The CAMRI Policy Observatory: A Forum for Intervening Critically in Media Policy Debates

by Christian Fuchs, Anastasia Kavada, Naomi Sakr (University of Westminster) 

The institution that launched Britain’s first undergraduate media studies degree back in 1975 and founded the journal Media, Culture & Society in 1979 has now created an entity to promote submissions to public policy inquiries in the UK and beyond.

The institution, today called the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), at the University of Westminster, has been characterised by what James Curran terms the ‘Westminster School’ of research, involving critical investigations into the roles of media, communication, culture and information technologies in society’s power structures. CAMRI’s research is based on a broader purpose and vision for society. Examining how media and society interact, it aims to contribute to progressive social change, equality, freedom, justice, and democracy. Based on a range of qualitative methods and inspired by theory and philosophy, this research is critical, international, historical and policy-focused.

In 2017, the policy focus was further articulated with the founding of the CAMRI Policy Observatory (CPO), supported by seed funding from the Quintin Hogg Trust and the University of Westminster’s Strategic Research Fund. As a forum for critical interventions in media policy debates, CPO activities include organising events, submitting evidence to inquiries, and publishing open access reports. It has joined discussions of communications policy in the European Parliament[1] and the House of Lords.

The CPO has organised submissions to the House of Lords Select Committee for Artificial Intelligence[2], the House of Lords inquiry into Internet regulation[3], and the House of Commons inquiry into fake news[4]. It has hosted discussions of policy perspectives on the gig economy, artificial intelligence, how to tax online advertising, regulating the digital economy, how to confront the climate crisis in the context of communicative carbon capitalism, and the future of Sky News. A policy workshop in May 2018 explored policies that could combat Internet monopolies, surveillance, privacy violations and targeted ads. Attended by 20 stakeholders, including Italian, Spanish, French and Greek teams who make up the CAMRI-led EU-funded netCommons research group, the workshop stressed the need to ‘keep challenging the dominant models at all levels’ and to ‘think holistically about alternative ways of communication, including infrastructure, platforms, services and applications’.

As well as CAMRI academics, organisations featured at these events have included the Competition and Markets Authority, the Creative Industries Federation, 350.org, Association for Progressive Communications, Commons Network, Dutch Pirate Party, Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Information Society S.A., Ofcom, Social Security Advisory Committee, Media Society, Office of Tax Simplification, UNHCR, and various community networks.

Together with the new University of Westminster Press, which CAMRI helped to set up, the CPO publishes the open access CAMRI Policy Brief Series, presenting new policy ideas based on CAMRI research (https://www.uwestminsterpress.co.uk/site/books/series/camri-policy-briefs/). The first titles in the series are Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things (Mercedes Bunz and Laima Janciute) and The Online Advertising Tax (Christian Fuchs). Studies of the gig economy and mental health in the music industry (Sally Gross & George Musgrave) and media representations of facial disfigurements (Jacob Johanssen & Diana Garrisi) are in the pipeline.


[1] https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news/2018/maria-michalis-champions-community-network-and-communication-policy-at-european-parliament

[2] https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news/2017/dr-mercedes-bunz-presents-ai-research-to-the-house-of-lord-s-select-committee

[3] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/communications-committee/the-internet-to-regulate-or-not-to-regulate/written/82344.pdf

[4] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/fake-news/written/73970.pdf

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