|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 extended. 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 users. 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 chapter. 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.