Information to a democracy is like drinking water to a human body: it is essential for survival, but if polluted can lead to sickness and sometimes death. As with human health, technological advances can be a boon or a bane. And the needs of democracy can be invoked to be more inclusive, or make claims about groups, publics and imagined communities such as ‘the people’ that may or may not exist. The project’s point of departure is thus that what we get from our news media is never ‘just’ information.
One component study explores representations of social inequality in global news television. Building on previous research by the JI team, it is unusually broad in scope, charting the 2009-22 period and including Al Jazeera English, BBC World, CNNI and RT.
A second investigates how journalists themselves perceive the challenges of reporting inequality. When it comes to threats to our communication rights, these professionals are on the frontline. The right to inform needs continual protection, as journalists – not least women – face physical and online threats on a regular basis. At the same time, journalists’ relationship with developing technology has a bearing on their relationship with their audiences and the issues that matter to them.
Voice and agency have always been central to an understanding of the relationship between communication and inequality, but have taken on new urgency – and complexity – in the age of Artificial Intelligence. The third component study explores how civil society actors concerned with AI – both enthusiastic and critical – see technological developments as dampening or amplifying voice. Combining interviews and textual analysis, it maps an emergent discourse of professionals and activists with hybrid roles and missions, with implications for the shape of (in)equality in mediated communication in our increasingly techno-centric future.