The purpose of this colloquium is to examine the theoretical underpinnings of access to the media, the policies designed to promote access, and a number of innovations in access to electronic media, particularly in the context of Eastern and Western Europe. The event is expected to contribute to a better theoretical understanding of the concept as well as of efforts to implement media access. It is intended to build on previous work in the area of media access and to create a broader theoretical basis, particularly from the perspective of media democratization.
Access to the media, by both individuals as well as organized groups, has long been considered important to creating a forum for public debate and a basis for the democratic functioning of society. It has also been credited with contributing to community development, local cultural expression, and individual self-realization. Models of media access have been proposed and applied to national as well as regional and local media in various European countries and in North America. Many of these initiatives, however, have failed to bring about the transformation in public debate and democratization anticipated. In spite of the limited success, experimentation and innovation in access to the media have continued, largely because of commitment to the principle that citizens should have access to forms of (mass) communication in order to function as informed, active members of society. The MacBride Commission (1980) statement regarding the right to communication is perhaps the strongest expression of this principle.
Many themes are relevant to the undertaking of this colloquium, but three are dominant, particularly throughout Europe: increasing influence of commercial interests, widespread technological change, and evolution in the forms of political and cultural expression. The influence of commercialism on media policies, structures and programming is particularly dominant throughout Europe. In Western Europe the position of public service broadcasting is diminishing rapidly, and in Central Europe capitalistic media ventures are making rapid headway across the continent. At the same time, however, small scale media are being established promoting access opportunities.
The impact of technological change, the second theme important for this colloquium, has been on the agenda for considerable time. One argument commonly heard is that (public) access in North American and Western Europe was made largely possible by technological advancements related to cable transmission and video recording devices. A less technologically deterministic position, however, is that these developments did not contribute as much to the creation of access possibilities as the social and political structures which gave value to such public expression.
The third theme important to this Colloquium is change in forms of political and cultural expression. This is relevant to both general democratization and specifically to innovations in access. One facet of this theme is the increasing importance of linguistic and national minorities across Europe. Many minority groups are demanding not only access to existing media, but also establishment of their own media. Initiatives to develop a pan-European media policy are, at least partly, intended to promote such diversity in political and cultural expression.