andreas broeckmann on Wed, 27 Jan 1999 19:00:12 +0200

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Syndicate: abroeck: From Practice to Policy

[the following is the introduction to one of the chapters of a book about
european media culture, which will be published in march this year; abroeck]

ch. 6. From Practice to Policy - Introduction Andreas Broeckmann

I. Policies for the New Media Culture in Europe

In many European countries, the older electronic media of radio and
television developed in a framework of public ownership and public
regulations. In Germany, for instance, a complex and well-funded federal
system of public TV and radio stations had been established for decades
when, in the late 1970s and early 80s, private channels were introduced in
the wake of much debate about the cultural and social impact this change
would have.

In contrast, the new digital media are being introduced in a setting where
private ownership and market rules are core conditions. From a political
perspective, this leads to a whole new set of questions and pressures with
regard to economic, legal and cultural dimensions of the growing social
domain of the 'media ecology'. Significantly, the public sphere as we know
it, the medium of traditional, professionalised politics, is itself being
transformed. Whether it will simply change, or whether it is under threat
to disappear, will have to be seen. To some degree, the new means of
distribution allow for extended democratic forms of communication, partly
fulfilling a promise that had been unresolved since Brecht's Radiotheorie
of the 1920s. In any case, it is obvious that a new public domain has to be
created, and the niches where it already exists need to be maintained and

This book, and the discussion process which it documents, are based on the
notion that there should not only be a new media policy that deals with the
technical, economic and legal implications of digital media, but also a
distinct cultural policy. Through the digital media, new cultural forms and
practices are evolving which go far beyond the reproduction of cultural
productions in other spheres. This is why a media cultural policy cannot
stop with the regulation of copyright questions and the maintenance of
cultural heritage.

The central argument here, summed up in the slogan 'From Practice to
Policy', is that an exemplary media cultural practice is already in place
which can serve as a model and guideline for the development of policy
decisions in this field. Educational issues, public/private partnerships,
networked organisational models, new aesthetic languages and forms of
artistic production - these are only some of the fields where experiences
have been accumulated over the past decades that can now play a vital role
in the development of the Information Society.

An important step for cultural policy makers to take is the assessment of
the relationship between the multimedia industry, the educational and the
independent, sometimes publically supported cultural sector. In other
words, if we want to go from practice to policy, which practices should
policy follow? On the one hand, there is an explicit interest for
co-operation between those different sectors. On the other hand, the
present author believes that there is strong need for an independent
cultural practice that is not instrumentalised and evaluated in relation to
its usefulness for educational, economic or commercial goals. In large
parts of the market-oriented multimedia industry, these constrictions are
leading to a technical and cultural homogenisation which is not desirable
as a model for the cultural sphere. Instead, culture should continue to be
seen as a way of sensitising people for a better living environment in
which they can operate as reflecting citizens and critical consumers and

II. Overview Chapter 6.

The documents and essays in this chapter are rather self-explanatory. They
describe a discussion process which had its prelude at a conference in
Prague in 1996, organised by the Council of Europe and meant as a catalyst
to put the new technologies and their cultural implications onto the agenda
of policy makers in Europe. In 1997, the Dutch Virtual Platform (described
later in the chapter) took the initiative to organise a conference that
would showcase current media cultural practice and, based on this practice,
develop suggestions and guidelines for media cultural policies - thus the
title, 'From Practice to Policy' (P2P). The closing document of this
conference, the Amsterdam Agenda, is a first comprehensive attempt at
outlining the complex field of issues that media cultural policies need to
tackle. During a conference in Linz (Austria) in 1998, a follow-up document
was written to the Amsterdam Agenda, 'Networking Centres of Innovation',
that emphasised the significance of the international network of small
institutes, labs and centres which constitutes the vibrant, distributed
core of contemporary European media culture. In an ongoing initiative, the
'Charter for Art and Industry' attempts to improve relationships between
cultural centres and industry through joint innovation exchange workshops
(D. Forresta). All three documents are included at the beginning of this

The 'Europe' refered to in this book is as much under discussion as the
notion of 'media culture' that it heuristically deploys. While the European
Union, based on its political and economic dominance, draws a lot of
attention, its limitations and borders are strongly felt in the cultural
sector. (C. Brickwood) Cultural budgets of the EU are restricted, and the
opportunities that EU programmes offer cultural institutions do so under
the condition that the cultural projects adapt to the requirements of the
Union, which frequently boil down to questions of employment, swiftly
marketable technological innovation and commercial viability of products.
(S. J. Norman)

The Europe that artists and cultural practitioners experience is often of a
very different nature. It is the Europe of old and new ties, historical
regional relationships and very recent translocal networks that make the
most of the new networking technologies. The small selection of media
cultural initiatives that are featured throughout this book and that are
involved in a continuously shifting matrix of co-operations in projects and
new initiatives, give an impression of the diversity and strength of these
networks. This 'networked' Europe has also been refered to as 'Deep
Europe', in order to express the precarious cultural wealth that lies in
the multiple layers of identities that mark the 'deepest' areas of the
continent. Its territory is more akin to the forty countries represented in
the Council of Europe, a platform organisation that has been playing an
important role in initiating a dialogue between partners across the still
tangible East-West divide of the continent. (L. Soares)

The final section of the chapter offers a detailed overview of the wide
variety in the European media cultural landscape. The summary of a study
about this landscape, conducted in 1998, (R. Harauer and P. Murschetz) is
followed by a series of essays that describe the situation with regard to
media culture in different European countries. These essays illustrate both
practices and cultural policies pursued in these countries. They affirm the
diversity and inter-dependency of practice and policy and make a strong
case for the further elaboration of the decentralised, federal structure of
European culture.

III. Spielraum, Play, Latitude

In the Germanic languages, the word Spielraum, speelruimte in Dutch,
describes the zone of freedom that can, in English, be either the 'room for
manoeuvre', the 'play' in a technical apparatus or the 'latitude' for
social behaviour. What culture does, and what cultural policy should
encourage, is the creation of such spaces. They are the precondition for
culture to perform its role in education, which must be an education
towards creativity, in fostering a critical public sphere, and in serving
the evolution of societies and communities in all their productive
individuality and difference.

There can be no doubt that such a process will take time. As late as the
1970s, 'electronic media' were television and radio, while the
computer-based media applications which are today available to many people
with access to a personal computer or public media centres (desktop
publishing, video and sound editing, CD-Rom authoring, e-mail, WWW, etc.)
are, in many cases, less than five years old. Given the fast technical
development and continuous differentiation of practices, media cultural
policy has to be conceived as an ongoing dialogue that initiates and
responds to the techno-cultural process.

There is an almost universal agreement that the heterogeneous network
structures within which media cultural practice is evolving are a
precondition for its diversity and long-term success. This means that there
is little need for centralised national or even international institutions,
but for a ever-growing diversity of inter-related smaller centers. This
'small is beautiful' philosophy may not be easy to follow in a political
environment where prestige is still more easily gleaned from large-scale
projects. However, the much greater challenge lies in the development of
support models for networks that have the freedom to self-organise.

Media culture will continue to evolve in great proximity to, and at times
dependency on, technology and its markets. It thus poses the challenge to
think of culture not in terms of established disciplines, but to conceive
it as the hybrid of design, engineering, communication, performance, and
broadcasting that it has always been. The 'Practice to Policy' initiative
is an attempt by artists, cultural practitioners and policy makers in
Europe to use existing, advanced cultural practice to enter a dialogue
about future media policy.