17 Apr 2015
Nudging as a tool of media policy
A presentation at the 4th Law and Economic Conference in Lucerne, 17-18 April 2015. A co-edited volume is in preparation.
Media policy goals are defined in a dynamic matrix intrinsic to the relationship between the media and the state, and ultimately founded on multiple compromises between the prevention of harm and the promotion of benefit. In this sense, objectives such as the protection of national security, public order, or the individuals’ private sphere need to be balanced against the benefits of free flowing information. In addition to this, liberal democratic states have strived to achieve the availability of a diverse range of content as a means for sustaining democratic and cultural discourse.
In this latter context, in most of the existing media policy toolkits there has been an underlying presumption for a causal link between source diversity – that is, the availability of multiple and diverse content providers and diversity of content. Following this line of causality, there has been the common assumption that diversity of content naturally leads to exposure diversity – that is, that the audience takes advantage of the greater selection and actually consumes the available diverse content. In contrast to source and content diversity, however, exposure diversity has never been explicitly defined as a media policy objective – neither in the US nor in Europe, let alone at the international level.
And there may be good reasons for this. Some relate to the nature of any action, which would be targeted to achieve it, as it would strongly interfere with consumer choice and sovereignty. Others relate to the reality of audience behavioural patterns in which attention is naturally clustered in the middle ground on few sources/genres/topics and possibly plainly represent homogenous content preferences. Indeed, this argument can be potentially strengthened in the new media ecology, which has lowered barriers to entry; in which diversity of choices is arguably significantly increased and where users have access to sophisticated tools to locate the content that best serves their interests.
The proposed paper will disagree with some parts of this common hypothesis. It seeks to engage some more recent and more nuanced analyses, which show that the dynamics of new media may promote less rather than more diversity of exposure, as well reveals the fluidity of contemporary media consumption patterns, especially under the conditions of automated generated content across a range of platforms.
The paper will argue that although the balance between state intervention and non-intervention in the media certainly is precarious and individual rights are to be safeguarded, there may be subtler ways of intervening and promoting exposure diversity, such as for instance by fostering serendipity or facilitating exposure. It will explore a number of ‘nudging’ tools as potentially more efficient instruments of media policy aimed at diversity. This will contribute to the discussions of public service media design, as well as be in line with broader changes in media governance, which denote a move away from conventional command-and-control type of regulation.