strong cultural agenda or orientation. For example, it claims that “many
European programmes have a cultural dimension in various areas of activity:
support for the cultural industries, technological research, education and training in
the arts, regional development, cooperation with third countries, and so on”
(Commission’s ‘Europa’ web site). The Commission recognises that these
programmes are managed by different Directorates-General and departments
within the European Commission and that these may well “have their own rules
regarding operation and eligibility”. Here, we might also add, that they have their
own priorities and orientations which are far removed from the cultural domain as
conventionally defined. (See Table 3).

For example, the Commission points to “elements of the Framework R&D

programme (1998–2002) , especially… the key action ‘multimedia content and
tools’, which has been allocated EUR 564 million, and in particular its cultural
heritage components” (Commission’s ‘Europa’ web site). But as noted above, this
research action line is more strongly focused on the development of digital tools
and platforms that content design and production activities per se. The
Commission also points to another element of FP4, ‘the Energy, Environment and
Sustainable Development programme’ because this features a research stream
called ‘The city of tomorrow and cultural heritage’, for which 170 million euro have
been earmarked. Around a third of this sum goes towards identifying and
assessing damage to cultural heritage, ‘whether built or movable heritage’. This
research action line seeks to “promote the protection and sustainable management
of cultural heritage, its preservation and development, and steps to make it more
accessible to the public” (Commission’s ‘Europa’ web site). Thirdly, it is suggested
that funding may be provided under the FP4 for ‘certain cultural projects involving
‘international cooperation activities’, particularly with the Mediterranean countries.
European Union ICT Policies 47

Finally, we may note that the EU’s main educational exchange and training
programmes, SOCRATES and Leonardo da Vinci , do provide funding particularly
for projects in the field related to the arts and culture. These include educational
projects in schools on cultural themes and projects to raise cultural awareness,
and indeed language learning. But as suggested earlier, only a tiny portion of the
research-related resources in these programmes are directed at the knowledge,
competencies and activities involved in the design and production of new media-
based cultural content compared to the sums devoted to the technical and
scientific knowledge fields.

Apart from such ‘side-shows’ in policy terms, we really end up with two major EC
programmes that are directly and explicitly engaged in supporting culture-specific
activities: the Culture 2000 programme and the MEDIA programme.

The European Commission’s ‘Culture 2000’ programme helps to finance

Community cooperation in all areas of the arts, such as the performing arts, visual
and fine arts, literature, music, history and cultural heritage. Its declared aims are
to promote the cultural diversity of the European Union, creativity, exchanges
between those involved in the cultural sector in the EU, and to make culture more
accessible to the public. The programme has been allocated 167 million euro for
the period 2000–2004 . Financial assistance is awarded to projects selected on the
basis of a call for proposals, which is published at the beginning of each year.

The MEDIA programme provides financial and policy support for the audio-visual
and related industries. The latest phase of this programme has been allocated a
budget of 400 million euro for the period 2001–2005, supports the development,
distribution and promotion of European audiovisual works. The sectors addressed
by this initiative comprise fiction (cinema and television), creative documentaries,
animation and multimedia. The MEDIA programme also earmarks 50 million euro
for business and legal training (marketing, intellectual property law), training in
technology (computer graphics, multimedia) and courses in how to write
screenplays for foreign audiences.

In essence, the MEDIA and the Culture 2000 initiatives comprise the two major EU
programmes directly concerned with ‘culture’ and related ‘content’ . In combination
they provide an annual average funding resources of 142 million euro over the
2000–2004 period. These sums are relatively tiny when compared to the resources
devoted to the technical knowledge fields involved in the design and development
of new digital and other technologies (see Tables 2 and 3).
48 The European Information Society

These statistical indicators suggest that the levels of attention and funding
accorded to the domains of culture and other content production activities by the
mainstream ICT research programmes are relatively low. They are tiny compared
to the resources allocated to the activities and knowledge domains involved in the
further development of technical systems and tools. Again, this is all the more so
when considered in the context of EU policy discourses which place so much
emphasis on ‘an information society for all’ and seeking to construct ‘a knowledge-
based eEurope’. These and other quantitative indicators all seem to underline the
fact that the official project for constructing a new ‘knowledge-based’ European
Union is a peculiarly lopsided one. In terms of material resources and surrounding
policy frameworks and supports, it is heavily biased towards one end of the
knowledge production and distribution spectrum. As with ‘content’ and information
structures relative to technical infrastructures, the creative and cultural
components of new knowledge creation and distribution are relatively
neglected—and this more than two decades after one of the founding fathers of
the European Union integration project had declared that, if beginning again, he
would ‘start with culture’.

EU’s ICT & IS Policies: Towards a Critique and

Having presented an empirically focused, descriptive review of the EU’s ICT
research and related information society policies, I will now move on to consider
some of the more important strategic stakes and criticisms. The treatment here will
be necessarily brief for reasons of space, and so I propose to highlight two key
sets of issues that seem relevant to the wider policy debates in the run-up to the
WSIS conferences.

Technology-Fixated Versus Socially-Centred Visions &

The first major point of criticism I wish to identify in relation the EU’s research and
information society policies focuses on their predominant fixation with technology-
centred concerns and their consequent un-social or a-social character. This
strategic criticism applies despite all the ritualistic genuflections towards a ‘social’
dimension in EU policy documents since the mid-1990s and in more recent reports
related to the newer eEurope initiative. I have already indicated how this is
manifest in the tendency of successive EU research programmes to privilege the
European Union ICT Policies 49

design and production of new ICT devices and systems over the application and
use of existing technologies for social and cultural ends.

Despite some growth in the 1990s, the recognition and funding of socio-economic
research, even that which is directly related to the presumed significant socio-
economic implications of new ICT as a major new technology system, remains small
in relative terms. Some EC estimates suggest that explicit socio-economic research
activities accounted for 1% of the Fifth Framework R&D programme’s overall budget
and that this will grow to comprise some 2% of the Sixth Framework programme (EC,
2002a). But my own reading of the latter’s documentation suggests a reduction rather
than increase in such research funding over the next few years.

When it comes to the arena of ‘information society’ policies-- where we might

expect to find broader concerns with, or discussion of, social development paths or
alternatives—the situation is really no different. On the one hand, we have the
implied message that we confront the emergence of a radically new and distinct
kind of social formation, but on the other, this is defined and measured solely in
terms of changes in the supply and use of new technological infrastructures or
services. For all operational purposes, the information society, no less than the
successor concept of eEurope, is fundamentally framed, imagined and measured
in terms of the maximum production and use of new ICTs. The same applies to the
sister concept of a ‘knowledge-based’ Europe, where once again the predominant
emphasis falls upon the production and dissemination of one particular sub-
category of knowledge: the scientific and technical (Preston, 2002a).

In other words, what seems like a concept, strategy and debate concerning future
society-wide development and change is reduced to a highly freighted technology-
centred discourse and one-sided conception of knowledge creation. What is
initially presented as a radical or significant societal change turns out to be largely
a case of ‘business as usual’, except that we must all produce and use new ICTs
more widely and avidly. In essence, we are presented with an impoverished, and
essentially a-social, vision of the scope or potential for future societal development.
Technology and instrumental technical knowledge becomes not merely the means
but is substituted as the key measure and goal of societal development (Preston,
2001: especially chaps. 9 and 10; Preston, 2002a).

This is certainly a much reduced and impoverished vision compared to the initial
conceptions of an emergent ‘information society’ which were first advanced by
social theorists in the 1970s, even if we recognise that these were much criticised
by other sociologists and theorists subsequently. The US sociologist Daniel Bell
(1973) is usually designated as the author of the most robust early information
50 The European Information Society

society theory--even if Adam Smith could prior lay claim to a pioneering prognosis of
the ‘knowledge economy’ phenomenon (Preston, 2001).

Certainly, we can find some clear echoes and borrowings from the work of Daniel Bell
in the information society discourses favoured by the political and industrial elites in
Europe. (These are also manifest in the writings of many contemporary postmodern
and ‘cultural turn’ theorists, even if these are self-defined as critical theorists.) One
core example is the determinist view that changes in the technological infrastructure
and in the division of labour are inherently transformative, liberating and presumed to
lead to a significant reduction in material ‘scarcity’ or needs. The growth of jobs
defined as information or knowledge-intensive is deemed to lead to much greater
individual autonomy and power in the workplace. Another borrowing here is the
assertion that material issues (such as those pertaining to wealth and income) or the
‘politics of distribution’ are now much less salient compared to ‘the politics of
representation’, or in extreme cases, compared to the ‘end of politics’ in the modern
sense. Another echo comprises a set of presumptions about the decline (if not death)
of larger-scale ‘modern’ social solidarities and integration mechanisms, and an
increasing obsession with individual consumer(ist) or small discrete group identities
or cultures. (Taken together, these do not merely reflect the borrowings of
contemporary EU policy discourses from older academic theories of an emerging
information society. In addition, they also provide some striking commonalities
between the core tenets of official information society discourses, based around the
now dominant political economic theory of neo-liberalism on the one hand, and those
of postmodern or cultural turn theorists, on the other hand.)

However, such borrowing by contemporary information society policy discourses

reflect only some highly selective elements of the seminal post-industrial thesis
advanced by Daniel Bell. A more rounded engagement with Bell’s thesis, however,
would reveal that whatever its analytical flaws and conservative ideological leanings,
it was certainly not singing along to the ‘there is no such thing as society’ hymn sheet
which has become the increasingly dominant anthem of our own times. Its core
analysis concerning the post-industrial society as a just or progressive society was
not solely predicated on changes in the technological infrastructure or division of
labour or the newly influential role of intellectual knowledge. Rather it placed an equal
emphasis on the continuing, if not growing, role of the socially-progressive,
Keynesian welfare state policy regime which prevailed during the post-war boom
period and a concomitant decline in the sway of markets relations and of unregulated
economic rationality. In essence, Bell’s ‘venture in social forecasting’ was also
predicated on a trend towards reducing economic inequalities within an increasingly
meritocratic order. It was precisely and only in such a social and political context that
Bell envisaged the new role or social character knowledge and planning as a direct
European Union ICT Policies 51

counter to the economic rationality of the market and competitive capitalism (Preston,
2002b, Seville).

Of course, much has changed since Bell first advanced his thesis in the early 1970s,
not least the increasing sway of economic rationality and market forces over all forms
of knowledge and information production. Hence, the highly selective contemporary
borrowings from the post-industrial society thesis, as advanced by the elite
information society discourses (or indeed, the cultural turn literature) are highly
partial. Indeed, as cultural productions of a sort themselves, they can hardly be
understood as innocently accidental or politically neutral, but highly attuned to the
political and economic sensibilities and pressures of their times. What we are
presented with is an impoverished and hallowed-out version of an emergent
information society compared even to that advanced in Bell’s seminal work (despite
its undoubted flaws) -- or even compared to the social rights dimension of citizenship
which prevailed in many EU member states during most decades of the twentieth
century (Preston, 2002b).

In essence, we find little by way of sustained discussion or attention to the

question of what is or might be special about ‘Europe’s way to the information
society’, to quote a phrase from some of the earlier EU policy documents in the
mid-1990s (Preston, 1998; 2001). We may note ‘significant silences’ or absences
especially in relation to the implications of the strong tradition of social democratic
politics and associated social citizenship rights which key features of the political
culture in many member states. Of course, as indicated earlier, we may note
certain semantic shifts and genuflections towards a ‘social Europe’ agenda within
the EU’s research and information society policy documents, including the more
recent spate of eEurope policy reports. But these seem little more than occasional
rhetorical gestures in the midst of policy concepts and practices that are
fundamentally embedded in the neo-liberal ideology which celebrates a ‘market-
driven’ information society and which privileges consumer identities and roles over
those of citizenship. Indeed, we may note that the elite discourses surrounding
new ICT and the information society have provided important ideological arenae
for the general promotion of neo-liberal ideas and policy practices. This, of course,
does not reflect or contribute anything along the lines of a distinctive ‘Europe’s
way…’ to societal development, nor does it indicate any serious attempt to address
the new and alternative developmental possibilities opened up by a large and
increasingly integrated economic union embracing some 320 million people.
Rather it indicates a certain poverty of political imagination on the part of elites who
rely so heavily on the importation or universalisation of ideas and practices
developed elsewhere.
52 The European Information Society

Finally, we should briefly also note here that this impoverished approach to a
European social development strategy has serious implications for evolving forms
of social inequality, of which the much debated ‘digital divide’ is but one aspect.
The wider adoption of neo-liberal policy ideas and practices in the EU area, not
least via the frequent presumptions of a necessary or beneficial linkages between
new ICT and a ‘market-driven’ vision of societal development, have had major
impacts with respect to deepening social inequalities. Of course, this particular
attack on the prospects for any meaningful ‘social Europe’ policy strategy has
nothing to do with technology per se. Rather, it comprises the impacts and
intentions of a particular political-economy regime which has been increasingly
hegemonic over the past two decades.

One of the major and most obvious consequences has been a significant increase
in inequalities with respect to the distribution of income and wealth. But, we should
also note, this has accompanied the push to commodify an ever greater number of
services and functions which comprise the evolving basket of ‘socially-necessary’
goods (i.e. those which are required to match/access prevailing consumption
norms) or indeed, which are required for effective exercise of citizenship rights in
contemporary society. Thus the extending sway of the ‘naked cash nexus’,
alongside growing material inequalities, now impacts upon the levels and modes of
access to a growing number of services and functions in areas such as health,
education, legal services as well as in the arena of information and communication
services. Considerations of the nature and origins of the so-called ‘digital divide’
and effective policy responses must be framed as but one manifestation or
expression of these wider developmental trends and contexts.

Information ‘Content’ and Culture Matters

The second selective focus of my criticism concerns the implications of EU policies
for information ‘content’ services and the domain of culture. As noted earlier, EU
research and information society policies, since the early 1990s at least, have
tended to emphasise the beneficial implications of new ICT for the growth potential
of downstream (or application) fields such as information content services,
including cultural and media-related services (EC, 1993a; 1994a, 1994b; 1997a,
1997b, 1997c ). They have also emphasised the beneficial implications of new ICT
for greater diversity of cultural and other media content services. In keeping with
the technology-centred vision discussed earlier, key EU policy and research
reports have also assumed or asserted the rapid replacement of the old media by
new/digital media and a radical ‘convergence’ or blurring of boundaries between
previously separate communication services (EC, 1997a, 1997d; Techno-Z FH,
1997; TechServ, 1998).
European Union ICT Policies 53

Whilst the range of new ICT-based ‘content’ delivery systems and networks has
expanded rapidly over the past decade, the optimistic forecasts of a doubling of
the numbers of ‘high-level, grey-matter’ and labour intensive jobs in the media
content services sector by the year 2000 have failed to materialise. The reasons
why this is so are multiple and quite complex (Preston, 2001). One key factor has
been the tendency for key EU research and policy reports to embrace the
transformative, determinist visions of ICTs and their implications for the media and
content sectors associated with the digital deliria of the late 1990s. Another has
been the failure of EU policies to adequately recognise or address the distinctive
economic and social characteristics of the cultural and other media content
services. Instead, the tendency has been to extend the very same technological
and economistic logics relevant to the new ICT (tools and systems) supply sectors
(where economies of scale, standardisation and scope are highly relevant) to the
very different goals and requirements of the cultural and media content domains
(where diversity and difference rather than standardisation should be taken as the
overriding goals). These flaws are linked to the tendency of EU research and
information society policies to neglect the specifics of the innovation and
production processes involved in the new media domain, as already indicated in
section two above. The implied assumption is that the supply of new ICT-based
devises and networks will somehow ‘automatically’ create the new content forms
and texts appropriate to the new technical capacities or potentialities. The
privileging of technical domains of new knowledge within the EU research and
related policy programmes tends to neglect the all-important ‘downstream’ or
application layers of innovation processes in the domain of media and content. It
implies a de-valuing and neglect of the various other domains of new expertise,
competencies and creativity required to successfully explore, test and develop the
relevant new authoring, design and textual strategies, editorial and publishing
models etc. (Preston and Kerr, 2001; Williams and Slack, 1998).

Concluding Comments
This brief account of the EU’s research and information society policies has been
both selective and highly critical in its content and tone. I do not, however, mean it
to be totally negative, either in the sense of being anti-technology (or against new
ICT in particular) or of being opposed to the very principle of an EU research and
development policy in this field. In my view, both the further development and
application of new ICT and the role of EU-level policies in this field are important
endeavours. Indeed, both have the potential to contribute to improved living and
working conditions for citizens, workers and consumers in an increasingly
integrated Europe and global society. My main problem with the thrust of the
54 The European Information Society

existing policies and initiatives is that they appear to deliver so very little by way of
realising such potential. And, as stated at the outset, the key sources of this
problem do not lie with some remote or all-powerful Eurocrats based in Brussels.
Rather they reflect the wider patterns of political vision, policy strategies and
decision-making related to new ICT or an emergent new information or knowledge-
based society at the local and national level.

At root, the most significant criticisms and challenges posed in this chapter have
little or nothing to do with technology per se. The crucial and critical issues are to
do with how we, or more precisely those in possess the relevant resources of
economic, political and discursive power in our society, think about, discuss and
seek to address the ‘impacts’ or implications of such technologies for the living and
working lives of citizens and consumers in Europe and the wider world. One of the
biggest challenges or ironies here is the dominant elites’ vision of new ICTs
inaugurating a radical shift to an allegedly new kind of social formation on the one
hand, and on the other, the portfolio of highly conservative and extremely old-
fashioned social and political doctrines they proffer at the same time. In part at
least, the success of the New Right in Europe no less than the USA rests on its
successful packaging together of the enthusiastic embrace of new technological
developments (especially ICTs) in combination with some of the oldest and crudest
ideas concerning the supremacy of market-based economics and associated
individualism (Kintz, 2002). The ultimate logic and political prescriptions here are
the celebration of the individualised consumer in the marketplace and vehement
opposition to social forms of collective identity, solidarities or action, for example
on the part of workers, women, citizens or consumers (e.g. Toffler, 1993; Gilder,

As I see it, one key task for critical researchers and progressive civic organisations
is to challenge the prevailing elite discourses which describe and prescribe a
highly partial and impoverished vision of new ICT and to assert its relation to a
more progressive and just emergent/future social order. This means challenging
the prevailing assumptions and prescriptions that: (a) the maximum development
and use of new ICT is the key measure, goal or end of social development, and (b)
the effective development and use of new ICT is somehow necessarily bound up
with the embrace of the neo-liberal doctrine of a ‘market-driven’ path to social
development. It is only by challenging such technocratic, economistic and
impoverished (but highly partial) political visions that the growth of social
inequalities--including those embraced by the ‘digital divide’ -–may be addressed
effectively, both within the European region as well as in the wider global level.
European Union ICT Policies 55

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Policy challenges to the creation of a
European Information Society:
A critical analysis

Caroline Pauwels & Jean-Claude Burgelman1

A vital factor in the formation of the European Information Society has been the
EU’s aggregate policies as regards broadcasting and telecommunication. Both
sectors have been propelled into the age of high technology and deregulation over
the past decades and, as a result, their industrial strategies and policy goals have,
since the mid- eighties, gradually merged. This trend was reinforced by the
publication of the White Book of 1985 and the endorsement of the Single
European Act (SEA). Both of these reflect the decision, prompted by the recession
of the seventies, to push for integration of all EU member states into one internal
market where people, goods and services could move freely from 1 January 1993,.
From this moment, the creation of the necessary conditions for a single market has
been the dominant theme of European policy making. The creation of a common
market for broadcasting and telecommunications was described in the White Book
as an urgent issue for the EU. This can be found back in the landmark publication
of the Green Book on Television without Frontiers (1984) and the Green Book on
Telecommunications in 1987. Both Green Books had the same basic message:
communication is a good/service and should move, be sold and purchased freely
within the EU. EU policy has, since then, focused on removing barriers that hinder
competition and the creation of an internal broadcasting and telecommunications

These objectives have been reiterated several times in initiatives where the
creation of the European Information or Knowledge Society has been high on the
EU policy agenda, for example, in the Bangemann report (1994) and particularly in
Lisbon Summit (March 2000). Significantly, this whole process has been labeled
as E-Europe since the end of the 90s, indicating a trend towards looking at the
Information Society from a societal rather than a technological point of view.
It is also noticeable that broadcasting and telecommunication policies are now
converging at a European and worldwide level, along side technological and
economic convergence. At a European level, this has been made explicit in the
60 The European Information Society

Green paper on the convergence of the telecommunications, media and

information technology, published in 1997, and its follow-up, the 2003 regulatory
framework for electronic communications networks and services. The latter clearly
indicates the EU approach, which is that all communications should be regarded
as part of the same regulatory concept.

There is clearly a lot of activity going on at the policy level, and efforts are being
made to achieve clarity in regulating the communications sector in an integrated
way. However, the question remains: what sort of Information Society does Europe
In this context, we will review the political and economic trends in European
broadcasting and telecommunications, as in contrast to the underlying
assumptions and presuppositions of both EU policy and research in this field. We
will show:
(1) how the discourse on European integration and cultural diversity contradicts
the oligopolistic tendency of the market,
(2) how the emphasis on creating a plethora of competing distribution channels is
opposed to the overstated and overrated demands of the
user/consumer/viewer, and
(3) how the Euro-specificity of policy making puts a burden on reaching coherence
and efficiency in policy making.

This ‘Euro specificity’ of policy, as in other areas, is mainly due to the origins of the
EU as an ‘imposed supra-national’ state, based on common interest that are real
but nonetheless challenged most of the time. Indeed, when studying European
problems one has to bear in mind that the EU is an integration process that has
been imposed on what have been for several hundred years, competing, isolated
and very heterogeneous regional entities and/or states. Therefore, a fragile
equilibrium has to be found between heterogeneous member states on the one
hand, and the European institutions on the other, especially when several new
states join the European Union from 2004 onwards. This will result in a permanent
struggle over enlargement of powers and competencies at both sides of the policy
spectrum, especially also when the world level, by means of WTO policy making,
comes in. Political and economic globalization trends are indeed opposed by the
member states and regions themselves, which try to reinvent and renegotiate
powers of their own (according to the principle of subsidiarity).
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 61

Trends, issues and assumptions in Western

European media policy and research: Broadcasting
and telecommunications
Though originally separate empirical realities which responded to distinct internal
dynamics, both broadcasting and telecommunications sectors have changed
dramatically over a very short period of time. This due to more or less the same
factors: firstly, technological innovation has made new ways of delivering
communication content possible. Also, user needs have changed as a result of a
macro-economic climate (post fordism and globalism as a result of hyper-
capitalism) linked with a changing consumer culture (individualization and pay-per
logic). This was reinforced, up until recently, by an ultra-liberal climate of policy
making backed up by a post-modern ideology of super individualism. Finally, a
withering away in Europe of the nation-states as politico-geographical entities,
which had traditionally shaped both the audio-visual and telecommunications
sectors, has also contributed to the change (Burgelman, 1994; Charon, 1991;
Collins, 1994; Collins, Garnham and Locksley, 1988; Eliassen and Sjovaag, 1999;
Euromedia Group, 1992; Garnham, 1990a; Kayzer, 1993; McQuail, 1990 and
1991; Pauwels, 1995; Sanchez-Tabernero, 1993; Siune and Trutzschler, 1992).
With regard to the latter, a political shift has been observed away from the regional
and national level to the post, transnational, or European level, and furthermore,
the global level. At the global level, institutions such as the WTO have extended
their powers into the telecommunications and audiovisual sector, thus adding an
extra dimension to and pressure on European policy making. This goes hand in
hand with a paradigmatic shift in European policy making in broadcasting and
universal service issues in telecommunications, where a completely market driven
approach now challenges the decades-long tradition of public service
broadcasting, state subsidy to the film sector, must and may carry rules, etc.
(Pauwels and Cincera 2001; Pauwels and Loisen 2002). Paternalism and state
interventionism have given way to a policy based on consumer sovereignty and
liberalization. Most of the time this is as rhetorical as the old discourse on
‘educating for the better’ and ‘protecting the weak cultures of Europe’.

From the viewpoint of telecommunications and broadcasting economic actors, the

above-mentioned dynamics resulted in managerial professionalization,
capitalization and industrialization. Both sectors moved away at the same time
from what had been only 20 years ago a public service monopoly in Europe
towards a private, oligopolistic functioning. Telecommunications and broadcasting
are becoming more and more intertwined, and concentration is indeed a very
apparent trend in the communication industries. This means that overall
62 The European Information Society

competition or antitrust policies are becoming more important than traditional

sector-specific regulation and legislation.

From fragmentation to unification and backwards: Discourse and

the process of policy making at the European level
European unification and the policy making process was and still is a question of
give and take. It has been a struggle to get the member states to allow a
transnational organization such as the EU to meddle in what they see as culturally
(broadcasting/audio-visual sector) and economically (telecommunications)
strategic sectors. In order to legitimize its intervention in both sectors, the EU has
therefore been forced to depict in detail all sorts of boom-and-doom scenarios, and
also continually amend and refine its policy instruments.

As stated above, the creation of a common market for broadcasting and

telecommunications was described as an urgent matter for the EU in the White
Book of 1985. The reasoning then was that the European dimension could offer
these sectors new prospects for growth and competitiveness. In turn, these sectors
could contribute to the realization of a European dimension in other economic
sectors; for example, micro-electronics, consumer electronics, advertising etc.
However, because of lack of concerted action and national fragmentation, this
economic potential was not fully realized. European action was therefore
necessary, particularly in view of the economic and cultural threats increasingly
posed by Japan and America in these domains. If Europe was not to miss the boat
as regards Information Society benefits, then concerted action was absolutely
necessary. This message was repeated in the Green Books on TV (1984) and on
telecommunications (1987). It was expressed again in two important publications,
which were supposed to put Europe on track for the Information Society -- namely
the 1993 White Paper on competitiveness, employment and growth and the
Bangemann report on the Information Society, published in 1994.

The Lisbon Summit in 2000 made the realization of a European Knowledge society
the new paradigm, as well as the driving force behind EU policy for both sectors.
We note however that, with eEurope, discussion on what kind of Information
Society Europe wants to develop is, to a significant degree, no longer
technologically driven, as it was at the beginning. In the first decade of EU policy
making, however, the opposite was true: the technological developments and thus
the creation of an Information Society are not only unavoidable but also include
quasi limitless possibilities, if only people know how to make use of them
(Burgelman, 2001).
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 63

EU policy, which aimed at the realization of an internal market in

telecommunications and broadcasting, encompassed both negative integration, i.e.
the breaking down of existing national regulations that form an obstacle to
European unification, and positive integration, i.e. the creation of the EU’s own
community-wide regulations and policy. The latter meant that certain matters had
to be withdrawn from the domain of autonomous national policy. This resulted in
the adoption of a battery of Directives (secondary community laws) that have
liberalized, harmonized and standardized the production and distribution of both
the hardware and software sectors. In addition, action was taken on stimulation
programs in the form of a community industrial policy that was intended to support,
among other things, the production of broadcasting and telecommunications
equipment, infrastructure and content. These are or were often prestigious
industrial programs such as Race, the action plan relating to HDTV or even the
more culturally inspired and, compared to the previous two, largely underfunded
Media program (Measures to Encourage the Development of an Audiovisual
Industry in Europe).

With a view to the realization of the internal market and mainly by extensive use of
Directives, the EU aimed to accommodate pressure from the member states
wishing to reserve some control over their own policies. A Directive is, after all,
binding in respect of the result but allows member states to choose the means by
which they achieve it. Although this was the only way to draw in reluctant states, it
also led to a situation in which the member states regarded community legislation
as a sort of à la carte system. This allowed them to defend national interests both
a priori, when they have the last word when complying with primary and secondary
community legislation, and a posteriori, when it comes to the often ambivalent and
challengeable implementation and interpretation. Although economically unified,
the internal market is still, due to this, legally fragmented to an important degree.

After the legislative harmonization, which resulted in the establishment of the

internal market in 1993, some important policy shifts occurred.
On the one hand, there is a major shift from a sector-oriented policy towards a
more general competition and antitrust policy: ‘the European competition authority
has taken over the regulatory task, outweighing to a certain extent the decline in
the Commission’s legislative influence since the passage of the SEA’ (Pauwels
and Cincera 2001). From that moment onwards tensions between both
approaches have occurred frequently. Simultaneously, the member states have
shown even greater opposition, as they consider the intervention of the EU in
questions of competition unwanted interference with national matters. Indeed,
most national authorities tend to promote and defend, first and foremost, the
interests of, for example, their own telecommunications operator instead of
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thinking and acting ‘European’. Hence there is a constant tension between them
and the EU (Hulsink, 1994; Mansell, 1993a). The small nations and the so-called
‘less favored regions’ especially, as they have smaller markets to build on (also
true in broadcasting), seem to be less inclined to follow the road of perfect
liberalization than the big ones (Preston, 1993). The question is, however, whether
these countries have any other choice and whether, given their specific economic
and infrastructural situation, EU policy should not adopt more case-specific
strategies at this level (Constantelou and Mansell, 1994).
On the other hand, the adoption of the Treaty of Maastricht caused a series of
major changes. The EU started to emphasize a Europe of diversity, heterogeneity
and pluralism – at least in discussion -- to the disadvantage of concepts like a
European cultural unity and identity. In the phrasing of the cultural paragraph of the
Treaty, cultural diversity became institutionalized. At the same time, Maastricht
institutionalized the principle of subsidiarity, which serves to safeguard (at least in
principle) the policy margins of the member states, in questions of culture, for
example. The audio-visual sector gets mentioned here explicitly.

The inclusion of the principle of subsidiarity, may have been the only option left to
convince the more restrained member states to move further in the direction of
European integration and liberalization, as this principle aims to limit the
interference of the Community as much as possible. De facto, it has resulted in
decentralization and a tendency towards bottom-up rather than the former top-
down policy making. This becomes obvious in the growing use of mechanisms
such as the ‘open method coordination’. In this more laborious bottom-up strategy,
member states or other (economic) actors are requested to co-ordinate their
policies as much as possible and to implement self-regulation and control. Initiated
in the Maastricht Treaty, and from the Treaty of Nice onwards, decentralization
becomes next to centralization the road Europe has – almost by necessity–
chosen. In that respect, one can speak of a partial renaissance of the nation-state.

Towards a new global communication order: The economic

convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications
The increasing importance of EU competition policy is not solely the result of
internal political regulatory developments but also relates to the economic
integration and concentration of the communication industries themselves. It is
certain, however, that concentration, integration, and ownership entanglements
between industrial/economic conglomerates and media corporations are neither
explicitly recent phenomena nor strictly linear evolutionary processes. This is
illustrated by the recent difficulties of some, once so promising, mergers (Mattelart,
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 65

1991a: 20&ff.; Pilon, 1991: 287&ff.; Bonnell, 1989: 471&ff.; 494&ff.; Conso, 1991:
291; Brenner, 1993; Crookes, 1996). The 80s and 90s, however, were
characterized by a great number of takeovers, mergers and alliances, as was
illustrated, among other things, by the rising number of cases which the European
Union had to process under its merger regulation2. It is noteworthy that the scale of
these alliances were spectacular -- the largest merger of all time in economic
history was the one between AOL and Time Warner (January 2000) with a
combined value at that moment of 187 billion dollars. Other figures confirm this
trend -- for example, 5 out of the 10 largest mergers were related to the telecom
and media sector in 2000 alone. At the same time, these mergers have led to a
fundamental strategic reorganisation of both the audio-visual and
telecommunications sector (Idate, 1992: 7&ff.; Luyken, 1990: 621&ff.; Pilon, 1991;
Hancock, 1993; Screen Digest February 1993: 36&ff.; Booz Allen and Hamilton,
1989; 1992; European Audiovisual Observatory, Statistical Yearbook 1996–1997;
Pauwels and Cincera 2001; Burgelman, Bogdanowich and Punie, 2002).

These restructuring moves have indeed set the stage for a new era. Back in 1988,
American networks were the world’s largest audio-visual concerns, but from 1989
on they were overtaken by corporations pursuing both horizontal but mostly
vertical integration strategies in the production, distribution, hardware, and
software (programmes) areas. At that time, along with a trend towards integration
of software and hardware companies, sales of American majors such as Columbia
or MCA/Universal kept the headlines buzzing. Since in the mid-90s, however, the
emphasis has been on convergence between telecommunications groups,
computing and audiovisual companies. The telecom operators’ strategy here is, as
a former BT chairman remarked, “to become (CP) retailers of anything that can be
converted into digital form” (IMO working paper 95/5). These alliances, whatever
form they take, point to what the Green Paper on convergence refers to as a trend
towards diversification as a response to the economic and technological
opportunities being created in the EU and the global market (CEC, Com(97)623).
Even though some alliances tended to misfire or were more inspired by hype than
rational thinking3, usually leading to a renewed focus on core activities, further
integration of telecommunications, cable, film industry, programme packaging, and
consumer electronics was inevitable (Mansell, 1993; Noam & Kramer, 1994;
Noam, 1996). These alliances can also be interpreted within the general
framework of American and European plans for the establishment of information
highways (Burgelman, Punie &Verhoest, 1995). Related to this, the latest
takeovers and mergers such as AOL and Time Warner or Vivendi, Canal Plus and
Seagram illustrate how far the Internet has become a 'driving force' behind the
merger movements.
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With this integration of the old and the new economies, the ‘megalisation’ of the
cultural industry has clearly taken on a new dimension: i.e. to acquire the ‘old-
fashioned’ media conglomerates. In 2000 e.g., Time Warner, AOL, the biggest
player in the new media economy, was ready to pay five times as much as Viacom
had stumped up five years before for CBS (Rutten, 2000).

Another trend is apparent: although European public service companies in

broadcasting still hold respectable market positions, they have lost the complete
dominance they had 20 years ago. The presence of a limited number of private
multinational conglomerates here is simply overwhelming. This explains the recent
shifts in policy thinking, pointing at the fact that public objectives do not have to be
secured by definition by public service institutions but can be met equally well by
the market (Oreja, 1998; Tongue, 1999). Or as EU Commissioner Viviane Reding
said, referring to the coming digital age, where a scarcity of frequencies and other
distribution channels will no longer be a problem, “... some public interest
objectives, such as pluralism, will increasingly be met by the market itself "
(Reding, 30 November 2000; Tongue, 1999: 128; 136; CEC COM (97) 623 3
December 1997). The challenge here, of course, is to understand how far a rather
oligopolistic market with a minority of public services, will automatically provide
pluralism, particularly as regards content.
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 67

Infrastructure and technology driven assumptions as opposed to

content: Is content diversity and cultural identity politically and
economically feasible?
The latest integration developments and the crisis of public service missions, as
will be argued later, illustrate very clearly the way in which the ‘content’ sector has
over the years become a strategic choice for takeover targets (Tongue, 1999;
Rutten, 2000). The more distribution channels are added or freed through
technological development and deregulation, the greater the demand for content,
whether for traditional culture industry products like films, music, novels,
magazines and television programmes, or more recent forms of electronic
services. According to Screen Digest, continental Europe had over 650 TV
channels at the end of 1998. With regard to the growth of digital TV, Idate
calculated that as of June 1999, there were 35 digital TV platforms in the EU,
compared with 20 at the end of 1998. At the end of 1999, Idate therefore estimated
that there were around 400 digitally broadcast TV channels in the EU (Idate,

The first question to answer is, of course, to what degree this explosion of potential
choice will be matched by a real demand for new broadcasting services on a pan-
European level? Most policy makers and actors were expecting a lot from this
because broadcasting is not a market to be invented (like multimedia was and is).
Research suggests, however, that a more cautious approach to pan-European TV
should be taken.

First of all, research shows that over the last few years total TV consumption
stabilized in Europe (3-4 hours a day). This means that whatever new
broadcasting services are offered, they will have to substitute existing viewing
habits. These viewing habits are at the moment very well established and cost the
viewer almost nothing. This raises the question as to why consumers would pay for
new broadcasting services when they already have a multitude of free choice.

There is also the question of who is going to finance a segmented offer in Europe,
given the fact that it took CNN, for example, more than 10 years to reach break-
even. Indeed, is there enough advertising revenue to support a segmented
broadcasting offer? It must be remembered that the largest TV advertisers are the
Procter and Gamble type of consumer goods -- precisely those that need a broad
audience and not a segmented one.
68 The European Information Society

The answer could be subscription TV. However, here too it is questionable

whether the European market is large enough to allow specialized TV on a
subscriber basis. Or more precisely: is it homogeneous enough? The analogy in
terms of specialized offer with the written press clearly does not work, since press
economies are not at all comparable with broadcasting economies (though digital
innovation makes the business model here more and more attractive). One also
has to bear in mind that watching cross-border TV, an essential condition for a
segmented pan-European broadcasting offer, is very infrequent in Europe.

Finally, what will be the ease of use of an explosion of demand? How will the
viewer make a choice between 400 channels? The answer one reads about here
is that someone will offer to make a choice for the audience (navigator systems
pre-selecting e.g. half an hour of soap, 15 minutes of news, a movie and so on).
Although possible, is this not exactly what the general channels offer?

As a result, this increase in channels has for the moment only resulted in an
explosion in demand for cheap programmes. The European broadcasting industry
can only provide 1/3 of the programmes needed (especially in fiction, the most
competitive programme category). Hence the need to import entertainment and
drama – this lies at the roots of one of the most complicated questions of media
policy in Western Europe: namely, the dominance of the US and the endangered
European audio-visual culture and industry.

The figures illustrate this domination clearly. If the Europeans only have a 6%
market share of the US market, the American audio-visual sector in Europe has a
market share of approximately 75%, though the European broadcasting and film
sector pursue their own logics. In general one can say that people generally stick
to national programmes, if available, when watching television but prefer watching
US movies on the big screen.

As far as broadcasting is concerned, reception analysis as well as internal EU

evaluation reports have shown that national broadcasters do programme home
made fiction, especially during prime time as these programmes are the most
popular ones. However, the remaining time is filled with imported American, rather
than imported non-national European, programmes. Figures from the European
Audiovisual Observatory confirm these trends. They show that the import of
European fiction in 16 European countries has stabilized since 1994 but that
import from American has increased (Table 1). In other words, the explosion in
demand for programmes has up till now been filled with national and American
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 69

Table 1: Origin of imported fiction in 16 European countries

Imported fiction – non-
Fiction of European origin Co-production

Ger- Euro- Non-

France UK Italy joined. US CA AU+ NZ
many pean Eur.

1994 1.7% 2.9% 6.0% 1.6% 2.7% 1.8% 0.4% 69.8% 1.5% 3.4%

1995 1.6% 2.7% 5.8% 1.1% 2.9% 2.7% 0.4% 69.8% 1.6% 3.3%

1996 1.5% 2.2% 5.2% 1.0% 3.0% 2.6% 0.5% 71.2% 1.5% 3.2%

1997 1.6% 2.3% 5.0% 1.0% 4.4% 2.0% 0.4% 71.3% 1.7% 3.1%

Source: l’Observatoire de l’Audiovisuel, Statistical Yearbook (1999: 196)

As far as film is concerned, the same imbalance occurs. It is striking that European
non-national films still do not circulate in Europe, and that the share of national
films in their own market, not withstanding some recent exceptions and EU policy
in this area4 is extremely small (Directorate of Culture and Audiovisual Policy,
1997: 14 et seq.; Pauwels, 1995; Directorate of Culture and Audiovisual Policy,
1997: 12 et al.). The market share of national films in their home market is around
17%, and the share of non-national European films on the European market only
amounts to 13%. The gross earnings per distributed film are by consequence
much higher in America than in Europe, namely 5.3 million dollars or 4.8 million
euro in America compared to 1 million dollars or 900,000 euro in Europe
(Directorate of Culture and Audiovisual Policy, 1997: 14).
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Table 2: Market shares of the national and European non-national film

on the European markets (1995/1996/1997).
Market share (%) of national film (incl. Market share (%) of European non-national
Copro) film
1995 1996 1997 1995 1996 1997

France 35.3 37.5 34.2 8.4 6.5 10

Germany 6.3 15.3 16.7 5.1 8.9 11.5

Italy 23.7 23.9 31.3 11.7 12.5 15.9

Spain 11.9 9.3 13 14.1 11.8 17.6

UK 10.2 - 26 6.1 - -

Belgium 2.5 5.3 3.6 20.8 10.9 13.4

Netherlands 7.6 5.4 3.4 75. 3.6 10.5

Denmark 10.3 3.7 6.6 7.4 15.3 13.1

Portugal 8.4 17.2 18.8 34 - 29

Finland - - - 11.2 15.7 18.6

Greece 4 - - 21 - -

Switserla 2 4.3 2.3 24 24.3 21

Norway 12 5.4 5.2 - - -

Luxemburg 0 0.2 1.7 15.1 16.2 28.4

Iceland 5.9 8 3.7 - 6.7 13

Sweden 20.4 18 17.8 6.1 - -

Source: Media Salles (1998)

This has resulted in a trade deficit that has continued to grow through the years. It
increased from only 2.5 billion euro in 1990 to 8 billion euro in 2000 (Idate, 1992:
104-115; l’Observatoire de l’Audiovisuel, Statistical Yearbook 1998: 37 and 2002).
According to the Commission's Communication on 'Principles and guidelines for
the Community's audiovisual policy in the digital age' (CEC COM(1999) 657final):
“American productions account for between 60 – 90% of Member States'
audiovisual markets (receipts from cinema ticket sales, video cassette sales and
rentals and from sales of television fiction programmes), whilst the respective
European share of the American market is of the order of 1 – 2%”. In terms of
content, this is visible in the ubiquity of American films on European TV and
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 71

television screens. Of the top 50 box office successes in 1998, just 10 were of
European origin, including two British-American co-productions. Leading the top 50
was Titanic, Armageddon and Saving Private Ryan. As Tongue argues "This
deficit has a cultural, social and political impact on the UK and Europe" (Tongue,

These trends are even more problematic in the smaller EU countries because their
markets are smaller and their cultures are more hermetic and thus not so easily
exportable (Burgelman and Pauwels, 1992; Pauwels, 1995). There seems to be
very little interest indeed among Greek viewers to watch a Scandinavian soap, and
vice versa.

It is also much more difficult to realize a return on investment when making a

programme for an audience of 6 million people, in a language that few understand
(and thus needs dubbing, extra promotion etc. if it is to be exported), than when
doing the same for an audience of 50 million. At the same time, this means less
investment is made in film production in smaller states as compared to their bigger
European neighbors, not to mention their American counterparts. As shown in
Table 3, the average production budget of bigger member states is double the
average budget the smaller states can spend.

Table 3: Average film production budget in 1997 (billions of dollars)

Big EU Small EU
countries countries
France 5.53 Belgium 3.18 Majors 53.41
Germany 5.68 Netherlands 4.2 Independent -
U.K. 8.34 Luxemburg 0.66
Spain 2.97 Ireland 5.08
Italy 3.44 Denmark 2.6
Finland 1.65
Sweden 2.63
Austria 1.23
Switzerland 0.82
Portugal 0.44
Average 5.19 Average 2.25 Average 14.53
Source: Screen Digest, June 1998
72 The European Information Society

However, if content diversity is a difficult economic objective within a globalizing

entertainment economy, it might also be politically difficult to promote or organize.
Does this rather dominant position of the USA imply that (1) European culture is
threatened and (2) that a European response should be imposed? These
questions divide both the policy and research communities in Europe, and are
problematic in several respects.

Firstly, the assumption of American hegemony is disputable because it assumes

on the one hand, that European production is better, because it is not American. It
also ignores the fact that most American media groups, and indeed European
groups too, are now global multinationals, as illustrated by the recent merger
between Canal Plus/Vivendi/Universal. In this respect, it comes as no surprise that
former Canal Plus/Vivendi’s CEO Jean-Marie Messier declared European cultural
specificity to be dead.

Second, European research in this area makes more or less the same mistakes as
those observed in the debate on the New World International Information Order.
This mistake resides in the fact that studies on the origin of a programme (in itself
an irrelevant indicator as the example on the American programming industry just
clarified) are used to presuppose effects on the audience, a fallacy that reception
analysis within the cultural studies tradition has sufficiently tackled.

Third, it raises the question of what is so specific about European culture, that is
has to be considered as endangered (Garnham, 1993). This is a vital but
extremely complex research question since it is difficult to imagine how this can be
operationalised. It would mean that European research would have to demonstrate
what the specific quality of European culture is -- again, a very complex issue
since it depends on the interests involved. Quality in broadcasting is something
which can be measured in many different ways (Mulgan, 1990). It is in fact related
to different assumptions as to the nature of the audience (consumer versus
citizens), of broadcasting (being a commercial good or not) and as to the
relationship between broadcasting and society.

From this point of view, the mechanisms Europe puts in place to establish a
competitive audio-visual industry -- i.e. the Media program, quota and competition
policy – should be fundamentally reconsidered.

First of all, US domination cannot possibly be compensated for through EU

funding. The total amount of the Media III program targeted at the production of
audio-visual programmes, barely amounts to 350 million euro for 2000/2005, -- in
no way comparable with the average production budget of the US major
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 73

companies. To push the comparison a bit further: the total budget of Media 1 was
similar to that of just one high budget US production, i.e. Titanic.

An interesting paradox within European policy thinking emerges here: promoting

competition and free market as the ultimate benchmark for free movement of
goods and services within the community is not easily compatible with any support,
based on cultural interests, of the broadcasting industry. This would mean an
agreement has to be reached between big and small countries whom both have
different objectives and interests in this area, as illustrated by the quota discussion
in the Television without Frontiers Directive.

Smaller countries not only have much higher import rates than the bigger
European ones, but they also complain about being too dependent on their big
European neighbours. This came to the fore in the quota debates at the end of the
80s. In order to protect the European broadcasting industry, it was suggested that
each country would have to schedule more than 50% of European programmes. In
response, the small countries aired the view that this would oblige them to buy
more expensive European programmes when they could buy cheaper elsewhere
(from the US). The whole debate resulted in the adoption of the EU
recommendation that member states should do their best to schedule as many
European programmes as possible. Not only did the whole issue illustrate that
quotas are economic and in this context to a large extent contestable, another
fallacy appears: the scheduling of European content does not per se mean that it is
actually watched. Audience research as well as political economy have clearly
shown that one can only speak of homogeneous markets in broadcasting when the
cultural proximity of the audiences is close. As we have said before, there seems
to be very little interest indeed from a Southern European viewer in watching a
Scandinavian soap and vice versa. This underlines the fundamental friction
between the policy of a united Europe for business and the continuing constraints
of cultural specificity.

Another level of complexity is added by looking at how EU competition policy

comes into play here. EU competition policies are meant to reconcile two
conflicting objectives. On the one hand, sizeable corporations are essential for
accomplishing internal market objectives and strengthening European
competitiveness. Improving technical efficiency in the production and introduction
of a given set of (new) services at the lowest possible cost and overcoming
fragmentation are important criteria in the industrial economic analysis of alliances.
On the other hand, these holdings have to be deterred from taking advantage of
their increased market power to undermine competition, i.e. their potential for anti-
competitive behaviour towards both their competitors and suppliers and the abuse
74 The European Information Society

of a dominant position vis-à-vis the users (Kiessling and Johnson, 1998:157; Cini
and McGowan, 1998). As regards the media, Community competition policies adds
an extra dimension stemming from the added cultural value of the software
product. Here decisions regarding competition may have an impact on media
pluralism and diversity, policy principles which in Europe are traditionally
associated, among other things, with a public service mission, but as such do not
belong to the specific objectives of the EC competition policy which is concerned
solely with fair competition. It is questionable whether objectives for pluralism and
diversity have been met by the outcomes of EU competition policy.

With regard to the application of the rules concerning state aid, an area that is
traditionally not regarded as anti-trust, it is the general belief of the Commission
that state aid does not contribute to economic efficiency. Its only benefit is to
remedy market imperfection. It is in the light of this conviction that state-aid cases
have been adjudicated. As the European Commission has often pointed to the
need to remedy structural weaknesses in the audio- visual sector, it seemed until
recently that the application of the state-aid rules in this area could be positively
evaluated (CEC, COM (96) 160 final of 17 April 1996), in particular since the EC
Treaty made provision for a new exception to the application of state-aid rules in
order to support culture (art. 87.3.d). In this context it should, however, be
emphasised that the Commission and the Court seldom deviate from the legal
essence of the European unification, i.e. broad rules and no exceptions.
Discriminatory and non-proportional provisions included in German, French,
Danish, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Greek support mechanisms for the film
industry have had to give way under pressure from the Commission (Pons, 1996).
Since 1998, however, the Commission has been seeking to lay down a more
general policy line with regard to state aid to cinema and television programming.
In its Decision of 9.6.1998 on the French system of support to film production, the
Commission set out a list of 4 specific criteria on the basis of which it intended to
assess state aid to cinema and TV programme production under the cultural
derogation of Article 87.3.d. In particular the provisions that aid to the audio- visual
sector should be limited to 50% of the production budget and that producers
receiving such support must be free to spend at least 20% of the film budget in
another member state led to uproar and unrest in professional and political circles.
Significantly, the often heard point of view that ‘culture should not serve as an alibi
for subsidizing an industry’ has been neutralized by the adoption in November
2000 of a resolution stating that the audio-visual industry is an ‘exceptional cultural
industry’. Assistance to film and media ‘forms’ is, in the wording of the resolution,
‘one of the most important means of maintaining cultural diversity, which is
precisely the objective of government assistance’. Whether this marks a turn in the
tide has still to be seen.
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 75

Public service as guarantee for quality and diversity?

In so far as the Treaty recognises the importance of the concept of public service
and provides guarantees for its existence and maintenance (arts. 7d, 86, 87.3.d),
the Decisions of the Commission undoubtedly point to a certain goodwill. In the
audio-visual sector member states have gone so far as to emphasise the
importance of public broadcasting by endorsing the Protocol on Public Service
Broadcasting, which was an annex to the Amsterdam Treaty5. Of more
fundamental importance, however, are the proceedings that the Commission has
initiated concerning state support to public broadcasting. Various private
broadcasters have complained that the licence fee system distorts competition,
especially when coupled with advertising on public service broadcasters. Several
complaints have been brought before the Commission on this basis by the private
broadcasters (Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany) (Oreja, 1998). The
Portugese RTP case was the first one on which the Commission has passed
judgement (Decision of 7 November 1996). The Commission concluded that the
public financing which the RTP enjoys is not a form of government support
because, in return, the RTP is required to fulfil public service tasks which are
clearly defined by law. Whether this has had the effect of creating an important
precedent is, however, another question, particularly since the Commission’s
Decision has recently (May 2000) been cancelled by the Court of First Instance. It
found that the Commission had incorrectly reached a decision too quickly and
should therefore start a more thorough enquiry. Similar failings had been
denounced earlier by the Court of First Instance in the case of TF1 versus France
2 and 3. It is clear that, in the eyes of the Commission (Oreja, 1998) and the Court
of Justice, support measures always have to be tested against principles such as
transparency, proportionality, objective necessity and the like, which are arbitrary
in that they have never been precisely defined. This raises the question, for
example, as to whether licence fees can be maintained, and if so, how and in what
form. Are they indeed proportional? In other words, is public broadcasting funding
limited to the strictly necessary to allow fulfillment of the public service remit? Is it
objectively necessary with respect to the public service mission? Is it really related
to the added costs incurred by fulfilling a public service mission? As the added cost
is almost impossible to calculate and criteria like proportionality are interpreted
restrictively, public service broadcaster remain in a situation of legal uncertainty.

However, even if public service institutions were to survive, one should bear in
mind that Public service status is not in itself a guarantee for varied content, or for
‘providing what the market does not offer’. One should bear in mind, when being
critical of the market, that one should also be critical of public broadcasting as an
76 The European Information Society

instrument for relevant policy, as the EU competition policy quite rightly pointed
Indeed, the whole debate on the nature of public service broadcasting as opposed
to commercial broadcasting rests on two assumptions (Burgelman, 1990). Firstly,
public broadcasting has no inherent operational mechanism that determines its
management, unlike commercial broadcasting (profit making). Public broadcasting
is only a concept. Second, and by consequence, it is assumed that a public service
exploitation model in broadcasting is a distinct organizational way of running a
broadcasting institution.
More precisely it is accepted that public service broadcasting offers different
outputs in terms of programming than commercial broadcasting (which is the main
reason why public broadcasters are defended) because public service
broadcasting is a different way of organizing communication. This specificity of
public service broadcasting is very seldom challenged. On the contrary, the
specific nature of public service broadcasting is accepted, almost as an ontological
fact, which has been there from the beginning of broadcasting. Therefore one can
almost speak of an ideology of public service broadcasting: public service
broadcasting was and is superior to commercial broadcasting because it is
organized in a non-market way. Many studies have, in the meantime,
demonstrated that the way public broadcasters operate is very similar to
commercial ones.

This means that having a public service output in broadcasting is not only
dependent on media inherent characteristics. In fact, it may be more related to
non-media specific elements, such as political culture and economic policy than to
the specific way in which it is organized as a mass medium.
It follows from this non-media centric point of view that the dilemma presented by
current regulatory debates on communications policy – i.e. between the need to
regulate a communications system so that it fulfils its public service role, and the
need to deregulate it commercially in order to fit a given cultural project – may be
Simply because regulating into a public service way, because of its supposed
rationale of quality, culture or independence, is not the most important reason why
such a system was chosen for by the policymakers. A non-media centered
approach even suggests that a public service can also be chosen for its
conservative, middle of the road, non- critical or whatever characteristics a market
approach is said to be typical for.

The same reasoning goes for the implementation and articulation of the concept of
universal service in telecommunications. Although large-scale comparative
analysis of the regulatory concept of universal service is lacking, what is available
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 77

(Garnham, 1988b; Burgelman & Verhoest, 1994) demonstrates that it was, like
public service in broadcasting, a compromise between all dominant interests (and
the fact that business users and residential users had no other choice than to use
the same network). It differs from country to country and is not a God-given
concept that has a regulatory dynamic of its own. This means that ‘solving’ the
present problems of equal distribution and access to telecommunications in
Europe, in a fully liberalized market, by imposing a concept like universal service --
or by proposing regulatory concepts in which infrastructure, platform services and
applications are seen as separate entities -- without negotiating this with industry,
political authorities and so on, is bound to fail.

Public service and universal service should therefore be regarded as a normative

and dynamic set of rules which have to be constantly reviewed and redefined (but
not reinvented) in the light of the constantly changing nature of power relations and

Political and regulatory convergence of broadcasting and

telecommunications at the global level: The impact of the WTO
policy actions
Last but not least is the extra burden the WTO might actually put on the political
and economic trends in European broadcasting and telecommunications. It could
result in more conflicts between cultural diversity and the noticeable oligopolistic
reality of the market on the one hand, and on tensions between the global policies,
EU policy and the regional priorities on the other. As a consequence, a blurring of
definitions might put extra pressure on maintaining traditional mechanisms like
subsidies and public service for promoting content creation and diversity.

This last point becomes crucial within the coming WTO negotiations, launched in
Qatar in November 2001 (Pauwels and Loisen 2002). Although the European
Union was able to postpone the dismantling of its audio-visual policy and the
liberalisation of the audio-visual sector during the Uruguay round, it did not
succeed in exacting a separate cultural status for the audio-visual sector. The
European audio-visual sector is therefore not safeguarded against future attempts
at liberalisation. On the contrary: other contracting parties have already started on
this liberalisation and have made concrete commitments. As few liberalisation
commitments have been made in the audio-visual sector and an elaborate list of
MFN exceptions has been drawn up, the only immediate effect of the GATS
Agreement is that all members who have not entered into agreements will
undertake to keep any rules and measures in the audio-visual sector which they
78 The European Information Society

subscribe to now or in the future transparent (Article III of GATS Agreement). In

this way, the largest and most important opponent of imposed liberalisation of the
sector, the EU, has primarily gained time and a certain amount of room for
manoeuvre. It remains temporarily free to enforce its regulatory framework and
support measures.

However, the increasing convergence between traditional and new, digital,

communications media (telecommunications and other ICT services) is leading to
a situation where audio-visual sector policy and regulation are increasingly coming
into contact with other forms of service provision. The result of this convergence is
that borders between formerly relatively isolated concepts such as ‘audio-visual
services’, ‘electronic commerce’ or ‘online trading’ are becoming blurred (Wheeler
2000, 254, 257; Deselaers & König 1999, 148). In view of the stalemate on the
audio-visual dossier during the Uruguay round, it may be supposed that the
advocates of imposed liberalisation of the audio-visual sector will attempt to crack
the audio-visual market via the points of contact between various types of service.
This is even more valid insofar as major steps towards liberalizing
telecommunications had already been undertaken during the Uruguay round and
in subsequent years. Although extreme differences between mainly the US and a
number of developing countries meant that agreement was only reached on value
added services during the Ministerial Conference in Marrakech (which formed the
closing section of the Uruguay round), the deregulation of the entire telecom sector
followed soon after. Basic telecommunications services, which represent
approximately 80% of total turnover in telecommunication services trade (Barth
1999, 60) were finally fully included in GATS following difficult negotiations on 15
February 1997 (Fredebeul Klein & Freytag 1997, 477, 483, 486).

An additional aspect which may ensure that it will become ever more difficult to
consider audio-visual services as a cultural product, is the fact that the new
concepts arising from convergence are not yet clearly defined. In the past it was
possible to fall back on the position that regulatory interference in the distribution of
content was defensible for cultural reasons during discussions about the audio-
visual sector. Thus Europe could keep free of liberalization commitments and
advance the provisions of the Directive ‘Television without Frontiers’ without being
sanctioned. However, where audio-visual services can be seen as a form of
electronic transport, the issues are not so clear (Wheeler 2000, 257; Deselaers &
König 1999, 148, 150). Furthermore, the US wishes to classify some products
which are delivered and downloaded via the Internet as virtual goods, making them
fall under the GATT regulation, which (for the time being) demands much stronger
liberalization than GATS (Deselaers & König 1999, 151). Incidentally, this position
is not only supported by the US, but also by another major trading power, Japan.
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 79

In view of the dominance of Japanese companies in the production of CDs, the

prospect of a fully liberalized Internet market is an important reason for siding with
the US (Le Monde 23 November 1999, 8). This may therefore mean an end to the
cultural exception and the situation where member states can subsidize the audio-
visual sector.

However, as previous negotiations within the GATS framework were disappointing

for the US, an attempt is now being made to apply the rules already negotiated for
other sectors to the audio-visual. Anticipating the position that the Europeans will
probably adopt in this dossier, the US is attempting to demonstrate that sufficient
safeguards exist for preserving the cultural component of audio-visual services.
Thus, Article IV of GATT (dating from 1947) provides for an exception concerning
the rules for national treatment of cinema films, GATS Article XIV (a) and GATT
Article XX (a) provide for possibilities to intervene on a regulatory basis “to
preserve public morality” and the acceptance of obligations does not by definition
mean no possibility of acting via regulation … “so long as the regulation is not
administered in a way that represents an unexpected trade barrier” (United States,
Communication from the United States – Audiovisual and Related Services; 18
December 2000).
In other words, room for European manoeuvre is limited.

Conclusion: Building the European Knowledge

society on converged policy making?
If a European Knowledge Society is to appear, the three aspects of EU regulation -
- competition policy, telecommunications policy and media policy -- must be tuned
into each other.

The first obstacle to overcome is the fact that European Information Society policy
is, to a large extent, concerned with infrastructure. The issue of what content
should be provided is very sensitive for the member states, as they want as much
subsidiarity as possible. This means that two rival policies are at work: a ‘centralist’
hardware policy as opposed to a decentralizing preoccupation with subsidiarity in
terms of content to be offered on that infrastructure.

The second obstacle (related to the first) which must be overcome is the conflict
between the will of the EU to install fair competition, open the market, abolish the
monopolies, etc. (EU competition objectives) and the need for at least a stable
environment with guaranteed revenues to attract the necessary investment in
80 The European Information Society

trans-European networks (EU industrial policy objectives) on the one hand, and
the safeguarding of diversity and pluralism on the other hand (EU media policy
objectives). Moreover EU competition policy is not always compatible with
financing mechanisms for Public Service (state aid) or EU action programmes
such as Media. This means that EU policy is rather inadequate when it comes to
tackling what has always been a major concern -- promoting cultural diversity in
mass media, as demonstrated by the problems associated with the import of
American broadcasting.

The last is even more fundamental. Since the EU is a top-down construction,

composed of nations which have, as their first priority, to gain their legitimacy at
the national level, it is inevitable that the principle of subsidiarity will not always
smooth the path of the European integration. Europe’s specificity resides in fact
that it is the local (nation states), which has been there far longer than the global
(the EU). As argued throughout this article, there is nothing specific about
European media policy. In fact, the main issues at stake are the same in other
industrialized countries, but it is the context of Europe that makes them unique.
This uniqueness lies in the fact that though Europe is a market, it lacks the
necessary homogeneity to behave like a real market for communication services; it
is also a political unity, without most of the ‘normal’, bottom-up political legitimacy
such a unity requires. It is this tension between the local and the global reality that
makes a pan-European communication policy so problematic, much more than the
technical problems.
Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society 81


The main ideas of this article were already developed in Burgelman (1997).The views in
this chapter are the ones of the authors and do not represent the views of the EC. The
authors want to thank Jan Loisen for his input.
Since the regulation came into effect a number of mergers involving audiovisual media
and allied services have been reported. Statistics on the merger regulation application
moreover show increased merger activity in the telecommunications and media sector
since 1996 (Cini andMcGowan, 1998:124). Of the 1158 decisions which have been taken
until now on the basis of the merger regulation, about 45 decisions are related to the media
sector and 142 to the telecommunications sector. More importantly, however, six of the
twelve negative decisions made until now under the merger regulation directly affect the
media sector: MSG Media Service (1994), Nordic Satellite Distribution (1995), HMG
(RTL/Veronica/Endemol (1995), Bertelsmann/Kirch/Première (1997), Deutsche
Telekom/Betaresearch (1997) and MCI Worldcom/Sprint (2000) (Pauwels and Cincera
The many different agents in this field, from all kinds of network operators to consumer
electronics companies and software distributors, seem not to be driven so much by
rational, long-term strategies, but rather by a possibly short-sighted compulsion not to miss
out on current developments and state-of-the-art technology (Burgelman, 1994).
Here, this relates mainly to the major producing countries such as Germany, Great
Britain, and France. Often however this increasing market share held by the national film
can be attributed to one or more box office successes (‘The Full Monty’, ‘Bean’, ‘The fifth
element’, ‘Knockin’on heavens door’, ‘Rossini’, ‘Kleines Arscloch’,...) so that it is perhaps
too early to talk of a real structural trend (l’Observatoire de l’Audiovisuel, Statistical
Yearbook 1999: 78).
The protocol declares that, considering that ‘the public broadcasting system in Member
States is directly connected with the democratic, social and cultural needs’ of every society
and the need to maintain media diversity (…) the provisions of this treaty (…) do not
detract from the rights of member states to provide financial resources for public
broadcasting, in so far as such resources are provided to broadcasting organisations for
the fulfilment of the defined and organised missions entrusted to them in the public service
area, and providing that these resources do not influence trading and competition
conditions in the Community to such an extent that, taking into account the demands of
public service, they are opposed to the public interest.”
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Issues in measuring Information
Society adoption in Europe
François Heinderyckx

Adoption of the Information Society in Europe (as well as in the developed world at
large), is considered a given and a political priority. The only uncertainty
associated with this overwhelming and said to be irreversible trend is the rate of
adoption and the nature of the obstacles holding it up. This contribution will argue
that the attention and energy vested into studying these issues foster on restrictive
perspectives partly based on erroneous assumptions. In particular, it will be argued
that most IS adoption indicators are not only diverse (hence hazardous to
compare) but more importantly deprived of unequivocal conceptual basis. The
central and apparently simple ‘Internet use’ indicators will be used to elaborate on
this issue.

Moreover, it will be argued that mainstream initiatives in assessing IS take up are

overlooking two crucial issues: (a) that besides those individuals who cannot use
IS technologies, there remains a significant and potentially irreducible proportion of
individuals who simply do not want to use them and (b) that these ‘want-nots’ are
likely to be discriminated in their rights as citizens.

The challenge of measuring IS adoption

Ever since the Information Society self-proclaimed its emergence and advent, it
has been considered inseparable from a major shift in society bearing high
expectations as a source of growth, wealth, employment, and well-being in
general. Even though social and innovation research has gradually turned its focus
on the users (Vedel, 1994), technological determinism still imposes the view that
technological innovation drives progress. These prospects have triggered
countless initiatives in attempting to measure its progress among businesses,
administrations and households. Those measures have gradually become fully-
88 The European Information Society

fledged socio-economic indicators alongside traditional indicators used to monitor

countries or regions (GDP, unemployment rate, etc.).
The development of the Information Society, however, is much more challenging to
monitor than one would think. Undertakings to monitor the adoption of the
Information Society rely almost exclusively on survey research interviewing
representative samples of population about their use of IS related technologies.
Given the prohibitive cost associated with such studies, measures are so far
predominantly carried out by the industry for which the exercise is also one of plain
market research. The successive waves of such indicators are strikingly
heterogeneous in their methodology, up to the point where using their results
requires great caution if only regarding the variables they actually measure.
One of the core indicators of IS take up is the ‘Internet penetration’. Behind this
seemingly simple and unambiguous concept lays a variety of variables as wide as
that of the survey questions they are based upon. A number of ‘meta-sources’ try
to compile various studies in order to provide a reliable basis for comparisons,
mostly on a nation-by-nation perspective. NUA,, CyberAtlas and
other web sites gather statistics from various sources and try to aggregate them
with too little concern for the diversity of underlying methodologies, except for a
few words of caution (‘Often, there are widely differing counts. We do our best to
check on the accuracy of counts by comparing them to regional growth patterns
and other projections’ warns CyberAtlas).

For lack of a systematic meta-analysis, we shall consider two main clusters of

indicators used to measure Internet adoption. The first cluster focuses on ‘access
to’ the Internet. The questions used query whether respondents have within their
reach the means to use the Internet, most often at home or at work. Although
Internet is accessed from a number of places (Heinderyckx, 2001), one can regard
as genuine Internet users those having a connection at home. This particular
approach is quite typical of the market research perspective in which ‘penetration’
is gauged against ownership of the necessary equipment and services to use the
Internet. These studies are easily identifiable when they feed triumphant headlines
announcing that so many households, for example, are ‘connected’.

Using data from the Eurobarometer surveys organised by the European

Commission, we can assess Internet penetration in European households on that
very basis (EB 56.0, see second column of Table 1). On average, a little less than
30 % of all European respondents say they have access to the Internet from their
home. However impressive these figures may be, they tell us very little about IS
adoption. At best, they provide an evaluation of potential users.
Issues in measuring Information Society adoption in Europe 89

Deciphering the ‘Internet user’

The second cluster of indicators is centred on determining whether respondents
qualify as actual ‘Internet users’. This apparently simple indicator can be
particularly misleading. What makes one an ‘Internet user’? One way to avoid
endless arguments about what is an adequate definition of an Internet user, is to
simply ask people whether they consider themselves an Internet user. Even
though such an approach obviously relies on a blurred and ambiguous basis, it is
nonetheless relevant in the way it measures consistently respondents’ self-
perception of being an Internet user, i.e. singling out individuals who feel they have
taken a step towards those technologies and, in a way, are committed to integrate
them in their way of life, if only partly.

Let us see what picture of the ‘Internet user’ is produced by such a broad
approach. Using data from wave 56.3 of the Eurobarometer, we find that over one
third (37,2 %) of the European population see themselves as Internet users (the
question was “Do you use the Internet nowadays?”). Quite predictably, that
proportion varies considerably among countries (from 19% in Greece to 68% in
Sweden) and among various demographic groups (see first column of Table 1).
Another approach to measuring Internet adoption is to concentrate not only on the
use of Internet in general, but to include some notion of frequency of use. Some
studies include in ‘Internet users’ statistics even those who use it very seldom. If
one has ever used the Internet, it can be argued that he or she has taken that
decisive first step towards IS technologies. On the contrary, one could argue that
very low frequencies of use can be an indication of dissatisfaction which is likely to
build up resistance against, rather than initiate transition towards IS technologies.
Using questions querying the ‘frequency of use’ allows to differentiate ‘occasional
users’ from ‘heavy users’. In fact, on the continuum of frequency of use, one might
decide ‘true’ or ‘actual’ users are only found above a specific threshold of
frequency. This approach can be upheld by arguing that it takes into account only
individuals who have truly integrated IS technologies into their daily lives, their
cultural practices, their information, communication and leisure activities.
Again, the Eurobarometer provides figures regarding the frequency of use (EB
56.0). The third and fourth columns of Table 1 allow direct comparison with the
previous approaches (access at home and self-perception).

If we consider only those using the Internet at least several times a week, the
European average drops below a quarter (24%). And if we only count the ‘heavy
users’, i.e. those using it on a daily basis, the figure falls below 10%.
None of these approaches are completely satisfactory. In practice, each study
tends to find its own set of indicators to determine the nature and amplitude of the
90 The European Information Society

use of technologies in a particular way. Even if we agree on conventional

qualifying factors for being an Internet user, we are still very far from
understanding the mechanisms of adoption which require a finer investigation of
the actual uses of the Internet. Being a user, even a regular one, still leaves a wide
range of questions open as regards the actual applications being used, the time
spent using them, etc. Such studies rely mostly on panels of Internet users whose
representativeness is questionable.

Within the wide range of Internet applications frequently investigated, a few bear
relevance well beyond their strict scope. One of these, for example, is the use of
Internet for bank transactions. Its relevance, I argue, comes from a number of
underlying attitudes associated with doing online banking: technical skills (in spite
of the efforts for user-friendliness, the applications are still complex), trust in
reliability (one would not resort to e-banking if having doubts about the fact that
things will happen as they seem), trust in confidentiality (most people are quite
nervous about secrecy of financial issues), willingness to carry out remote tasks
which until recently required presential transactions with an individual (bank clerk),
etc. All these attitudes indicate a strong basis for the most ambitious Internet
applications, so that it could be argued that e-banking activities are to be
considered as an aggregate parameter defining a particular class of core Internet

Let us consider this as yet another way to define, hence to measure the ‘Internet
user’. Still based on Eurobarometer data, this would bring the proportion of Internet
users in Europe down to a mere 6% (last column of Table 1).
Issues in measuring Information Society adoption in Europe 91

Table 1: Various approaches to measuring internet penetration using

Eurobarometer data

Internet At least
(Per cent) access several
at times a Every Remote
(1) (2) (2) (2) (2)
Self-perceived home week day banking
EU15 36.3 29.3 23.7 9.1 6.0
S 67.6 59.4 48.8 24.9 27.7
DK 61.9 55.5 44.5 23.6 21.8
NL 61.5 53.7 39.9 19.9 12.2
FIN 53.0 34.3 33.0 11.4 24.5
L 48.4 46.3 31.2 13.2 14.0
UK 41.2 37.2 27.2 12.3 6.3
A 38.9 26.5 24.8 9.1 8.5
IRL 36.2 20.8 17.8 7.2 1.0
I 34.3 32.2 26.0 10.0 2.4
F 33.9 21.6 18.5 6.9 4.9
D 33.8 27.6 21.9 6.0 7.3
B 32.7 24.1 19.5 8.6 4.1
E 27.5 18.5 18.7 5.8 1.5
P 20.9 11.8 10.9 2.8 0.5
GR 18.9 12.1 9.7 3.7 0.6

Male 43.0 33.8 30.3 12.2 8.3

Female 30.0 25.1 17.6 6.2 4.0

Age 15 - 24 years 63.8 43.4 39.9 14.5 4.5

25 - 39 years 47.4 38.3 33.9 13.6 9.8
40 - 54 years 37.4 34.2 24.6 9.6 7.8
55 + years 11.9 10.9 6.0 2.1 2.2

Self-employed 43.5 37.4 30.8 12.1 10.6

Employed 45.4 37.4 32.6 12.7 9.3
Not working 27.5 20.8 14.7 5.4 2.4

Income - - 21.1 12.6 10.7 4.5 1.9

- 26.2 17.7 15.4 5.6 3.7
+ 36.7 31.0 22.5 7.1 7.2
++ 56.7 55.6 45.5 19.1 15.8
92 The European Information Society

TEA up to 15 years 10.1 9.6 5.6 2.1 1.2
16 - 19 years 32.5 27.9 20.6 7.2 5.5
20 + years 56.4 48.1 43.1 18.7 14.4
Still studying 78.4 54.1 49.3 17.5 5.2

Average coefficient
of variation 0.36 0.39 0.44 0.50 0.63
(1) (2)
Eurobarometer 56.3 (n=15,926, fieldwork January-February 2002) ; Eurobarometer
(3) (4)
56.0 (n=16,162 , fieldwork August-September 2001) ; weighted average ; Terminal
Education Age (age at which respondent stopped full-time education) ; COV=std

These five different, yet uncomplicated definitions of ‘Internet users’ not only result
in a wide range of levels of penetrations, they also prompt significantly different
patterns among various demographic groups. The deviation observed among
classes of such basic demographic variables as nationality, gender, age, level of
education and occupation are notably higher when considering narrower
definitions of the Internet user (see ‘Average coefficient of variation’ in Table 1).
Figure 1 plots the penetration values for each EU country in both the self-
perception of being an Internet user (broadest definition) and the use of e-banking
(narrow definition). Coefficients of variation indicate much more ample differences
among countries as regards e-banking (COV=0.95) than regarding broad
penetration (COV=0.35). Figure 1 also shows that although the two variables are
globally correlated, they are far from perfectly so. Countries with similar levels of
Internet penetration on the broad scale (Denmark and Netherlands, 62%) show
considerable difference in the stricter scale of e-banking (22 versus 12%).
Countries showing not so dissimilar levels on the stricter scale of e-banking such
as Austria and the Netherlands (8.5 and 12%) nonetheless present contrasting
levels on the broader scale of self-perception (39 versus 61.5%).
Issues in measuring Information Society adoption in Europe 93

Figure 1




0 GR+P

0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80

Proportion of self-perceived internet users (C. of Var. = 0.35)

Likewise, the key demographic variables traditionally underlying the ‘digital divide’
(Servaes and Heinderyckx, 2002) give quite a different picture depending on the
approach used as the basis for Internet penetration. The gender gap is much less
spectacular on the self-perception scale than on stricter scales (where men are
twice as keen on Internet as women, see Table 1). The generation gap takes a
particular shape using the e-banking criterion given that younger users are less
involved in financial transactions. The e-banking criterion enhances the already
spectacular income gap.

Even this quick comparison of five approaches to Internet penetration assessment

using a coherent source (all our data comes from recent Eurobarometer surveys
so that differences observed cannot, in our comparison, be attributed to
methodological discrepancies) shows how delicate the exercise of measuring the
Information Society can be. Methodological choices are never neutral and may
impact considerably the observations and the conclusions one might draw upon
them. Yet, measuring the Information Society faces even more fundamental
issues, that of the very meaning of the variables to be measured, as can be seen
by continuing to examine our example of the ‘Internet users’.
94 The European Information Society

Internet users as ‘audience’?

History somewhat repeats itself. The early newspapers could only assess their
success on the basis on circulation figures. Soon, their legitimacy and more
importantly their advertising rates demanded that the number of readers be
evaluated. This could only be achieved by surveys on representative samples.
Respondents were (and still are) asked whether they read a particular newspaper.
Interestingly, the notion of ‘being a reader’ of a newspaper is as simple in
appearance, and as tricky to handle as that of the ‘Internet user’. What is a
‘reader’? In spite of genuine efforts of harmonisation, the definitions used to qualify
as such vary among countries and among studies. The variations revolve along
two dimensions: (a) what is considered ‘to read’ and (b) what is the reference
period. In some cases, one is considered a reader if he has barely held a copy of
the publication in hand. As for the reference period, it can range from the past 24
hours to the past week, if not more. In many cases, the result of some of these
ridiculously broad definitions is that one who is merely in contact with some issue
of a newspaper or a magazine is to be included in its readership, its audience.
Likewise, audiences for posters and billboards are assessed by studying people’s
whereabouts. In this case, one passing by (‘abeam’) a poster is considered as
having had an ‘opportunity to see’ (OTS) the poster, and on that basis in included
in the audience of that board.

The early days of radio and television bear even more resemblance with the
current situation of IS technologies. Early broadcasters circulated figures not of
viewers or listeners of their station, or of any station, but rather the number of
receivers sold. These figures appear nowadays as of limited interest except for the
manufacturers and sellers of those appliances, yet the ‘access to Internet’
approach, or the number of domain names or of ISPs or of Internet hosts that we
often see today is very similar in nature.

Likewise, in more recent times, the transnational and thematic television stations,
by lack of systematic study of their audience, usually advertise the number of
households where their programme is received, or rather ‘can be received’, that is,
most of the time, the number of subscribers to ‘bouquets’ or cable carriers on
which they are included, if not the number of households in the area covered by
their signal. There again, confusion exists between audience and potential
audience. As does confusion prevail in radio audience measurement where two
notions coexist, one based on simple contact with a station (audiences), the other
taking into account the time spent listening to the various stations (market shares).
Nowadays, the audience of broadcast media is monitored using complex survey
approaches involving diary-based surveys (for radio) as well as people-meters
Issues in measuring Information Society adoption in Europe 95

panels (for television). However, various evolutions lead to an increased audience

fragmentation which begins to cause difficulties in audience measurement and
calls for an integrated system capable of tracking audience trends of all media
based on large samples surveys (Heinderyckx and Phillips, 2001).

But to what extent can the history of media audience measurement be transposed
to assessing the implementation of IS technologies? Or even to the sole issue of
Internet use? The frequent reference to ‘new media’ certainly entertains the idea
that, after all, the Internet is just a case of new media, so that monitoring its users
in just a case of measuring new audiences.

Although such an approach seems quite stimulating, it is based on two

questionable assumptions, namely that (a) Internet is a medium and (b) that
Internet users are the audience of that medium. Internet is, indeed, a medium if
only because it serves the purpose of disseminating information and content to
large and dispersed numbers of individuals which could, on that basis, be
considered as audiences. As such, the web site or web pages can be seen as a
suitable medium for advertising, so that similar instruments to those used for
analogous purposes in traditional media would be suitable.

However, this would reduce the Internet to only a fragment of its reality and use.
Studying television audience can be boiled down to two questions: is one (a)
watching television and, if yes, (b) what channel? Even though there are many
ways to watch television (how loud the volume, doing anything else at the same
time, etc.) measurement can merely work on that simple dual basis. No such luck
when assessing Internet users. Web surfers have a wealth of possibilities to go
beyond browsing when, for example, they rely on the Internet for communicating
with others (e-mail, chat, forum), or even to, themselves, disseminate content to an
audience (personal web pages, peer-to-peer file exchange). The multifaceted use
of Internet related technologies, and the fact that these facets combine into an
unlimited and evolutional number of patterns makes the study of the use of the
Internet, hence of the IS adoption, a knotty enterprise. It also brings into question
the sheer relevance of such notion as the ‘Internet user’, hence its measurement.

Measuring and monitoring the Information Society, i.e. understanding how the
Information Society takes shape, how new technologies tempt some, but not
others, how adoption reshapes existing media and communication practices, at
what pace, in what directions, and for whom, and so many more crucial questions
cannot be merely touched upon without a sustained effort in quantitative as well as
qualitative research among users as well as non-users, including time-budget
analysis to monitor the role and place the new practices take and how it affects
96 The European Information Society

pre-existing practices. These studies are not only complex and expensive. More
importantly, they take time. Too much time in comparison with the pace at which
changes, innovations and evolutions are taking place.

The issue of the ‘want-nots’

Most of the industry driven studies are understandingly oriented towards IS as a
market: hardware and software purchase, ISP and broadband, e-commerce,
advertising exposure and response etc.

In a number of instances, one can suspect that the questions used to survey IS
penetration are worded in such a way as to produce an optimistic snapshot of the
situation, if not to provide the highest possible figures. One can speculate that this
favourable light sustains efforts to demonstrate the fast growing rate of
penetration, thus reassuring investors while simultaneously creating a momentum
likely to make non-users feel deviant and pressure them to join the movement.
This is not unlike self-fulfilling prophecies: the projections built upon these surveys
usually come to the conclusion that the progression is overwhelming and that soon
nearly everybody will own and use a particular technology.

Literature, news discourse as well as political rhetoric on the subject converge

predominantly on the fact that the advent of the Information Society is
unquestionable, inevitable and indeed necessary in order to solve and anticipate
various societal problems (Mansell, 2002). Therefore, it is widely accepted that
anything likely to stimulate ICTs take-up is of general interest, hence legitimate as
a priority.

From that viewpoint, non-users are seen as outcasts likely to be left out of society
and needing help to gain access to what has become a basic and necessary
commodity. The gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of the IS has become
known as the ‘digital divide’. Its reduction now ranks alongside that of
homelessness, unemployment or illiteracy in the political agendas of all
industrialised countries and beyond.

However prevailing these views have become, discordant voices can be heard
particularly regarding the role of public authorities in stimulating a market which,
some say, if given time, might simply regulate itself and, as cost decreases,
primarily leave out those who choose not to join rather than those who cannot
(Compaine 2001).
Issues in measuring Information Society adoption in Europe 97

This leads to an important distinction generally overlooked: beyond the well

documented ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, we must consider the ‘can-nots’ and, more
importantly, the ‘want-nots’. When talking about the Information Society,
mainstream discourse usually only distinguishes the first two categories which, in
essence, constitute an oversimplification, for this dichotomy tends to uphold the
absurd idea that one is either ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the Information Society (not to mention
the underlying idea that those who are out are deviant). The ‘can-nots’ are
occasionally mentioned when explanations have to be provided as to the causes
for ‘not having’: they can’t afford and/or they lack the skills. There again, the
assumption is that ‘they wish they could’, but they cannot, yet.

What we call the ‘want-nots’ are seldom discussed. They are seen as a classic by-
product of resistance to change, reactionary fringes of population against
modernity. The fact that ‘want-nots’ are largely neglected (apart for trying to
convince them otherwise) is hardly surprising and does not seem, at first sight, to
be a matter of concern. After all, even in the most ‘advanced’ countries, there is
still a sizeable number of households with no television. However, I believe IS
technology is different and the ‘want-nots’ cannot be overlooked, if only for one
emerging motive: ‘e-government’. Although the term still sounds like a politician’s
fantasy, a vague project nurtured to give campaigns a flavour of modernity, many
administrations in many countries, regions, localities are engaged in a process of
thorough reorganisation and modernisation under the banner of ‘e-government’
which has become a goal as well as a leverage for in depth organisational

The likely outcome of this turmoil is the development of online applications made
available to the public (citizens and businesses). When those applications are
offered as an alternative for traditional procedures, the ‘want-nots’ of IS simply
decide implicitly to carry on doing things as before. Yet, a number of new services
are developing (e.g. access to information, tax simulation, full-text search of legal
documents, etc.) that IS ‘want-nots’ will be deprived of. Worse, the same is true of
e-government applications which are intended to replace pre-existing services,
hence introducing discrimination which infringes fundamental principles of today’s

We can see early examples of the problems which lay ahead. In 2003, the official
journal of Belgium will no longer be printed in its traditional paper format. The
official publication will only be accessible online. Even though the vast majority of
regular subscribers to the journal (lawyers, large companies, university professors)
do have access to the internet and do find it much more convenient, those citizens
or businesses not wanting to blend into the Information Society, or simply repelled
98 The European Information Society

by the Internet or by computers, are now deprived of access to the most

elementary source of official information. The implications go well beyond that of
refusing to acquire a television set.

It seems that public authorities have moved to a position whereby using ICTs is
considered essential and in the public interest, as is vaccination, road safety,
sewage or running water. For public authorities to determine that something is of
so essential a nature, there needs to be either unquestionable evidence that it will
improve safety and well-being and / or public and democratic debate. The
Information Society and its adoption by the population became unquestionable
following neither of these processes.

Compaine, B. A. (2001), The Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a
Myth, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Heinderyckx, F. (2001), ‘Measuring the Information Society – the use of the
Internet by the European consumer’, European Information Technology
Observatory, EITO, pp. 414-439.
Heinderyckx, F., Phillips, A. (2001), ‘Mesurer les audiences à l’époque de la
convergence médiatique’, in Droesbeke J.-J., Lebart, L., Enquêtes, modèles
et applications, Paris: Dunod, pp. 231-24.
Mansell, R. (2002), ‘From digital divides to digital entitlements in knowledge
societies’, Current Sociology, 50:3, pp. 407-426.
Servaes, J., Heinderyckx, F. (2002), ‘The ‘New’ ICTs environment in Europe:
closing or widening the gaps?’, Telematics and Informatics, 19:2, pp. 91-115.
Vedel, T. (1994), ‘Sociologie des innovations technologiques et usager:
Introduction à une socio-politique des usages’ in Vitalis, A. (dir.), Médias et
nouvelles technologies, Rennes: Editions Apogée, pp. 13-34.
Access and participation in the discourse
of the digital divide
The European perspective
at/on the WSIS
Nico Carpentier1

The digital divide: c’est quoi finalement?

The discourse on the digital divide is characterised by a complex set of

articulations. Some of this complexity can already be found in the diversity of
commonly used definitions of the digital divide. Rice (2002: 106) defines the digital
divide as the ‘differential access to and use of the Internet according to gender,
income, race and location.’ At the launch of the UN ICT Task Force in November
2001, established to ‘lend a truly global dimension to the multitude of efforts to
bridge the global digital divide, foster digital opportunity and thus firmly put ICT at
the service of development for all’ (UN ICT Task Force, 2002), Kofi Annan (2001)
links the digital divide to development, and the reduction of poverty and inequality,
as he states that “one of the most pressing challenges in the new century” is to
“harness this extraordinary force [of the new technologies], spread it throughout
the world, and make its benefits accessible and meaningful for all humanity, in
particular the poor.”

In the ‘Digital opportunities for all’ report of the DOT Force (which was created by
the G8 heads of state at the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit in July 2000), the need for a
“rapid response to the so-called ‘digital divide’” is deemed ‘essential’: “Access to,
and effective use of the tools and networks of the new global economy [2], and the
innovations they make possible, are critical to poverty reduction, increased social
inclusion and the creation of a better life for all.” At the same time it is added that
the digital divide is a “reflection of existing broader socio-economic inequalities and
can be characterised by insufficient infrastructure, high cost of access,
100 The European Information Society

inappropriate or weak policy regimes, inefficiencies in the provision of

telecommunication networks and services, lack of locally created content, and
uneven ability to derive economic and social benefits from information-intensive
activities.” (DOT force, 2001: 4)

At a more European level, a similar articulatory diversity can be found, although

few recent high-level policy documents explicitly focus on the digital divide. The
eEurope 2002 Action Plan3 (EU, 2001: 4) for instance calls on the member states
to “draw the attention of citizens to the emerging possibilities of digital technologies
to help to ensure a truly inclusive information society. Only through positive action
now can info-exclusion be avoided at the European level.” Only in the manuscript
for an information brochure on eEurope 2002 – targeting the ‘general public’ – its
objectives are more clearly linked to an element of the digital divide, when these
objectives are (re) presented as seeking “to create a digitally literate Europe and to
ensure that the whole process is socially inclusive, builds consumer trust and
narrows the gap between the haves and haves-not in European society.” (DG for
Press and Communication, 2002: 7)

The eEurope 2002 Action Plan does not only refer to the ‘European society’, but
also (at least briefly) mentions the need for a more global contextualisation when it
calls “closing the digital divide between developed and developing countries […] a
key goal for the European Union.” (EU, 2001: 4) The commissioner responsible for
Development and Humanitarian aid – Poul Nielson (2002: 34) – also takes this
position when he defines the digital divide as “unequal access to ICTs among and
within countries.” In the introduction of the @lis-brochure (EuropeAid, 2002: 3),
Erkki Liikanen (responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society) writes that
“the European Commission attaches great importance to developing the
information society in an inclusive manner, and fighting against the digital divide,
both within and between the regions and countries.” The €85 million @lis
cooperation programme – the Alliance for the information society – aims “to extend
the benefits of the information society to all citizens in Latin America and reduce
the digital divide between those who have access to the new information
technologies and those who are excluded from the information society.”
(EuropeAid, 2002: 2)

Finally, the European position that was advocated at the first meeting of the
Preparatory Committee (PrepCom 1 – Geneva – July 2002) of the upcoming World
Summit of the Information Society also emphasised the importance of the digital
divide, which will be “a central theme of the Summit.” (EU, 2002a: 3) This position
was also echoed by the statement of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2002),
who spoke on behalf of the European Union: “Our objective is to reach a balanced
Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide 101

approach that deals as much with bridging the digital divide as with other key
questions for the development of a common vision of the information society.”
These other key questions are mentioned in EU PrepCom 1 document (EU,
2002a: 3), where it is stated that “Actually, the debate associates all the actors
concerned, and includes, in addition to the questions of infrastructure/access,
regulation/competition, and applications, the following topics: content (respect of
languages and practices and local socio-cultural sensitivities; development of local
contents), knowledge (training of the human resources required by the Information
Society), and participation (implication of the civil society in the economic and
technical local and international choices).” In the EU position document for
PrepCom 2 (2002b: 7), which took place in February 2003, this nuanced position is
repeated, at the same time articulating a definition of the digital divide: “The
potential benefits of the Information Society for citizens and companies are
undoubted. At the same time, there is a possible threat of a widening gap between
info-rich and info-poor, a concept known as the digital divide. This divide reflects
and exacerbates existing inequalities, not only between countries but also within
each country.”

As most of the definitions mentioned above illustrate, the core of the digital divide
discourse is based on the articulation of three elements: 1/ the importance of
access to on-line computers, 2/ which use results in increased levels of
information, knowledge, communication or other types of socially valued benefits
3/ that are in turn so vital that the absence of access and the resulting ‘digibetism’
(or computer illiteracy) will eventually create or maintain a dichotomous society of
haves and have-nots. Especially the element of unequal access to on-line
computer technology plays a crucial role and functions as a nodal point (to refer to
one of the basic concepts of Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory (1985)) of the
digital divide discourse. As a nodal point it creates the stability and fixity that every
discourse needs to maintain its coherence. The centrality of the signifier access is
well illustrated by the rather enormous amount of research aimed at documenting
socio-demographically based differences in ICT access4.

Lines of critique
This specific articulation of the discourse of the digital divide, with access as its
nodal point, does the same time exclude a series of other meanings. As is the
case in any discourse, a specific set of elements is linked in a way that their
identity is modified by the articulatory practice (Laclau & Mouffe, 1985: 105). The
discourse of the digital divide can be analysed, and in a way deconstructed, by
102 The European Information Society

focusing on the specificity of the articulation of the different elements that compose
the discourse, and by focusing on what meanings and elements become excluded
by these specific articulations. This exclusionary aspect of the digital divide
discourse can trigger different discursive coping strategies, when for instance the
discursive limitations are simply accepted or attempts are being made to
rearticulate it. Some of these rearticulations simply add new signifiers or
superimpose new layers of meaning to the digital divide discourse, without
criticising the specificity of this discourse, whilst other (re)articulatory practices are
targeted at broadening the meaning of the discourse (or its nodal point access)

In this chapter, three lines of critique towards the digital divide discourse are
discussed and illustrated by referring to the position the EU formulates in their two
PrepCom documents5 for the World Summit of the Information Society (EU 2002a;

Line of critique 1: broadening access

A first line of critique of these discursively exclusionary practices is based on the
argument of the multi-dimensional character of Internet access. Steyaert (2000
and 2002) for instance argues that ‘psychical access’ (stressing the materiality of
access) should be complemented with the different necessary skills required for
the interaction with ICT (informacy). He distinguishes three levels of capabilities:
instrumental, structural and strategic skills6. This argument is complemented by the
emphasis on user practices. As Silverstone (1999: 252) remarks on the
domestication of ICT: “The more recent history of home computing indicates that
individuals in the household construct and affirm their own identities through their
appropriation of the machine via processes of acceptance, resistance, and
negotiation. What individuals do, and how they do it, depends on both cultural and
material resources.”

A third broadening of the scope is performed when the focus is placed on both the
relevance of on-line content and on the possibilities of feedback towards the
content producing organisation. A clear illustration of this position can be found in
the definition of (media)access proposed at the 1977 Unesco-meeting in Belgrade,
which has been reproduced in Servaes (1999: 85): “access refers to the use of
media for public service. It may be defined in terms of the opportunities available to
the public to choose varied and relevant programs and to have a means of
feedback to transmit its reactions and demands to production organisations.” More
specific content-oriented approaches focus on ‘missing content’ from a user
perspective. The Children’s Partnership (2000) analysis, for instance, points to the
Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide 103

absence of content of interest to people (living in the US) with an underclass

background, with low levels of literacy in English and with interests in local politics
in culture, in other words: “underserved Americans [that] are seeking the following
content on the Internet: practical information focusing on local community;
information at a basic literacy level; material in multiple languages; information on
ethnic and cultural interests; interfaces and content accessible to people with
disabilities; easier searching; and coaches to guide them.

Comparing the meaning(s) access is attributed within the digital divide discourse
and the ‘other’ articulations and definitions of access discussed above, the
following elements have become disarticulated from the digital divide discourse: 1/
the possession of skills (and not only of equipment), 2/ user practices, 3/ relevant
content and 4/ feedback (and not only the mere use of the equipment).

When analysing the EU PrepCom documents for these potential shortcomings,

several attempts to broaden the digital divide discourse can be found. First, a clear
emphasis on ‘developing human capacity’ (EU, 2002b: 4) is present, although
some of the segments on training in the PrepCom 1 document tend to
instrumentalise the acquisition of skills, as for instance in the following fragment
defining knowledge as the “training of the human resources required by the
Information Society” (EU, 2002a: 3). In the EU PrepCom 2 document, the need to
(discursively) broaden the nodal point access is addressed in the discussion of e-
Learning (one of the four priorities for action, next to e-Inclusion, e-Government
and e-Business). e-Learning is defined as “the development of skills to access
knowledge”, which is in turn seen as one of “the foremost issues for bridging the
digital divide” (EU, 2002b: 7). Also the need to include access to content is
acknowledged, thus avoiding another type of reduction to physical access. Here
the emphasis is on ‘cultural diversity and identity’ and on ‘varied’ (EU, 2002b: 7)
and local content: “ICTs and media as a whole can and should stimulate linguistic
and cultural diversity, including through the facilitation of exchange of local content.
[…] In this respect, production and exchange of appropriate local content available
in the user’s mother tongue is of vital importance.” (EU, 2002b: 4) The problem is
that although the EU clearly postulates in their PrepCom 1 document that it is “one
of the major challenges […] to convey to […] the average citizen and small and
medium enterprises that the ongoing changes related to the Information Society
are not just about technologies and sophisticated financial market mechanisms,
but also about their daily way of life and working process” (EU, 2002a: 12), these
documents hardly refer to the complexity and contingency of user practices and
user needs. The meaning of the nodal point access remains well locked within the
boundaries of a macro-approach to informational benefits, blatantly disregarding
potential disadvantages7: “The potential benefits of the Information Society for
104 The European Information Society

citizens and companies are undoubted.” (EU, 2002b: 7) Despite the recognition
that these actors “should be part of the political process in which they have their
own voice” (EU, 2002a: 12), the EU PrepCom documents hardly utilise a bottom-
up perspective to content and use.

Line of critique 2: challenging the truth claim

A second line of critique touches the very hart of the digital divide discourse,
challenging the truth claim this discourse inherently carries. More gentle criticisms
are oriented towards the notion that a two-tiered division is not tenable. Van Dijk
(1999: 155) pleads for replacing the ‘gap’ or ‘divide’ by a ‘continuum’, when he
says that: “a better representation would be a continuum or spectrum of
differentiated positions across the population with the ‘information elite’ at the top
and a group of ‘excluded people’ at the bottom.” Others point to the dynamic
character of innovation, the role and specificity of early adopters (and implicitly or
explicitly to Rogers’ (1996) theory of the diffusion of innovations) in order to
account for the reduction or reinterpretation of the ‘divide’. Frissen (2000) takes
this position and refers (a bit less gently) to the ‘myth of the digital gap’. One of her
arguments for this position goes as follows: “The term ‘gap’ suggests that the
identified differences have a static character. There are enough empirical clues
that this is not the case. Certain groups such as women and elderly do not belong
to the vanguard, but are rapidly catching up.” (Frissen, 2000: 9-10 – my
translation) In the USA similar arguments have been used stating that racial and
gender differences are decreasing or disappearing (Katz et al., 2001; Hoffman et
al. 1999). The triumphant 2002 U.S. Department of Commerce report “A nation
online: how Americans are expanding their use of the Internet” concludes: “those
who have been the least traditional users – people of lower income levels, lower
education levels, or the elderly – are among the fastest adopters of this new
technology.” (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002: 92)

An even more
version of this
critique is that
the digital
Source: BBC News Online (1999) – Special report:
discourse ‘Bridging the digital divide’
articulates a
dichotomy between information haves and information have-nots, between
information rich and information poor or between those who use or benefit from
ICT and those who do not8. Not only does this dichotomy imply a static approach
Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide 105

to technological innovation, but it also offers a structuring of the social on the basis
of a technological criterion, both in explaining contemporary and future societies.
Especially when the introduction and/or increased access to these ‘technologies of
freedom’ (de Sola Pool, 1983) is seen as the motor for social development, a
technological deterministic ideology is seen in operation. ICTs in general are
articulated as beneficial and their possession as enviable. For this reason so-
called ‘non-users’ or ‘want-nots’ (also see Heinderyckx’ contribution in this volume)
are often considered as being in a transitory phase, which can be illustrated by the
following statement in the UCLA report: “Many people still don’t have a computer
at home – nearly 40 percent (39.7) of respondents.” (UCLA, 2000: 24) Wolf (1998:
26) links this articulation with commodification: “calling the Internet the Great
Equalizer helps to sell more computers. The metaphor masquerades as a quick fix
to social inequality while ignoring the factors that lead to inequality.”

Moreover, at the epistemological level the foregrounding of information forms

again a specific articulation that is closely related to the more liberal approaches
towards a free flow of information as a democratic practice. The fetishisation of
information (to the detriment of knowledge) is based on a very mechanical
approach to human learning and knowledge acquisition. One of the major reasons
for this can be found in the lack of adequate philosophical reflection on the
concepts of information and knowledge (Karvonen, 2001: 50). Stehr (1994: 92)
argues here that especially the concept of knowledge has been treated as a black
box: ‘although many and elaborate definitions of knowledge are offered, an
equivalent effort toward a theoretical analysis of the decisive phenomenon
“knowledge as such” is not thought necessary. The new qualities of scientific
knowledge and its social consequences are merely postulated. In short, knowledge
is essentially treated as a black box.’ As knowledge is more closely related to the
(knowledgeable) subject, this can also account for the secondary role of the user.
Yet another problem is that the possession of the tools of connectedness as a
state of being is conflated with the possession of information and even knowledge,
thus further advancing the commodification of information.

In the two EU PrepCom documents under scrutiny, only one reference is made to
the “possible threat of a widening gap between info-rich and info-poor” (EU, 2002b:
7). The use of signifiers as ‘e-Inclusion’ (EU, 2002b: 7) and ’digital opportunities’
(EU, 2002a: 13) allows the EU to avoid the dichotomous connotations of the gap-
metaphor. This is further strengthened by the attention spent on the societal
context of the digital divide – where the divide ‘only’ ‘reflects and exacerbates
existing inequalities’ (EU, 2002b: 7) and where technologies are ‘not an end in
themselves’ (EU, 2002b: 6). At the same time the two documents breathe
technological optimism, which in some cases approximates technological
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determinism, for instance when it is stated that “[the World Summit] takes place at
a moment that there is world-wide recognition that the society has, and continues,
to change as a result of the past-paced changes of information and
telecommunications technology and thereby driving economic, social, and cultural
changes to extend never held for possible.” (EU, 2002a: 2) In other cases a
technological deterministic position is only avoided by the use of words as ‘could’
and ‘potential’, as for instance in the following fragments: “in a development
context, e-Inclusion could contribute to the eradication of extreme poverty and
hunger [...].” (EU, 2002b: 7) & “ICTs have great potential as a tool to meet
development policy objectives; such as the achievement of the Development goals
set out in the UN Millennium Declaration.” (EU, 2002b: 8) Other elements which
expose the EU position to this line of critique are the strong emphasis on the
potential benefits of information, the conflation of information and knowledge, and
the lack of a theoretical substructure supporting the use of these concepts. An
example of the first element is the statement that “multilingual and affordable
information can powerfully contribute to developing and sustaining democracy, and
to economic development.” (EU, 2002b: 3) The conflation of knowledge and
information can be illustrated by referring to the rather nonsensical and even
tautological description of the topic ‘access to knowledge’ – next to ‘access to
knowledge’ (see above) and ‘ICT policies aiming at poverty alleviation and
economic wealth creation’ and ‘participation and new mechanisms for
governance’, one of the key topics that constitutes the EU’s proposal for a ‘Global
Deal’ – “access to knowledge which would address numerous access issues such
as in relation to telephony, Internet, information, and knowledge, and in a variety of
dimensions.” (EU, 2002a: 4)

Line of critique 3: decentring the divide

A third line of critique attempts to decentre the digital divide discourse. A more
modest attempt is oriented towards people with disabilities. In Kearns’ (2001)
paper, which can be found on the ‘International Centre for Disability Resources on
the Internet’ web site, people with disabilities are simply added to the more
traditional list of socio-demographic categories that are said to be concerned,
when the digital divide is defined as follows: “The “Digital Divide” is an obstacle
that looks to segregate many groups of people from these technological
developments simply due to their socio-economic status (SES), their geographic
location, their education level, or because they have a disabling condition that is
physical, sensory, or cognitive/psychological in nature.”

The second and more important attempt to decentre the digital divide discourse is
oriented towards a more international perspective, and aims to de-westernise the
Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide 107

digital divide. An example of this position can be found at the web site
(which includes the frequently used visual representation of the need to overcome
the digital divide, which is rendered on the next page) where it is stated that: “’the

Source: web site

digital divide’ means that between countries and between different groups of
people within countries, there is a wide division between those who have real
access to information and communications technology and are using it effectively,
and those who don't. […] More often than not, the ‘information have-nots’ are in
developing countries, and in disadvantaged groups within countries. To, the digital divide is thus a lost opportunity – the opportunity for the
information "have-nots" to use ICTs to improve their lives.”

As Servaes (2000: xi) remarks in the introduction of ‘Walking on the other side of
the information highway’, many developing countries’ governments have attributed
a leading role to ICT in their strategies for economic growth and are being
encouraged by the IMF and World Bank9 to do so. The involvement of these
Western-oriented development agencies still embedded in the paradigms of
modernisation (Burgelman et al., 1999: 16), nevertheless strongly nuance the
claim of the de-westernisation of the digital divide discourse. This implies that the
same specific articulations that characterise the Western digital divide discourse,
can be found in many (but not all) of the more ‘global’ reorientations of this
discourse. Due to these similarities the ‘global’ digital divide discourse remains
vulnerable for the previously outlined lines of critique.

The EU PrepCom documents incorporate both elements of this line of critique.

Firstly (and not surprisingly10) clear emphasis is placed on the specific position of
disadvantaged – or even ‘marginalised’ (EU, 2002b: 9) – groups, for instance when
it is stated that “another important aspect is to make ICTs equally available to men
and women, and to the benefit of disadvantaged groups (elderly, disabled, youth,
indigenous people, etc.).” (EU, 2002b: 6) A similar statement can also be found
when ‘access to information and knowledge’ is elaborated: “Notably, information in
the public domain should be of high quality, easily accessible for all, including the
disabled.” (EU, 2002b: 4) Secondly, due to the nature of the Summit, focussing
solely on the West would be virtually unthinkable. Some of the fragments
mentioned above have already illustrated that the digital divide is (also) seen in a
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‘development context’ (EU, 2002b: 7). The second key topic of the EU’s proposal
for a ‘Global Deal’ is the development of “ICT policies aiming at poverty alleviation
and economic wealth creation” (EU, 2002a: 4), where the following ‘description’ is
given: “debate between industrialised and developing countries in a relatively
neutral field, a number of interests are shared, the perspective and the speed of
growth in the sector give the feeling that there is still openness and a margin for a
win-win exercise.” (EU, 2002a: 4) Despite the repeated use of signifiers as
openness, dialogue, partnership and co-operation vis-à-vis the developing
countries, their position and specificity (with the exception of the EU’s emphasis on
respect for cultural diversity) remains virtually absent, while the European eEurope
2002 Action Plan features prominently as an example of the road ahead.

Participation as a complement to access

Another group of attempts to decentre the digital divide discourse, which are aimed
towards a more political11 rearticulation of the divide, are discussed separately. An
example of this position is Gandy’s (2002) article entitled “the real digital divide:
citizens versus consumers”, in which he sees “the new media as widening the
distinction between the citizen and the consumer.” (Gandy, 2002: 448) The main
concern here is that the ‘new economy’ will incorporate and thus foreclose the
democratic possibilities of the new media (Kellner, 1999). The basis of analysis is
provided by a distinction between a ‘consumer’ and a ‘civic model’ of network
activity; the balance between both models will eventually determine the role of the
Internet in post-industrial democracy. This political rearticulation of the divide offers
major opportunities towards the inclusion of power and empowerment within this
discourse, avoiding at the same time the technological deterministic, media-
centred, westernised and epistemologically biased position, and safeguarding the
important notion of social exclusion. This rearticulation also implies the inclusion of
yet another signifier in this debate, which has always (to a very high degree)
complemented access: participation.

In order to achieve this broadening of the scope, we now turn to the field of
participatory communication for inspiration, bearing in mind that access does not
become completely discredited, but continues to play (together with interaction –
see Carpentier (2002)) a crucial role, especially as a necessary condition for

The following overview of the interpretation(s) of participation is structured by

Servaes’ (1999: 84) thesis that the field of participatory communication is
Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide 109

characterised by two points of view: Freire’s dialogical pedagogy and the already
mentioned Unesco debates on access, participation and self-management in the

Despite Freire’s focus on the educational process and the struggle against
illiteracy and injustice, where the (mass)medial context is only minimally taken into
account, Freire’s theory has had a considerable impact within the domain of
participatory communication. Freire’s pedagogy of the hope is initially aimed
against the traditional educational system, which he regards paternalistic and non-
participative, since this system considers knowledge to be passed on as a ready-
made package instead of as the result of a dialogic meeting between subjects. In
this fashion the educational system maintains and supports existing power
imbalances. Freire aims to transform this system, allowing students (together with
their teachers) to develop valid knowledge in a process of ‘conscientisation’.
“Authentic participation would then enable the subjects involved in this dialogic
encounter to unveil reality for themselves” (Thomas, 1994: 51). Participation is, in
other words, situated in a context of the reduction of power imbalances, both at the
broad social, political and economic level (the relations between oppressors and
repressed) and at the level of the educational system, where students and
teachers strive for knowledge in a non-authoritative collaboration that fosters

The second point of view within the field of participatory communication has to be
situated in the context of the Unesco debates about a 'New World Information and
Communication Order' (NWICO)12 and a ‘New International Economic Order’
(NIEO). These debates, with the report of the 1977 Belgrade-meeting as transcript
of this discussion, are among others oriented towards defining of the concepts
access, participation and self-management. In this report “access refers to the use
of media for public service. It may be defined in terms of the opportunities available
to the public to choose varied and relevant programs and to have a means of
feedback to transmit its reactions and demands to production organisations.”
(reproduced in Servaes, 1999: 85) Participation and self-management are in the
Unesco debates defined as follows: “participation implies a higher level of public
involvement in communication systems. It includes the involvement of the public in
the production process and also in the management and planning of
communication systems. Participation may be no more than representation and
consultation of the public in decision making. On the other hand, self-management
is the most advanced form of participation. In this case, the public exercises the
power of decision making within communication enterprises and is also fully
involved in the formulation of communication policies and plans.” (reproduced in
Servaes, 1999: 85)
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Participation and em/power/ment

The above discussed approaches to participation might give the impression that
the definition of participation goes uncontested. The opposite is the case, as for
instance Pateman (1972: 1) remarks: “the widespread use of the term […] has
tended to mean that any precise, meaningful content has almost disappeared;
‘participation’ is used to refer to a wide variety of different situations by different
people”. This widespread use (or the floating) of (the signifier) participation has
prompted the construction of hierarchically ordered systems of meaning in which
specific forms of participation are described as ‘complete’, ‘real’ and ‘authentic’,
while other forms of participation are described as ‘partial’, ‘fake’ and ‘pseudo’. As
the illustrations that follow will illustrate, the defining element of this categorisation
is the degree to which power is equally distributed among the participants.

An example of the introduction of the difference between complete and partial

participation can be found in Pateman’s (1972) book ‘Democratic theory and
participation’. The two definitions of participation that she introduces are the
definitions of ‘partial’ and ‘full participation’. Partial participation is defined by her
as: “a process in which two or more parties influence each other in the making of
decisions but the final power to decide rests with one party only” (Pateman, 1972:
70), while full participation is seen as “a process where each individual member of
a decision-making body has equal power to determine the outcome of decisions.”
(Pateman, 1972: 71)

Other related concepts construct a hierarchically ordered system within the

definitions of participation on the basis of the real-unreal dichotomy. In the field of
the so-called political participation, for example, Verba (1961: 220-221) indicates
the existence of ‘pseudo-participation’, in which the emphasis is not on the creating
of a situation in which participation is possible, but on the creating of the feeling
that participation is possible: “participation has become a technique of persuasion
rather than of decision”. An alternative name which is among others used by
Strauss (1998: 18) is ‘manipulative participation’13.

Also in the field of participatory communication this difference between real/true

participation on the one hand and pseudo-participation on the other hand is
acknowledged. White, for example, refers to a paper of Deshler and Sock (1985)
who have analysed the literature on development and participation, in function of
the applied basic concepts. In this context they introduce the difference between
‘pseudo-participation’ and ‘genuine participation’. White (1994: 17) summarises the
definitions used in this conference paper as follows, where (again) much weight is
attributed to the presence of equal power relations: “People's participation in
Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide 111

development in which the control of the project and the decision-making power
rests with the planners, administrators, and the community's elite is pseudo-
participation. […] When the development bureaucracy, the local elite, and the
people are working cooperatively throughout the decision-making process and
when the people are empowered to control the action to be taken, only then can
there be genuine participation”. A second author working within the tradition of
participatory communication that uses terms as 'genuine' and 'authentic
participation' is Servaes. In 'Communication for development' (1999) he writes that
this ‘real’ form of participation has to be seen as participation “[that] directly
addresses power and its distribution in society. It touches the very core of power
relationships.” (Servaes, 1999: 198) The concept of power is in other words again
central to the definition of ‘real’ participation. White (1994: 17) also emphasises
this central link between power and participation: “it appears that power and
control are pivotal subconcepts which contribute to both understanding the
diversity of expectations and anticipated out-comes of people's participation.”

Participation at/in the WSIS

In December 2001 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution14
that (among other things) asked for the active participation by non-governmental
organisations, the civil society and the private sector in the WSIS. This active
participation in the Summit also includes the preparatory process and (thus) the
PrepCom 1 and 2 meetings. In the European PrepCom 1 document, “the
preparatory process is [considered] very important and representation from all
interested groups should be sought in order to give a clear signal of an all-
inclusiveness.” (EU, 2002a: 8) This document refers to the public resentment
“based on the perception that policy making processes are not sufficiently
transparent and are taking place behind closed doors. Time has come for a
political reaction: this UN Summit offers an excellent occasion to experiment with a
new formula and show the public at large that inclusive processes are not only of
interest to them, but also possible.” (EU, 2002a: 8). A few pages further, the
document raises the stakes even higher, as the Summit itself is seen as a model
for the future role of civil society (and commerce): “the preparatory process is
almost as important as the political outcomes of the Summit itself. The format and
positioning of the Summit will be key factors for an event which will attract attention
and activate a decentralised follow up process, not only at political level but also in
society at large.” Also in the European PrepCom 2 document, the decentralised
nature of the follow up process is emphasised: “the Plan of Action will constitute a
common reference and framework for implementation for all stakeholders, to be
promoted in a decentralised way, under the lead of a multitude of stakeholders.”
(EU, 2002: 11)
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In relation to this position three major critiques need to be formulated. Firstly,

concerning the participatory nature of the preparatory process, the Interim Civil
Society Plenary Coordinating Group has written a letter to the WSIS Secretariat
Executive Director (Pierre Gagné) to raise two concerns regarding this process,
which are summarised in the two following statements: “civil society participation is
discouraged” and “civil society inputs are not receiving enough consideration”. At
the CRIS web site (an acronym for Communication Rights in the Information
Society), the following statement can be found: “The WSIS: A vessel adrift: For
lack of leadership, clear vision and real political will, preparations for the World
Summit on the Information Society are off to a difficult start. Although frustrated,
civil society is getting organized.” (CRIS, 2002) When taking these statements
from civil society representatives into account, it can hardly be maintained that the
preparatory process is a model for future civil society participation. In this light the
EU statement that “civil society involvement is vital in the take-up and social
acceptance of the Information Society” (EU, 2002b: 6) might even be read as
instrumental and cynical.

Secondly, when analysing the articulation of the signifier participation in the two
European PrepCom documents – and disregarding the strong discursive presence
of civil society participation in the World Summit of the Information Society – it is
surprising how little emphasis is placed on the participation of civil society and
citizens in the Information Society as such. There are (only) two exceptions: one is
the potential role ICT can play in the domain of e-Governance, as its “underlying
goal is to meet the challenges of modern governance: efficiency, i.e. to enable
public administration to reach a higher productivity, equality, i.e. to serve all
citizens without discrimination, while being responsive to individuals’ needs, and
active citizen participation through the use of ICTs.” (EU, 2002b: 7) More generally,
the empowering potential of information is highlighted: “Information has a key role
in strategies oriented towards empowering people with a special emphasis in this
regard on the equal participation of women and men in the Information Society.”
(EU, 2002b: 10) The second exception is the rather vague statement (which is also
the third key topic of the proposed ‘Global Deal’) concerning ‘participation and new
mechanisms for governance’. These mechanisms are situated “at global and
national levels encompassing a) issues related to the sector like electronic
communications regulatory frameworks, data protection, network security and
Cyber Security, legal aspects of e-commerce and internet governance as well as
b) more general issues related to the new citizenship in the information age.” (EU,
2002a: 13) These two exceptions only further illustrate the weak articulation of
citizen and civil society participation in the two European PrepCom texts, which do
not address the power imbalances that characterise the relations between
Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide 113

governments, civil society and commerce, and between the industrialised and
developing countries.

Finally, the lack of attention for the existing structural power imbalances that result
out of economic processes (both in industrialised countries and in the relationships
between industrialised and developing countries) and the related tension between
the people’s articulation as citizens and/or consumers in the new economy
(discussed by Gandy (2002)), becomes apparent when the role of business is
addressed in the second PrepCom document. With some optimism it is stated that
the Bucharest Conference15 has not only shown a change in the perception of civil
society, but also in the perception of “business [which] defines itself not only as a
market player but sees its role in a wider political and social context, i.e. helping
countries to develop ICTs and overcome the digital divide.” (EU, 2002b: 6) At the
same time the EU – especially in relation towards developing countries –
articulates users as consumers and pleads for their integration into the
‘international market’ and into a ‘competitive economy’, through the development
of non-protectionist (or so-called ‘non-discriminatory’) legal and policy frameworks:
“An trustworthy, transparent, and non-discriminatory legal and regulatory
framework for electronic communications, including the conditions under which
consumers have access to services, is a necessary condition for the mobilisation
of private sector investment and the development of effective communication
infrastructures and services, which in turn are the basis for a competitive
economy.” (EU, 2002b: 4-5) This issue is explicitly included in the EU’s
considerations for the WSIS action plan, when they suggest to “promote the
establishment, by developing countries, of appropriate regulatory and policy
frameworks including in particular areas affecting consumers, which would
facilitate their integration into the international ICT market through increased
foreign direct investment by the private sector.” (EU, 2002b: 9) Again, there is an
exception to the lack of attention for the structural power imbalances, as the EU
promotes the use of open source software, and creates a link to citizenship (and
not to consumption). “widespread access to information and knowledge at
affordable cost for citizens should be promoted also through a broader use of open
source software with a focus on the eventual use and further development of the
UNESCO software CDS/ISIS; along the same line use of a multiplatform approach
and use of open platforms, and interoperability increase the freedom of choice.”
(EU, 2002b: 4)
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The digital divide discourse is considered problematic in many regards, because of
its unilateral emphasis on access, and because of its specific articulation of the
signifier access. As a first line of critique has shown, this articulation results in the
exclusion of user skills and practices, relevant content and opportunities for
feedback. A second line of critique is even more vital, as it challenges the truth
claims of this discourse, on empirical, conceptual, ideological and epistemological
grounds. A third line of critique attempts to decentre, de-westernise and politicise
the digital divide discourse.

Despite these different lines of critique some elements of the digital divide
discourse are worth saving, more specifically a broadened notion of access, and
the emancipatory discourse of a struggle against social exclusion that lies hidden
somewhere behind the discursive complexity of the digital divide discourse.
Although social exclusion cannot be reversed without tackling the factors that lead
to inequality (following Wolf (1998) and many others) and ‘inclusive politics of
inclusion’ form a necessity, access to ICT remains one of the many tools to
achieve this aim, but not without broadening its scope and connecting the digital
divide discourse to another signifier: participation (and the inseparable discursive
elements of power and empowerment).

In the documents for the meetings of the preparatory committee of the WSIS, the
EU has succeeded in partially broadening the scope of the digital divide discourse,
mainly by complementing the gap-metaphor with signifiers as ‘e-Inclusion’ and
‘digital opportunities’, and by their focus on the acquisition of skills, the respect for
cultural diversity and the need for local and varied content. This discursive
broadening of the meaning of access has not reached its full potential, as the EU’s
articulation of citizenship does not take the citizens’ (democratic) needs as
diversified users communities into account. The fetish of information (sometimes
called ‘knowledge’) is seen as the sole mechanism for empowerment, thus strongly
reducing the democratic potential of ICT, at the same time embedding ICTs within
the divide’s technological optimism (or even determinism). Information and
knowledge have become interchangeable concepts, and are used without a
theoretical substructure. Moreover there is hardly any critical reflection on the
prevailing power/knowledge relations, and their impact on for instance the
production of content at the level of the ‘microphysics of power’ (Foucault, 1997:
Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide 115

At the level of participation, the EU has demonstrated the keen will to include all
relevant actors in the decision-making process of the WSIS. The EU wishes to
provide the “developing countries [with] an opportunity to be fully associated to the
debate and decision process” (EU, 2002a: 4) and hold the opinion that “the various
stakeholders [… including civil society …] should be part of the political process in
which they have their own voice” (EU, 2002a: 12). By doing so, the EU has
expressed the intention to support the creation of a new model for decision-
making, for the future role of civil society (and commerce) and for “citizenship in
the information age” (EU, 2002a: 12). Despite these (discursive) efforts, civil
society’s frustration has shown that even their partial participation (using
Pateman’s (1972) vocabulary) at the Summit remains problematic. Furthermore
the EU does not address the matter of citizen participation in the Information
Society as such (with some minor exceptions) and does not thematise
communication as a human right, bottom-up processes as a valid political
decision-making tool and structural power imbalances (generated by a diversity of
political, social, cultural and economic mechanisms) as a threat to the propagated
new models of citizenship. Because of these shortcomings, the EU does not
manage to supplement the nodal point of access in these two PrepCom
documents with a conclusively deepened articulation of participation and (at least
partially) fails to live up to the expectations created towards civil society

The author would like to acknowledge the support of the Flemish Community (Policy
Research Centres Program – Programma Steunpunten voor Beleidsrelevant Onderzoek) in
the preparation of this chapter. This text contains the views of the author and not the views
of the Flemish Community. The Flemish Community cannot be held accountable for the
potential use of the communicated views and data.
This chapter does not directly deal with the construction of signifiers as the ‘new
economy’ and the ‘(European Information Society) and their truth claims. Others in this
volume do take on this issue.
Recently the European Council of Seville endorsed an eEurope action plan for 2005.
See for instance Krumme (2002) and (2001).
The analysis of these two PrepCom documents is complicated by their strategic nature
and by their place in the ongoing processes of negotiation. For this reason the use of these
two documents remains illustrative, and cannot be extrapolated to the entire EU IS-policy
without further analysis.
116 The European Information Society

Instrumental skills deal with the operational manipulation of technology, while structural
skills relate to the use (and understanding) of the structure in which the information is
contained. Strategic skills include the basic readiness to pre-actively look for information,
the information-based decision-making and the scanning of the environment for relevant
information (Steyaert, 2002, 73-74).
In the PrepCom 1 document one reference to the potential threats is made in the
introduction, and it immediately countered by pointing to the potential benefits of ICT:
'despite the pervasive effect of ICTs, their impact on societies and economies is still only at
the first stage. These changes are accompanied by a number of new challenges and
threats but at the same time, they offer new potential and new models to deal with.' (EU,
2002a: 3)
Users of these discursive elements often bracket them, signifying their unease with the
signifier. In other cases even the signifier ‘digital divide’ is bracketed. Despite the implied
conditionality, the signifiers are still articulated as described in the paper.
The World Bank has for instance established GICT (the Global Information &
Communication Technologies Department) in January 2000.
In the eEurope 2002 Action Plan, "eParticipation" for the disabled was already one of the
priority areas (EU, 2000: 17).
Political is used here in the broad sense, not being restricted to a specific sphere and/or
system, but as a dimension that is ‘inherent to every human society and that determines
our very ontological condition’ (Mouffe, 1997: 3).
Or also: 'New International Information Order' (NIIO).
The well-known rhyme, which according to myth appeared sometime around the
beginning of the seventies on a Paris wall, also takes advantage of this dichotomy between
‘real’ and ‘fake’ participation: 'Je participe, tu participes, il participe, nous participons, vous
participez, ils profitent.' (Verba & Nie, 1987: 0)
14 th
Resolution 56/183, adopted by the 90 plenary meeting of the General Assembly on 21
December 2001.
This is one of the regional preparatory conferences, for the Pan-European countries,
held in Bucharest from 7-9 November 2002.
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Communication Rights and the European
Information Society
Cees J. Hamelink

For the sake of convenience and coherence I shall use in this chapter the notion of
the ‘European Information Society’. I think it necessary however to preface this
with some qualifying observations.

• There is no European Information Society. There are in the European region

societies that are confronted with ‘informational developments’. This notion refers
to the growing significance of information products (such as news, advertising,
entertainment, scientific data etc.) and information services (such as provided by
the WWW), to the increasing volumes of information available, to the role of
information technologies as part of society’s infrastructure and to the contribution
of information handling activities to key economic transactions in finance and
trading in modern societies.
The confrontation with ‘informational developments’ occurs in different ways, at
different levels, at different speed and in different historical contexts. Societies
design their responses through policies, plans, and programmes both as centrally
steered initiatives (for example by the European Commission) and as
decentralized activities on national and local levels. The actors involved are both
public institutions and private bodies and increasingly there are forms of
public/private partnership. Society's responses may take the form of both legal
instruments and self-regulatory arrangements. Most of these initiatives are driven
by economic motives and are strongly technology-centric.
The key questions for academic inquiry address such crucial sociological issues
as: what will be the distribution of benefits of these developments (‘cui bono’, or
who benefits?), which actors will be included and which ones excluded from
political participation in decision-making about these developments (who
decides?), and which actors will be accountable in case these developments have
adverse social effects.
• Discussing the European Information Society also raises the question about the
Europe that should be addressed. The geo-strategically most comprehensive
122 The European Information Society

Europe? From Alaska to Siberia? This is the Europe of 55 member states of the
OSCE. Or the more restricted Europe of the Council of Europe (with its 42 member
states), or the smallest, but expanding Europe of the European Union? Moreover,
beyond the geographical descriptor there is also the more substantial
differentiation between a European conception that is driven by commercial and
trading interests and a European ideal that is motivated by the tradition of human
rights protection. These different Europe’s are not easily reconciled!
• The European democratic deficit. Europe may be en route towards an information
society but it does so without adequate democratic institutional arrangements for a
broad social debate and civil participation in the decision making on Europe’s
future. There is in Europe no broad public debate on how Europe can develop as a
democratic project. The current EU decision making structure resembles more
than anything else a TGV that races on at high speed with no alternative routes. Its
political arrangement is an imposition from above which de-motivates citizens to
take elections for the European Parliament seriously. There is at present not a
European Public Space and its creation should be the foremost priority for any
attempt to build the European Information Society.
European politics is mainly shaped by the secret deals that the European political
leadership makes. The European Parliament has no matching power to control,
expose and correct these deals.

The core of any democratic political deliberation should be formed by a shared

value orientation (i.e. a normative consensus), a sense of ‘imagined community ‘
(i.e. a feeling of belonging), and a common purpose. The current efforts of the EU
to construct a European identity through such legal instruments as the EU Charter
of Fundamental Rights (2000) are doomed to fail since identity is a matter of social
psychological processes and not of regulatory initiatives. You cannot regulate
people to feel European. People in the European region will only become
Europeans when they feel comfortable with this notion and when they conclude
that it benefits them in direct, concrete and material ways. Actually, the adoption of
the European Charter next to the already existing European Convention on Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) does not help to promote the European
feeling. It rather strengthens the impression that there are several Europes.

Communication Rights in Europe

Fundamental rights that are relevant to the ‘European Information Society’ are at
present (in various legal provisions) found in connection with (a) the freedom of
expression, (b) the protection of privacy and data traffic, (c) the security of
information infrastructures, and (d) the protection of intellectual property rights.
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 123

The Right to Freedom of Expression

The basic legal instrument is the European Convention on Human Rights and
Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) of 1950. Its Article 10 reads:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom
to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without
interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not
prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities,
may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are
prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of
national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder
or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation
or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in
confidence , or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary”.

A supra-national court supervises the implementation of the provisions of this

regional legal instrument and thus develops over the years a jurisprudence that
helps to understand the meaning of the various articles of the Convention.

Over the past years a number of cases involving violations of Article 10 have been
brought before the Court and through this case law important European
jurisprudence on free speech is developing.
Between the beginnings in the early 1950s till 1970 there was only one case in
relation to Article 10. In the 1970s there were three cases, in the 1980s twelve and
since then the caseload is only growing. Between January 1990 and July 1999 the
Court handed down some seventy judgments. In 50% of these cases the Court
concluded that there had been a violation of Article 10. Between July 1999 and
May 2002 the Court concluded in 36 cases that there was a violation of Article 10.

Most cases address forms of direct and indirect interference by state authorities in
the freedom of expression. The Court uses as basic rationale in judging forms of
state interference that free speech “constitutes one of the essential foundations of
a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and each
individual’s self fulfilment”. According to the Court the notion of free speech is
applicable not only to “information and ideas that are favorably received or
regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb: such are
the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which
there is no democratic society”. The Court has repeatedly stated that in a
democratic and pluralist society free speech is particularly essential to the political
124 The European Information Society

debate. “Free elections and freedom of expression, particularly political debate,

together form the bedrock of any democratic society” (the Bowman versus the UK
case of 9 February 1998).

In this context the Court has stressed the essential role of the media. In
the case Bladet Tromso & Stensaas v. Norway of May 20, 1999, the Court stated:
“One factor of particular importance for the Court’s determination in the present
case is the essential function the press fulfils in a democratic society”.

The rulings of the European Court can be organised under the following headings

1. Political Polemics

Exemplary is the Janowski versus Poland Case of January 21, 1999:

On 2 September 1992 Mr Janowski – a Polish journalist-- intervened when he saw
two municipal guards ordering street vendors to leave a square in Zdunska. He
argued with the guards and told them they had no legal basis for their action. The
Zdunska public prosecutor instituted a criminal proceeding against Mr Janowski
and charged him with having insulted the municipal guards. On 29 April 1993, the
District Court convicted Mr Janowski and sentenced him to eight months’
imprisonment suspended for two years and a fine plus the court costs. Against his
appeal, also the Regional Court found him guilty of having used such insulting
words as ‘oafs’ and ‘dumb’. The Court found that Janowski had insulted state
officials. His remarks were not part of a public discussion and he was operating as
a private person, not as a journalist. Civil servants should allow for criticism but not
to the same extent as politicians. To strengthen their credibility with the general
public it may be necessary to protect them against verbal violence. As the Court
states, “it cannot be said that civil servants knowingly lay themselves open to close
scrutiny of their every word and deed to the extent to which politicians do and
should therefore be treated on an equal footing with the latter when it comes to
criticism of their actions”. The Court concluded that the Polish authorities did not
overstep their margin of appreciation in assessing the necessity of the measures.
With twelve votes against five the Court held that there had been no breach of
Article 10.
The margin of appreciation rule that the Court refers to is intended to leave space
to national authorities to judge the pressing need for interference with free speech.
Starting point here is the position that “it is in the first place for the national
authorities, notably the courts, to interpret and apply domestic law. The Court’s s
rule is limited to verifying whether the interference which resulted from the
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 125

applicant’s conviction of that offence can be regarded as necessary in a

democratic society” (Lehideux & Isorni vs France).
Following Bladet Tromso the Court defines the margin of appreciation in this way:
“According to the Court’s well-established case law, the test of ‘necessity in a
democratic society’ requires the Court to determine whether the ‘interference’
complained of corresponded to a ‘pressing social need’, whether it was
proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and whether the reasons given by the
national authorities to justify it are relevant and sufficient…In assessing whether
such a ‘need’ exists and what measures should be adopted to deal with it, the
national authorities are left a certain margin of appreciation. This power of
appreciation is not, however, unlimited but goes hand in hand with a European
supervision by the Court, whose task it is to give a final ruling on whether a
restriction is reconcilable with freedom of expression as protected by Article 10”.

Whereas on the one hand the margin of appreciation is circumscribed by the need
to show a pressing social need and by the essential role of the press in democratic
societies, there is a much wider margin for national authorities in relation to
matters of public order, in situations where there is incitement to violence or when
“matters liable to offend intimate personal convictions within the sphere of morals
or, especially, religion” are at stake (Wingrove v. UK, 25.11.1996). With regard to
the latter, the Court has argued that “what is likely to cause substantial offence to
persons of a particular religious persuasion will vary significantly from time to time
and from place to place, especially in an era characterized by an ever growing
array of faiths and denominations. State authorities are in principle in a better
position than the international judge to give an opinion on the exact content of
these requirements with regard to the rights of others as well as on the ‘necessity’
of a ‘restriction’ intended to protect from such material those whose deepest
feelings and convictions would be seriously offended”.
The margin is greater in cases of insults against officials, incitement to violence, or
cases that refer to morals or religion. The problem with this flexible approach to the
margin of appreciation is that the Court distinguishes in its protection of Article 10
between different situations where state restrictions obtain. The scope of the
national margin of appreciation varies but, in the absence of explicit criteria, there
is a margin of arbitrariness.

In the field of political polemics also the Oberschlick versus Austria (No 2) Case of
July 1, 1997 is interesting. The periodical Forum reproduced a speech held on 7
October 1990 by Mr Jörg Haider, leader of the Austrian Freedom Party. The editor
of the magazine, Mr Gerhard Oberschlick, commented on the speech and called
Haider a Trottel, an ‘idiot’. On 26 April 1991 Mr Haider brought an action for
defamation and insult. On 23 May 1991 the Court found Mr Oberschlick guilty of
126 The European Information Society

having insulted Mr. Haider and sentenced him to a fine and also ordered the
seizure of the relevant issue of Forum. In his application to the European Court Mr
Oberschlick alleged that his conviction was contrary to Article 10 of the
Convention. The Court stated in its judgment that the use of the word ‘Trottel’
should be seen as part of a political discussion in response to Haider’s speech. As
the Court expressed, “the applicant’s article and in particular the word Trottel, may
certainly be considered polemical, but they did not on that account constitute a
gratuitous personal attack as the author provided an objectively understandable
explanation for them derived from Mr Haider’s speech, which was itself
provocative”. The necessity of interference with the author’s freedom of expression
was not shown, concluded the Court, and it found that there been a breach of
Article 10.

2. Racism and Revisionism

The Lehideux & Isorni versus France Case of September 23, 1998:
On 13 July 1984 the daily newspaper Le Monde published a one-page
advertisement bearing the title ‘People of France, you have short memories’. The
text basically called for a more positive attitude towards Marshal Pétain and his
role during World War Two as French Head of State. On 10 October 1984 the
National Association of Former Members of the Resistance filed a criminal
complaint against Mr Lehideux as President of the Association for the Defence of
the Memory of Marshal Pétain, against Mr Isorni as the author of the text, and
against the publication manager of Le Monde, for publicly defending the crimes of
collaboration with the enemy. In the judicial process that followed, the highest
French court judged (16 November 1993) that the text defended a person
convicted of collusion with the enemy and concluded that the finding of the lower
court in favor of the complainants did not infringe the right to freedom
of expression as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention. Mr Lehideux
and Mr Isorni submitted an application to the European Commission on Human
Rights which found their complaint admissible. The case thus proceeded to the
Court which concluded that the criminal conviction of the applicants was
disproportionate and not necessary in a democratic society. According to the Court
there had been a breach of Article 10.
The Court clarified that the protection of Article 10 would not hold if the cruelties of
the Nazis had been justified in a publication or if the Holocaust would have been
denied. In its ‘obiter dictum’ the Court said that Article 17 of the Convention takes
the protection of Article 10 away from those who deny the Holocaust.
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 127

3. The Use of Confidential Documents

The Case Bladet Tromsoe & Stensaas versus Norway of May 20, 1999:
The newspaper Bladet Tromsoe published some articles on the hunting of seals. In
the first article scientist Lindberg, inspector for the Ministry of Fishing, talked about
the unacceptable ways in which the animals are killed. The hunters got an
opportunity to do their story. Then the newspaper published the official report by
Lindberg for the Ministry. The report was withdrawn from publicity since there were
allegations of criminal conduct that needed investigation and the accusations of
Lindberg were not proven. The newspaper and editor Stensaas were sentenced
for slander.
The Court expressed the need for careful scrutiny in cases where government
interference may discourage the participation of the press in debates on matters of
public concern. It confirmed the ‘watch dog’ function of the press even if reputation
and name of people are at stake.
The Court’s majority confirmed that the seal hunters have a right to the protection
of their name and reputation and the right to be held innocent until their guilt has
been proven in a court of law. However, the allegations were part of the contents
of the Lindberg report and the newspaper had good reason to believe the report
was reliable. The Court saw no evidence that the newspaper acted not in good
faith! Therefore, the Court concluded that the interference with the applicant’s
freedom of expression was disproportionate. The Court sentenced the Norwegian
government to a compensatory payment of 693.606 Norwegian crowns.
As may be expected the Court’s opinions are not always without dissent and
controversy. In this case the three dissenting judges argued against the consenting
majority: “In our view the fact that a strong public interest is involved should not
have the consequence of exonerating newspapers from either the basic ethics of
their trade or the laws of defamation”. They concluded that the judgment “sends
the wrong signal to the press in Europe…Article 10 may protect the right for the
press to exaggerate and provoke but not to trample over the reputation of private
individuals”. The dissenting opinions found the judgment undermines the basic
ethics of the profession which imply that journalists should carefully check facts
and should not trample over the reputation of private individuals.

4. Protection of Journalistic Sources

The landmark case is William Goodwin versus The United Kingdom (March 27,
1996). This case provides the legal basis for the journalistic privilege in Europe.
Until this case the protection of journalistic sources was only recognized in
voluntary professional codes.
128 The European Information Society

Journalist William Goodwin who worked for The Engineer received confidential
information about financial problems at the company Tetra Ltd. He intended to
publish an article on this. The company complained that the information in the
article originated from a confidential business plan and requested a prohibition to
publish the information. A court of law supported the request that would be valid for
all British media. Moreover, as the judge found that ‘the interests of justice’ are at
stake, Goodwin was ordered to reveal his source. Also in appeal the House of
Lords confirmed “the importance to the plaintiffs of obtaining disclosure lies in the
threat of severe damage to their business”. Goodwin got a fine of 5.000 British
Pounds for contempt of court and took his case to Strasbourg.
The European Court stated that freedom of expression constitutes one of the
essential foundations of a democratic society and confirmed that the protection of
journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom. The Court
finally judged that the disclosure order couldn’t be regarded as having been
necessary in a democratic society. The Court took a principled position in favour of
the journalistic privilege and did not make it dependent upon certain conditions,
like how information was gathered.
Relevant in the case was the concurring opinion of one judge who suggested that
the injunction was an utterly unacceptable form of prior restraint; and even if there
had been no injunction the disclosing order would have been illegitimate!
The Goodwin case is particularly important since the Convention does not provide
for the freedom to gather information. This is a difference with the Universal
Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights that provide for the right to ‘seek’ information and ideas. The Court
concluded very strongly “Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic
conditions for press freedom. Without such protection, sources may be deterred
from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest”.
Failing this protection “the vital public-watchdog role of the press may be
undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information
may be adversely affected”. The Court proposed that an order to reveal sources
“must be limited to exceptional circumstances where vital public or individual
interests are at stake”. The Court also proposed that in these cases the national
margin of appreciation is restricted since the interests of the democratic society are
here at stake. The Court saw the legitimate interests of the Tetra company but
considered that they weighed less than the vital public interest in protecting
confidential sources.
A relevant dimension of this case was also that the Court made reference to the
field of professional self-regulation through codes of conduct. “Protection of
journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom, as it is
reflected in the laws and the professional codes of conduct in a number of
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 129

Contracting States and is affirmed in several international instruments of

journalistic freedoms ”.
Also in the cases Fressoz & Roire v. France and in Bladet Tromso, the Court
referred in its argumentation to the ethics of journalism. The reference was used
against state interference and in support of professional secrecy (a.o. in Bladet
Tromso, Goodwin and De Haes & Gijsels). However, reference to the failure of
journalists to heed the provisions of professional ethics has also been used to
justify state interference, as in the Praeger & Oberschlick versus Austria case of 26
April 1995, where the Court argued that the applicant could not invoke compliance
with the ethics of journalism.

5. Freedom of Expression in Turkey

The complex and tense situation in Turkey has led to several cases involving
journalists who wrote about or in favour of the PKK, the Kurdish Political Party. In
most cases the government was considered guilty of breaching Article 10, but in
some cases the Court also decided that there was hate speech or incitement to
violence and thus legitimate interference.

The case of Zana versus Turkey of 25 November 1997:

Mr Mehdi Zana, former mayor of Diyarbakir, while serving sentences in the military
prison of Diyarbakir, remarked in an interview with journalists, ”I support the PKK
national liberation movement; on the other hand I am not in favour of massacres”.
The statement was published in the national daily newspaper Cumhuriyet on 30
August 1987. By means of an indictment of 19 November 1987, the Diyarbakir
military prosecutor instituted proceedings in the Military Court against Mr. Zana
charging him with supporting an armed organisation whose aim was to break up
Turkey’s national territory. The Turkish National Security Court held in its judgment
of 26 March1991 that Mr Zana’s statement to journalists amounted to a criminal
When the case ended up with the European Court, the judges found Mr Zana’s
statement contradictory and ambiguous. “They are contradictory because it would
seem difficult simultaneously to support the PKK, a terrorist organization which
resorts to violence to achieve its ends, and to declare oneself opposed to
massacres”. The Court finally judged that the penalty imposed on the applicant
could be regarded as answering to “a pressing social need” and that consequently
there had been no breach of Article 10.
The Court voted twelve against eight. The dissenting opinions found that the
restriction imposed by the Turkish government was not necessary in a democratic
society. In one opinion, a dissenting judge stated, “Even if one accepts…that the
maintenance of national security and public safety constituted a legitimate aim for
130 The European Information Society

the purpose of taking measures in respect of the statement made by the applicant,
his conviction and twelve-month prison sentence cannot, in my opinion, be held to
be proportionate to those aims, considering the content of the statement”. And in
the rationale for his dissent, the judge wrote, “The mere fact that in the statement
the applicant indicated support for a political organisation whose aims and means
the Government reject and combat cannot, therefore, be a sufficient reason for
prosecuting and sentencing him”.

It is interesting to compare the Zana case with the Incal versus Turkey case of
June 9, 1998. Mr Ibrahim Incal, lawyer by profession, was a member of the
executive committee of the Izmir section of the People’s Labour Party, dissolved
by the Constitutional Court in 1993.
On 1 July 1992 the executive committee decided to distribute a leaflet criticizing
measures taken by the local authorities against small-scale illegal trading and the
sprawl of squatters’ camps around the city. The leaflet concluded with “The Driving
the Kurds out policy forms part of the ‘special war’ being conducted in the country
at present against the Kurdish people. It is one of the mechanisms of that war, the
way it impinges on the cities. Because the methods used are the same, namely
enslavement, violence, terror and oppression through compulsion. It is a
psychological war”. The Izmir security police considered that the leaflet contained
separatist propaganda capable of inciting the people to resist the Government and
commit criminal offences. A criminal investigation was opened and Mr Incal was
found guilty by the National Security Court and sentenced to six months and
twenty days imprisonment and a fine. In a judgment of 6 July 1993 the Court of
Cassation upheld the judgment. When the case came to the European Court the
judges observed that interference with the freedom of expression of a politician
who is a member of an opposition party, like the applicant, calls for the closest
scrutiny on the part of the Court.
The Court further stated that the limits of permissible criticism are wider with
regard to the Government than in relation to a private citizen, or even a politician.
“In a democratic system the actions or omissions of the Government must be
subject to the close scrutiny not only of the legislative and judicial authorities but
also of public opinion”. The Court was prepared to take into account problems
linked to the prevention of terrorism. Here it referred to its judgment in the Zana
case. However, the Court judged that Mr Incal’s conviction was disproportionate to
the aim pursued and therefore unnecessary in a democratic society. It is
interesting that the Court finds contrary to the Zana case that found Mr Incal
cannot be held responsible for terrorism in Turkey.
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 131

6. Operational Procedure

In its operational procedure the European Court follows the standard practice that
it first decides whether there was an interference of Article 10.1 and then examines
whether the interference is justified. The questions then asked are:
Was the interference prescribed by law? What is the basis for the interference in
national law? Is the law precise enough? Did the applicant have adequate
protection from arbitrary interference? Did the interference pursue a legitimate
aim? Was the interference necessary in a democratic society? In other words can
the interfering state authority demonstrate that there was a pressing social need
for its intervention? The contracting states have a certain margin of appreciation in
assessing whether a pressing social need exists but eventually the decision is with
the Court.
The question about the pressing need will be followed by the question whether the
measures taken by the state are proportionate to a legitimate aim and whether the
proposed reasons are relevant and sufficient? In several cases the Court has
judged an interference to be not legitimate since the information that was censored
by the state was already available in the public domain anyway.

Challenges for the Future

A first challenge addresses an essential and far-reaching element in the Court’s
jurisprudence, which is its interpretation of the right to receive information.
According to the jurisprudence of the European Court, the European citizen has
the right to be properly informed. In several opinions the Court has stated that not
only do the mass media have a right to impart information, they have the task “to
impart information and ideas on matters of public interest” and the public has a
right to receive such information and ideas. The Court has ruled that the media are
purveyors of information and are public watchdogs. This imposes a special public
responsibility on the performance of the media. According to the Court, the media
of information have a corresponding duty to provide information that properly
informs their audiences. This is a vitally important position in view of the increasing
commercialization of media and the trend towards trivialisation of information
provided by them: the ‘sound bites’, the info-tainment formats, the ‘media-hypes’
which are a very provocative challenge to both practitioners and policymakers. The
Court’s position also deserves to be elaborated. It will turn out to be very difficult to
find more precise formulations than ‘properly informed’ and even harder to
operationalize such formulations. It is, however, a task urgently needed and very
pertinent to the current media climate.
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A second challenge deals with the relationship between the European Convention
and the European Union. A peculiarity of the European region with regard to
human rights is the fact that although individual EU member states have ratified
the ECHR, the EU as an institution has not. This creates a situation in which it is
unclear how robust the protection of human rights really is for EU citizens. At the
end of 2000 the European Union has proclaimed at its meeting in Nice the
European Charter on Fundamental Rights. The Charter formulates the freedom of
expression in Article 11, “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This
right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information
and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. 2
.The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”. In the commentary
on this article, it is stated that restrictions of the right to freedom of expression
should not exceed the limitations of the European Convention, Article 10,
paragraph 2. It is regrettable that the Charter only refers to the interference by
public authority and effectively excludes the interference from private parties and
thus undermines the possible horizontal effect of the Charter. As with the
European Convention, also here the right to seek information is not explicitly
mentioned. It is also unclear whether paragraph 2 on the pluralism of the media
does imply a positive duty on the part of governments to promote this media
pluralism. It would be a constructive step if the EU decided to ratify the European
Convention and if the provisions of the European Charter would be implemented in
accordance with the jurisprudence of the European Court.

A third challenge concerns the accession of Eastern European countries. In recent

years Albania, Armenia, Azerbeidjan, Bulgaria, Rumania, Russia and other Central
and Eastern European countries have ratified the ECHR, and thus the number of
parties to the Convention has risen to forty-three. The newly acceded countries
bring different legal traditions and political experiences to the Court’s proceedings
and it will be of critical importance that the level of protection secured by the
Convention will not be lowered. The expanded membership may also confront the
Court with more complex cases about situations where gross and systematic
violations of human rights take place and this raises the question of whether the
Court is adequately equipped to deal with this growing burden of the caseload.

The fourth challenge regards the horizontal effect of basic rights. It may well be
possible that in the years ahead there will be a considerable number of cases in
which interferences with the right to freedom of information come from private
parties. Will the Court be adequately legally equipped to deal with this? In the case
of Fuentes Bobo versus Spain of February 29, 2000 (about an employee of RTVE,
the Spanish public broadcaster, who criticized his employer and who was
subsequently fired) the Court concluded that Article 10 also applies to horizontal
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 133

relations. There is therefore a legal precedent but more work needs to be done as
the so-called ‘Dritt-Wirkung’ or horizontal effect of constitutional rights remains a
controversial issue.

A fifth challenge for the Court will be the need to apply in its opinions very
substantial lines of argumentation and avoid non-essential arguments. In some
cases the Court has introduced peculiar (non-essential) arguments that tend to
erode the principled nature of these cases. An illustration is the consideration in
paragraph 55 of the Incal case where the Court refers to the fact that the security
police had an opportunity to require changes in the leaflet. Also in the Goodwin
case there is the odd consideration that the interfering party no longer had a claim
to the exposure of sources since a judge had already prohibited the publication
and thus limited the damage thereof.

A sixth challenge will be the find a balance between the right to free speech and
European efforts to secure safety of the Internet in particular for children. The
Council of the European Union approved on 21 December 1998 an Action Plan on
promoting safer use of the Internet by combating illegal and harmful content on
global networks. Whatever the valid intentions behind this Plan it will imply limits
on Internet contents and thus requires a careful consideration of the limitation of
these limits.
A seventh challenge will be the need to make the Court more accessible for
European citizens. Given the current caseload this sounds like a very irresponsible
proposition. It should be realized, however, that the institution of the Court is a
great historical example of how the protection of human rights can become a
reality indeed. The ultimate success of the Court’s functioning will depend upon its
concrete effect on the lives of European citizens. It is evident that in this process a
great deal could be done by national judicial institutions. In many cases national
courts would have come to different conclusions if they had already introduced in
their reasoning the test of the criteria that emerge from European Court’s

A last challenge is also provided by the need to have robust rules on access to
information. Although the Council of Europe has declared work on a legal text on
access to information a priority, no concluding document has been produced so
far. The European Court has held in the Guerra & Others versus Italy case of 19
February 1998, that the Convention does not provide a general right of access to
public information, but it does provide a specific right to information on
environmental hazards.
As mentioned before, the right to freedom of expression is also part of the
provisions of The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Brussels,
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October 2000). Article 11 of the Charter and more recently the right to freedom of
expression was reconfirmed by the Bucharest Pan-European conference in
preparation of the World Summit on the Information Society (November 2002). The
participating states proposed a vision on an Information Society “where all
persons, without distinction of any kind, exercise their right to freedom of opinion
and expression, including the freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to
seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless
of frontiers”. It should be noted that the Bucharest Declaration does include the
right to seek information!

The Right to the Protection of Privacy

Throughout the 1970s several European countries began to adopt national data
protection laws. These laws had several common features, such as “setting limits
to the collection of personal data in accordance with the objectives of the data
collector and similar criteria, restricting the usage of data to conform with openly
specified purposes, creating facilities for individuals to learn of the existence and
contents of data and have data corrected, and the identification of parties who are
responsible for compliance with the relevant privacy protection rules and
decisions” (OECD, 1980: 11). Differences between national laws existed in
particular with reference to licensing requirements and control mechanisms, the
definition of sensitive data, and the provision of individual access. When in the
1970s the data protection concern became an international issue, the prime
venues for negotiation were the Council of Europe (COE), the European
Communities, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

The work of the COE was obviously inspired by the privacy provision in the
European Convention (ECHR) of 1950 which states in Article 8: “(1) Everyone has
the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his
correspondence. (2) There shall no interference by a public authority with the
exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary
in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the
economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the
protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of
others”. It is important to observe here that the Convention protect citizens against
interference by public authorities whereas increasingly the right to privacy is also
under threat through the activities of private agencies (such as marketing firms and
consumer databases).
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 135

Following the Convention the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

adopted in 1973 and 1974 two resolutions concerning data protection. The
resolutions recommended that member countries would take steps to implement
basic principles of protection relating to the collection of data, the quality of data,
and the rights of individuals to be informed about data and data processing
activities. On this bases the COE began to prepare for an international
arrangement through a Convention. This became the basic European instrument in
connection with privacy protection: the Council of Europe Convention for the
protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data. The
convention was opened for signatures on 28 January 1981. On 15 June 1999 the
Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted an amendment to the
Convention that allowed the European Communities to accede to the convention.

In the 1970s also the European Community began to study the possible
harmonization of legal rules in connection with transborder flows of personal data
and in 1978 the European Parliament held a public hearing on data processing
and individual rights. The sub-committee responsible for the hearing prepared a
report that was submitted to the European Parliament in 1979 with a resolution on
the protection of individual rights in view of data processing.
The OECD programme goes back to the late 1960s and its studies on computer
usage. In 1977 the OECD Data Bank Panel held a symposium in Vienna to
discuss privacy problems in the context of transborder data flows. The symposium
presented a number of guiding principles that recognized, ‘(a) the need for
generally continuous and uninterrupted flows of information between countries, (b)
the legitimate interest of countries in preventing transfers of data which are
dangerous to their security or contrary to their laws on public order and decency or
which violate the rights of their citizens, (c) the economic value of information and
the importance of protecting ‘data trade’ by accepted rules of fair competition, (d)
the need for security safeguards to minimise violations of proprietary data and
misuse of personal information, and (e) the significance of a commitment of
countries to a set of core principles for the protection of personal information’
(OECD, 1980: 14). In 1978 a new expert group on Transborder Data Barriers and
Privacy Protection was initiated and was instructed to work closely with COE and
EC to ‘develop guidelines on basic rules governing the transborder flow and the
protection of personal data and privacy’ (OECD, 1980: 14).
The work of the expert group led to the OECD Guidelines that were adopted in
1980. Although there are similarities with the COE Convention, the main difference
is that the Guidelines are a non binding instrument, they define very general
principles for a minimal international consensus, they contain no enforcement
procedures, and their constituency is limited (although powerful). Another
distinction is that the Guidelines apply to all personal data, also those handled
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manually. The COE Convention addresses only automatically processed data. The
COE Data Protection Convention is a binding legal instrument for states that ratify
it. As the Council is a regional body, the constituency of the Convention is limited,
although the instrument is open for accession by all countries. The basic principles
of the Convention are the right to confidentiality, the right to be informed about the
existence of data collections, and the right to data quality. The Convention is
formulated rather generally and leaves the methods to deal with these principles to
national legislation. The Convention does not say how people are to know about
data being collected about them or how to obtain remedy in case data registers
refuse either access or rectification.
There are also serious questions about the adequacy of the concepts that are
used in the Convention. A core concept is the automated personal file. This was
based upon the early situation in which large mainframe computers would hold
files that could be accessed/processed by different users. Today files are
ubiquitous, they are in personal computers, for instance. One can hardly apply the
rules on all automated files. Also the notion of ‘machine readable’ has changed
with the application of optical scanners.
The concern about the quality of data (COE Convention Art. 5. or OECD
Guidelines, Part Two, para 8) led to the formulation of a right of access for the data
subject. This is insufficient if the data subject wants to get all the data correct. The
data in different collections may be in and by themselves correct, but their
combination may create inaccurate statements. If you combine correct data on
gross income from one database and combine them with correct data from another
database on net income and then present them as income, the outcome is no
longer accurate. There is also the development towards more automated data
collection devices. The data subject does not provide him/herself the information
which is collected by electronic systems, such as traffic control systems.
The Convention deals with the sensitivity of data (Art. 6) and refers to health, sex,
and crime. The question is whether this is sufficient? How about data on political
affiliation? Or data about race and religion? Sensitivity increases with the potential
for discriminatory use of the data. What guarantees does the Convention provide
against collective surveillance, for example the surveillance of suspect
populations? ‘The majority of those subject to surveillance are not actually
criminals, but only persons qualified by coincidence as members of the suspect
population’ (Bing, 1992: 256).
There is also a problem with the provision of the right of access as a fundamental
right of citizens. The question is whether this really functions as an instrument of
control. ‘It is a disappointing international experience that very few citizens make
use of the right to access, regardless of how comprehensive this right is outlined in
the different national statutes’ (Blume, 1991: 17). Yet there is sufficient evidence to
suggest that ‘citizens feel very strongly about data protection and are worried
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 137

about the extent of knowledge that public authorities and large private firms can
acquire about them in our modern, information society’ (Blume. 1992: 17). Blume
suggests that the fact that access has to be a personal initiative constitutes a
major barrier to use this means of control. An alternative might be a system in
which citizens would be informed about the data held about them. ‘Denmark has
discussed such a system. However, besides the practical difficulties of such a
system, a file of files would also create political problems. It would mean that the
state had one big file or database containing all available information on all
citizens, which when seen from the point of privacy would be very dangerous’
(Blume, 1992: 18).
On 24 October 1995 the European Parliament and the EU Council issued a
Directive (95/46/EC) on the protect ion of individuals with regard to the processing
of personal data and on the free movement of such data.
On 25 October 1998 the European Union Privacy Directive took effect. The
directive requires EU member states to implement personal data policies that
include such principles as transparency, purpose limitation, data quality, special
protection of sensitive data and the appointment of ‘data controllers’ responsible
for all data processing. The Directive also stresses the need for individual redress
thus providing the right of individuals to access information about themselves, to
correct or block inaccuracies and to object to information’s use. Article 1 of the
Directive demands of EU member states that they protect “the fundamental rights
and freedoms of natural persons, and in particular their right to privacy with respect
to the processing of personal data”. The EU Directive in fact recognizes the
protection of privacy as a fundamental human right.
The substantial basis of the Directive is found in the reference to the right to
privacy as contained in the 1981 COE Convention. The Directive reiterates that
rights are conferred on individuals, the data on whom are the subject of
processing. These rights include that those individuals are informed that
processing takes place, that they can consult the data, request corrections and
object to processing under certain conditions, for example if the data are being
processed for the purpose of direct marketing. The preamble of the Directive
states that the processing of personal data must be carried out with the consent of
the data subject.
When decisions affecting data subjects are taken on the basis of automated data
processing, the data subject must be able to know the logic on which these
automated decisions are based.
In the Directive EU Member States are asked to establish exceptions or
derogations from data protection provisions in such a way as to strike a balance
between different but equally fundamental rights such as the right to privacy and
the right to free speech.
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On 23 February 1999 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted

a recommendation which proposes guidelines for Internet users and service
providers (among others on the means of protecting themselves) and advises on
the implementation of data protection standards. The Guidelines also emphasize
the users’ responsibility when process or transfer information about other people.
On 12 July 2002 the European Parliament and the EU Council adopted Directive
2002/58/EC concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of
privacy in the electronic communications sector. In its Preamble, para (2) the
Directive “seeks to respect the fundamental rights and observes the principles
recognized in particular by the Charter of Fundamental rights of the European
Union” . This concerns in particular Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter. And in para (3)
the Directives assures that “confidentiality of communication is guaranteed in
accordance with the international instruments relating to human rights, in particular
the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental
freedoms and the constitutions of Member States”.
Article 4 addresses security and provides “(1) The provider of a publicly available
electronic communication service must take appropriate technical and
organisational measures to safeguard security of its services…. and (2) In case of
a particular risk of a breach of security of the network, the provider of a publicly
available electronic communication service must inform the subscribers concerning
such risk….” Article 5 deals with the confidentiality of communications and
provides (1) that “Member States shall ensure the confidentiality of
communications and the related traffic data by means of a public communications
network and publicly available electronic communications services, through
national legislation. In particular, they shall prohibit listening, tapping, or storage or
other kinds of interception or surveillance of communications and the related traffic
data by persons other than users without the consent of the users concerned,
except when legally authorised to do so….”.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Brussels, October
2000) provides for the right to the protection of private communication and
personal data in Article 7 which states, “Everyone has the right to respect for his or
her private and family life, home and communication”. And Article 8 provides “1.
Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her. 2.
Such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the
consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law.
Everyone has the right of access to data which has been collected concerning him
or her, and the right to have it rectified. 3. Compliance to these rules shall be
subject to control by an independent authority”.
The protection of ‘informational privacy’ as provided in this article is clearly based
upon Article 8 of the ECHR and the EU privacy directive.
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Compared to Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and

Fundamental Freedoms with regard to the protection of privacy the term
‘correspondence’ was replaced by ‘communication’. This obviously takes into
account developments and innovations in information- and communication
technology. The Charter provides no unequivocal recognition of the right of
encryption and there is no explicit no right to anonymous communications. Yet,
paragraph 3 of Article 8 represents an important step towards the establishment of
an independent European data commissioner.

In the course of 2001 the EU Council and Parliament have given more power to
law enforcement agencies to monitor telephone, internet and email traffic. This
allows these agencies to develop a fairly complete picture of people’s movements
(from mobile phone records) and of their personal communications by phone and
email as well as of their internet behaviour. To further reinforce this the Belgian
government proposed in 2002 a text for a Draft Framework Decision on the
Retention of Traffic Data and on Access to this Data in Connection with Criminal
Investigation and Prosecutions. The text states that the use of telecommunications
services has grown to the extent that the data relating to its use, and principally
those relating to traffic are very useful tools for investigating and prosecuting
criminal offences. Following this the proposal is made for the a priori retention of
traffic data during a period of a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 24
months. In order to protect the right to privacy Article 4 of the draft suggests that
“Access to retained traffic data is given only to judicial authorities; Access to
retained traffic data is not authorised when other measures are possible which are
less intrusive in terms of privacy; Confidentiality and integrity of retained traffic data
are ensured; Data to which access has not been asked are destroyed at the end of
the period of mandatory retention”.
Finally, it is remarkable that the Declaration that was produced by the Bucharest
Pan-European conference in preparation of the World Summit on the Information
Society (November 2002) contains no provisions on the issue of privacy protection.

The Right to Security

Among some of the early signals that pointed at the problem of technology-
vulnerability was the 1978 report by the Swedish Ministry of Defense Committee
on the Vulnerability of Computer Systems (SARK) ‘The Vulnerability of
Computerized Society’.
In 1981 the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD)
held a workshop in Sigüenza (Spain) on the Vulnerability of the Computerized
Society. In 1984 the Information Task Force of the Commission of the European
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Communities published ‘The vulnerability of the information-conscious society-

European situation’.
In 1986 the Norwegian Vulnerability Commission presented a report called ‘The
Vulnerability of a Computer Dependent Society’.
In 1989 a committee of the British Computer Society reported that current skills in
safety assessment were inadequate and therefore the safety of people could not
be guaranteed (Forester and Morrison, 1990: 3).
These various commissions and reports began to identify the risks that the use of
international computer systems entailed. Such risks could be incorrect
transmissions either by technical malfunction or by the intentional act of an
intruder. Incorrect transmissions could include the transmission to the wrong
address, or of the wrong content, or of both. Transmissions could also be afflicted
by delays or by the unexplained loss of data.
Another risk could be the unauthorized access to the data traffic or the data
themselves or both. A third type of risk could be the possibility of communicating
with fraudulent persons (Redeker, 1989: 19). Risks could also be caused by
malfunctions of networks that take care of Electronic Funds Transfers and such
malfunctions may be caused by environmental factors, by equipment failures,
errors in design architecture, or by human errors in data processing. Such errors
could cause inadvertent changes in the contents of payment instructions.
The 1986 OECD study referred to the international dimension of computer-related
crime due to the internationalisation of information and computer services. The
study pointed to the need for an international response since “international co-
operation in the repression of computer-related offenses... would facilitate
transborder data flows” (OECD, 1986: 7). In the summary the study stated that
international co-operation is recommended in both areas of civil and penal law. “As
far as civil and administrative economic law is concerned, international harmonized
solutions are necessary also in order to secure equal conditions of competition, to
facilitate transborder data flow, and to avoid the transfer of undesirable or
detrimental actions in foreign countries... It is important to develop common
approaches to penal and procedural law in order to protect the international data
networks, to enable the functioning of international instruments of co-operation in
criminal matters and to guarantee that evidence gathered in one country is
admissible in court in another country” (OECD, 1986: 64). The report stated very
clearly that any other solution “would lead to ‘data havens’ and ‘computer crime
havens’ and therefore lead to restrictions in transborder data flow” (OECD, 1986:
64). The purpose of international cooperation would be the repression and
prevention of computer crime.
It has been increasingly realized that international cooperation in the field of law
enforcement and computer crime would demand directives regarding cases where
several states are entitled to prosecute the same case, law enforcement authority
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on foreign territory and the harmonization of criminal sanctions. Harmonization is

required if the emergence of computer crime havens is to be prevented.
In October 1989 the OECD Secretariat submitted to the Committee for Information,
Computer and Communications Policy (ICCP) a report on Information Network
Security. The preparation of this report had been approved by the ICCP in October
Following the report the ICCP appointed a Group of Experts to draft guidelines for
information system security. On 26 November 1992 the OECD Council adopted
the Recommendation and the member countries adopted the Guidelines. In its
recommendation to the member countries the Council pointed to the “increasingly
significant role of information systems and growing dependence on them...the
sensitivity and vulnerability due to risks arising from available means of
unauthorized access, use, misappropriation, alteration and destruction’. In the
memorandum annexed to the Guidelines the group of experts has highlighted the
growing dependence on information systems and its concern for the possibility of
information system failure. ‘Failures of information systems may result in direct
financial loss, such as loss of orders or payment, or in losses that are more indirect
or perhaps less quantifiable by, for example, disclosure of information that is
personal, important to national security, of competitive value, or otherwise
sensitive or confidential” (OECD, 1992: 17).
The Guidelines are presented as a general framework within which member
countries can develop laws, codes of conduct, technical measures and user
practices. Central to the instrument are a set of nine principles. The accountability
principle which provides that responsibilities and accountability of those involved
with information system should be stated explicitly. The awareness principle which
provides that those interested should have access to information about measures
for the security of information systems in order to foster confidence in such
systems. The ethics principle which implies that the provision and use of
information systems and the security of information systems should take into
account the legitimate rights and interests of others. The multidisciplinary principle
which states that the development of security measures and practices should take
the whole range of pertinent viewpoints and forms of expertise into account. The
proportionality principle which suggests that security needs vary and security
measures should be in line with the value of information systems and the severity
of potential harm. The integration principle which says that security measures
should be coordinated and coherent security systems should be designed. The
timeliness principle proposes that the timely response to security breaches is vital.
The reassessment principle suggests that the dynamic development of information
systems renders a periodical assessment of security measures necessary. And the
concluding democracy principle says that the security measures should be in line
with legitimate interests in use and flow of data and information.
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The Guidelines conclude with a set of recommendation to member countries on

the implementation of security measures through policy development, education
and training, enforcement and redress, exchange of information, and cooperation.
Presently, the OECD Guidelines represent the core of an emerging political
practice and eventually a robust and effective agreement in connection with the
concern about data security.
The Convention on Cybercrime adopted on 23 November 2001 by the member
States of the Council of Europe represents the first international legal instrument to
address crime and criminal investigation in relation to the new electronic
environment (cyberspace). In connection with the protection of privacy one finds
the most contested provisions in Articles 16 and 17 that deal with the preservation
of data. The articles address the need to adopt legislative and other measures to
obtain the expeditious preservation of specified computer data, including data
traffic for a period of time as long as necessary, up to a maximum of ninety days to
enable the competent authorities to seek its disclosure. This is particularly where
there are grounds to believe that the computer data is particularly vulnerable to
loss or modification.
In terms of fundamental rights the Convention refers to the provision (Article 15)
that all procedures are subject to conditions and safeguards for the protection of
human rights and liberties as arising from such instruments as the ECHR and the
1966 UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Bucharest Declaration (2002) proposes that “A global culture of cyber-security
needs to be developed: security must be addressed through prevention and
supported throughout society, and be consistent with the need to preserve free flow
of information”. The Declaration has nothing to offer in terms of the protection of
basic human rights in this process of developing cyber-security.
On 7 August 2002 the OECD has adopted the Guidelines for the Security of
Information Systems and Networks. The Guidelines aim to promote a culture of
security among all participants as a means of protecting information systems and
networks. This OECD recommendation provides no rules on the protection of
citizen’s rights to their privacy.

The Right to Anonymous Communications

This is a strongly contested issue. In general, law enforcement authorities are
concerned that anonymous communications seriously hinders criminal
prosecution. There are also industry representatives who find full anonymity
undesirable in relation to network integrity and anti-fraud actions. However others,
and in particular privacy experts, claim that fundamental rights to free speech and
privacy cannot be guaranteed without anonymous communications. The issue of
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anonymity represents a classic dilemma between conflicting public policy

objectives and demands that a balance is sought between securing basic rights
and permitting certain limits on these rights. The Declaration of the Ministerial
Conference in Bonn on Global Information Networks (July 6-8, 1997) proposed the
principle that where the user can remain anonymous off-line, this should also be
possible on-line. By consequence the powers of authorities to limit basic rights
should not be greater in cyberspace than they are in the off-line world.

The Right to the Protection of Intellectual Property

Unlike the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in Article 27:2), the European
Convention (ECHR) provides no protection of intellectual property . As a
consequence there is no recognition in Europe’s most important human rights
instrument of the status of intellectual property protection as a fundamental human
right. This is significant, because in case intellectual property rights are recognized
as human rights this recognition shapes the political framework for all parties
involved, producers, distributors, artists, and consumers. It implies that the
protection of intellectual property rights is constituted by: the right to full
participation in cultural life for everyone; the right of affordable access to
information for everyone; the recognition of moral rights of cultural producers; the
rights of creative artists; the diversity of cultural production, and the protection of
the public domain.
As human rights always imply responsibilities, the human rights-based conception
of copyright would follow Larry Lessig’s proposal to add to ‘copyright’ a ‘copyduty’.
As he writes, “We may well see the day when our students are taught not of
‘copyright’ but of ‘copy duty’ – the legal duty of copyright holders to assure public
access” (Lessig, 1998).
A human rights approach would give full meaning to the so-called ‘fair use’
doctrine. ‘Fair use’ is a principle in US copyright legislation that entitles the public
to access and use copyrighted works in situations that would otherwise constitute
an infringement on intellectual property rights. The principle (which is also known
on UK and German copyright legislation, although not as liberally applied as in the
USA) implies a limitation of the property rights of owners of intellectual products in
cases of educational use, use for news media, criticism and review, private non-
commercial copying and parody. Fair use limits the otherwise exclusive control of
rights-holders over intellectual products and recognizes that in most cases
copyrighted works could only have been created by using materials from the public
The fair use doctrine is under serious threat through the use of advanced
technologies that allow rights-holders the control over access by third parties of
144 The European Information Society

works in digital form. The use of protective technologies (such as encryption, copy
protection codes) strengthens the monopoly control of IPR owners. As consumers
are likely to develop and apply circumvention technologies to undermine this
control, the US administration and US motion picture industry have effectively
lobbied the WIPO to incorporate in the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty the following
Article 13, “Contracting Parties shall provide legal protection and effective legal
remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures that are
used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights under this Treaty or
the Berne Convention and that restricts acts, in respect of their works, which are
not authorized by the authors concerned or permitted by law ”.
In the USA this provision was enacted in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act
(DMCA) which went much further than the WIPO agreement. The DMCA prohibits
the manufacture, sales, or import of technologies that can be used to circumvent
protective technologies. This could make it impossible for people who buy perfectly
legal items and want to make extra copies for private use (the extra CD or DVD in
the car or second home, for example). It may also become impossible to play a
copyrighted item – legally acquired – on different platforms (not the CD player but
your PC).

The DeCSS case demonstrates where this could lead to. In 1999 Norwegian
teenager Jon Lech Johansen was arrested on the accusation of creating a
circumvention technology to crack the protection code for DVDs. Contrary to most
media publicity cracking the DVD encryption was not an individual effort, but was
the effort of the MoRE group that authored DeCSS. This is a software application
to decrypt DVD movies that can be used among others to play DVDs on Linux-
operated computers. When the magazine Computer 2600 reported about this (and
offered a link to the programme), the publisher was successfully sued by the
Motion Picture Association of America. Fortunately, in January 2003 a Norwegian
Court found ‘DvD Jon’ not guilty and judged that copying for personal use was not
a legal offence. The Court found that the purchase of a legally produced carrier
(such as a DVD disk) gives full access to its information. This would not be the
case the Court emphasized if copies had been illegally obtained.
In the Norwegian case the film business lost its claim upon the DMCA against
‘DvD Jon ‘, but this will certainly not deter the contents-industry from future
operations against digital copying. Such operations threaten to erode the fair use
principle and as this has far-reaching implications for people’s access to culture,
information, and knowledge, the forthcoming United Nations World Summit on the
Information Society (Geneva, 2003) should issue a strong statement on the need
to protect the public dimension of IPRs. A statement from André Gide “Everything
belongs to he who makes good use of it” fits very well into a human rights IPR
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 145

framework and it should provide guidance to the future of intellectual property

In the European region the WIPO Copyright Treaty was implemented through the
EU copyright directive ( Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and the
Council on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in
the information society) In the Directive the EU went much further that the WIPO
provisions on technologies that could circumvent measures to protect copyrighted
“Article 6 (2) Member States shall provide adequate legal protection against the
manufacture, import, distribution, sale, rental, advertisement for sale or rental, or
possession for commercial purposes of devices, products or components or the
provision of services which (a) are promoted, advertised or marketed for the
purpose of circumvention of, or (b) have only a limited commercially significant
purpose or use other that to circumvent, or (c) are primarily designed, produced,
adapted or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention
of, any effective technological measures”. That goes beyond the WIPO WCT
provision in Article 11, that countries should “provide adequate legal protection and
effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological
Then under article 5 a long list of exceptions or limitations to copyrights is provided
that do constitute a fair use exemption. However, the exemptions are (with a minor
exception) optional. There is no obligation for Member States to apply the whole
list. They can make their own choice. This is peculiar in the view of the fact that the
Preamble of the Directive states several times that this is an effort at
harmonisation! In any case, mandatory or optional, it seems an odd effort to
present an exhaustive list of limitations in connection with technological conditions
that may rapidly change. Moreover, in terms of communication rights the Directive
has bypassed the essential matter of moral rights of authors altogether. This would
seem to fit with the overall impression that the EU Copyright Directive serves the
rights of the cultural industries much better than the rights of individual authors,
composers and performers. The Directive has little if anything to offer for the
protection of individual creative artists --the essential sources for copyrighted
contents --against the powers (contractual and otherwise) of corporate publishing
houses, broadcasters and music recording firms.

If one assesses the current provisions for communication rights in European
information societies from the perspective of European citizens, they are clearly
unsatisfactory. Even more so now that communication rights are facing strong
146 The European Information Society

pressures from the ‘war on terrorism’ which seems a convenient argument for
many governments to limit rights and freedoms in the field of free speech and
privacy. Moreover, there are forceful commercial trends that tend to favour
industrial interests over individual interests in the field of intellectual property rights.
There is also the added problem with the trend that people are in the EU context
increasingly seen as ‘consumers’ for whom modern communication technologies
and networks offer commercial goods and services. They are not primarily seen as
‘citizens’ in need of public space for political deliberation. The 1997 European
Commission ‘Greenbook on convergence in telecommunications, media and IT’
(December 3, COM(97) 623), for example, presents users of ICT exclusively as
purchasers of goods and services on a market. There is little if any interest in ICT
as vehicle for people’s political interactions and exchanges.

Communication rights that would be more adequate from a citizen’s perspective

would imply at a minimum:
• A robust protection of the right to freedom of expression including a strong
provision on access to information and an obligation on states to support media-
• A robust protection of privacy and confidentiality including strong provisions on
the use of encryption and anonymity.
• An understanding that these fundamental rights and freedoms can only be limited
under the condition that restrictive measures should be temporary, proportional,
effective and the only available alternatives.
• A robust protection of the ‘fair use’ principle in relation to intellectual property
rights including ‘copy duty’ provisions that oblige parties to facilitate the public
dissemination of materials that are essential to public life (in politics and culture).
This requires a positive formulation of the fair use standard in copyright legislation,
i.e. the provision that fair use claims represent basic rights. They are currently
mainly formulated as an exception to a standard protecting the interests of owners
of copyright claims.

It would seem that in most policy debates and media reports the essential question
is about what the European region can do to promote the development of the
European Information Society. It is however more relevant and urgent to turn this
question around and reflect on what informational developments can do to
promote a democratic European space. This is critical since a peaceful future for
the economic, technological, and cultural aspirations of the European region
depends upon the democratic quality of its political deliberations. If current
informational developments are to contribute to this constructively, Europeans
must begin – today -- with the design and implementation of a pan-European Bill of
Communication Rights and the European Information Society 147

Communication Rights that robustly secures the pivotal position of European

citizens in the future of their region.

Blume P. (1992), “How to control data protection rules?”, International Computer
Law Adviser, 6 (6): 17-21.
Council of Europe (1990), Computer-Related Crime. Strasbourg: European
Committee on Crime Problems.
Forester, T. and Morrison, P. (1990), Computer Ethics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
I-Ways (2002), Digest of Electronic Commerce Policy and Regulation, OECD
Adopts Guidelines for Security of Information Systems and Networks, 3-4, 2/2002.
Lessig, L. (1998), Life, Liberty, Copyright, The Atlantic Monthly Unbound,
OECD (1980), Recommendation of the Council Concerning Guidelines Governing
the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data. C (80) 58
(Final) October 1. Paris: OECD.
OECD (1986), Computer-Related Crime: Analysis of Legal Policy. Paris: OECD.
OECD (1992), Guidelines for Security of Information Systems. OECD/GD (92)190.
Paris: OECD.
Redeker, H. (1989), “Liability in telecommunication systems: the German case”,
International Computer Law Adviser, 4 (1): 18-21.
Rodotà, S. (1992), “Protecting informational privacy: trends and problems”, in W.F.
Korthals Altes, E.J. Dommering, P.H. Hugenholtz and J.C.kabel (eds), Information
Law towards the 21st Century. Deventer: Kluwer, pp. 261-72.
Business Issues Facing New Media

Robert G. Picard

Most studies of new media for the past decade have concentrated on technological
issues, on new media companies, and on content providers. Because it is based
on contemporary developments, most of the literature has concentrated on the
characteristics of new media, their technological underpinnings, and their
perceived potential to affect society and markets.

The authors of these studies have come primarily from technological and social
sciences and their work has generally ignored the commercial requirements for the
success of information and communication technologies (ICT) and new media
products and services in market economies. Most of the studies have been highly
positivistic in their approach, have asserted wide-ranging benefits from new media,
and have assumed their attractiveness to the public.

The scholarly and governmental studies mirrored the enthusiasm within the
emerging industry. High new media growth rates in the second half of the 1990s
were fuelled by relatively easy access to venture capital and stock funds that were
made possible by booming national economies. Persons --primarily young-- with
innovative ideas but little business experience and business education led
companies for which seemingly endless possibilities existed. New technological
breakthroughs, products, and services were introduced almost weekly.

And then the bubble burst. The collapse in 2000 was led to companies in
which basic business logic or ability to manage the business were absent. In many
cases, problems in the companies had been unseen or ignored by novice
managers who were blinded by growth rates, easy money, and their own optimism.
Some had good ideas that were surpassed by better ideas, most financed their
research and development through risk capital, and most were technology-driven
rather than consumer-driven firms. In the end, the firms ran out of capital to
continue operations, lacked workable business models, and often faced consumer
indifference to their products or services.
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To be fair, however, the failure rates for new media firms were about the same for
start-up firms in any industry. Among new firms, about two thirds die within 3 years
and about three quarters within 5 years. After the bubble burst, the surviving new
media companies tended to be those with better ideas, better products, better
business practices, and better managers.

Today, it is clear that new media must be understood as commercial entities that
operate in the market economy. The basic requirement of a market economy is the
existence of a market, that is, consumers willing to consume the product or
service. A truism--apparently forgotten in much of the emergent industry--is that
sellers must have a product worth acquiring, that there must be buyers who want
to purchase, and that the product must be offered at a price buyers are willing to
pay. Although the truism seems trite, the history of new media in recent years
indicates that many companies did not comprehend this basic business logic and
that the lack of comprehension was responsible for a good deal of the difficulties
the industry has faced.

Supply and Demand

In recent years, literature on business strategies for new media and the operation
of firms for commercial gain has begun to emerge from business scholars,
economists, and practitioners. Although generally supportive of ICT and new
media, they have taken a more critical and realistic view of the technologies and
their potential for success and failure. These studies have begun to lay out the
necessities and requirements for successful introductions and operations of new
media. Central to these studies has been the analysis of new media business
models and strategies.

Effective business models encompass how a business operates, its underlying

foundations, it value-creation processes, its cost structures, the resources upon
which it is dependent, its creative and production elements, its distributive activities
and mechanisms, and its exchange activities and financial flows. They include a
description of the potential benefits for the various business actors and the sources
of revenues.
Theoretical and applied analyses have investigated business models for new
media activities and a number of significant contributions have appeared. Timmers
(1998) explored 11 models that can be utilised in electronic commerce. Failures
and changes in four fundamental business models employed by online content
providers were explored by Picard (2000). Recently four models for mobile voice
and data services, based on continuity of basic business models and their
Business Issues Facing New Media 151

expansion across telecommunications technological generations have been

suggested (Ballon, et al., 2002) and Afuah amd Tucci (2001) identified three
generic strategies for firms attempting to gain advantages from Internet
commercial opportunities. The application of business models in firms has led to
in-depth examinations of the business models of nearly two dozen access
providers, online portals, online content providers, online retailers, online brokers,
and other firms were recently completed (Eisenmann, 2002).

A basic element of the models is that the firms must have revenue streams to
survive and grow. The primary sources can be consumers, advertisers, e-
commerce activities, or a parent company that operates the new medium as an
extension of existing products or services. There are many different means in
which a business model can be constructed to provide necessary revenue.
A much-tried method is the transfer of the advertising-support model from
established print and broadcast media. The result has not been highly successful.
Despite Internet use nearing an average of 25% across Europe, online advertising
expenditures represent less than 2% of total European advertising expenditures
(World Advertising Trends, 2002).
Electronic commerce models have had limited success for some retailers and
today reach nearly €2 trillion. Although this can be considered a success, e-
commerce sales still accounts for less than 1% of total retail sales in the European

Part of the difficulty results from the explosive proliferation of new media, that is
dramatically fragmenting audiences. Millions of ICT users spread their use among
millions of host sites. The result is illustrated by the situation of online content
sites. National content sites gaining 250,000 daily visitors are considered
enormous successes and only about 3 or 4 sites in a nation achieve such visit
rates. Taken in context, however, these 250,000 visitors represent only 2.5% of the
population in a nation with 10 million inhabitants or of 1% in a nation with
50,000,000 inhabitants. Some advertisers are interested in audiences of these
sizes, but have been unwilling to transfer large amounts of advertising
expenditures to new media to reach them.

The supply side of new media thus faces a variety of challenges in finding
revenue, controlling costs, and developing sustainable business models. Good
planning and good management alone are not enough to overcome the market
and ensure success of new media, however.
The biggest challenges come not from the supply side of new media but from the
demand side. The choices of consumers will determine what consumer resources
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are devoted to new media and those choices will influence choices of marketers
and advertisers who are critical to many business models.

Unfortunately, a significant understanding of consumer behaviour is absent from

most analyses of new media. This has produced two major problems in the views
of consumers in most new media studies. First, there is an assumption of universal
interest in the new products and services. Second, there is an assumption of
universal adoption at some point. Both ideas are highly suspect because no media
or communication device has ever achieved 100% adoption and nothing in
consumer behaviour theory or research supports either idea.
Most new media studies by non-consumer scholars are based on the
adoption curve and uncritically accept the notion that this Bell curve represents
adoption by 100% of the population or households (Figure 1). The problem with
this view is that the curve does not represent the entire population but only those
who ultimately adopt the new product or service.

Figure 1: The Adoption Curve

innovators adopters laggards
early late
majority adopters

Many proponents of new information and communication technologies seem

convinced that because the technologies can serve good purposes, they will be
automatically embraced by the public. The problem is that there are a range of
impediments to success of ICT technologies brought on by competing interests in
the technologies and that individual choices of consumers determine what
consumer resources are devoted to new media (Figure 2). Ultimately, consumer
choices will influence choices of marketers and advertisers, which are critical to
many market-based business plans for digital media (Albarran, 2000; Picard,
2002). Only if the interests of the various stakeholders converge or can be
Business Issues Facing New Media 153

accommodated and if consumers become willing to make expenditures does the

likelihood of successful market introduction increase (Picard, 1998).

Figure 2: Convergence of Interests in Communication Technologies

Audiences or

Equipment Content
Manufacturers Producers

Area of

Programming and Distribution Services

Editorial Packagers and Systems


Copyright 1998
Robert G. Pi card

The introduction of new ICT devices is not all just a matter of communications
technologies, but also a matter of how digitalisation and modern communication
devices are changing communication functions and abilities. They are changing
communication from one-way to two-way communication and from passive to
interactive communication. They are changing media from mass media to
specialised media, are moving us from access to few media to many media, and
freeing us from fixed location media and communication devices to mobile media
and devices. At the same time, we are moving from having separate mass and
personal communication media into mixed technologies that have multiple
154 The European Information Society

functions. And the technologies are changing the content available from merely
national media to global media as well.
Despite these significant functional changes, if one actually looks at the results of
this situation we see that the digitalisation, new media, and information and
communication technologies are part of an evolutionary rather than revolutionary
change in communication ability. No real new communication ability is being
created. They are not affecting communications in such fundamental ways as did
the arrival of the printing press, the telegraph and telephone, photography and
motion pictures, and broadcasting. What the information revolution is primarily
doing is increasing the speed, flexibility and integration of existing forms of
communication. The most revolutionary aspects are new economies of scope and
integration that are changing the economics of production and distribution.
These factors play significant roles in the choices of audiences and consumers
regarding new media access and use.

Audiences and Consumers Increasingly Play the

Central Role
Perhaps the most critical change brought on by the functions and capabilities of
ICT is the change in locus of control over the communication. And it is this change
that is moving audiences and consumers to the centre of all business aspects of
ICT. In the new bi-directional communications environment, ICT users can play a
more active role in the information creation and selection process. Audiences
influence the content of media more directly, gain selectivity and control, choose
their own communications, use it in their own ways, and filter and personalise
communication. Firms communicating with these users can learn more about their
customers, provide better service, and more effectively customise and personalise
services for specific recipients.

If digital media are to be successful, consumer needs must be central parts of

digital media strategies. One must be able to answer questions such as: What will
they get they aren’t getting now? How is the technology or service relevant to their
lives? How does it improve life or help them? Why is it valuable for them? Why
should they use and pay for the new service?
Many new media/ICT products and services have failed or had slow acceptance
because they were searching for wants and needs to satisfy rather than answering
those kinds of consumer questions. Trying to find wants and needs to satisfy
reverses the normal pattern of product/service creation to fill wants and needs. It is
Business Issues Facing New Media 155

not a problem-solution approach that more often leads to success for new

Customer value is created through use of new communication capabilities. It

provides immediacy that was previously absent. It provides flexibility in use and
information handling, it provides mobility, makes it possible for common platforms
to carry different types of content and communication, provides more control to
users, provides response ability to communications, and permits more rapid
searching for information.
One also needs to understand that there are great differences between groups of
consumers. The first purchasers are innovators and enthusiasts who love
technology or want high performance, but these enthusiasts don’t represent all
consumers. General consumers want solutions to their wants and needs and
convenience of use. Success in new media products typically does not occur until
general consumers acquire and use them.

Economics and Consumer Expenditures

We also need to recognise that digitalisation does not change the laws of
economics. It may change in business models and it often alters costs structures
(particularly production and distribution costs), but it does not change any
economic laws or remove need for capital, operational financing, or effective
management. Because digital media lower costs and ease distribution, they
actually make market investments more risky by increasing competition and
removing existing advantages from economies of scale and scope and lower
transaction cost.

Digital media shift media from variable to fixed cost economics less affected by
economies of scale, economies of scope, and transaction costs. As a result
competitors tend to have similar costs and competition tends to focuses on quality,
service, and image. Only a few large suppliers can typically become successful in
such an environment.
Consumer acceptance of media and communication products and services are
determined by the extent to which they serve consumer wants and needs, the
willingness of consumers to invest in hardware and software, their willingness to
pay use charges, and their willingness to use their time differently. Thus,
understanding consumer behaviour is a critical issue in the successful introduction
of ICT.
156 The European Information Society

A significant but often ignored factor in consumer behaviour involves temporal

expenditures. The time available for media and communications use is constrained
by consumers’ overall time use. Many daily activities compete for this highly limited
resource. Because humans spend about one third of the day sleeping and use
another third for work, school, or other subsistence needs, only about one third of
their day is available for activities ranging from household maintenance, daily
travel, eating, and leisure (Areese and Albarran, 2003). Although there tended to
be greater differences in the past, time use patterns are generally converging
across the developed world and national and individual differences are diminishing
(Gershun, 2002).

Temporal expenditures for media tend to come from leisure time, travel time, and
work time, but not all media and ICT can be used equally during these activities
and the media use must be compatible with the time from which it is taken. Many
of the new ICT technologies are having to find a place in the available time use or
are being introduced with the thought of changing time use patterns.
It is very difficult, however, to change personal time use patterns. An example of
this is seen in television during the 1990s. The number of television channels in
Europe nearly tripled and satellite and cable services were widely subscribed. The
supply of television programmes to viewers jumped dramatically because
broadcasters also increased their broadcast days and the total amount of
programming hours offered increased proportionally with the number of new
channels. Nevertheless, television viewing time increased only an average of 2
minutes per year, less than one half hour programme over the course of the
decade (Figure 3).
Business Issues Facing New Media 157

Figure 3: Average Daily Viewing Time (Minutes) in EU nations, 1990-


1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999

Source: Compiled and calculated by the author from time data in TV

International Sourcebook 2001. London: Informa Media Group, 2001.

In order to be successful, then, new media and ICT products and services must
displace part of existing time use, must provide the same or better communications
in a more advantageous manner, must be easily used at the time in which current
use is made, or must find new time that can be allocated to the
media/communications product.
As a result one cannot expect consumers to use mobile Internet while driving a
motorcycle or to use a computer while painting a bedroom, but these new media
and devices can be used while riding on a bus or replace some television viewing
In addition to time issues, consumers increasingly face monetary issues in new
media. Although traditional print media are relatively low priced due to advertising,
and free-to-air broadcasting or a low license fee broadcasting are available, new
media require significant hardware and software expenditures. Consumers’
spending on all media comes from the personal spending involves a wide range of
expenditures for food, housing, clothing, household and personal care goods,
transportation, medical care, and other items. Their capacity to switch significant
amounts of expenditures to media and ICT is somewhat limited.
158 The European Information Society

Today, Europeans expend about 4% of personal spending on media, and

telephony expenditures are about 1%. The amount spent is slightly higher in
Northern Europe than in the rest of Europe.
When consumers consider new media and ICT, a number of factors are critical in
their choices: whether the new technology is an improvement in providing
functions on existing communication devices, whether the product or service is
desirable, whether it is compatible with existing technology they own, the amount
of use they anticipate will be made of the new technology, what types of switching
costs would be involved (would one have to repurchase video recordings in a new
format, for example), their level of belief in success of the technology, and the
temporal and financial resources they have available.

Because these types of questions are answered differently, patterns of acceptance

of different media vary widely by nation and individual. So it is unrealistic to expect
that everyone will have every new digital media and communication product and
This is illustrated by the penetration patterns of current media and communication
technologies in Europe. Even with these basic media and communication devices
there is a wide difference in acceptance (Figure 4). Telephones, television and
radio exceed 95% penetration in households and VCRs, magazines and CD
players have between 50 and 90% penetration. Computers, Internet, mobile
phones, newspapers, and cable and satellite services are available in fewer than
half the homes.
Business Issues Facing New Media 159

Figure 4: Household Penetration Rates of Selected Media and ICT

products and Services in Europe










CD Player


Mobile Phone

Source: Eurostat, 2001

The range of new digital media and information and communications technologies
being offered is stunning and increasing rapidly. It is tempting to argue that
consumers will get used to the new technologies and acquire them. This is a highly
positivistic view that ignores the significant gap between the rate of change in
technology and changes in human attitudes and behaviour. Although the
technologies of communication are changing rapidly, the responses to them by
consumers are much slower.
Part of this is occurring because the introduction of much ICT is based on market
expenditures on both the production and consumption sides. Digital media
development and operation are today relying primarily on market funding and must
be understood within the context of financing all analogue and digital media.

A classic example of the problems that occur when the market’s role in ICT is not
recognised can be seen in the introduction of digital terrestrial television. Digital
television has been implemented in a number of nations as an ill-conceived and
doomed effort for policy and technology to triumph over the market. This effort has
primarily been promoted by governments to support frequency reallocation, to
160 The European Information Society

support industrial development of their ICT sectors, and to promote national or

regional images of ICT leadership for political and economic purposes.

In the introduction digital television broadcasting requirements placed on

broadcasters by policymakers made public service broadcasters bear the brunt of
this digital transformation. Few public service broadcasters received additional
financial support for the effort and were forced to rely on their existing license fees
and advertising sales for financial resources. The increased costs of developing
and operating digital transmission capabilities and digital channels have been the
major cause of negative overall results for European public service broadcasters in
recent years (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Financial Results of EU Public Services Broadcasters

600 3

400 2
Net profit (million €)

profit margin (%)

200 1

0 0

-200 -1

-400 -2

-600 -3
1997 1998 1999 2000

net profit profit margin

Source: Compiled from data in European Audiovisual Observatory (2002).

Statistical Yearbook 2002. Strasbourg: European Audiovisual Observatory.

Even in markets where commercially funded introductions have taken place, there
has been a wholesale rejection of digital terrestrial television costs by consumers,
with notable failures in the United Kingdom and Spain. As a result, some European
governments are responding to this case of market failure by considering
subsidised distribution of digital TV boxes to speed the switch to digital television
and the US is seeking to require TV manufacturers to put digital receivers in new
television receivers. These are classic examples of forcing consumers to bear the
costs for a technology they have clearly not embraced.
Business Issues Facing New Media 161

Policymakers and broadcasters in some nations are taking notice of the problem
and are making efforts to delay implementation of digital terrestrial television and in
others nations they are trying to delay previously planned switch-offs of analogue
broadcasting because of the lack of consumer switching to digital.
These problems of funding digital television are part of broader issues of consumer
willingness to purchase the range of media and communication products being
offered. We must recognize that technologies, policies, and business plans
themselves do not create demand and that the choices to purchase will be
determined by consumer behaviour, not the wishes of technology manufacturers
and policymakers.

One of the ignored issues of new media and ICT products and services is that they
increasingly transfer costs to users that were previously borne elsewhere or they
require additional expenditures above current media and communication
expenditures. And the current expenditures on these products are not
Television reception, for example, is free or funded through a relatively low, broad-
based license fee. But television viewing also typically involves new hardware
purchases an average of every 7-10 years, with a €25-€50 annualised cost. In
addition, radio listening is free with new receivers being purchased an average of
every 7-10 years, at an annualized cost of €5-€10. On the print media side,
newspapers cost European consumers €200-€300 annually for news-stand
purchases and €300-€600 annual for subscriptions, while magazines cost €2-€5
per issue at news-stand and €12-€35 for annual subscription.
If one looks at the consumer costs that are currently being expended and those
that will incur for new digital media and communications, one immediately sees
that they will increase substantially.
A simple CD player requires a €50 to €250 hardware investment and then payment
of €15 to €20 per title purchased. Purchase of a DVD player means a €250 to
€1,000 hardware investment, with costs of €20 to €30 per title purchased and €3 to
€5 per title rented.
Because of changes preparing the way for digital television, consumers need to
reinvest in receivers for wide screen television. This represents a €1,000 to €5,000
hardware investment. Where digital television is available, consumers must make
an additional €300 to €500 hardware investment and then spend €180 to €360
average annual cost for advanced services.
To access the Internet, consumers must make a €1,000 to €2,500 investment in a
personal computer, plus pay €300 to €1,000 annual costs for access and phone
fees. If consumers want mobile Internet services, they must make a €330 to
€1,000 hardware investment and then pay €600 to €1,200 average annual cost for
advanced services.
162 The European Information Society

These are not minor costs in term of average household expenses. Selecting the
range of digital media and communication spending would approximately triple
current annual household expenditures. To anyone who has followed personal
spending changes over time, this represents a completely unrealistic expectation
for any category of spending.

The costs included in this description are only for major technologies that currently
exist and do not include any new types of digital products or services that will
require expenditures. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that consumers will be
unable to fund the entire range of the growing number of ICT possibilities and will
thus make individual choices among them.
Another factor promoting different use patterns and wide differences in demand
are variations in costs of using ICT products and services. An example of this is
seen in the cost for using the Internet (Figure 6), where costs in some European
nations are double those of others. The law of supply and demand thus becomes a
factor in the choice to use and the amount of use.

Figure 6: Costs for Internet Access in Selected European Nations





















Fixed Phone Fee Phone Useage Fee ISP Fee

Source: OECD
Comparison based on 40 hours, usage in peak time, including VAT
Business Issues Facing New Media 163

In addition, expenditures will be influenced by income levels, which vary widely

among segments of the populations and nations. Even within the European Union
average income levels vary.
These types of financial limitations are particularly problematic to the view of
widespread uptake of ICT because consumers and market funding are the basis of
nearly every current business plan. Because of the expenditure issues, consumers
can be expected to make individual choices among the technologies and some
technologies that could be beneficial will fail. This will occur because when new
media are introduced, they must become successful in a relatively short period of
time (often 2 to 4 years) or their producers and financiers will abandon the
products and services for ventures with more revenue-producing and profitability
Ultimately, the choices made may not reflect the wishes of policymakers and social
engineers who wish to have specific parts of the technologies adopted to support
their social, political, or cultural agendas.

Creating successful business from new media and communication technologies
and services is a far more difficult activity then merely developing a good
technology or service, creating a business plan, and offering the new media to
consumers. It requires convincing them to part with their time and money.
If new media are to become successful commercial activities, companies offering
the products and services and policymakers supporting them will have to devote
more attention to consumers and the market. They will need to recognise limits to
acceptance of the new technologies and plan accordingly. Firms will need to target
groups of consumers more selectively and governments will need to consider
policies that respond to market failure for those information and communication
products and services that are most important for social and political goals.
There is great potential in ICT but that potential must be viewed realistically, within
the constraints of the market economies that are being asked to introduce and
support them.

Afuah, Allan, and Christopher L. Tucci (2001), Internet Business Models and
Strategies. Boston: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
164 The European Information Society

Areese, Angel, and Alan B. Albarran (eds.) (2003), Time and Media Markets.
Mahweh, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
Ballon, Pieter, Sandra Helmus, Roland van de Pas, Henk-Jan van de Meeberg
(2002), ‘Business Models for Next-Generation Wireless Services’, Trends in
Communication, No. 9.
Davis, William (1999), The European TV Industry in the 21st Century. London:
Informa Publishing Group.
Eisenmann, Thomas R. (2002), Internet Business Models: Text and Cases.
Boston: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
European Audiovisual Observatory (2002), Statistical Yearbook 2002. Strasbourg:
European Audiovisual Observatory.
Gershun, Jonathan (2000), Changing Times: Work and Leisure in Postindustrial
Society. Oxford University Press.
IP Deutschland (2002), European Key Facts. Internet 2001. Köln, Germany: IP
Picard, Robert G. (2000), ‘Changing Business Models of Online Content Services:
Their Implications for Multimedia and Other Content Producers,’
JMM—International Journal on Media Management,” 2(2):60-66.
Picard, Robert G. (2002), The Economics and Financing of Media Companies. New
York: Fordham University Press.
Picard, Robert G. (1998), ‘Interacting Forces in the Development of Communication
Technologies: Business Interests and New Media Products and Services,’ European
Media Management Review (No. 1), pp. 16-22.
Timmers, Paul (1998), ‘Business Models for Electronic Markets,’ Electronic
Markets, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 3-8.
TV International Sourcebook 2001, London: Informa Media Group.
World Advertising Trends 2002, Oxfordshire, U.K.: NTC Publications.
Perspectives for Employment in the
Transition to a Knowledge Society

Peter Johnston

The Lisbon Strategy: The Changing Nature Of Work

In A Knowledge Economy

The future of work and employment in a networked knowledge society must be

seen in the context of four inter-related trends: the continued professionalization of
work in a service economy; the trend to higher information–value in all products and
services; globalisation of the economy, notably now for services, and the
accelerating pace of change.

These trends lead some to great pessimism about the future of employment, as
manufacturing industry declines in economic importance and the employment
structures associated with it begin to evaporate: in 1900, 60% of jobs in the UK
were in farming, mining and manufacturing; by 1950, these sectors provided 40%
of jobs; and in 1999, they provide only 16%. Others see reason for great optimism
as a ‘long boom’ associated with a transition to a networked global information
society spreads prosperity to a much higher proportion of the world population.

In this vision, everyone in this society can have skills, ideas, experience, creativity
or time that others are willing to pay for. In fact, the job losses have been more than
compensated by new job creation in services: the total UK working population was
20 million in 1950; it is now at a record 27 million, with most of the new jobs in
education, health-care, finance and food/catering services.

What infrastructures and market mechanisms will mediate this new economy? Will
they be accessible to all, or will the knowledge economy be only for the educated

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policies
of the Commission of the European Union.
166 The European Information Society

Professionalization: Unpaid Activities Become Paid Services

In the Western, Christian culture, work is the central feature in life: it determines a
person’s status in society and provides both the necessities of life and material
wealth. During the industrial revolution, largely within the last 200 years, work has
also largely become synonymous with employment; it has become a profession for
most people (although this trend is far from complete and will continue into an
information society), and dependent on organised structures – whether private
companies, government administrations or networks of self-employed individuals.

The trend towards the commercialisation of work has accelerated in the last 20
years with increases in overall prosperity, with the complexity of social
organisation, and with the continuing shift towards a service economy. This trend
currently continues to encroach on the set of previously unpaid activities done
mainly by women in the house, as women are increasingly drawn themselves into
paid employment. The recent changes are best illustrated in the areas of core
‘housework’ tasks of cooking, child rearing and cleaning/washing.

New Value Chains

The fundamental process of adding value by conceiving and producing products
and services doesn’t change. The ownership and linkage of different parts
changes, and the relative ‘weight’ of different parts changes, as we move into an
information society.

If the value chain is (artificially) separated into the five phases of design,
production, advertising/packaging, retail and after-sales services, the relative
‘weight’ in terms of investment and employment have changed dramatically in the
last 20 years from an industrial to a service paradigm.

The industrial paradigm was characterised by the dominance of the mass

production. Henry Ford’s Model T was a triumph of production engineering.
However, in today’s emerging information society, more than 70% of the retail value
of a car is related to immaterial features – only 16% reflects the price of raw
materials (steel, plastic and rubber). The informative content (microprocessors and
software) is worth more, and the advertising, retailing and after-sales services
represent about 40%. The design and retail phases have become both more critical
to commercial success and the most expensive.

This trend will continue; the highest value-added will be in immaterial design work;
in advertising, retail and after-sales service, with the latter taking the dominant
place as ‘car manufacturers’ migrate up the value chain to become ‘mobility service
Perspectives for Employment in the Transition to a Knowledge Society 167

With the completion of the liberalisation of world trade in Uruguay Round; the recent
political commitment to further liberalisation for services in Doha; and the shrinking
of distance through global communications networks; economic activities are more
than ever integrated and interconnected around the world. This has led to fears in
Europe that capital, enterprise and jobs will increasingly move to countries where
labour is cheap.

These fears are largely unfounded; and the evidence of the last decades is more
optimistic: firstly because the idea that there is a fixed volume of work to share
around is a fallacy. The more people in employment, the more jobs there will be for
others everywhere in the world. Global job creation has been exceptionally high in
the last 25 years -- in developed countries (the USA, Canada, Japan have seen
indigenous job creation of over 65 million jobs) at the same time as over 500 million
jobs have been created in the developing countries of Asia.

Secondly, the OECD ‘job study’1 of 1998 showed that new job creation has been
strongest in those countries which have invested most in information and
communication technologies. More jobs were created in the US between 1975 and
1995 than in the 20 previous years: because of the IT revolution. Since 1985, about
50% of new jobs were in the managerial and professional service sectors, and
70% were high-skill, high pay.

An Accelerating Pace of Change

We all suffer from this: And perhaps our generation is the one that has had to live
through the critical period in which for the first time the lifetime of a ‘job’ has become
shorter than our working life. In previous centuries and generations, skills and
professions were learned for life: ‘Apprenticeship’, then school education and
vocational/professional training, prepared people for a lifetime of work as a
carpenter, a miner, a doctor or an accountant. Yet during our working lives some of
these professions have almost disappeared in Europe.

This has its effect in the labour market: the average duration of ‘employment’ has
become shorter -- now about 6 years in the EU -- but not by as much as many
people feared: ‘lifetime employment’ is not disappearing when organisations are
able to re-skill and re-deploy people in a flexible and effective way. Nevertheless,
there is a growing mismatch between skills learnt when young (up to 25) and the
skills required for new jobs today: especially with the ageing workforce in the EU.
168 The European Information Society

Life-time learning has therefore become a key priority in the eEurope Action Plan
and in European employment policies: ‘investing in employability and adaptability of
people’ through a revitalised and advanced education and training system;
workplace re-skilling; self-training; new access to training and conversion courses
for older workers.

There is already a ‘skills gap’ for IT and e-commerce specialists, especially those
with softer ‘social skills’ of team-working, creativity and communications2. The
private sector is already the major investor in ‘management-training’ and will need to
broaden this type of ‘work management’ and ‘creativity’ training to most people in
knowledge-related activities.

The faster pace of change also increases stress in work: more than 41 million EU
workers are affected by work-related stress each year. The European Week for
Safety and Health at Work 2002 will aim at tackling this growing problem by
increasing awareness of these and other psychosocial risks as well as promoting
and developing preventive measures. At the Stockholm Summit, Heads of State also
addressed the ‘quality of work’, both in the life/work balance; and in terms of
workplace safety. The Commission has now proposed to develop by 2003 a
comprehensive Community strategy to promote health and safety at work, to
achieve a substantial reduction in work accidents and professional illness.

New Work Opportunities For All?

What Do We Mean by ‘All’?
In 1993, the Commission raised the stakes in the ‘full employment ‘ debate by
highlighting the relatively low level of participation in the formal labour market in
Europe (60%, compared with 70% in Japan and 75% in the USA), as well as the
disparity between jobs and those seeking employment (the traditional
‘unemployment’ figures).

In March 2000, the European Heads of State set a new strategic goal to raise the
employment rate to near 70% and to increase the proportion of working-age
women in employment to more that 60% in 2010. In Stockholm, in March 2001, these
goals were reinforced by intermediate targets for women in 2005 and for older
workers in 2010. In March 2001, European Heads of State reviewed progress.
Europe enjoyed 3.5% growth in 2000, and unemployment fell to its lowest level
since 1991. However, in the current slowdown, renewed efforts must be made to
accelerate structural change, notably to get more flexibility and creativity into work.
Perspectives for Employment in the Transition to a Knowledge Society 169

Innovation and technology change are still driving job creation. Investments in ICT
have contributed over 0.5% per year to growth since 1995, and job creation has
been particularly strong in the ICT and related business services with over 3.5
million new jobs. In the last 5 years, high-skill non-manual ‘eWork’ has accounted for
over 60% of the new jobs: 1.5 million in the high-tech sector itself, and over 5 million
with higher education qualifications

In most EU-countries, the same goal of a higher participatory workforce is

addressed through policies to re-integrate the ‘excluded’ – whether through racism,
lack of skills, disability, homelessness or misfortune. It is anyway clear that we are
going to need much more flexible, part-time, and local work opportunities to get
another 10% of the potential workforce into employment (going from 60-70% of the
total workforce), especially as an ageing workforce will be more conscious of
‘quality-of-life’ issues and less mobile: we will have 10 million more people over 50
in the workforce by 2010, and the proportion of people with disability is likely to
increase from 11% today to 17% in 2020.

User-Friendly Work-Tools and Work Organisation

Clear choices will have to be made to increase participation in the workforce:

• Do we invest in making work-tools easier to learn and use; or do we invest in re-

training everyone in their use every time they change?

• Do we invest in road and public transport systems to allow more people to travel
to work, or do we invest in ‘bringing work opportunities’ nearer home?

Of course these choices are not black and white: they are questions of balance in
investment. This has already started to shift: The explicit focus on ‘user friendly’
information society technology development at EU level; and the modest trimming
back of road-building programmes in the UK and NL. In its proposal for a sustainable
development strategy, the Commission proposed to de-couple transport growth
from GDP growth in order to reduce congestion and to promote more balanced
regional development by reducing disparities in economic activity; maintaining the
viability of rural and urban communities.

There is nevertheless far to go. The average commuting times and distances are
greater then ever. The annual public and private investment in IT training for the
workforce is greater than ever, and still rising fast.
170 The European Information Society

New Organisation and Employment Structures

The third major question is what social structures will organise this global market
for services – one in which most people have to manage their own affairs, or one
in which security and stability will be provided by private companies and
government organisations?

Effects of Scale
The ability to find customers for a specialist skill depends on a large enough pool of
potential clients. This is why the variety of services in cities has always been
greater than in small towns or villages: it is why the Internet has a wider variety of
services/information than any corporate intranet; it is why bio-diversity is less
when habitats are fragmented; and it is why economic growth in an information
society is so intimately linked to globalisation of the service sectors in our

But the scale of markets, and the complexity of inter-related services also
influences the organisational ‘ecology’ of the economy. For the same reason that
you don’t get large animals in small habitats, you don’t get large companies in small
towns. But when you integrate smaller economies, larger economic units become
viable. The completion of the single market in Europe allowed companies in some
sectors to amalgamate (by merger or acquisition). Similarly the current economic
globalisation is producing a new set of global giants in accountancy, banking,
media, IT, telecoms, oil and insurance. These grants will be world leaders in
technology and service development; they will ‘set the standards’ for price and
quality of service; and they will ‘structure markets’, but they will collectively
represent a diminishing proportion of world direct employment. They will
increasingly dominate the newspapers and stock exchanges, but it is their
increasingly wide networks of smaller suppliers and collaborators that will provide

The largest volume of new job creation will remain at the bottom of the business
size spectrum: small businesses (<250) represent over 80% of employment in
Europe and generate proportionally twice as many new jobs as large companies.

We therefore have the intriguing prospect that a new generation of global giants
will set the economic environment for work; they will develop the tools and set the
models and expectations for work, but most people will have to use these tools in
dramatically different circumstances – of small companies, working near home
without the various support services offered by larger organisations.
Perspectives for Employment in the Transition to a Knowledge Society 171

Growing Complexity
At the same time, the growing complexity and amount of ‘embedded knowledge’ in
products and services, is making all activities more interdependent than ever. Car
manufacture now depends on specialist suppliers of machine tools, special
materials, chemicals and financial services. The world of business is not therefore
being polarised into a few large and many small independent companies; but is re-
structuring as fewer global focal points for a large number of interlocking and highly
dependent networks of supply and co-operation.

The implications for work and employment are relatively re-assuring: firstly, that this
trend is not towards a model of individual and autonomous self-employment in a
chaotic free market; but rather towards a model in which even self-employment will
be in a framework of ‘networks of co-operation’ which will have some stability over
time beyond an immediate ‘project’ or ‘job’ – the proportion of people in self-
employment has in fact declined from 15.4% to 14.4% in the EU since 1988 and is
lowest in the most developed knowledge economies (US: 7.7%). The recent results
of research in the EU STAR project has confirmed that the myth that ‘e-lancing’ will
be the employment model of the future is without foundation. However, in the
knowledge economy, integration of people into the culture of the organisation, will
depend more on ‘stakeholder’ commitments and benefits, rather than proximity.

A key issue will be the degree of stability and ‘social protection’ associated with the
employment ‘networks’. Some new models have emerged: temporary employment
agencies offering holidays, sickness and maternity leave/benefits to staff ‘on their
books’ for a long time; the ‘big-five’ accountancy/business service ‘partnerships’
such as Anderson, PWC, etc. providing a framework for ever-changing teams to
move from one project to the next with continuity of employment. These
organisation frameworks which allow different skills to be pulled together at short
notice in ever changing combinations can not only make more effective use of skills
for clients, but can also provide security and continuity for the individuals involved.

Mobility of People and Work

The localization of work will also change. With ‘telework’ and ‘virtual enterprises’,
the geographic spread of companies will broaden. Companies will develop different
activities in different countries, and employees will also disperse. In 2000, there are
already about 10 million ‘teleworkers’ in Europe3, and over 20 million in the USA4.
The Gartner Group predicts that 130 million people will telework by 2003. A UK
survey indicates that the one million UK teleworkers in 1999 will grow to over 50%
172 The European Information Society

of the working population by 2010. A recent IDC survey predicts that there will be
28 million eWorkers in Europe by 2005.
The survey results from the EU EMERGENCE project show that over 50% of
businesses in Europe already make use of external services provided over
communications networks.

Work and employment for all will require structural change in society; radical
change in the way organisations manage their activities, provide service and
employ people. eWork is central to these changes, and has a special place in the
European model:

• For global competitiveness, European companies will need to maximise

efficiency in use of skills because of high wage costs; they will need to minimise
‘non-wage’ costs; and they will need to provide high-quality services by being
closer to their customers: eWork contributes to all three goals.

• The geographic mobility of Europe's workforce is substantially less than in the

US, and decreasing. Over 25% of Americans move state to work; less than 3%
of Europeans move to another country to work -- and with the economic
convergence of Portugal, Spain and Ireland, the figure is decreasing. The
barriers to mobility are no longer regulatory -- the Single Market exists in
employment market -- but people are ‘culturally anchored’ to their regions of birth
more strongly in Europe than in the US. eWork can compensate for poor labour
force mobility, by greater ‘virtual’ mobility of work.

• People's quality-of-life is increasingly important, and the proximity of home and

work is critical to it. As we move towards a shorter working week and to
greater involvement in part-time work; proximity will become more important.
eWork is part of the solution.

Finally, the European Union is now committed to sustainability as an overall policy

goal in the Amsterdam Treaty. Structural change in production and work
organisation is crucial.

Corporate Governance
New approaches to ‘governance’, both within the EU and globally, will be essential
to progress. Globalisation and network-based activities raise extra-territorial
governance issues, some of which can only be handled collaboratively between
multi-national businesses and civil society organisations: Structural change in
lifestyles and business practices throughout the world – will need the commitment
of civil society and the business community.
Perspectives for Employment in the Transition to a Knowledge Society 173

It is European policy to encouraging a greater sense of corporate social

responsibility and to establish frameworks for businesses to integrate
environmental and social considerations in their activities. Some of the most far
sighted businesses have realised that sustainable development offers new
opportunities and have begun to adapt their reporting arrangements accordingly.
The Union’s efforts to achieve sustainable development ultimately depend on
widespread ‘ownership’ of the strategy by individual and businesses.

However, we cannot expect that businesses take on the same broad social and
environmental responsibilities as Governments. While the three main categories of
concern in sustainable development, the economic, social and environmental
dimensions are all pertinent to both governments and businesses, their focus is
inevitably different.

While governments must concern themselves with the overall stability of the
economic environment, and with the sustainability of economic resources for
essential public services, businesses must ensure their continued profitability and
renewal. Milton Friedman once said, “There is only one social responsibility of
business – to increase its profits…” He (and more recently Martin Wolf in the FT)
have seen meeting this and other responsibilities as a zero-sum game – efforts
towards others goals can only be at the expense of profits. Others fortunately now
see a more holistic relationship in which businesses constantly evolve to meet
society’s goals and, in doing so, achieve continued profitability in new markets.
There is good evidence for this is now in the success of ethical investment funds.

For socially sustainable development, European governments have consistently

seen their priority as the increase of participation in employment, with more and
better job opportunities for a better-trained workforce leading to greater social
inclusion and cohesion. Businesses must look firstly to the well-being and creativity
of their own workforce. These concerns are reflected in the now established
provisions for health and safety at work, but also now in the new concerns for the
‘quality of work’ – as highlighted at the Stockholm Summit – and in the requirements
for life-long, in-work learning of new skills, and in-work entrepreneurship and

Over the last century, ensuring workers’ health and safety has become recognised
as ‘good business’, underpinned by legislation. Increasing the ‘quality of work’ along
with skills and creativity is now also increasingly recognised as ‘good business’,
especially in the ICT sector where skills are still in short supply and need to be
continually renewed.

For environmentally sustainable development, the diversity of business activities

presents considerable difficulty – the Global Reporting Initiative has identified 36
174 The European Information Society

potential indicators of environmental impact. However, for the knowledge-based ‘e-

economy’, a number of simplifications and priorities can be identified:

• Firstly, and because a substantial part of activities and services are knowledge-
based and immaterial, a holistic view of a company’s activities must be taken,
rather than a product-based view. The ‘office-based’ activities of research,
design, administration and customer-service have often more impact than
manufacturing and product use themselves. This is well illustrated by the
Ericsson Report for 2000: twice as much energy and nearly twice as much
(585/335 ktons) of CO2 were associated with office work as with production.
Opportunities for more efficient use of energy and office space (and for greater
creativity and added-value) exist in new office designs, more energy-efficient
buildings, and greater use of telework arrangements. Greater value can be
added to services with the same resources.

• Secondly, a company’s impact does not stop at the factory gate or office door.
‘Office work’ includes business travel, by car and air: ‘Air-miles’ can represent a
significant contribution total energy use, CO2 emissions and congestion. These
can be significantly cut by eWork and video-conferencing. Similarly, the total
person car-kms associated with commuting and inter-office travel can be
significantly cut by telework arrangements. Supply chains and distribution
chains can be rationalised, notably through e-commerce developments:
Warehousing and inventories can be minimised, and total transport tonne-kms or
‘truck-kms’ can be cut, cutting costs, improving efficiencies and reducing
environmental impact and congestion;

• Finally, no absolute standards or targets exist against which companies can

compare their performance. Benchmarking between companies can also be
difficult. Incremental and continuous improvement must therefore be sought, with
year-by-year comparison on a ‘per-unit turnover’ basis. Successful company
growth in turnover and profitability is then factored out of impact measures,
removing any apparent conflict between growth and environmental impact.

Leadership is being taken by the ICT sector itself: This sector best masters its own
technology and must pioneer both the transition to a networked knowledge
economy and sustainable development in it. This sector can also help to re-build
common ground between the EU and US through a business-led approach to
sustainable development. The global eSustainablitiy Initiative is the first
manifestation of this leadership.
Perspectives for Employment in the Transition to a Knowledge Society 175

OECD (1998), OECD jobs strategy: Technology, productivity and job creation:
best policy practices, Paris: OECD.
ICEL (1999), Career Space: A report by the top European IT and telecoms
companies, ICEL.
EcaTT survey for the European Commission:
Status Report on e-Work Development: European Commission.
COM(2001)264 Final: 15/5/01.
The Interim Report on the OECD Three-Year Project on Sustainable
Development: OECD, May 1999.
GDP grew 10-times more than total material use since 1950 in the USA, and
increased by 35% with no change in total energy use from 1970 to 1990 (US
8 eCommerce report 2000.
Case Studies of the Information Society and Sustainable Development;
Information Society DG-Unit C1, May 2000.
Perspectives for Advanced Communications in Europe: PACE 93: DG-XIII,
European Commission 1993.
Yuri Dikhanov and Michael Ward, Measuring the distribution of global income
From $1300 to $2500 at 1985 PPP-US: UNDP Human development report 2001:
Creating a development dynamic: Final report of the Digital Opportunity Initiative,
July 2001: UNDP, Accenture and the Markle Foundation, with the collaboration
of the ITU, OECD and UNESCO.
Digital Opportunities for all: Meeting the challenge. Report of the G8 Digital
Opportunity Task Force – 11th May 2001.
176 The European Information Society

The Eurobarometer figures on Internet penetration refer to the question "Do you
use the Internet?" (sample: population above 15 years). The results of other
surveys may deviate according to different definitions.
IDC 2001 –
Understanding the digital divide – OECD 2001.
Green Futures May/June 2000.
The Political Internet:
between dogma and reality
Andrea Ricci

The third wave?

Schemes or subjective definitions are often used to detect the start, the end and
the most important phases of complex social dynamics. Schemes and definitions
serve the purpose of easing access to knowledge. They may sometimes constraint
knowledge development too.

In the futurists’ parlance, after tele-democracy (in the eighties) and e-democracy
(in the nineties), Internet voting (from the year 2000 onwards) should be
considered the ‘third wave’ of a long and dogmatic debate on the role of IT and the
Internet in political communication and participation.

If one observes this debate retrospectively, it’s easy to note that the structure of
the arguments, the overall rhetoric and many of the proponents, have not changed,
notwithstanding the change in technologies, the criticisms raised against their
faithful approach and the worsening of political participation levels in the United
States and abroadi.

Christopher Arterton (1985) in Teledemocracy reconsidered had already dismissed

the arguments of Naisbitt (1982), Toffler (1980), and Becker (1981), three pivotal
‘wave’ generators (then, and still to date). After examining 13 tele-democracy
projects, Arterton had concluded that the key to explain the success of certain
political participation experiences was the overall campaign strategy, more than
the individual role played by digital media:
“Among the projects examined, competition for the attention of potential voters has
been the most persistent problem encountered by project organizers, especially by
those who have sought to conduct plebiscites. The plethora of media is the single
most difficult institutional barrier they face…
[those who have chosen broadcast television because that medium has the most
extensive reach to the citizenry, have discovered that] despite the capabilities of
the medium, repetition and the use of multiple channels (my italics) are necessary
178 The European Information Society

to involve anything approaching all the people. The most successful of these
plebiscitarian projects, the Des Moines Health Vote, relied upon frequent public
service advertisements, newspaper articles, radio talk shows, and even billboards
and bus placards in addition to top public affairs broadcast programming… The
project amply demonstrated the capacity of technology to involve citizens in policy
discussion, but it also documented how costly and extensive are the exertions
needed to achieve even a 25% rate of involvement.”

Arterton has pointed to the detrimental impact of channel/content multiplication on

the effectiveness of IT-based political campaigns. Both cable TV, videotex, and
computer conferencing systems exhibit “limitations as vehicles of political
discourse”. Then, and today, new media are elite resources, which may divide
digitally, as much as they can connect:
“As a medium of dialogue, each of these vehicles may be conveniently used by
modest numbers of communicators; the emerging technologies do not promise
that everyone can have his or her individual say in a national dialogue.
Another major problem, shared with cable television, is that videotex and computer
carry material pertaining to a wide variety of human activity. As a result, in a single
medium, politics comes into direct competition with these other facets of life for the
attention of citizens.”

Ten years on, the explosion of the World Wide Web, the Clinton-Gore Presidency,
and the elevation of ‘Information Society policy’ to the status of planetary priority
for both developing and developed countries, all become factors that induced a
second, much more powerful wave of (strictly) the same debate.

The novelty of the E-democracy debate is without doubt the widespread

consciousness that the World Wide Web is indeed to offer – thanks to its flexible
service platform – a much larger palette of options for those interested in using the
new medium for political communication. The ‘Bias of the Internet’, its specificity,
its signature as mass medium, is to confer on political communication some new,
rather unique, features: hyper-textuality, multimediality, ubiquity.

The second major new fact is indeed the endorsement of an entire political class of
a mass communication medium (the Internet) as vehicle for social change. Nothing
quite like that occurred since decades. Today, through the various mechanisms of
global governance (G7/G8, the ITU, the World Wide Web consortium, ICANN,
OECD, Unesco, World Bank, the numerous regional political cooperation fora)
The Political Internet 179

talking about ‘Internet and politics’ or the ‘politics of the Internet’ has become
mainstream habit of politicians worldwide.

A corollary of this dynamic is the emergence, within a few years, of a Political

Internet, a specialised sub-set of the entire network geography, generated and
maintained by the formal and informal actors of the political system.

Four meta-sites or Web directories offer an idea of the size (in links)ii of certain
subsections of the political Internet. These sub-sections correspond to what we
can call the formal actors of the political system online (governmental sites, media
sites, political parties web sites):

Political Managed by former Italian MP and MEP 5 levelsiii

Resources Roberto Cicciomessere in Rome the site was 28172 Links
on the Net created in the mid-90s as an e-democracy 21933 external
project. The platform which gathers political links (77% of the
parties, movement sites, political initiatives site) 20% of
sites, media and government sites is the failed links
largest (also in terms of themes/genres Traffick ranks
covered) collection of all four. Several Avg. Traffic
contributors participate to the site update. Rank: 80,443
* Other sites
that link to this
site: 1,174
Richard Managed by Dr Richard Kimber at the Keele 8 Levels
Kimber’s University the site aims at providing, in addition 12643 links
Political to numerous political parties’ web sites a whole 10310 external
Science list of political science resourcesiv (81% of the site)
Resources 12% of failed
Avg. Traffic
Rank: 41,480
* Other sites
that link to this
site: 971
Governmen Managed by Gunnar Anzinger the site is 4 levels
ts on the presented as “Comprehensive database of 22366 links
WWW governmental institutions on the World Wide 22101 ext. 98%
Web: parliaments, ministries, offices, law of the site
courts, embassies, city councils, public 16% of the links
broadcasting corporations, central banks, are broken
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multi-governmental institutions etc. Includes Avg. Traffic

also political parties. Online since June 1995. Rank: 40,984
Contains more than 17000 entries from more * Other sites
than 220 countries and territories as of July that link to this
2001”. site: 3,042
Election “ focuses worldwide elections 6 levels
World on a country basis. Documentation, edition and 4209 links
design are exclusively worked by 3549 ext. 84% and its editor. of the site is edited by Wilfried Derksen. 12% broken
He studied law at the Nijmegen University and Avg. Traffic
practicizes law in the Netherlands. He is the Rank: 97,118
international secretary of the Dutch social- * Other sites
liberal party Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) that link to this
and president of the Foundation International site: 511
Democratic Initiative D66, the foundation
related to D66 which supports like-minded
parties in Central and Eastern Europe and
outside Europe.
Elections around the world depends on its
regular contributors. Contributions were
regularily made by: Mourad Ben Abdallah,
Gunnar Antzinger, Hubert Descans, Franco
Ferrari, Roberto Ortiz de Zarate, Juan Jorge
Schäffer, Gary Selikow, Alejandro Solá, the
editors of Klipsan Press and the editor of

Although the definition of what is a political web site remains to be agreed, these
directories are among the biggest collections of relevant political material on the
Webv. Regardless how extraordinary and laudable in nature, these directories
remain (quite like Yahoo and other Web Directories) man-made, endemically
incomplete and outdated. Panta rei, Everything flows on the Internet, and
moreover, taxonomically, there is much more to be studied than the actors at the
core of the political systemvi: the deep political web of those political actors which
are at the periphery or completely outside the formal political system.

Supported by the same Naisbitt, Toffler and Becker the e-democracy wave
revealed new specialists. One of them, Mark Bonchek (1997), author at MIT of a
significant and timely dissertation, summarised in ten points the theological corpus
on the Internet as a political medium.
The Political Internet 181

Bonchek’s ten points were constructed much like the rhetoric of ten years before:
the main emphasis was on highlighting how the Internet (the Web) bias was to
change the mechanics of traditional politics:

Bonchek’s 10 Hypotheses on the effects of the Internet on the flow of political

1- All channel structure of political communication in which all political agent are
directly connected to each other
2- Disintermediation, i.e. bypassing of traditional intermediaries, and a shift from
gatekeeping to brokering for these intermediaries
3- Formation of virtual organizations based on shared interests rather than shared
4- Integration of social and issue networks, such that personal relationship form
more easily around political issues and personal relationships are enhanced in
existing issue-oriented networks
5- Greater propagation of political information through duplication and re-
transmission between social networks across weak-tie relationships
6- Increased volume of political information
7- Integration of personal, broadcast and network media either simultaneous
transmission, repackaging, and rebroadcast
8- Resource bias in who uses the Internet for political communication towards
those with higher income and education
9- Heterogeneity of source for political information, expanding the diversity of
opinion which citizens have access and may be exposed to
10- Narrowcasting of customized and targeted messages to specific communities
of interest

The overall atmosphere of widespread enthusiasm for the multiplication of new

cases of adoption of the Internet by traditional political actors, was not – in the mid-
nineties -- conducive to critical thinking.
The fact that all the political agents were not and still are not directly connected to
each other could not counteract the general impression that Being Digital was both
a right and an obligation.
The idea of disintermediation simultaneously seduced political and business
analysts; thus producing in both environments a rhetoric which promoted, once
again, the idea of a revolution instead of relative change.
The endemically disorganised and anarchic nature of political newsgroups was to
reveal itself progressively; in the mid-nineties the idea that groups of activists could
discuss more than 60,000 topics online conditioned much of the early scholarly
works. It was indeed urgent – at that time – to scrutinise the few known cases.
182 The European Information Society

While many academics somehow ceded to these ‘research constraints’, much of

the informed opinion started to mimic the conclusions of the proponents of e-

A very large corpus of articles on e-democracy developed between 1992 and

2000, blurring the distinction between e-democracy and e-government:
In 1992 Clinton and Perotvii dominate much of the coverage for their keen interest
in promoting e-democracy: the idea of the electronic town-hall emerges and the
first online Presidential debates are organised on GEnie first, and then on other
online systems. Few years later, with the second and third Presidential elections
(1996–2000) electronic democracy becomes ‘part of the electioneering
bandwagon’ (Clenaghan, 1997).
In 1994 Vice President Al Gore states, together with powerful members of the
Congress that ‘the Infobahn must promote electronic democracy’ (Henderson,
1994). Peter Lewis, from the New York Times, titles his articles on the 1994
Congressional Campaign ‘Internet emerges as a vital link in political arena’ (Lewis,
During the election G. Scott Aikens, a Minnesota graduate student, moderates the
cyberspace debate for the Minnesota Electronic Democracy project. The project
creates two significant spin-offs in the following years: the
web site and Democracies Online ( an annexed site
created by Steven Clift, an e-democracy evangelist bound to become one of the
most visible proponents of e-democracy.
The same year another well-known consultant, Esther Dyson, declares to the
press “Computers create a community and give power…the electronic democracy
is inevitable” (Higgins, 1994). New political debates online, all re-using the Bulletin
Board System model, proliferate in the States. The House Speaker, Newt Gingrich,
launches Thomasviii, the interactive computer program supposed to open the
Congress’s work to the US population at large.
In 1995 public protest against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll drives New
Zealand’s first experiments in electronic democracy (McDonald, 1995).
In 1996 the Canadian Calgary Herald reports: “Electronic democracy is going to be
a huge thing between now and the end of the millennium. Those politicians who
are with it quickest have the most to gain” (Alberts, 1996).
In 1997 the British press notes the country’s first steps into the Political Internet
(McGoobin, 1997); Altavista pulls up more than 2000 pages related to ‘electronic
democracy’ (Futrelle, 1997).
In 1998 more than two thirds of the 1998 US congressional candidates, had
operating web sites. For the Senate, 75%, or 51 candidates, had web sites (Dulio,
1999). The posting of the Starr Report on the Web is described as historic
(Harmon, 1998), even if as the press covering the event adds “while some 70
The Political Internet 183

million Americans now have access to the Web, nearly 200 million others don’t”.
The same year, Roza Tsagarousianu, Damian Tambini and Cathy Brian edit
Cyberdemocracy (Routledge 1998). Presented by the press as a truly international
book (Grossman, 1998), the work describes the experiments in cyberdemocracy in
Santa Monica (PEN system), Amsterdam’s Digital City, and Manchester’s
Information City initiative.

In the public discourse, a very thin line separates e-democracy from e-government,
electoral-political participation and participative democracy at local government’s
level. The headlines explicit the new conceptual framework as follows:
“Government makes online connection; Electronic democracy”. One of the most
quoted features of the Internet becomes its ability “to cut red tape” (Nisperos,
1998). “Electronic democracy” – commentators say – “is inspired by two
overlapping dislikes – of bureaucrats and of politicians – and by two ideas for
making these groups more likeable” (The Economist, 1992).
In 1999 The Times (Gould, 1999) suggests : “The formal political process, with
five-year election cycles and little formal opportunity to participate in the meantime,
seems antiquated. Caught between competing trajectories, one towards global
forces, the other to fast and responsive local choices, the British Parliament
appears, to many people, both impotent and irrelevant. It is here that the electronic
revolution can be decisive, either further increasing the sense of a Parliament that
is out of touch and disconnected, or helping to harness the enormous potential of
the new electronic technologies, if not quite to build a new electronic democracy, at
least to help to give Parliament new relevance and new connection in a world
changing so fast it sometimes seems to be spinning out of control. Electronic
modernisation can be the key to greater democracy. If change is shaped and
guided, if the State enables rather than abdicates, the modern world can be both
fairer and more democratic”.
The same year other sources (Rust, 1999) propose the next conceptual transition:
from e-democracy/e-government to e-voting: “Though political participation on the
Internet is still developing, many proponents of e-politics advocate an emerging
form of government known as electronic democracy, or voting online. Still in
preliminary stages, proponents hope the concept will increase political participation
and voter turnout. Although no government system is based on electronic
democracy, the concept has been put to the test on smaller scales”.

The dissenting opinions (Varn, 1993, Bimber, 1998) on e-democracy and its
variants, albeit sound and relatively numerous, do not reach adequate visibility.
New anecdotal evidence is about to prepare the next ‘wave’.
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Internet Voting
The third wave, the American debate on Internet Voting, is fuelled in the US by the
widespread concern generated by the contested outcome of the 2000 US
Presidential elections.
The launch of Internet based voting was, according to the authors of a Harvard
PIRP/Booz Allen & Hamilton (PIRP/B.A.H.) recent work (Butcher, 2001) in this
field, a response to a paradox: “The most technologically advanced nation, fails to
provide its citizens a new president because of an outdated analogue voting
technology”. In the year 2000 Internet voting represents for many –this is really not
new at all -- the ‘next logical step’ in the saga of ‘new uses for the Internet’.

Proponents of Internet-based voting suggest that several factors explain the

growing interest shown by a wide range of ‘stakeholders’ in corporations, research
institutions and (local) government. These factors are once again the same ones
that were – mutatis mutandis – promoted almost 20 years ago: Internet is cheap,
Internet eases access to voting process, Internet provides access to useful
information, etc.

If one analyses the size and scope of the cases quoted in the PIRP/B.A.H. paper,
it is difficult to agree that they represent ‘significant voting initiatives’.
The Arizona experience (during the Democratic Primaries in March 2000) is the
sole exception. This said, the lawsuit (which concerns equal access to minority
voters) promoted against the proponents of the trial by the Voting Integrity Project
is – alone – such a serious attack to the entire edifice of the so-called ‘Internet
voting enthusiasts’, that one can expect a difficult future for this kind of projects.

In parallel to constitutional issues, Internet voting is slowed (if not blocked) by very
significant security problems: it is virtually impossible to give the highest degree of
protection to information that travels on public networks, and is produced (in a
distributed way) by a vast number of un-checkable sites. Technically it is possible,
like many other things. Practically, it means building thousands of military-quality-
Infosec/I-voting sites.
Although the study recognises many of the existing issues, it is hard for the
authors to resist to rhetoric of transformation/revolution: “The information age has
begun to transform many cherished democratic traditions and practices”, “the
internet has changed the way citizens interact with one another and with their
elected representatives” and “the internet has demonstrated a capacity to inform
voters as never before possible” (p. 6).
The Political Internet 185

Why ‘has changed’ and not ‘can’ change, ‘could’ change, ‘may’ change? And
moreover, who really absorbs all this information? And ultimately, is this
information really useful to determine the final vote?

New contexts, classic questions

Voting via the Internet (regardless of the type of solution) remains highly
conditioned by at least three factors: (a) strong security, (b) the development of a
trust mechanism among users, and (c) a strong State intervention to fund the
provision of strong security, ‘minitel-like’ equipment at the level of the end voter.
(Large) Internet penetration, per se, is not enough to become a causal factor for
Internet voting from home. In other words, the fact that Internet usership is
increasing does not mean that I-voting is ‘inevitable’.

Even if Internet voting was to become a reality tomorrow, it would only provide
voters ‘another’ opportunity to vote (unless, of course, it was made mandatory to
vote by this mean). It would be almost comparable to allowing people to vote on
Sunday, or to vote late at night, or to get a day off to go to vote etc. It would be
instrumental, but not enough to be a structural cause for a (political participation)

Between dogma and reality

Again, like decades ago, proponents of internet voting continue to produce
aphorisms, while the scientific community at large is aware that non consumption
of media is a quantifiable phenomenon everywhere, both in developed and in
developing countries.
Interestingly, next to financial, cultural or skills gaps, which are the typical causes
of the digital divide in developing countries, there is also an emerging phenomenon
of media avoidance in developed countries. In other terms: former media (over)
consumers who deliberately decide to ‘un-plug’ and stop watching the TV or
reading newspapers.

Tele-democracy, e-democracy and finally internet voting are three facets of the
same intellectual drive, which appears to be the result of two simultaneous
• One exerted by the political science community at first, then by political analysts
at large, to identify a likely remedy to the crisis of post-war mass political parties,
and the decline of public confidence in the political elite.
186 The European Information Society

• The other by the industry which tends to support the idea that part of its business
has become a political priority.

Even before tele-democracy, elements of the same debate started to appear in the
late sixties, when numerous political scientists started to note that, with President
Kennedy’s campaign, techniques had started to modernise through the
introduction of a marketing approach, the first campaign databases and
geographical information systems. According to some observer this was the birth
of the New Politics (Penn, 1968), a phenomenon, which was later, re-defined as
image politics or personality politics (Boorstin, 1964).
Strangely enough, this historical context seems to be out of sight for most of the
contemporary proponents of the ‘new’ Internet-based politics. The binomial
Internet and politics seems to capture the attention of a very specific scientific
community. Research associations (or networks) in the field of sociology and
political science do not seem to have developed a specific, autonomous research
strategy in this fieldix.

The majority of those who actually got interested in these phenomena had an IT
background or were elected officials at local or national level; most of them got
easily conditioned by the rhythm of the ‘revelations’ concerning the new
opportunities provided by the Internet. Many got also engaged in what seems to be
a shift from a laudable inductive approach, into a form of dogma, a loss of historic

Other research questions, the same old questions

This debate could find a new course if the attention of political science or sociology
scholars – for example – increased. Political Internet specialists should raise few of
the oldest and most relevant questions in political science to understand the reality
of this phenomenon.

The first question is, of course, ‘why do people vote?’.

What explains that in “the country that has both the highest media and technology
density per capita”, one finds 84 million ‘non voters’ in 1992 and 100 million ‘non
voters’ (more than the actual number of voters) in 1996? (Doppelt, 1999).
Deepening this question (why people vote) equals digging into the relationships
between the ‘personal sphere’ and the ‘public sphere’ in the psychological
dimension of the potential voter. The point is understanding what makes him/her
‘care’ enough to do something. What is ‘close’ and what is ‘far away’. What affects
him/her and what doesn’t.
The Political Internet 187

The Internet could be the tool to increase proximity with things which are in reality
much further away. But it is yet to be confirmed whether the political content
vehicled by the Internet today, really ‘affects’ potential voters.
The factors which explain the variance ‘vote’ are ideological, psychological,
personal, in a word. Environmental questions (like the possibility of voting from
home or from an electronic boot) are only marginally relevant to the end voter.
Many other factors are capable of explaining the same amount of variance. In
other words, (from a voter’s perspective) being motivated explains a lot of votes;
being ‘supported’ by the Internet (in whichever way) explains fewer votes.
The second question is “what people actually do with the Internet” (instead of what
they ‘could’ do).
This intellectual approach is, at least with regard to the e-democracy or I-voting
debate, capable of modifying the course of research. Political TV studies have
showed that what really matters in this type of political communication is the
‘emotional potential’ of the medium; to a lesser extent its accuracy, speed or
richness in content.
The key point is ‘how much and what’ comes out from the ‘Internet filter’ when the
Internet is used to motivate people to vote.
If voters have to choose between two charismatic leaders, can they perceive better
the ‘person behind the personal’ through Internet based political communication or
do other media outperform political web sites? If compared to the TV or the radio,
what is the degree of ‘high fidelity’ provided by the Internet- based re-production of
political reality?

A functional/operational approach to the study of the

Political Internet
The Political Internet must be framed in a truly systemic/cybernetic perspective: it’s
a sub-system of the Internet which responds to a specific function; it does
contribute to the homeostasis of the whole system and it does serve the interests
of a given community.

The Political Internet must also be analysed operationally: this means reaching
deeper levels of understanding on how the Web works, how its ‘voice’, its
‘signature’, its bias --as Innis said-- affects political communication.

A good starting point for this type of research is the enumeration of the material
pre-conditions for a successful online political presence.
The following seem to be the most obvious ones:
a) political information must exist online
188 The European Information Society

b) users must have access

c) users must have time
d) users must be politically motivated (civic culture/political socialisation)
e) users must have motivation to search and retrieve online and not in any
other way (cross-media competition)
f) users must find political information online
g) users must overcome the biases of the Web (lack of the rhetoric of arrival)
– publishers must use the Web biases (hypertextuality, mutimediality,
ubiquity) to increase the effectiveness of their sites
h) users must be affected, convinced, gratified in some way by what is found
on the Web
i) users must consider that what is found on the Web either integrates
previous knowledge or replaces previous knowledge (the Web medium
outperforms other media).

Let’s try now to scrutinise the relevance of each one of them.

As mentioned above, there is little doubt that something we can call the Political
Internet exists today. It is not clear how big this is, since there is no widespread
agreement on who participates to this online version of the political system and
who doesn’t. If we consider the political system as inclusive of the informal and
antagonist (anti-regime) actors, then the Political Internet is certainly larger than
what accounted by the four major political meta-sites mentioned above.
With regard to access online, we know that – in OECD countries – end-user costs
(including learning curve), age, sex, do constitute divisive elements within society
(Ricci, 1998, 2000). This happens to the Internet and to many other information
(or, better, knowledge intensive) technologies.
Both in developed and in developing countries, digital divide can be quantified.
Alone, it represents, by far, the most important ‘reality test’ for e-democracy or I-
voting proponents.

With regard to time management numerous surveys have already indicated that
the Internet clashes with TV. But there is more than this. Time budget conditions
not only the mere act of consuming media (I do or do not have the time to read,
watch TV etc.), but also the type of medium finally chosen. Each media presents a
‘ratio’ between:

time to consume/ Q of embedded information-knowledge / C access costs

As Arterton already noted in his works in the eighties, the proliferation of media
channels further increases the comparative edge acquired by certain media and
further marginalizes others. From a broadcasters (or campaigner) perspective it
The Political Internet 189

may result more economic to invest in a media mix which excludes the Internet,
just because the cost/contact ratio is not interesting enough to mobilise financial
There is also another economic dimension which plays a role for the Political
Internet: the attention budget of the addressees of the given online communication.

Why should the potential voter choose for ‘political’ content when consuming
media? What drives the hierarchy of content consumption? Is Politics at the top or
bottom of priorities in media consumption?
And even if it was at the top, why choosing the net instead of other more trusted,
cheaper, faster, ‘compelling’ media such as TV, radio, weekly magazines, or
Even if recent studies tend show that the time spent on the Internet is greater than
the time spent on the television, the Television and the Newspaper have a greater
role than the Internet as sources of trusted newsx.

‘Attention’ – like time – is a scarce resource. The attention budget creates (or not)
the basic conditions for media consumption. Users/voters may have time, but not
enough attention to deal with non-entertainment content online; unless, of course,
politics online becomes as entertaining and as compelling as other, competing,
knowledge/information objects.

Attention conditions in its own way the choice of media. In this case the TQi/kC
ratio becomes:


In other words, there is a ‘confusion factor’ which may be higher in certain news
media (for example text centric media) and lower in others (multimedia news
platforms such as All-News-TV Channels or Rich Content Sites). Information
overloadxi and boredom increase the importance of the TCC ratio and tend to
radicalise (and therefore simplify) the competition between news media.

Aside from media related issues, without a keen interest in politics there is no
search for political information online at all, and no any other type of politically
relevant action (voting would the ultimate type of politically relevant action). The
question then is: do media (including the internet) participate in political
socialization? The answer is clearly yes, even for the Internet, which could be
considered a likely co-factor of political socialization for the generation of those
aged 15-18 years old in the mid-nineties.
190 The European Information Society

This said, the question is whether this type of political socialisation online happens
once, for a given period of time, or it is a repetitive, on-going, lifelong exercise of
reinforcement of one’s political convictions.

In case a form of reinforcement practice was indeed practised through the Political
Internet, a facilitated access to political culture online would be pivotal to the whole
process. Let’s assume that voters can access the Internet, and are motivated to
find political information online: is it that easy? Not really.

Either voters have prior and clear knowledge of the existence of a party site
onlinexii or the endeavour could be difficult. This is partly due to the so-called DNS
highjacking, partly because of the non-unequivocal nature of certain party
domains. For example more than 10% of the web sites observed in our empirical
research are freely hosted by a third partyxiii. In many cases the party address
looks like this:

Further evidence to this statement comes from the search patterns of online users.
A WordTracker Top500Report activated between 17.11.2001 and 28.02.2002
shows that none of the following keywords appears to rank anywhere in the 500
most used keywords in the main search engines:

Party, Politics, Republican, Democrat, Elections

Finally, in addition to the so-called ‘Linkrot’ phenomenon (Nielsen, 1998), current

research shows that the effectiveness of search engines is relative: much of the
so-called deep web remains unavailable to the end userxiv.
If one then tries to see whether the most logical starting point of an internet
browsing session (a portal, a search engine) refers somehow to parties, one may
discover that this happens very rarely. The survey of 82 major portals and
directories visited in March 2002, both in the US and in Europe, shows that a
minority (23.1%) showed the theme/subject ‘politics’ on its home page (one only
pointed to ‘parties’, many had as alternative entries ‘society’, ‘government’, ‘law’).

When, finally, the potential voter has reached the site the very nature of the Web
can further minimise – notably when the content is not cogent – the impact of the
Internet as a tool for political communication: (a) on the Web people spend little
time on each site, (b) reading web sites is different from deep reading of traditional
printed publication, (c) sites are browsed in parallel using two or more open
windows on the screen, (d) web sites structure can influence negatively the
The Political Internet 191

viewing experience: too many levels, or a bad management of the space and
colour worsen, like in other traditional media, the quality of the overall reading

Let’s summarize. In order to identify who votes for a given party, one has to
engage in a reduction process: from the population at large, to those having the
legal right to vote, to those who actually get into the voting lists and actually go to
vote; to those that make that given political preference.
If we start to analyse how operationally the Internet affects a given vote, one
should reduce the population at large to those that have a PC, then those that
have access to the Internet, then those that find time and attention to look for
political information online, then those who find it, then, and this is the key factor,
those whose attitude is changed or reinforced by the content seen online.
The very few studies on the actual usage of political sites during regular elections
suggest that only a sub-site of the internet population actually visited those sites
during the campaign. The average visit duration is between 5 and 10 minutes
longxv. The bulk of the visitors was either 25-34 years old (17.45% of the sample
for and 21.87% for or 35-49 years old
(28.13% of the sample for and 27.76% for
Traditional media do remain much more relevant if compared to the Political
This, however, does not tell us what effects do these sites induce on end users.

A taxonomy of the early actors

The preliminary results of our researchxvi for the development of a Taxonomy of the
Early actors of Political Communication online indicate that most of party web sites
work at least according to two main dimensions: identity reinforcement and service
Almost in every site there is a reference to the party’s history; the party key
leaders, anthems, logos, house organs, flags, merchandising objects are displayed
as variants of the same identity definition. The programme or platform, pivotal for
the definition of the ‘party essence’, is often ‘declined’ in a wide range or ‘variants’
(single document, list of white papers, FAQ, of lists of sections in the web site
which deal with specific policy issues).
Almost every site offers some degree of service to the Internet community: from
basic (subscription to a party mailing list) to advanced one, like: paying party fees
using a secure server; giving access to political speeches or campaign material
using streaming audio and video; providing ‘the activists package’ to support the
campaign (the package often includes banners, animated Gifs, electronic copies of
the manifestos, campaign brochures etc.); sending complete affiliation; requests
192 The European Information Society

online; giving access to the party’s intranet; or providing a mail account with the
party domain.

Party web sites around the world are not developed equally. In our taxonomy we
distinguish three macro-genres (Proto-sitesxvii, Meso-sites and Neo-sitesxviii); one
for each major development step. Development is essentially conditioned by
external factors: funding and leadership to play a major role, so do few external
factors, such as competition at national level. Neosites – creative sites with a
sophisticated space and colour management -- are a minority.
Interactivity does exist in several alternative degrees: from the basic mail box, to
the provision of the entire directory of addresses of the party organisation, to the
implementation of chats and for a for party activists.
Therefore, contrary to the core ideas of the promoters of e-democracy, the largest
majority of the observed cases shows very poor interactivity solutions (unless we
consider an e-mail address to be the best political party web sites can do to create
a virtuous circle with their constituencies).
The partial analysis of our research data finds that:
33,9% of the scanned party sites have only a ‘mail to webmaster’ feature;
3.4% of them allow user to mail to precise people;
2.6 % of them provide a partial or full directory to the party origanisation (phone
and e-mail address, for example);
8,2% have implemented some sort of ‘forms’ to mail generic or specific question to
the party;
8,2% of the scanned sites have an online forum in addition to one of the options
This structural content analysis (of sites in English, French and Spanish) suggests
that sites are often conceived to talk with people sharing the same political
orientation: newcomers are seldom addressed, the opposition is either not
mentioned at all or is attacked. This unilateral mode of communication is one of the
indicators which separate persuasion (where two parties enter into a transactional
process) from propaganda (Jowett, 1996).

Because of this lack of interactivity, the unilateralist nature of this communication

mode, most of the party sites online engage in Digital Propaganda: they really do
not promote exchange, according to the often quoted model of the Greek agora,
but essentially work – in a very traditional fashion – using a digital push mode.
The Political Internet 193

Known success stories?

Contrary to what happens to trendy expressions such e-politics, I-voting, e-
democracy, the activities of specific parties online make fewer headlines. Even
less appears on public media on current political Web ‘success-stories’.

Who does succeed online, then? The key feature for online performance
measurement is the analysis of the so-called ‘server log files’, which record the
type of traffic generated by the site. Log files are considered highly sensitive
information by all webmasters. Very often, political webmasters refuse to publish
their results given that their site statistics can be used by the opposition to prove
that ‘that party does not meet the public expectations’.

In our research we have found only a minority of political web sites which do
publish their statistics online (7.1% of the observed universe). If we analyse their
content we notice that political web sites often have a very modest audience, a
significant part of which (ranging between 10-20% of the hits received by the
server) of unclear origin: a good percentage of the hits comes from outside the
given country or from .com .net .org TLDs.
However, if we correlate these findings with the structural analysis of web sites, we
could formulate several working hypotheses on the real conditions which favour
online effectiveness of political web sites:
• the most technically and aesthetically developed sites have greater chances to
succeed. If, according to our hypothesis, the Political Web must win the multi-
channel competition, only compelling, multi-media, personalised sites can acquire
a comparative advantage vis-à-vis the same political content available on TV, radio
and press;
• sites with a coherent and simple structure have greater chances to succeed since
they match the current, widespread Web usage pattern (very short visits);
• sites which benefit from multiple referrals (such a constellation of friendly sites)
sending traffic from local (the provincial site points to the national one) or thematic
sites (the youth organisation pointing to the main party site; an ‘event/conference
site’ or an ‘issue/policy’ site pointing to the party site etc.);
• sites with deep content (lots of internal links and multiple levels generated out of
sheer content or through an active online discussion group) tend to capture and
retain strong, engaged Internet activists..
Charismatic leaders sites [the ‘Daily Him’ or ‘Daily Her’, to re-use Negroponte’s
concept] have – comparatively – greater success online since they often happen to
have many of the characters noted above (depth, ‘personal’/multimedia content).
This observation fits with the political science contemporary theories that depict
194 The European Information Society

parties and ideologies as declining entities and the individual leader and issue
based politics as emerging phenomena.
Original, unique, hard to find content sites definitely outperform others. In the
current Internet economics, this type of content has greater value and suffers less
from environmental noise, and channel competition.

There are many reasons why Internet users may badly want to access a certain
content online. Some of these reasons, such as reconnecting to one’s own country
and culture, may be laudable: it’s the case of the numerous online diasporasxix.

Other reasons may, on the contrary, be illegal or antagonistic vis-à-vis the

established order in a given country. Anti-regime, insurgency, violent or militant
propaganda sites are the eponyms of this model of political information: they are
built to serve other ‘initiated’ users, their content is unique (un-published stories or
photos, films and other evidence of massacres, reports from hard to reach battle
zones, statements from insurgents or terrorist groups), and hard to find elsewhere.
The information services provided by these sites are critical to the group’s survival:
without the Web, the scattered, unlawful community could not probably work in the
same way, and probably would not survive. In other words, the Internet is pivotal to
this communication mode (illegal – sensitive content to few, initiated users); the
Internet, in this communication mode, responds also to the uses and gratifications
sought by many Web usersxx.

In our hypothesis when illegal sites also adopt few or all of the techniques that
make traditional, formal political actors succeed, they really achieve something
they could hardly replicate using other media.

Some proponents of E-democracy view Internet-based political communication as
part of a program to reform the way democracy works in many western societies.
For these authors, ‘Improved democracy’ is the result of a reform of campaign
contributions, the modification of electoral rules (more proportional or more
majority rule according to the context) and new, more efficient ways to express
people’s choices.

Others, often starting from the same premises, make a further conceptual step and
advocate E-democracy or I-voting as the most concrete, effective way to introduce
deliberative forms of direct democracy (voters decide all major political issues on a
regular basis). This type of proponent of strong e-democracy (Citizens Power as
Ted Becker calls it) tends to get inspiration and legitimacy from both Jefferson
The Political Internet 195

(The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government and to
protect its free expression should be our first object) and Alvin Toffler (You don’t
have to be an expert to know what you want). For these authors, the discourse of
the waves is instrumental to prove that changes in politics is indeed happening and
progress is inevitable.

Sartori labelled this call for deliberative forms of direct democracy, the
exasperation of activism (in political participation); the attitude of those that do not
suggest a path to participate better, but simply ask “to participate more,…. with the
view to learn how to participate”.
Sartori (1993) reminds that sheer size of contemporary political issues makes it
impossible to follow the model of ancient Greece. The problems are too complex,
and often out of the community’s reach, out of the community’s sight. The
community itself does not succeed in relating with its parts; it’s simply incapable of
perceiving itself; it’s therefore an illusion to achieve, electronically, direct
relationships between all the members of our (contemporary) communities. The
public debate that would result from this, would be partial, amputated, and sense
of direct relationship between all the members of the demos would simply vanish.
At the same time, with this type of direct e-democracy, a large, non-expert
audience (always a sub-set of the universe of those having the right to choose),
would be called to decide on urgent, serious and even dangerous matters without
any form of preparation. As Sartori (1993) puts it, we should pray God to preserve
us from this push-button democracy (or the ‘triumph of the inexperienced’).

This said, media interest in e-democracy shows no sign of declining. During the
recent French and American presidential elections, for example, mainstream
media, once again intrigued, covered extensively the online exploits of the
candidates and the experiments of vote-swapping between Gore’s and Nader’s
supporters (Eudes, 2000). Recent research papers by Foot and Schneider (2002),
contest the normalization hypothesis (politics on the Internet resembles closely
politics offline) and, once again, favorably reviews the US 2000 Elections online
experience (Margolis, 2000).

It is clear that there is interest worldwide in favour of discussing the relationship

between Internet and politics; both inside and outside scholarly circles. The subject
looks appealing for media and political science scholars, for industry and
governments both at local and national level. When one scrutinizes the evidence
that supports the idea that e-democracy or I-voting are driving the new politics,
there are maybe a dozen cases (in the US or across Europe) that are worth
studying. The scholars that have engaged in critical reviews have concluded that
196 The European Information Society

only the synergy between traditional and modern political media can increase
political participation. It’s the overall campaign strategy that matters.
Through our research we have understood that hundreds of political party web
sites around the world have only basic e-mail to empower citizens. This is probably
due to the fact that political webcasters consider the act of setting up a web site as
a communication end in itself. E-mail alone, however, is far from being capable of
delivering the kind of compelling, motivating political participation, sought by e-
democracy proponents.
The Bias of the Web, the way it works, hinders furthermore the activities of
traditional parties online. By using, the same bias, legions of illegal and potentially
dangerous groups are making the best use possible of the Political Internet. One of
Innis’ greatest conceptual contributions was to demonstrate that communication
media have historically had an impact on the character of knowledge (the Web, for
example, offers greater command over space than over time).
Innis (1999) also suggested that monopolies or oligopolies of knowledge (and
power) are built by media ‘up to the point that equilibrium is disturbed’. In today’s
Political Internet the knowledge oligopoly being created, seems to provide a
comparative advantage to the antagonistic actors to the established political
system than to traditional mass parties.

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Virtual Community Of The Crimean Tatar Diaspora;
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Transnational Cultural Identities;
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Technology Revolution » Ed. T. Forester MIT Press Cambridge pp. 438-450.
Bacque R. (2000), ou pour 250,000 francs
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The Political Internet 197

Becker T.L. (1981), Teledemocracy : Bringing power back to people in « Futurist »

vol.15(6) pp. 6-9.
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Electronic democracy : hot wires to Washington The Herald Sun Aug 28 1995
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Exploratory Analysis Of The US Political Web Sphere Journal of Broadcasting and
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Georgiou M. (2002), Diasporic Communities On-Line: A Bottom Up Experience of
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Gould P. (1999), Internet offers a new world of democracy The Times Nov 15 1999
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Harmon A. (1998), Clinton scandal : a defining moment for the web International
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Higgins S. (1994) , Electronic democracy wins votes : corporate PC users take to
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, MIDRANGE systems Oct 13, vol 5 nr.19 p. 49, 1992.
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disadvantages of electronically based citizen participation, Spectrum: The Journal
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Times Nov. 6 2000

« Overall participation in competitive elections across the globe rose steadily
between 1945 and 1990. Between 1945-1950 the number of voters turning out to
vote at each election represented 61% of the voting age population (i.e. all citizens
old enough to vote). That turnout figure rose to 62% in the 1950s, 65% in the
1960s, 67% in the 1970s, and 68% in the 1980s. But in the 1990s, with the influx
of a host of competitive elections in newly democratising states, the average for
elections held since 1990 has dipped back to 64%. Interestingly the same turnout
figures expressed as a percentage of the number of people registered to vote
remained more constant throughout the 1940s to 1980s but then dipped more
suddenly in the 1990s. In other words, while the participation rate of all eligible
voters has dropped only marginally, the drop in the participation rate of those
actually registered to vote has been more pronounced » International IDEA, Voter
200 The European Information Society

Turnout : a global survey « Turnout over time: Advances and retreats in electoral
participation » URL
The table shows statistics obtained using WebAnalyzer in March 2002. Alexa
server ranks sites according to the usage of the “Alexa Bar”, a search add-on
product of the company of the same name. For a technical description of this
proprietary ranking method consult:
For a larger list of directories consult the list of specialised WebRings or
Other relevant lists – notably covering (charismatic) political leadership – include:
Zarate’s Political Collections;
WORLDWIDE GUIDE TO WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP; Regents of the world; World Statesmen; Rulers; States
and regents of the world
Levels in web sites are defined by the number of mouse clicks which are
necessary to reach the information
The site is conceived as a support to a political science course: it includes
pointers to Area studies; Local & regional British politics; News and journals
Constitutions; Other politics websites; Data archives; Political
parties Elections; Political platforms Government websites; Political
theory; International Relations; Political thought
Some are arguably the most complete of their kind: for example, with regard to
electorally active political parties, ElectionWorld is the only site which gathers both
official election results and the lists of existing (known) political parties online.
Beyond parties, the most obvious agents of e-democracy, research should study
the submerged part of the political Internet, the deep political web: the web of the
movements, of the rebel groups, of the anti-regime sites, of the radical or violent
groups, of the political diasporas and persecuted minorities.
This part of the political web, notwithstanding the various successive waves of
interest for the political Internet, remains entirely out of reach and mostly unknown
both to the scholar community and the public at large.
« Nobody has figured out what it means exactly, but the concept of electronic
democracy – or an electronic town hall – captured the public immagination this
year after Ross Perot announced the concept in this abortive presidential
campaign » , J. Ubois, We the people : electronic bulletin boards and the political
process , Midrange systems Oct 13, 1992 Vol 5 N.° 19 Pg. 49
The Political Internet 201

Electronic democracy : hot wires to Washington The Herald Sun Aug 28 1995 ;
E. Schmitt Congress caught in Tangled Web , The Palm Beach Post July 10 1996
« No lawmaker is more responsible for pushing Congress into the on-line realm of
the World WideWeb and electronic democracy than House Speaker Newt
Gingrich.. »
Few of the most relevant events in the field of Internet and Politics have been
organised without a specific reference to the major Sociological or Political
research organisations (ISA and IPSA). This is the case for recent European
events such as: Séminaire sur la démocratie eletronique, Senat Francais, Paris
1995; modernizing Democracy through the Electronic Media International
Conference of the Academy of the Third Millennium
1997; Political Change for the Information Society, Rome
n.html 1999; Politics & Internet, Oulu and Tampere
1999; 1er 2e 3e Forum Mondial de la démocratie electronique Issy les Moulineaux
France etc.
See Gallup’s Media Use and Evaluation : Gallup Poll Topics : A – Z – Media Use
and Evaluation on. ref (data 2000
accessed 22.07.2001) ; Polix (IT) Poll
For a recent and comprehensive analysis of the role of Information Overload in
individuals and organisations see the Eurescom study ‘Impacts of Information
Overload’ Study n. P947 1999 online ref.
has also addressed the issue. QUESTION89: Some people say they feel
overloaded with information these days, considering all the television news shows,
magazines, newspapers, and computer information services. Others say they like
having so much information to choose from. How about you feel
overloaded, or do you like having so much information available? Results:
Overloaded -†26% Like it -†66 Other (vol.) -††6 Don't know/Refused -††2
The phenomenon of Information Overload is becoming an issue also for marketing
research companies although recent studies show that experiences Internet users
do not suffer from it: Information overload not a serious issue Jun
08 2001: « Experienced Internet users do not generally suffer from information
overload, according to a new study. For the study, which was published in the
online journal The Next Big Thing, almost 3,000 mostly experienced Internet users
were asked how they cope with the current glut of information and types of
communication devices. Eighty percent of the respondents said their ability to cope
202 The European Information Society

with information overload was “better than most” or “excellent”. The study found
that those who dealt with the most information were most able to cope, while those
receiving the least data were the most overwhelmed. » online reference;
ZDNet: Search engines cause ire among Net users Jan 03 2001: « According to a
new survey, poor search engines and information overload are causing web-rage
among Internet users. The survey by Roper Starch Worldwide found that on
average, users get angry and frustrated after 12 minutes of fruitless searching. For
7% of respondents, it only takes 3 minutes before web-rage strikes » online
Newsfactor Network: Net users' patience only lasts 12 minutes
« Information overload on the Internet causes users to feel frustrated and stressed,
and can even lead to “Internet rage”, according to a new study.
The study from UK firm WebTop found that 71 percent of British Internet users
have suffered from Internet rage at least once. »
Online reference
Notably if the campaign strategy implies that the party or the candidates
engages in a process of mutual reinforcement of the messages channelled by
each medium (for example the radio ads point to the web site, the press ads point
to the web site, the site reproduces the radio and press campaign).
A great number of pages are made available by the internet service provider or later acquired by Yahoo see on.ref.,
The Deep Web : Surfacing Hidden Value Bright planet White Paper on.ref.; P. Bailey,
N. Craswell, D. Hawking Dark Matter on the Web Proceeding of the W3
Conference on.ref.; J. Bar-Ilan Ten
days in the life of HotBot and Snap – a case study .
posters/5/poster5.html; The GVU’ Tenth WWW User survey (1998) also provides
interesting and, albeit not new, still relevant data about the « Problems Using the
Web » : 9% of the responses (57,1% of the cases) indicate that « Broken Links »
are a major issue, together with « finding new info » (7,1% and 45,4% of the
cases) and « find known info » (4,7% and 30% of the cases). On. Ref.
Only Gore in the week ending October 8 had an audience on n179.000 with n
average time spent of 15 minutes ad 27 seconds. Ibidem
The Political Internet 203

The research aim is to describe the nature, the methods and the identifiable
achievements of the early actors of web-based political communication . The bulk
of the analysis is carried out by scanning the « visible » part of the political Internet
(more than 600 party web sites listed by two of the four inventories quoted in this
paper). Ethnographic notes have been collected on those sites, and the research
results have been collected in a database. The structural elements for a first
taxonomy have been defined and applied to what observed so far. The data
reported here are relative to two successive explorations of this vast amount of
data online. The research will be completed with the structural (software based)
analysis of the observed universe.
Proto-sites have poor control over Form and Function – they also provide
minimal Interactivity
To an even greater extend than Meso-sites Neo-Sites have a very sophisticated
space management , same applief for Color Management ; they often use sound
and movement (through animated Gifs, Java ; Shockwave/Flash, QuickTime and
other multimedia solutions). It’s in Neo-Sites that one can find the greatest amount
of Innovation and creativity : Neo-Sites are often conceived with Trans-media
approach : they try to merge in a single platform the best that press, radio and TV
can offer in terms of content management.
Several sites have played or still play the role of hub for numerous virtual
communities online: (Ethiopian diaspora) (Armenian Diaspora)
(American-Greek, Canadian-Greek communities diaspora) (Eritrean diaspora) (Kurdish
Diaspora) (Afghan Diaspora). See also J. W.
Anderson Cybernauts of the Arab Diaspora: Electronic Mediation in Transnational
Cultural Identities; K.
Altintas, F. Alimoglu, M. Batu Altan, K. Cagiltay, K. Seitveliyev, e-TATARS: Virtual
Community Of The Crimean Tatar Diaspora
tatars.html; D. Mezzana Internet/The strength of the online bonds: Networking,
themes, services, politics and culture;
(Map) Virtual Jerusalem – Jewish Communities of the World; I. Williams Downloading Heritage:
Vietnamese Diaspora Online;
M. Georgiou Diasporic Communities On-Line: A Bottom Up Experience of
Transnationalism – Paper to be Published in the journal Hommes et Migrations,
Oct. 2002 London School of Economics papers/hommesmigrations.doc; A.
K. Sahoo, From Diaspora to Transnational Networks: A Comparative Study of
204 The European Information Society

Gujarati, Punjabi and Telugu Diaspora
Social escapism, transaction-based security and privacy, information gathering,
non-transactional privacy concerns. See P. Korgaonkar, L. Wolin A multivariate
Analysis of Web usage in Journal of Advertising Research 1999 Vol . 39 (March,
April ) 53-68
New roles for users in online
news media?
Exploring the application of interactivity
through European case studies

Brian Trench

In discussions of the information society, technological developments and social

relations are often intertwined. Hence the ‘wired society’ or the ‘networked society’
becomes both a statement about the telecommunications infrastructure and a
metaphor for a society that is more equitable and more open. The notion of ‘digital
democracy’ implies some necessary connection between the provision and
adoption of certain technologies and the transparency of political systems.
Much discussion of the impacts on news media and on journalism of developments
in Internet technologies is marked by a similar elision. The technologies are
‘interactive’, so, it is argued, the provision and consumption of information will also
be, in some sense, interactive. It has even been argued that mass media are
disintegrating, giving way to user-based media without professional intermediation.

Before the Internet became available to large user bases, The Daily Me – the
‘newspaper’ geared to the individual consumer’s needs or wants – had been
proposed as a futuristic project. With the roll-out of the World Wide Web as a
medium of commercial publishing, the Daily Me found a possible platform. A small
but influential group of media professionals became new media advocates, arguing
that the function of online media was to give readers what they wanted, through
the harnessing means of information retrieval software.
Leah Gentry, who had long experience in newspaper publishing, suggested that
the assassination of the [US] president was a story that should properly be made
available to all, but that, short of such extreme cases, the attention of news media
in the online environment had to be focused on giving the readers ‘what they want’
206 The European Information Society

(Harper, 1997). From outside the media professions, Nicholas Negroponte

proposed the notion of the newspaper ‘in an edition of one’ (Negroponte, 1995).
This represented the achievement of the perfect marketplace, in which the
individual consumer is directly linked to the production process.

Daily Me as a non-starter
It is a reminder of how weak the technology community’s understanding of social
and psychological factors in technology adoption often is that the Daily Me in its
various forms has proved to be a non-starter. Even in the highly attenuated form of
personalization services, as found on many Web news sites, the user- or
consumer-generated news product has remained a marginal phenomenon. In the
discussion in Europe of opportunities for news publishing arising from Internet and
related developments, the market-based model of user-driven news has not found
a strong echo.
There are, however, many possible intermediate positions between an
unquestioning reliance on the broadcast or transmission model of mass media and
a reversal of relations to put the consumer in control. The opportunities presented
by Internet technologies, and many practices that have grown up in the Internet
environment, contain an implicit challenge to much received professional wisdom
and theoretical understandings. They draw attention, for example, to how vague
the role and image of the news audience are in the theory, professional textbooks
and history-writing of journalism.

It is one of the very many valuable contributions of digital media studies to media
studies in general that they highlight weaknesses and gaps in established theories
and models. Mass media have traditionally relied on their own judgement of what
stories are worth telling, on a very largely one-way mode of communication and on
an internalized image of their publics. It represents a significant challenge both to
received images of journalism within the professional sphere, and to the closely
related academic studies of journalism, to put the user/reader/viewer/audience
(and the terminology presents its own problems) at the center of the picture.
Largely independently of technological developments, there has been a vigorous
advocacy in the United States of new forms of ‘public journalism’ or ‘civic
journalism’, in which the journalist’s relationship with the community he or she
ostensibly serves has been redefined (see, for example, Rosen, 1999; Kovach and
Rosenstiel, 2001). Similarly, notions of communication as conversation have been
explored in the context of journalism theory and practice. In a rare application of
such ideas in a European context, Kunelius (2001) has reported an interesting
New roles for users in online news media? 207

experiment in applying the conversational mode in the reporting and analysis of

public affairs in a Finnish town.
In certain circumstances, however, conversation has already become more than a
theoretical notion or experiment. It became a reality, for example, in the
heightened publishing activity that followed the events of September 11th 2001.
Not only did demand for online information, for multiple sources of information and,
indeed, for all media surge in the hours, days and weeks after the September 11th
attacks, but the ‘audience’ became part of the stories. The recycling of victims’ and
observers’ e-mails into the pages of newspapers, of their mobile phone messages
into radio, and of amateur video recordings on to television news, brought users
into the making of news in remarkable ways.

These experiences raise interesting and challenging questions about the

definitions and demarcations of journalism as a professional and social practice,
and about the boundaries of news. They hardly support the notion that journalism
is redundant, because, as has been claimed, “everyone becomes a journalist”
(M. F. Wilson, executive editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, quoted in Bardoel,
1996). But they do give some force to the criticism of journalists for failing to see
that they are no longer the exclusive gatekeepers. Steve Yelvington, of Cox
Interactive Media, insists that the content of community sites like
based on users’ contributions should be seen as news (Yelvington, 1999).
These experiences also give new force to the analyses, based on consideration of
the possible impacts of the Internet, that received theoretical models of journalism
based on models of gatekeeping and agenda-setting need to be ‘synthesized’ with
a “theoretical approach that explores the role of journalism as a community builder”
(Singer, 1998), that the traditional ‘vertical’ model of journalism is challenged by
the development of ‘horizontal’ means of mass communication through the Internet
(Bardoel, 1996), or that journalists are “losing their importance in communication
as authoritative and autonomous producers of messages” (Demers, 1996).

This kind of largely speculative analysis accounts for a significant part of the
theoretical commentary on trends in media practice that has grown alongside the
emergence of new media forms. A more active field of professional commentary,
however, focuses on the ways in which media professionals exploit the interactive
features of the World Wide Web to build new relations with users. In his earlier,
more optimistic commentaries on new media developments, John Pavlik (1997)
foresaw a renaissance of journalism through the adoption and adaptation of
Internet-based technologies. By using features of the Internet that allow
information to be presented in personally engaging manner – thus, in a new kind of
relationship between producer and consumer – journalism would be transformed.
Pavlik offered a view of online journalism’s development in several phases, with
208 The European Information Society

increasing innovation, and increasing responsiveness to users’ interests and

inputs. His more recent analyses are rather less optimistic about the capacity of
new media, as he once put it, to “transform journalism” but he claims to see “the
emergence of … a two-way symmetric model of communication in 21st century
news operations” (Pavlik, 2000).

The challenges of online news media

Online news media have to face the challenge of a changed information
environment. Many of the sources used in journalism are themselves active as
direct publishers. Many individuals within the publics addressed by journalism are
active as information-seekers, some too as information-providers. Users may have
access to the source material from which news reports published in newspapers,
magazines, and broadcast on television and radio are generated. On this basis, it
may be argued that journalists need to give greater emphasis to the task of
orienting readers within a sea of available information than to that of re-telling the
stories. The most valuable contribution a journalist can make in many
circumstances is to provide a map of the various positions with appropriate
signposts to relevant material. Users may work different routes through news
material, according to their own previous knowledge of the topic or their level of
interest, assembling multiple meanings. The space in online news media to add
context and explanation is, for all practical purposes, unlimited. Allied to discussion
forums, this may be seen as redefining news as an open process, rather than as a
closed product.

Richer forms of communication between author and reader are made possible in
the online environment. The reader can have access to the reporter's original data,
can set the reporter's conclusions alongside their own or the reporter's own point
of departure, and can submit their own comments to the authors and to other
users. These possibilities and practices give added value to news material, but
also facilitate diverse user experiences and producer-user interchanges. News that
is made transparent in this manner is sometimes referred to as ‘open-source’ (see,
e.g. Katz, 1999), in a conscious echo of the terms in which the technologies of the
Internet have been developed.

The Internet as a medium for journalism is culturally charged; it is not a neutral,

technical space on to which the relative latecomers of online news publishing can
inscribe whatever they choose. The values inscribed in the Internet as a cultural
space influence the practice, or at least the context, of online journalism. On the
basis of the possibilities for a more dialogical practice, we can identify certain
New roles for users in online news media? 209

professional values as potentially more important in online journalism than in more

traditional forms. These values find concrete expression in the application of
specific Web features. They speak to a changed relationship between producer
and user.
Arising from the consideration of the forms of online journalism, Jay Black has
suggested (1998) that a new model of journalism may be emerging in which
stories are presented as "data that are full, rich, textured and comprehensive", or
"hypotheses tested and retested from multiple perspectives". Journalists'
conclusions should be "publicly verifiable and replicable". Black also urged that
journalists be more willing to accept feedback, give expression to more voices and,
overall, be more accountable in their work practices.
This was reflected in the 1996 revision of the professional code of the Society of
Professional Journalists, in the United States. The revision was "motivated in part
by a sense that new technologies for gathering and distributing information were
subtly changing the nature of doing journalism" (Black, 1998). The revised code
shifts the emphasis from that on objectivity to one on seeking deep truth from
multiple sources, to ‘diversity’, ‘avoid imposing values’, and ‘dialogue with the
public’ (Society of Professional Journalists, 1996).
The greater accountability that Black proposes can be achieved through clear
identification of the people and interests behind a site and of the sources used in
compiling it. Visitors to a site can then make their own judgement about the validity
or likely veracity of the information. The application of accountability can go further:
where the source material of a news item – press release, official report, speech in
parliament – is available on the Web, as it very often is, journalists can provide a
link to that material, allowing the reader to see how it has been used. Active Net
users are accustomed to looking at topics from various sources and viewpoints.
On the assumption that increasing numbers of users will become ever more
proficient in the medium, news stories could be presented as versions, allowing
readers to see how they have been assembled. The construction of news could in
this way be made transparent.

New Media ethics

In accommodating to the greater responsiveness that ‘new media’ ethics
apparently require, journalists can facilitate responses from and discussion among
the readers, giving active encouragement in the form of propositions or questions
on which contributions are invited, not merely as reactions to a piece of formal
journalism but as elements of public discussion of the issue. The users'
contributions might then be the basis of further professional-journalist inquiries and
interviews with the ‘authoritative’ sources.
210 The European Information Society

Journalists who have grown up in the new media, or who have grown over into
them, have become accustomed to treat answering such e-mails as an integral
part of their job. However, journalists grounded in ‘old media’ tend to see it as an
imposition, or a change of employment conditions to be compensated.
Don Siegel, editor-in-chief of the magazine, The Onion, said: “We do feel more in
touch with our readers on the Web, just because we get feedback from them,
whereas our print version readers don’t really write” (Mackintosh, 2000). Long-
established music journalist Karl Dallas declared: “During 25 years writing for
Melody Maker comment on my articles was fairly limited, and usually appeared, at
the earliest, three weeks after publication. When I started writing about music on
the Web, I immediately experienced a completely different timescale and
relationship with my readers” (Dallas, 2001). David Talbot, pioneer Web magazine
editor, described his publication Salon as part of a constant feedback loop: “We
receive e-mails from around the world that challenge us and provide us with
corrections and criticisms. It keeps us honest” (Power, 1999).

An International Labour Organization report on information technologies in the

media and entertainment industries reported a BBC News Online executive saying,
“We’re now getting much greater involvement from the people in the story itself.
The journalist’s business is becoming much more closely connected to its subjects,
and this makes for better reporting and a better relationship between the news
organization and its readers. Right now there are four people just sorting through
readers’ e-mails, so every day we have this immense interaction with our readers.
This is fundamentally changing journalism” (International Labor Organization,
This acknowledgement of the importance of users’ contributions represents a
higher degree of reflexivity than is usually apparent in traditional media. Internet
publishers for whom the interactivity of the Web is more than a means of gathering
marketing information and hosting opinion polls cannot avoid beginning to see
themselves as others see them and, thereby, to question their own values and
assumptions. This encourages journalism that is more open to self-questioning
than is typically the case for print and broadcast journalism. Using multiple and
diverse sources of information to construct stories, as the Web allows and as good
practice indicates, also promotes continuous reflection on the manner of doing

Further, Web journalists have the possibility of tracking the usage of the products
they provide, how users move from one part to another, what are their
preferences, and so on, through web site user logs. Such information can be
valuable guidance in developing editorial policies and layout for a site.
New roles for users in online news media? 211

These, then, are sketched some of the possibilities of a changed orientation to

users from the producer point of view. But what proportion of users want to follow
these paths to additional information or to exchanges with producers and sources?
Some studies suggest that enhancements are not wanted, that users prefer more
predictable, sequential forms, or even that the demand for ‘interactivity’ has been
over-stated (Poynter, 2000). Whether it is for such reasons, or for reasons of
economy, the potential of new narrative forms and of various forms of interactivity
has been weakly realized in online news services, particularly those attached to
established media enterprises.
A study of English-language Asian newspapers’ online editions noted that “scant
use was made generally of the Net’s capacity for … allowing readers to add their
content. Options for interpersonal interactivity were virtually nonexistent.
Responsiveness to the user was spare as well, on average” (Massey and Levy,
1999). A 1997 survey of users of New York Times online forums showed that they
contributed on average twice a week to those forums, but 74 per cent could not
remember receiving any feedback from newspaper staff to their messages to staff
or to forums (Schultz, 2000). Another US-based survey reported that 33 of 100
newspaper sites ran discussion forums – or, perhaps more significantly, that 67
per cent did not (Schultz, 1999).

Clues as to the attitudes of European media professionals to feedback and

interactivity can be found in surveys of Dutch and Flemish online journalists
(Deuze and Paulussen, 2002; Deuze and Dimoudi, 2002). Interactivity comes
second to speed and immediacy in their ranking of four key concepts but over
three quarters of Flemish respondents rated interaction with readers important or
very important. Over two thirds of Dutch respondents agreed with the statement
that online journalists must sustain a strong interactive relationship with their
readers. Nearly three quarters of Flemish and Dutch respondents rate providing
platforms for discussion as an important or very important journalistic task. The
findings are not unambiguous, however; when compared with Dutch journalists
across all media, Dutch online journalists gave significantly less emphasis to giving
the public a chance to voice their opinions.
Acknowledgement of the user’s importance is an increasing part of media industry
discourse. Responding to the invitation of a trade magazine to “name the biggest
challenges facing journalists in 2002”, the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger,
said: “The readers are in the driving seat: if they want their news on a Personal
Digital Assistant rather than newsprint, that’s what we had better give them” (UK
Press Gazette, 2002). Does Rusbridger’s statement reflect a real shift in
professional attitudes that is reflected in a new accommodation of users’
contributions and demands? Or is it a form of demagogy that masks a marketing
212 The European Information Society

Case studies
For some possible answers to those questions we turn now to case studies
undertaken as part of the European Union-funded MUDIA project1. We looked at
the roles assigned to users of web news sites in four EU member states, Denmark
(DK), France (FR), Ireland (IE) and the United Kingdom (UK). Our approach was to
select a sample of case studies in each country – 24 in total – that represented a
mix of types, according to the character of the enterprise (‘traditional media’ or
‘Net-native’), the target group or groups, and the visible presence, at first view, of
some of the usual interactive features of web sites, such as e-mail alerts,
discussion groups and hyperlinks to external sites.

The mix of traditional media and Net-native organizations was skewed somewhat
by the need to take account of the activities of other partners in the MUDIA project.
Thus, the French and UK samples comprised exclusively Net-native sites, because
newspaper publishers and broadcasters in those countries were being surveyed
for other purposes in the project. The Danish and Irish samples comprised a mix of
traditional media and Net-native enterprises. In the overall sample of 24 case
studies, 18 sites were classified as Net-native and six as belonging to traditional
The country samples each included general news providers, and sites with more
narrowly defined missions to provide news and information exchange on such
topic areas as human rights, sport, health, technology or women’s issues. It should
be noted that the 24 sites were all businesses in the common understanding of the
term. Thus, amateur enthusiasts’ Web logs and community sites were not
included; nor were participatory sites such as the various national versions of
The case studies were conducted during the period between October 2001 and
May 2002 and involved reviews of the 24 sites, semi-structured interviews with
editorial personnel in each of the organizations, and a survey of editorial staff
working for those organizations, together with a control survey of communities of
online journalists in each of the four states.

The review of the sites was conducted on the basis of a matrix developed for this
study, and in which ten interactive functions were rated as representing low,
moderate, or high levels of interactivity and assigned a score of 1, 2 or 3,
respectively. The principal criterion for this rating as low, moderate or high was the
extent to which the site user was facilitated and encouraged to participate in the
site’s overall activity.
The scoring system allowed for a maximum score of 20 points; the initial selection
process ensured that the minimum would be more than zero. As it turned out the
New roles for users in online news media? 213

case studies fell into two larger groups, with ten rated at 13-15 points, one site
alone in middle position at 11 points, and the balance of 13 sites rated at 3-9
points. It should be understood that the lower ratings reflected in some cases a
generally weak interest in facilitating user involvement, but in other cases, a highly
focused use of specific user-oriented services such as discussion boards. The top
ten included at least two sites from each of the four countries, tending to confirm
that we had achieved reasonably comparable sub-samples. Eight of the top ten
were classified as Net-native, reflecting closely (80 per cent) the weight of this
sector within the overall sample of case studies (75 per cent). It is already
revealing of a difference between countries to which we shall return that the two
traditional media organizations represented in the top ten are based in Denmark.

All but two of the interviews with senior editorial personnel were conducted over
approximately 40 minutes in their places of work. The two exceptions were
interviews with representatives of French sites that were conducted by e-mail,
because of practical difficulties in arranging face-to-face interviews. The interview
guide referred to the respondent’s knowledge of their site users’ profile, the
strategies used to build user loyalty, the means provided for the user to give
feedback, the use made of the feedback information, the facilities for users to
contribute to news content, the weight attached to user contributions in the overall
publishing strategy, and related questions.

The analysis of the interviews yielded dominant themes that were grouped under
three broad headings – Delivery, Contribution and Editorial Integration.
Under the first heading, Delivery, respondents described how they were
responding to user demand by delivering services through a range of media
alongside the Web, including, and specifically, e-mail and SMS (short messaging
service) on mobile phones. Of the 24 case studies, all were rated as having made
a commitment to multi-platform delivery.
In some cases, this multi-platform delivery was represented as a form of
personalization. The editor of Ananova (UK) coupled personalization and providing
‘breaking news quickly’ – but on topics that users have previously indicated are of
particular interest. (IE) emphasized the ‘elective’ character of
personalized news and, in this context referred to the use of databases as a
means of storing news so that it can be ‘pulled down’.

A common thread of most of the responses was the emphasis on the value of e-
mail to maintain regular communication with users. All sites surveyed offered a
number of e-mail-based news products that required subscription. Irish Abroad (IE)
and Enduring Freedoms (FR) stated that 80 per cent of their users had signed up
for e-mail products, and Oneworld (UK) described e-mail as ‘the killer application’.
214 The European Information Society

Several sites offered e-mail alerts based on keywords that users have selected.
Electric News (IE) referred to this as matching the users’ needs – “they can rely on
us to filter a lot of the noise out”.
By contrast with this heavy reliance on the older technology of e-mail for building
relations with users, the sites surveyed were rather hesitant about committing to
newer technologies such as delivery to PDAs (personal digital assistants). Perhaps
reflecting the negative experience with WAP (wireless application protocol), in
which services are little used, or have been discontinued, the respondents
indicated they were waiting for a business model for delivery to PDAs to emerge
before moving firmly in that direction. Many stated that they already had the
technical capacity to provide such a service. According to Ingenioren (DK), “if there
is user demand or if there was a business model for payment for fast news [via
PDA] then we could prioritize it”.

Under Contribution, the interview respondents discussed a range of means by

which users could interact directly with the site, with the editors and journalists,
and with other users. Fifteen of the 24 case studies were rated as providing a
channel for user contributions, but the degree of emphasis on this aspect of the
service differed much more across the case studies than in relation to the delivery
theme. For Ananova (UK), promoting user contributions is explicit policy – “we like
them to tell us their news”. So too for Football365 (UK), which started by providing
news rather in the manner of popular newspaper but responded to user demand
by increasingly emphasizing the users’ comments. (FR) defines its
distinctiveness in terms of the possibilities for users to communicate with, and
leave their mark on, the site. Irishhealth (IE) presents itself as a source of hard
news but publishes all stories with a request for comment, as well as having
discussion facilities around individual health themes. Oneworld (UK) has
discussion boards on all subject areas and, at the time of our survey, was
preparing to start an online collaborative broadcasting service, in which “film-
makers, activists, interested people and students” contribute video or audio clips to

However, several of the sites insisted strongly on the limits of such user
contributions. (IE) was concerned that its activities should not affect
perception of the newspaper, The Irish Times, whose resources, brand and ethos
lie behind the site – “people know what The Irish Times is. We don’t want to
tamper with that”. Similarly, the focus of the online edition of the daily newspaper,
Jyllands-posten (DK), is on supporting the print edition and the web site does not
include strategies for having users shape news content. One Net-native site,
Electric News (IE), explained its choice not to include discussion boards on
grounds of ‘what journalism should be’. But this site, like others who had also
New roles for users in online news media? 215

chosen not to provide discussion boards, acknowledged that such services are
popular and can build relations.
One form of user contribution found on many of the sites is the regularly updated
user poll, on which the users are asked to click on buttons to indicate their ‘yes’ or
‘no’ to a given question. Although this is a very limited form of user contribution,
operated under strict control by the service provider, it was reported to be popular
with users. In some cases, several thousand votes were recorded daily. This may
be taken as an indication of users’ wish to participate. However, this opportunity for
participation is built on a model of journalism that largely obscures the users – for
example, Jyllands-posten (DK) admitted that their journalists rarely checked the
results of these polls.
We found significant differences between online news services of existing
traditional news providers (print or broadcast) and Net-native providers in the
strategies adopted towards users. Net-native sites appeared to be attempting more
actively to integrate user contributions in their services; they were readier to break
away from traditional news structures in responding to user demand.
Editorial Integration arose as a strong theme because it was partly in order to
ensure greater user responsiveness and better cohesion between the several
parts of media enterprises – particularly those with both online and print or
broadcast services – that some of the sites surveyed set about integrating their
operations in a single newsroom structure. This aspect of convergence was
examined more closely in another of the MUDIA studies (see The European
Multimedia News Landscape, posted at It presented itself for
consideration here, under the study of user roles, because respondents saw
editorial integration as a means of providing more differentiated content and thus a
better, more user-oriented service.

In the early days of online publishing within larger media enterprises, the online
divisions were often physically removed from established newsrooms, and
populated by staffs of different experience, age, qualifications and culture from
those of the established journalists. Following widely reported examples in the
United States, but also based on their own specific experiences of the
disadvantages of separation, some of the case studies have brought their
operations together. Onside (DK), which is the online sports service of the Danish
broadcaster TV3, implemented a rotation system under which broadcast journalists
spend some of their time in the online service, This was explained as a means of
ensuring that the quality of content published online was equivalent to that of the
broadcast service.
Ingenioren (DK), a weekly technology newspaper with an online service,
established through user surveys that they could meet user demand more
effectively through integration of their services, and through the combination of the
216 The European Information Society

print journalists’ subject expertise and the online journalists’ user responsiveness.
Jyllands-posten (DK) reported that the news editor of the online service had
become “the most central person in our [combined] newsroom”. That respondent
had taken integration a step further by retraining print journalists to think of the
audio-visual aspects or possibilities of their stories in order to guide the production
of multimedia content for the online service.
One of the general features emerging from the case study interviews was the lack
of detailed information held by the respondents on user demand and user profile.
Only a small number of the 24 news organizations had conducted recent user
surveys. The others were relying on older surveys many of which had been
conducted by the marketing department and so were focused on the business
model and not on identifying user demand for news content. Also, due to a general
reluctance to implement mandatory registration sites tended not to be gathering
information from their Web servers about user profile.
The third part of the empirical study of user roles in online news comprised a
survey of media professionals working in the 24 sites selected as case studies
and, more broadly, in online journalism in the four countries in which those case
studies were located.

Online surveys present several methodological issues that affect their

representativity, and there is little that researchers can do to eliminate those
difficulties. We are making no claims that the survey responses can be generalized
to online journalists in the four member states, but these responses do provide
some comment and counterpoint to the findings of the case study interviews.
The survey was conducted among media professionals engaged in producing
online news content in the four member states selected for the case studies. There
were two samples: online staff working for the news organizations in our case
studies, and a wider group of online professionals working in other news
organizations. Notice of the survey was sent to contact persons in each of the case
study enterprises for further distribution to their staffs, and to mailing lists and web
sites dedicated to discussion of online journalism. The questions under User
Profile, Loyalty, Interactivity and User contribution took the form of statements on
which respondents were asked to rank their opinion as to whether they: Strongly
agree (coded 5); Agree (4); Mixed feelings (3); Disagree (2); Strongly disagree (1).
The response from the sample of professionals working in the case study
enterprises is estimated at about 40 per cent – we did not have a precise count of
the total numbers involved. Responses came from 20 of the 24 case study
enterprises. The response rate from the wider community of online journalists was
much lower, but is impossible to estimate as there are no figures for this
population. The response rate varied significantly across the four countries, with
responses from Denmark accounting for nearly half (46 per cent) of all 138
New roles for users in online news media? 217

responses received. Responses from France, where the questionnaire was

distributed in French, accounted for 16 per cent of all responses, with most of
these coming from the wider journalism community.

It cannot be claimed, therefore, that the survey is representative of views within

this emerging professional sector, but it can be taken as a useful indicator of
professionals’ perceptions of users’ roles in the broader communication process.
There were no significant differences between the responses from the case
studies sub-sample and the sub-sample from the wider online journalism
Of the 22 statements on which respondents were asked to indicate their opinion,
the six that attracted the highest level of agreement are listed below. A rating of 5
indicated strong agreement, and 1 strong disagreement.

Including hyperlinks can make a news story more valuable to users 4.32
Accuracy and reliability in news are the best way to build user loyalty 4.23
E-mail alerts about news help encourage users to return to a site 4.09
I welcome direct user feedback on my work 4.01
Users of our site have more opportunity now to interact with reporters 3.92
than they did five years ago
It is important for editors and writers to read user contributions 3.86
to discussion boards and online polls

From these and further responses a profile of online media professionals might
appear to emerge that is strongly disposed to active engagement with their users.
But setting these results alongside the reviews of the case study sites, and the
interviews with those sites’ senior personnel, indicates rather a contradiction
between perception and practice. The professionals surveyed wanted very much
to ‘do the right thing’ for their users, e.g. include helpful hyperlinks, take account of
their feedback, and read their views. The evidence from the site reviews and the
interviews suggested that they did not do so to the same degree. A large majority
of the stories published on the case study sites appeared without hyperlinks to
external sites, and in Jyllands-posten (DK), for example, it was admitted that the
journalists rarely visited the discussion boards or read the results of online polls –
and this was in one of the more user-responsive of the case studies.

The survey responses point to further contradictions, in that the statement, “I

welcome direct user feedback on my work” (rated 4.01, and ranked fourth most
strongly supported of 22 propositions), attracted significantly stronger support than
the statement, “Users want to interact directly with reports and editors online”
(rated 3.47, ranked 15). These responses suggest that professionals see user
218 The European Information Society

feedback as desirable in abstract, but much less so when it implicates them


Among the conclusions we drew from this series of case studies are the following:
• There was little evidence of a ‘new paradigm’ in online journalism, in the
sense that this might refer to disappearing boundaries between producer
and user
• The traditional model of journalist story-telling based on authoritative
selection of the salient ‘facts’ survives strongly in the new environment
• The traditional model of a newsroom based on clear hierarchies and role
demarcations also survives strongly in the new environment
• Interactivity in its many and varied forms is being applied at generally low
levels, but unevenly across the online media sectors
• Facilities for tracking usage of sites are little used; information captured by
these means is not part of a feedback loop to editors, writers and designers
We observed also that there were discernible differences between member states
in the degrees of openness to innovation in producer-user relationships. These
differences may be based in part on national journalism cultures, but also in part
on differentiated responses to technological developments in the wider cultures of
each country. Danish online journalists, whether working in traditional media or
Net-native enterprises, were markedly more open to incorporating user
contributions, and to professional and organizational innovation, than their
counterparts in the other countries. French online journalists appeared least user-
responsive and least innovative, with the British and Irish professionals in
intermediate positions. These differences were reflected even in the levels of
interest in our research itself, as indicated in the responsiveness to requests for
interview and to the survey questionnaire. The national differences observed here
conform to those observed in other cases, where, for example, EU member states
have been grouped as light, medium or heavy users of communication
technologies (Servaes and Heindderyckx, 2002). A similar pattern of three clusters
was observed in the EU-funded media training project, JetPilot (1998-99), in which
the present author participated.

However, the strongest conclusion of the present project had to do with a factor
that was not directly on our agenda – economic survival and the business model.
Over the period of the interviews and surveys, and in the months immediately
afterwards, significant changes occurred in the status of several of the enterprises,
including the introduction of charges at, cessation or suspension of
New roles for users in online news media? 219

publication by Transfert, Infoscience, Central European Review (later to merge

with another online service, Transitions Online), Megastories, and reductions in
online staff at RTE,, and Ingenioren.
Reduction in resources tended to mean a reduced effort in developing interactive
features of web sites and promoting effective interaction between producers and
users. Already in the late 1990s there were signs of retreat from the
experimentation of the early phase of Web news publishing. In 1997, John Pavlik,
a long-time observer of trends and practices in online journalism, set out a possible
evolution of Web journalism from ‘stage one’, where the emphasis was on
‘repurposing’ of previously available news content, through ‘stage two’ where
original content with hyperlinks and other interactive features is created, to ‘stage
three’ where content is designed specifically for the Web and involves
experimentation with new forms of story-telling (Pavlik, 1997). Pavlik posited that
“new media can transform journalism”. Two years later, in the same publication, a
journalist who spent two years with the online service of Fox News in the United
States considered that Web journalism increasingly resembled forms that
developed in television and news agencies and that “experiments in story-telling
are on an indefinite hiatus” (Houston, 1999).

It may be, therefore, that the shake-out of 2001 merely accentuated and
accelerated developments already under way. It should be underlined, however,
that the boundaries of the research reported here were set down in terms of the
‘media industry’. The sites surveyed were those of more or less conventional
businesses; higher levels of innovation and, in particular, greater openness to
interaction with users may well be found in the productions of hobbyists and
hackers, in community sites and so-called Indymedia.
Our assignment was to undertake a ‘prognostic study’ that would offer some
guidance to industry players and professionals. For reasons that should by now be
clear, we were reluctant to offer any prognoses. We were all too aware that had we
done these studies two years earlier, our conclusions might have been very
different and we might have felt greater confidence in pointing to future possibilities
or probabilities. We might, consequently, have been more dramatically incorrect in
our prognoses.
Our difficulty in this respect relates to a wider problem of trend-spotting which we
call the problem of past, present and future. The historical, or past, problem has
been one of discerning the continuity and the novelty in online journalism. The
descriptive, or present, problem has been one of determining which of the many
strands of emerging and current practice can be taken as representative. The
prognosis, or future, problem has been one of too often taking hopes as realities.
This theoretical and methodological problem has been reflected in the inconsistent
use of ‘will’, ‘may’, ‘should’, ‘can’ in discussion of current and emerging practices.
220 The European Information Society

When, for example, John Pavlik (2000), one of the most prolific US writers on
online news practices, says that the inverted triangle form of news story is
“becoming obsolete in the online news world”, what is the status of that statement?
Is it an extrapolation from observation of past and present trends? Is it a
prediction? Is it a hope?

In the European context, Mark Deuze (2001) has contributed very valuably to the
literature on online journalism. He bases one analysis on ‘ideal-typical’ forms of
online journalism as elaborated by "an increasing number of professionals and
academics”. Does this reference to increasing numbers give these ideal-typical
forms added weight as identifiable practices or trends?
Jim Hall (2001) writes in the introduction to his very useful Online Journalism: a
critical primer: “Within five years more people in the developed world will get their
news from the Internet rather than from a daily paper”. He might have been more
qualified in his prediction if he had recalled, that Nicholas Negroponte (1995),
looking five years forward from the mid-1990s, had written with the same certainty:
“In the year 2000 more people will be entertaining themselves on the Internet than
by looking at what we call the networks today.”
These few examples are intended to underline the difficulty of identifying trends
and emerging practices, and, thereby, of offering scenarios and prognoses. Some
of this difficulty, as reflected in the published literature, may arise from the
provenance and purpose of research in this field. Kopper and colleagues (2000)
noted that most research on online journalism is conducted by media institutions
and most is privately funded. It tends to be ad hoc, seeking to address conjunctural
business or technical issues. From a European perspective, we are also bound to
note that most of the defining studies have come from North America. Kopper et al.
wondered, with justification, if public institutions were finding it difficult to “react to
the pace of changes in mass communication”. It may be that companies,
professional groups and, indeed, individual researchers are similarly challenged.

Bardoel, J. (1996), ‘Beyond Journalism: a profession between information society
and civil society’, European Journal of Communication, 11:3, pp. 283-302.
Black, J. (1998), ‘Journalism Nethics’, Convergence, 4:4, pp 10-17.
Dallas, K. (2001), ‘Now The Punters Talk Back’, The Journalist , April 2001.
Demers, F.(1996), ‘Impacts des nouvelles technologies de l’information et
communication: déstructuration (et restructuration?) du journalisme’, Technologies
de l’Information et Société, 8:1, pp. 55-70.
New roles for users in online news media? 221

Deuze, M. (2001), ‘Online Journalism: Modelling the First Generation of News

Media on the World Wide Web’, First Monday, 6:10 (2001), posted at
Deuze, M. and C. Dimoudi (2002), ‘Online journalists in the Netherlands – towards
a profile of a new profession’, Journalism, 3:1, pp 85-100.
Deuze, M. and S. Paulussen (2002), ‘Research Note: Online Journalism in the Low
Countries – basic, occupational and professional characteristics of online
journalists in Flanders and the Netherlands’, European Journal of Communication,
17:2, pp 237-245.
Hall, J (2001)., Online Journalism: a critical primer, London: Pluto Press.
Harper, C. (1997), ‘The Daily Me’, American Journalism Review, April 1997
Houston, F. (1999)., ‘What I Saw in the Digital Sea’, Columbia Journalism Review,
July/August 1999
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in the Media and Entertainment Industries: Their Impact on Employment, Working
Conditions and Labour-management Relations, Background Document, Geneva:
International Labour Organisation.
Katz, J. (1999), ‘Jane's open-source breakthrough: model for news media’, posted
Kenney, K. (2000), A. Gorelik and S.Mwangi, ‘Interactive Features of Online
Newspapers’, First Monday, 5:1 (2000), posted at
King, E. (1998)., ‘Redefining Relationships: Interactivity between News Producers
and Consumers’, Convergence, 4: 4, pp 26-32.
Kopper, G., A. Kolthoff and A. Czepek (2000), ‘Research Review: Online
Journalism – a report on current and continuing research and major questions in
the international discussion’, Journalism Studies, 1:3, pp 499-512, 2000.
Kovach, B. and T. Rosenstiel (2001), The Elements of Journalism – what
newspeople should know and the public should expect, New York: Crown
Kunelius, R. (2001), ‘Conversation – a metaphor and method for better
journalism?’, Journalism Studies, 2:1, pp 31-54.
Mackintosh, H. (2000), ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’, The Guardian (24
February, 2000)
Massey, B. L. and M. R. Levy (1999), ‘Interactivity, Online Journalism and English-
language Web Newspapers in Asia’, Journalism and Mass Communication
Quarterly, 76:1, pp 138-151.
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C., J. Tonnemacher, M. Biebl and A. Duck (1998), ‘Online – the Future of
Newspapers? Germany’s Dailies on the World Wide Web’, Journal of Computer-
222 The European Information Society

Mediated Communication, 4:1 (1998), posted at
Pavlik, J. (1997), ‘The Future of Online Journalism: bonanza or black hole?’,
Columbia Journalism Review, July/August, pp 30-36.
Pavlik, J. (1999), ‘New media and news: implications for the future of journalism’,
New Media and Society, 1:1, pp 54-58.
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1:2, pp 229-237.
Power, C. (1999), ‘Internet grabs headlines from traditional media’, The Irish Times
(22 October 1999)
Poynter Institute (2000), Stanford Poynter Project, posted at
Rosen, J. (1999), What Are Journalists For? New Haven: Yale University Press.
Schultz, T. (2000), ‘Mass Media and the Concept of Interactivity: an Exploratory
Study of Online Forums and Reader Email’, Media Culture and Society, 22:2, pp
Schultz, T. (1999), ‘Interactive Options in Online Journalism: A Content Analysis of
100 U.S. Newspapers’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 5:1,
posted at
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closing or widening the gaps’, Telematics and Informatics, 19, pp 91-115.
Singer, J. (1998), ‘Online Journalists: foundations for research into their changing
roles’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 4:1, posted at
Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics (1996), posted at
UK Press Gazette (2002), ‘The challenges ahead’, UK Press Gazette (4 January
Yelvington, S. (1999), ‘What Every Editor Should Know about Online Reporting’,
presentation to NetMedia conference 1999, posted at
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Report from The Netherlands’, posted at
New roles for users in online news media? 223


MUDIA, Multimedia Content in the Digital Age, was funded under the EU’s Fifth
Framework Programme of Research (Information Society Technologies). The
project was co-ordinated by Institute of Infonomics, University of Maastricht,
Netherlands. For the contribution to the project from the Centre for Society
Technology and Media (STeM), Dublin City University, research assistant Gary
Quinn undertook the field work.
Social and Human Capital in the
Knowledge Society: Policy Implications
Luisella Pawan-Woolfe*

1. The Lisbon Summit of 2000 set very ambitious goals: the EU is to become the
most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010, with more and
better jobs and greater social cohesion. These challenges are the key priorities for
European Employment and Social Policy. The knowledge society sets a framework
but also the means to achieve these goals. Employment and social policy is
pursued within the EU Strategy for sustainable development. Again, the knowledge
society is both an opportunity but can be a threat to social sustainability.

The European Commission Conference ‘Social and Human Capital in the

Knowledge Society: Policy Implications’
has shown that there is robust evidence that human capital drives economic
growth. It has also shown that social capital makes a major contribution. For
example, the role of strong communities and ties among parents, pupils and
teachers in fostering learning.

Human and social capital are associated with a wide range of so-called non-
economic benefits. Health, personal satisfaction and low crime rates are three
such gains.
Social and human capital are mutually reinforcing. Human capital plays an
increasingly central role in the economic success of nations and individuals. ICTs,
globalisation of economic activity and the trend towards greater personal
responsibility and autonomy have increased the demand for learning.

The key role of competence and knowledge in stimulating economic growth has
been widely recognised by economists. However, the non economic returns to
learning can be viewed as at least as important as labour market earnings.
Enhanced personal well-being and greater social inclusion both stem from them.
226 The European Information Society

Social networks and learning organisations stimulate informal learning on the job
and indeed in everyday life. Social and human capital enable individuals,
communities and firms to cope with the demands of rapid change.

2. In the knowledge society new technologies are major drivers of economic and
social change. Such change is pervasive and diversified. The current socio-
economic transformation is based on the massively increased ability of people to
obtain and process information. Knowledge creation and utilisation have been
radically altered.
The social and human capital perspective permits us to focus on individuals and
social relations. Such an analysis provides new insights into the nature of this
knowledge revolution.

One key question: are the changes brought about by the knowledge society
sustainable? More precisely, is human and social capital increased or diminished?
We live more and more in a networked society. Is this society inclusive or
exclusive? Is the digital divide inevitable? Will it grow? What should we do to
reduce it?
ICTs allow people to participate in society, but may also exclude some. The impact
of ICTs on civil society, participatory democracy and citizenship is of immense
concern. Universal access/service does not guarantee equal participation,
especially if it is not coupled with digital literacy for all.

3. Employment and social policymakers will certainly need to address how

entrepreneurship and innovation will be strengthened by the knowledge society.
Intellectual capital must be enhanced as a key complement of human capital. But
the knowledge society risks being the non-stop work society.
Sustainability within the knowledge society is a paramount policy objective. Human
and social capital building bring to the fore economic, environmental, social as well
as cognitive and psychological challenges. Social sustainability requires a quality
of life and social cohesion.

The knowledge society depends on sharing and transferring knowledge.

Policymakers have often sought to bring about e-inclusion and other aspects with
a top-down approach. We should in the future concentrate on encouraging a
bottom-up set of initiatives. The local level is particularly important in furthering full
participation in the knowledge society.

If we compare the experience of the knowledge society between soon-to-be new

Members and the old Member States in the European Union, we observe very
wide divergences within and between the candidate countries, as
Social and Human Capital in the Knowledge Society 227

indeed there are within the existing EU. An enlarged EU will have wider
differences. But existing Member States and candidate countries can each learn
from each other. Both have had successful specific initiatives raising human and
social capital.
The candidate countries will have to think and plan very carefully how they are to
be best placed in the knowledge society within an enlarged EU. They will have to
decide how to use national and Community programmes and funds to maximise
social and human capital building. They must choose to what extent the Structural
Funds they receive can and should concentrate on the more immaterial
investments that underpin the knowledge society. Roads and bridges are of course
important. Furthermore, they appear relatively quickly and cannot be missed by
local electors. But the long-term health and dynamism of the knowledge-based
economy depends on a well-qualified, highly skilled workforce, able to adapt to
new technologies and methods of working.

4. I wish to stress the importance of having a national knowledge society strategy.

A strong and appropriate educational base and above all the institutions for lifelong
learning are a must. Low-cost access to broadband telecommunications is equally
vital in candidate countries for a knowledge society for all.

At the risk of being repetitive, employment and social policy must pay close
attention to social and human capital building. In the knowledge society this is
particularly vital for more and better jobs and social inclusion.

But what exactly is the role of the Commission and indeed of other stakeholders in
ensuring that we reach the Lisbon targets?
The Structural Funds at this very moment are the subject of an in-depth review.
The future orientation of the European Social Fund, as well as the other Funds,
must take account of the mutually reinforcing nature of social and human capital.
The European Employment Strategy must also do this to maximise the number
and quality of jobs. Member States, both the current but also the future ones, will
be intimately involved in the reformulation of these two related policy areas.
Member States also choose the projects for funding by the Structural Funds; they
must choose those which best fit the knowledge society.

The European Social Inclusion Strategy, modeled to some extent on the

Employment Strategy, is still in its first phases. Nevertheless, it too will evolve to
take account of the developments within the knowledge society. The digital divide,
especially as it is not primarily a technology issue, will be a key focus. Social
capital building will be a particular challenge in the future.
Policymakers need to monitor constantly the social evolution of the knowledge
228 The European Information Society

society. They also have a role in promoting awareness raising activities.

5. The Social Partners are important. The recent framework agreement on

telework is a concrete step increasing human and social capital to the benefit of
firms and workers. The social partners are themselves a key element of social
capital. They increase the amount and the quality of knowledge transmitted to their
members and to society as a whole.

Unions will continue to adapt to new forms of work organisation and thus ensure
strong representation of the workers. Worker can thus play an active role in the
process of change. They can share in the ownership of -- and thus equally benefit
from -- new ways of working.

Employers have a direct interest in raising the capital of their workforce. They also
have an interest in high levels of economic and social well-being in society as a

A skilled and motivated workforce needs good schooling. Public authorities

finance and direct nearly all education in Member States. They will continue to be
encouraged to aim for the highest levels of attainment in schools and universities.
Public-private partnerships of all sorts are vital for effective lifelong learning in the
knowledge society.

The public authorities have an even greater responsibility to promote social capital
building, in all its forms. Promoting ‘bonding’ social capital, for example, within
families. Fostering ‘bridging’ social capital, for example, among business
associates. Supporting ‘linking’ social capital, for example, across different social
classes. Social inclusion policies currently aim at all three and should continue to
do so.

Gender is a source of social capital. Men and women have different networks. But,
unequal access to employment or other aspects of society reduce the stock of
social capital. Policies to promote gender and age equality raise social capital. The
Commission and the Member States, and indeed the Social Partners, should
continue to pursue them.

Local communities spur social innovation and economic development; however,

this is not automatic. For local communities to make the most of their own
resources, integrated local development needs to be pursued. Local authorities,
enterprises and civil society all have a role to play here.
Social and Human Capital in the Knowledge Society 229

Individuals also have a role. Every person already makes some investment in their
own intellectual capital. In the knowledge society individuals must make more and
better investments in their own capabilities. Lifelong learning necessitates
continuous, high-quality self-education. This is not the case just for the intellectual
elite. Lifelong learning -- and thus individual investment -- is necessary for all
people. Blue-collar workers, managers, parents, senior citizens, we all need to be
lifelong learners.

6. Which areas require further analysis, exploration and research?

Social capital and its relationship with economic, social inclusion and employment
policies. As we heard, participation is everything.

Measurements must also be pursued. Assessment and evaluation are equally

important. Social capital is especially hard to quantify. More work needs doing on
what to measure and how to measure it. Policymakers need to know if their
policies are improving society. Commonly agreed indicators are essential.
Benchmarking of strategies will help policymakers optimise social and human
capital enhancement.

What will the future bring? The Commission has already close co-operation with
the OECD and ILO in the areas of social and employment policies. Social and
human capital questions are clearly worthy of intensified joint work in the future

And last – but by no means least – the links between policymakers and experts
need to be developed further. New avenues of co-operation need to be explored in
order to build on the social capital that this conference has created.

* This is an edited version of the speech Mrs Pawan-Woolfe held at the end of the
European Commission Conference on ‘Social and Human Capital in the
Knowledge Society: Policy Implications’, Brussels, October 28-29, 2002.
I am grateful to Mr Robert Strauss – Head of the Knowledge Society Unit – and to
Mrs Lidia Pola for their contribution to the preparation of this text.
230 The European Information Society

European Commission Conference ‘Social and Human Capital in the Knowledge
Society: Policy Implications’ – Proceedings online
Digital citizenship and information
inequalities: Challenges for the future

Jan Servaes
1. Every major innovation in communication related technology, from the printing
press on, has always given rise to a mixture of hopes and fears. As an example,
the development of radio in the 1930s, then of television in the 1950s, in a context
of international tension and of escalating propaganda, made observers fear that
large populations would become vulnerable to potential manipulators of opinion,
attitudes and behaviors. Others, however, saw an unprecedented opportunity for
mass marketing and the advent of mass consumption. It took functionalist theories
to turn things around and shift from a vision of vulnerable audiences potentially
manipulated by all powerful media to critical and organized audiences faced with
weak media having no choice but to seduce the audience or disappear. As often, it
now appears that truth lies somewhere in between.

The potential effects of the divided evolution we are witnessing could be of

particular magnitude for at least two reasons.

Firstly, the trend towards convergence implies that many, if not most or all cultural
activities may, at some point, be deeply affected by innovation.
Secondly, while television, for example, was developed and then gradually entered
households with only continuous innovations (today’s television set is functionally
that of the 50s), the so-called new technologies are being used by an increasing
number of people, at the same time as these technologies are still evolving rapidly
and indeed barely taking shape.

Any research or indeed thinking in the matter is like predicting the pattern of the
flue epidemic: given the constant mutation of the virus, public health authorities
can only make educated guesses as to its viral profile and how it will propagate
and with what effect.

2. Surveys, like those Measuring the Information Society, show that large
segments of European societies are not ‘inside’ the so called ‘knowledge society’
but ‘next to it’ or simply ‘outside’ it. This is at the same time a scientific finding and
a political issue.
232 The European Information Society

The evolution of the Measuring Information Society survey results show:

(a) that a multi-faceted media and communications system is in place in
Europe – this new system is the sum of the traditional and innovative media
all coexisting and all conflicting with one another to acquire a larger share
of the financial/time budget of Europeans; and
(b) that different kinds of ‘user groups’ coexist today in Europe that use in
different proportions different clusters of Information and Communications
Technologies (ICTs).

However, for policymakers in the Information Society, the important issue is how to
mitigate information inequalities and possibly to prevent them. This becomes a
very crucial task when there is some evidence that the prevailing tendency in the
European Information Society is exclusive. Therefore, it is very important to
understand the role of ICTs in relation to people’s ability to participate in society.
The observed phenomena of social exclusion in the Information Society are pretty
close to the conjecture that technologically richer media might imply poorer
democracy, in the sense that the corporate media explosion could result in a
corresponding implosion of public life.

Furthermore, socio-political differentiation might be generated by either intended or

non-intended processes of integration. The latter (unintended consequence) is
known as ‘informational Balkanization’. The former is related to the two
contradictory trends of globalization simultaneously producing both fragmentation
and integration: In another paradoxical operation of cyberspace, it enlarges the
public sphere and political action through the virtual world and reduces them in the
real one.

The impact of new ICTs on civil society, participatory democracy and citizenship is
of immense contemporary concern. This impact is usually associated with the
demand of universal access. But universal access/service alone does not suffice.
The way Stephen Coleman puts it, “if citizenship requires universal access,
democracy needs trustworthy channels of information and deliberation if it is to
prosper” (2001: 124). In other words, modern European citizenship needs the
demand for and provision of information in order to develop the proper rights and
responsibilities in the conditions and complexities of the Knowledge Society of

3. In spite of the recurrent claims of evermore user-friendliness, information and

communication technologies use remains strongly subordinated to a set of specific
skills. These evolve along with innovation, but tend to grow in importance as the
complexity of the technologies as well as the scope of their applications extends.
Digital citizenship and information inequalities 233

These set of skills go well beyond managing the interfaces needed to operate
them. Broadly speaking, new media are increasingly associated with new writing,
hence of new reading, not to mention new ways to organize, treat, retrieve and
control information in its broadest sense.

This so-called new literacy will soon lead developed societies into difficulties
comparable to that of illiteracy in the 19th century. Like the illiterate of those times,
the new illiterate will be, as we can clearly see from the diffusion patterns of new
technologies, of lower social status, with the associated lower income and level of
education. Medium term developments may lead to a dichotomized social body
made of, on the one hand, wealthier, better educated and new literates having the
skills and the means to access and use ICTs and, on the other hand, poorer, less
educated and new illiterates kept out of the new tech scene and deprived of most
technologies and hence denied access to an increasing amount of information and
culture. Therefore, Francis Bacon’s famous saying – Knowledge is Power – could
be replaced by ‘the capacity and speed to access, select and reproduce
knowledge will determine power in the 21st century’.

4. The question of whether new media will grow at the expense of traditional media
is of particular importance to the industry. Unsurprisingly, the first tangible signs of
decreased television viewing among Internet heavy users are now showing in the
United States. Also the MIS 2000 survey shows the impact of Internet browsing on
people’s time-budget: a 73% reduction in time spent on TV viewing, 46% reduction
in book reading, 34% in newspaper reading, 29% in radio listening, 28% less
family activities, 27% in sports, and 24% less time spent with friends (INRA, 2000:
68). However, at the same time one also notices a rise in television viewing
behaviour among certain socio-demographic groups as well.

One core characteristic of many new technologies makes any kind of prediction
even more audacious: integration. The Internet in its most popular form (the World
Wide Web) seems to hold characteristics, which might grow into true media
integration. All forms of media (broadcast) and interpersonal communication are
likely, sooner or later, to be transposed or accessible via a unique interface
organized around the Internet. In theory, a device that would be small enough to
be portable, yet large enough to ensure perceptive comfort, could well replace
everything from personal computer to Walkman, telephone to television and video
recorder, fax and answering machine, newspaper and radio, movie theater and
advertising posters, bookshop and libraries, shopping malls and city halls.
Integration of all existing vectors of communication (and much more) would also
give rise to an endless number of hybrid combinations prompting changes in
234 The European Information Society

behavior of such a magnitude that it would, if accessible to a large population,

deeply reorganize social structures, as we know them.

In this sense, the Internet can be considered as emblematic of the new

technologies. Given that it takes skills (education) and money (equipment and
running cost), using the Internet is to be viewed as a major landmark in new
technologies penetration. Internet users have indeed gone over the hurdle that is
most likely to keep people away from technology, and having done that are likely
adopters of downstream technologies, as long as these remain within continuous

Surprisingly, however, there is no linear relationship between proportions

of non-users saying they are interested and of those saying they are planning to
purchase an Internet connection within six months. Finland shows the highest
proportion of interested non-users and near highest proportion of purchasers within
six months. This is to say that the diffusion pattern of Internet can be seen, at this
stage, as animated by a snowball effect or marketing hype. However, at the
content side, it remains to be seen whether the Internet will not become another
divide comparable to the ‘old’ media. As is usually the case with new technologies,
the question is how much ICTs will be used on top of existing devices and/or will
gradually replace them.

5. By way of conclusion we would like to present a number of recommendations for

consideration to policymakers and researchers:

New directions for the policy maker

To liberate it and to materialize further growth in Europe policymakers and
corporations should envisage the introduction of a series of new priorities capable
of adapting strategically the public choices to the cohesion issues which have
became clear in the course of the last few years:

First priority should be to increase the social dimension of the policy. Patterns of
behaviour found in the MIS and in other surveys indicate that usage of electronic
media is correlated to structural levels of economic development. There is a huge
economic deficit that de facto impedes many to take the opportunities offered by
the new technologies. Usage of ICTs can become a constituting element for a new
categorization of social classes. Unless specific policies are put in place to reduce
the gender gap, women risk to occupy the lower classes of the new ICT-based
social segmentation.
Digital citizenship and information inequalities 235

The second priority should be to develop new forms of awareness raising

activities. Europeans perceive applications as relatively important for their life
because their pertinence cannot be immediately perceived through generic
promises. Waving the icon of the Internet does not per se mobilize customers. It is
its pertinence to their professional and personal priorities that matters.

The third priority concerns the support to cross country research. Measuring how
many use a computer is not enough, surveys have to go deeper and must
understand whether the ‘neutral’ information society has any chance to evolve in a
‘knowledge society’ or whether is going to become foremost an ‘entertainment
society’. High PC/Internet penetration means little if PCs are mostly used as
entertainment machines (and not as knowledge management or learning tools).

The fourth priority should be the re-formulation of the economic drivers of the
digital growth. Trans-nationality should be the shaping factors of the new policies
for the development of e-commerce. The digital economy exists, the MIS shows it,
but it is located beyond our borders and we need a market offer which is capable
of turning the trans-national potential into revenues for local entrepreneurs. The
European integration could find in the ‘digital internal market’ the milestone of the
globalization era.

New directions for research

Conducting research on a fast evolving subject is quite challenging. Yet, decision
makers at all levels can only make adequate choices based on reliable research
material, so that there is an urgent need for new and on-going research in at least
six areas.

Firstly, a multi-media approach to the new technologies should understand how

the mutations of the media landscape affects each media, its audience, its content,
its interaction with others. Are new media a threat to the established ones, or are
they a unique opportunity for them to (re)gain audiences? Will convergence and
digitalization lead to a new, distinct media, or will it gradually absorb all other forms
into a unique interface?

Secondly, ICTs are to be studied in a time-budget perspective. The time that

people have available for communication activities and media consumption is
limited. Traces of lower television viewing in heavy Internet-using households are
beginning to be found, leading to essential questioning as to which activities are
reduced to free up the necessary time to use the spreading new technologies. How
does it affect reading books, magazines or newspapers, watching television,
236 The European Information Society

listening to radio, participation in cultural activities, community involvement, etc.

How does the current evolution affect the work/leisure balance in people's time-
Thirdly, questions are raised about the content conveyed by these new
technologies. How much do the new media represent new forms of information
and communication, and how do these new forms affect the public's perception of
the world? Beyond forms, people using these new technologies tend to have
access to content that before was either out of reach, or simply did not exist. How
will that affect their personality, their interests, their level of information and
education, their behaviour, etc.? How different are the new forms of writing? How
can they be improved? What skills need to be developed among audiences so as
to make the best of these new forms?

Fourthly, there is an urgent need for large-scale research about the social and
cultural implications of the current evolution. While the communication companies
tend to merge into worldwide giants, the technology tends to allow forever-smaller
communities to emerge and consolidate. Specialized media, thematic channels,
web sites and chat rooms allow individuals with narrow fields of interest to develop
a particular passion, share it with people sharing that interest, and provide the
means to gather individuals into groups that could not otherwise have existed. All
personal investment into these groups (be it time or money) is made at the
expense of other fields of interest, including that of the traditional communities.
This might lead to a complete restructuring of social groups as we know them.

Fifthly, the theories of globalization/localization have been challenged, criticized and

modified, but few would deny that they do offer a fertile ground for research. We
advocate a convergent and integrated approach in studying the complex and intricate
relations between globalization/localization, consumption and identity. Culture is an
important factor, either facilitating the transnationalization of national or local cultural
industries, or impeding further growth of global media. Global media may be largest in
terms of coverage, however their size shrinks significantly if measured in terms of
viewing rate.
While some national programs are successful because of their distinct cultural
characteristics, others may achieve similar success by promoting foreign values.
During a dynamic process of change, it is the interaction of factors that brings about
endless possibilities.

Finally, and this in fact applies to all above mentioned research areas, there is a need
for more qualitative research on these matters. Karvalics & Molnar (2000), for instance,
question: What do we know about the ‘average’ Internet-user, the Netizen? What about
his personality, his universe of values, his social contacts and future? There are plenty
Digital citizenship and information inequalities 237

of fears, reserves and aversions that describe the informatization process as a de-
humanizing, Orwellian scenario.
The complexity of the phenomena at hand cannot be fully appreciated by sheer
quantitative research. There comes a point when the observations need to be
explained and refined, and that can only be achieved by qualitative methods
which, although more difficult to implement, although less operational in
appearance, provide the indispensable level of detail necessary to appreciate
behavioural phenomena of this magnitude.

Let’s start!

Coleman, S, (2001), “The Transformation of Citizenship” in Axford, B, and
Huggins, R, (eds.), New Media and Politics, London, Sage.

INRA (2000), Measuring Information Society 2000. A Eurobarometer survey carried out
for the European Commission. Analytical report, International Research Associates
(INRA), Brussels.

Karvalics L. & Molnar S. (2000) (2000), “Our Netizen: myths and misbeliefs vs realities
and perspectives”, Telematics and Informatics, vol. 17, no 1/2, pp. 129-140.
List of Acronyms

AMARC: Association Mondiale des Radiodiffuseurs

Communautaires (World Association of Community Radio

CEC: Commission of the European Communities

COE: Council of Europe

EBU: European Broadcasting Union

EC: European Commission
ECCR: European Consortium for Communications Research
ECOSOC: United Nations Economic and Social Council
EIS: European Information Society
EU: European Union

FIEJ: Féderation Internationale des Editeurs de Journeaux et


GATS: General Agreement on Trade in Services

HDTV: High-Definition TV

IAMCR: International Association for Media and Communication

ICA: International Communication Association
ICT: Information and Communication Technologies
IFJ: International Federation of Journalists
IIC: International Institute of Communications
ILO: International Labor Organization
IMF: International Monetary Fund
IPI: International Press Institute
IPS: Inter Press Service
IS: Information Society
IT: Information Technology
240 The European Information Society

ITU: International Telecommunication Union

MEDIA: Measures to Encourage the Development of an

Audiovisual Industry in Europe

MFN: Most Favoured Nation

MIS: Measuring the Information Society

NGO: Non-governmental Organization

NTC: New Communication Technologies
NWICO: New World Information and Communication Order

OECD: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

R&D: Research and Development

SEA: Single European Act

TDF: Trans-border Data Flow

UN: United Nations

UNCTAD: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
UNDP: United Nations Development Programme
UNIDO: United Nations Industrial Development Organization
UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural

WARC: World Administrative Radio Conference

WIPO: World Intellectual Property Organization
WSIS: World Summit on the Information Society
WTO: World Trade Organization
Notes on contributors

Jean-Claude Burgelman (PhD) is project leader at IPTS (Institute for

prospective technology studies, one of the Joint Research Centres of the
EU, in Sevilla, Spain). He is on leave as professor at the Free University of
Brussels (VUB) where he teaches courses on the global information
society. He published widely in the area of Belgian and European media
and communication policy. He is the former director of SMIT, a research
centre focussing on media, information and telecommunication. He is also a
member of several pan-European research networks and boards of
specialised scientific journals.

Nico Carpentier (PhD) is a media sociologist working at the Department of

Communication Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). He is
member of the research units SMIT and CEMESO. His research interests
are mainly focused on the application of discourse theory in (media)
domains as sexuality, conflict, journalism, (political and cultural)
participation and democracy. He combines teaching and research for the
Cultural Policy Research Center 'Steunpunt Re-Creatief Vlaanderen'. His
publications include the articles Images of prostitutes. The struggle for the
subject position (1999, in Dutch); Management of voices. Power and
participation in North Belgian audience discussion programmes (2000); The
identity of the television audience (2000, in Dutch); Managing audience
participation (2001); Médias et citoyens sur la même longueur d'onde.
Initatives journalistiques favorisantant la participation citoyenne (2002) ; and
Community media: muting the democratic discourse (2003).

Cees J. Hamelink (PhD) is Professor of International Communication at the

University of Amsterdam, and Professor of Media, Religion and Culture at
the Free University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
He is the editor-in-chief of the International Journal for Communication
Studies: Gazette. He is also Honorary President of the International
Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), founder of
242 The European Information Society

the People's Communication Charter and Board Member of the

International Communication Association and the international news agency
Inter Press Service (IPS).
Among the sixteen books he has authored is Cultural Autonomy in Global
Communications (1983), Finance and Information (1983), The Technology
Gamble (1988), The Politics of World Communication (1994), World
Communication (1995), and The Ethics of Cyberspace (2000).

François Heinderyckx (PhD) teaches media sociology and political

communication at the University of Brussels (ULB). He is Director of the
Group for the study of the media and ICTs. He is a consultant in survey
research and ICTs and a member of the Academic Board of e-Forum
(forum of European e-public services). He is the author of L’Europe des
médias' (Brussels: Editions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 1998) and of La
Malinformation (Brussels: Labor, 2003) and of numerous contributions to
academic books and journals.

Peter Johnston (PhD) is responsible for research and development of

information society technologies related to new methods of work. He has
worked with the Information Society DG of the European Commission since
1988. He has been responsible for the strategic planning of European
telecommunications research (the RACE and ACTS programmes), and
helped prepare the 5th Framework Programme. He has also had
responsibility for EC actions in the area of telework stimulation, electronic
commerce, multi-media access to cultural heritage, and for sustainable
development in a knowledge economy.
Dr Johnston has wide experience in international research co-ordination:
from 1976 to 1984, he worked at the OECD, and from 1984 to 1988 he was
responsible for research on pollution control in the UK Department of
Environment. He read physics at Oxford University, and was a Fulbright-
Hays scholar at Carnegie Mellon University and at Oxford University until

Caroline Pauwels (PhD) is attached to the Communication Department of

the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and the present Director of SMIT, a
Notes on contributors 243

research center focusing on media, information and telecommunication.

She lectures national and European communication policy. Her main
domain of competence is in the field of European Audiovisual policy
making, entertainment economy and convergence issues. In 1998 she was
appointed to the Flemish Media Council (advisory committee to the Minister
of Culture), in 2001 she became part of the Strategic Digital Forum of the
Flemish community.

Luisella Pavan-Woolfe was born in Trieste, Italy, and graduated in Political

Science from the University of Padova. She taught in that university in the
faculty of Anglo-American Law. Official in the European Commission since
1975, she has taken on various tasks for the Directorate General of
Transport, Environment and Consumer Protection, and in the Secretariat
General of the Commission. She has been with DG EMPL for the last seven
years as Head of Unit and since 1998 as Acting Director for the European
Social Fund. She was appointed Director of Horizontal and International
Issues in April 2001. In this capacity, she is responsible for ‘mainstreaming’
ICTs in employment and social policy.

Robert G. Picard (PhD), VTTS Professor of Media Economics and manager

of the Media Group, Business Research and Development Centre, Turku
School of Economics and Business Administration in Finland, is one of the
world's leading academic specialists in media economics and management.
Picard is author and editor of sixteen books, including The Economics and
Financing of Media Companies; Media Firms: Structures, Operations, and
Performance; Evolving Media Markets: Effects of Economics and Policy
Changes; Media Economics: Concepts and Issues; The Cable Networks
Handbook; and Press Concentration and Monopoly. He was founding editor
of The Journal of Media Economics, which he guided through its first decade
of operation.

Paschal Preston (PhD) is Professor at the School of Communications and

Director of the Centre for Society Technology and Media (STeM) at the Dublin
City University in Ireland.
244 The European Information Society

Andrea Ricci graduated ‘cum laude’ in Political Science from the La

Sapienza University in Rome under the guidance of Prof. Fisichella with a
thesis on comparative experiences of political marketing. He obtained a MA in
European Studies at the College of Europe in Bruges, and is currently
completing the PhD-project A comparative analysis on the use of the World
Wide Web in political and social communication at the Catholic University of
Brussels (KUB).
Other research fields include history of media, propaganda studies,
audience studies, crisis communications, role of media and IT in
international relations. As contributing editor of "La Repubblica" and
several specialized IT publications, he was awarded the SMAU national
prize for IT journalism. In 1995 he joined the European Commission and
worked in the International Relations Unit of the Information Society
Directorate General. In 2001 he joined the Security Unit of the External
Relations Directorate General.

Jan Servaes (PhD) is President of the European Consortium for

Communications Research (ECCR), Vice-President of the International
Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), in charge of
Research and Academic Publications, and Professor and Chair of the
Department of Communication, at the Katholieke Universiteit Brussel
(KUB). He is also director of the Research Center 'Communication for
Social Change' (CSC), and Associate Editor (for Europe) of the
International Journal Telematics and Informatics. He has been a Professor
of International Communication and Development Communication at the
Universities of Cornell (Ithaca, USA), Nijmegen (The Netherlands),
Thammasat (Bangkok, Thailand), Brussels (VUB) and Antwerp (Belgium).
He has taught, and done research and consultancy work in countries all
over the world, including Argentina, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, the
Dominican Republic, South-Africa, and Thailand.
He is the author of journal articles and books on international
communication, media and information policies, development
communication, and critical studies. His most recent books in English
include Participatory Communication for Social Change (Sage, 1996);
Media and Politics in Transition. Cultural Identity in the Age of Globalization
(Acco, 1997); Communication for Development. One World, Multiple
Notes on contributors 245

Cultures (Hampton, 1999); Theoretical Approaches to Participatory

Communication (Hampton, 1999); Walking on the other side of the
information highway (Southbound, 2000); The new communications
landscape. Demystifying media globalization (Routledge, 2000); and
Approaches to Development Communication (Unesco, 2002).

Brian Trench (PhD) is Head of the School of Communications, Dublin City

University, Ireland, and a member of the Center for Society Technology and
Media (STeM) based in the school. Before joining the university he was a
full-time journalist for twenty years working for national newspapers and
radio, and contributing to a wide range of specialist publications.
Human knowledge has brought mankind from an
oral to a literate culture, thanks to the invention of
the print media. The development of the electronic
media in the last century has paved the path for the
information age, in which spatial and temporal
constraints are lifted.

The consequences of this revolution in human

communications are multidimensional in
character, affecting economical, political and
social life on national, international and local

This book provides a detailed analysis and critique

of the European Information Society. It is the first Jan Servaes (PhD)
is President of the
of a series arising from the intellectual work of
European Consortium
European Consortium for Communications for Communications
Research members. Research (ECCR),
Vice-President of the
Contents include: International Association of
• European Union ICT Policies: Neglected Social and Cultural Dimensions Media and Communication
• Policy challenges to the creation of a European Information Society:
• A critical analysis Research (IAMCR), in
• Issues in measuring Information Society adoption in Europe charge of Research and
• Access and participation in the discourse of the digital divide:
• The European perspective at/on the WSIS
Academic Publications, and
• Communication Rights and the European Information Society Professor and Chair of the
• Business Issues facing New Media Department of
• Perspectives for Employment in the Transition to a Knowledge Society
• The Political Internet: Between dogma and reality Communication, at the
• New roles for users in online news media? Katholieke Universiteit
• Exploring the application of interactivity through European case Brussel (KUB).
• studies

ISBN 1-84150-106-9
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