Interview with CGCS Visiting Scholar Efrat Daskal

2014 Visiting Scholar Efrat Daskal discusses her past and current research on internet policy and digital rights. 

How did you become interested and involved in the areas of internet policy and digital rights?

For four years, I worked as the assistant to the ombudsman of the SATR (the regulatory body of the commercial television and radio channels in Israel). At the SATR, I was responsible for processing public complaints. Working at the ombudsman’s office for four years gave me a deep understanding of how issues of media policy influence the everyday practice of broadcasting and regulation. This is why I decided to explore this subject in my Ph.D. dissertation and seek understanding of how public complaints can trigger processes of media accountability within media organizations.

I gradually became interested not only in issues of media policy regarding traditional media outlets, but also in the challenges of applying regulatory policy to the internet. I wanted to understand the meaning of internet regulation and moreover, the role of citizens in the construction of internet regulation. That led me to participate in the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute and, later on, in CEU summer course “Advocacy, activism and the internet.” In both courses, I learned more regarding internet activism. That is how I came to the idea of analyzing the activity of civic organizations advocating for digital rights in my post doc project.

 

Tell us about your previous research projects on media accountability and credibility.

During the last four years, I have dealt with the topic of media accountability in two academic tracks. The first track was as the academic coordinator of a research project entitled “Apologizing for misinformation: An analysis of the media’s attempts to restore credibility,” which was funded by the Israeli Scientific Foundation. As part of my work, I co-authored three articles on the topic of media accountability with one of my advisors, Dr. Zohar Kampf. The first two articles dealt with the changing norms of the political interview genre and the ethical implications of these changes. The third article explored whether the newspaper correction box genre functions as an ethical means for news organizations to accept responsibility for their wrongdoings, or if it only serves to satisfy their public relation needs. The second track was as a Ph.D. candidate. My dissertation explores the subject of media accountability while focusing on the ethics of entertainment. In my research, I analyze how public complaints about entertainment content can initiate media accountability processes within the media organizations.

 

Have you found any connection between your previous research and your current research questions on how digital rights organizations define and raise awareness of the right to privacy?

Both of these studies started from the same starting point: how citizens and/or civic organizations can actually influence media policy as constructed by governments and internet corporations. In both cases, I was interested in how ordinary citizens can advocate for their rights in our mediated world, but I am slowly realizing there is one major difference between the two arenas.

As I discovered in my dissertation, most people have some idea about media policy when it comes to traditional media organizations, and they even know how to advocate for their rights when confronting these organizations. On the other hand, when it comes to their rights in the digital world, most citizens are completely unaware of how governments or internet corporations can violate their rights. They don’t know that they have the power to minimize these violations. So I have found that one of the challenges civic organizations face is educating citizens about their rights, and this is one of the topics I intend to explore in my research.

 

In your opinion, what separates the Israeli media space from other media systems? 

The Israeli media system resembles every other system: public and commercial radio and television channels, several large newspapers, and a flourishing industry of new websites. A unique Israeli phenomenon is “‘Galei Zahal.” This is a military radio channel but, contrary to what you may think, this is one of the most critical media outlets and is thus one of the most popular radio channels in Israel.

Unfortunately, the Israeli media system also suffers problems similar to those of other media systems around the world: weakness of public broadcasting due to political intervention and the centralization of commercial broadcasting in the hands of a few wealthy families. In addition, there is still censorship in Israel regarding security issues, though its power is slowly diminishing. One thing that distinguishes Israel from other places is the centrality of news broadcasts in the scheduled broadcasting of television and radio channels. For example, the morning shows (between six and nine a.m.) are dealing with serious political, social and economic issues; in most radio channels there are news flashes almost every half hour, between the hours of five and eight p.m. there are current affairs shows on television channels, and even late at night (three hours after the eight p.m. main news broadcast on all television channels) there are news broadcasts (again on all television channels) that sum up the day. So you can’t really escape the news (domestic or international) when you are in Israel.

 

What do you believe are the most important internet policy issues of the day?

There are many issues which I consider to be important regarding the topic of internet policy. If, however, I have to point out one subject in particular, I would have to say that it is the lack of transparent and explicit internet policy on both the national and international level. Policy implies that there are certain social actors that construct certain rules and codes according to which the internet should operate. Yet, as we all have come to know, it seems that there are no agreed upon rules or codes whatsoever. Different social actors can do whatever they want (governments as well as internet corporations), and it seems that no one really thinks about the well-being of the ordinary citizens in the digital era.

 

Efrat Daskal is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication and Journalism, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research interests are media ethics, media policy and media literacy. Her dissertation was titled “From complaint to correction: Public discontent as a mechanism for constructing media accountability.” It focused on how public discontent can initiate media accountability processes within media organizations and the conditions that enable citizens to influence the conduct of media organizations. Efrat worked for four years as the assistant to the ombudsman at the Second Authority for Television and Radio (SATR), Israel’s regulator of commercial television and radio channels. 

Her most recent project deals with the activities of civic organizations advocating for digital rights. She is interested in the role these organizations have in shaping internet policies outlined by government and large internet corporations, and in educating citizens in how to preserve and protect their digital rights.

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