Round table ‘Towards Critical Digital Cultural Politics? EU, Platforms and Converging Regulation’ held on 3rd of March in Zagreb

Mar 15, 2022

As part of the Erasmus + Jean Monnet project ‘EU Policies and the Platformisation of the Cultural and Audiovisual Sectors – platEU’, Department for Culture and Communication at IRMO organized a round table entitled ‘Towards Critical Digital Cultural Politics? EU, Platforms and Converging Regulation’. The round table was held on the 3rd of March, 2022 in the Council Hall of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb. Partners in the organisation of the event were: Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb and the Section for Sociology of Media of the Croatian Sociological Association (HSD).

The meeting was opened by Helena Popović on the behalf of the Department of Sociology at Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences as the host and the partner of the round table. She pointed out that the issue of regulation is an old topic of media studies and media research, and that she hopes that the discussions during the round table will be more focused on a broader contextualization of the problems that the development of online platforms opens for the cultural and media sector. Popović then gave the floor to the project coordinator and the moderator of the round table Jaka Primorac, who gave the context for the organization of the discussion and introduced the speakers. She noted how the inspiration for the organization of the round table was the book ‘Digital Cultural Politics: From Policy to Practice‘ by Bjarki Valtysson from the University of Copenhagen, to whom she then gave the floor. Valtysson presented the key points of the book, and opened a discussion on public policy changes in the field of culture and media due to the growth of platforms, that at the centre of discussion put the issues of convergence and converging regulation. He advocated for critical digital cultural policies that take into account the overall complexity of regulatory frameworks, and that should be able to promote different public goals in such a complex and layered environment.

The next discussant was Aleksandar Brkić from the Goldsmiths University, who, using examples of the emerging digital environment of the Metaverse, pointed out the complexities and problems that the possible regulation of the new digital environment brings. He also pointed out that he sees how the key problem of the cultural policy lies in the fact that instead of compensating for market failures, it is becoming more and more market-oriented. Giving examples of the UK Parliamentary ‘white papers’ and proposals for possible regulatory frameworks for platforms, Brkić concluded that such activities, although limited, are still better than leaving the platforms to market regulation, as its’ concerns are not only the issue of economy but also of democracy, public policy and the social contract.

In the next presentation, Paško Bilić connected to the issues presented in the previous discussion by asking what is really new that platforms bring, and what is the continuation or repetition of known aspects of capitalism and market economy. As a basis for his intervention, he used the arguments from the book ‘The Political Economy of Digital Monopolies: Contradictions and Alternatives to Data Commodification‘, which he co-authored with Toni Prug and Mislav Žitko. Bilić emphasized that it is necessary to move away from the discourse of platform exceptionality, which is often present through markers such as platform capitalism, etc. Bilić pointed out that the business model on which platforms are based is the commodification of data produced by user activity, no matter what the content is. As a consequence of such an orientation, there is the spread of hate speech and fake news on these platforms. Due to the public pressures caused by these issues, the digital giants have finally opened up to regulation. However, this shifts the focus away from the problematisation of the basis of their business model, for example, the possibility of banning the commodification of data. In his concluding remarks, Bilić advocated for the concept of public wealth, which he develops in the book together with Prug and Žitko. Public wealth refers to a different model of dealing with issues of public interest and infrastructure protection such as public health, science and education. The presentation was followed by a discussion in which the complexity of the overall regulatory framework was highlighted, the continuous lagging behind of public policies behind the (technological) practices was emphasized, and the need for a stronger accent on the bottom-up changes and applications was highlighted.

Before the round table, a meeting of the organizing committee of the platEU project was held. You can find the entire program of events at the following link.