Monthly Archives: May 2014

Populist Euroscepticism on the Rise: What is the Role of the Media?

Sampo Viiri from the Finnish Institute blogs about the event ‘Shaping the vote: politics and populism in the media’ which was organised 15 May 2014 by Counterpoint UK.
The European parliament elections are now over and the populist and eurosceptic right-wing parties have made spectacular gains across Europe, perhaps most notably Nigel Farage’s UKIP in the United Kingdom and the National Front in France. The outcome has already been labelled as an earthquake but what this means for the daily politics in Brussels and Strasbourg remains to be seen. Shortly before the election Counterpoint UK organised a panel discussion on the effects of the media on the support of populist right-wing parties in Europe.

The event was part of  a cross-national project entitled ‘Nurturing populism? The impact of the media on the growth of populist right-wing parties in Netherlands, France and Finland’, which is a collaborative effort between Counterpoint, Dr Erkka Railo, Senior researcher at the University of Turku, Dr Jiska Engelbert, Assistant Professor at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam and Dr Gael Villeneuve, Researcher at the Laboratoire Communication et Politique. They were joined in the panel by Martin Sandbu from the Financial Times, Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future and Suzanne Moore, Columnist for the Guardian. The event was moderated by Catherine Fieschi, Director of Counterpoint.

The panelists introduced the different media aspects in the respective countries. Erkka Railo explained that the main points in the media coverage about the Finns Party (previously True Finns) were immigration and the European financial crisis. The Finnish media has been very critical towards financial aid packages for other European countries, which has given credibility to the anti-European ideas of the Finns Party. There has also been a big increase in the news stories about immigration. 10 years ago most of the media saw Finland lacking “good” immigrants, but with the hard economic times the tide has turned towards more critical views on immigration. Now that the European financial crisis is perhaps finally starting to ease off, the Finns Party may need to utilise xenophobic rhetoric because they can’t forever keep blaming the international economic crisis for everything.
To summarise the findings in other countries: In France the president has a lot of power to influence the content in the media. Nicolas Sarkozy used populist themes himself in his bid to re-election in 2012, labeling multiculturalism and Islam as threats to the republic. In the Netherlands the assassination of the populist leader Pim Fortuyn in 2002 was a shock to the media and everyone, after which nobody dared to criticise the populists for a while. Dutch populism should be researched beyond Geert Wilders’ PVV party because other major parties are also engaging in populism and the public’s level of confidence towards politicians is low.
Norway’s case is unique in Western Europe because the Progress Party is now actually in the government and thus involved in important national decisions, so the media has to give serious space for their policies. In the United Kingdom the media’s role has some contradictory aspects: BBC somehow fears its liberal reputation and may want to give extra space for UKIP’s views, but as a whole the press has been trying to kill off UKIP. This hasn’t lead to any results. On the contrary, parts of the electorate see the demonising of UKIP as a conspiracy and this has increased their support.
The different country studies made clear that the political context and the parties are quite different in each country. It is important not to oversimplify and label all the populist parties as far-right or treat all of them as parts of the same international political force. Some of the parties like UKIP, the Finns Party or the Norwegian Progress Party are fairly mellow compared to the more extreme far-right parties for example in Greece and Hungary. Counterpoint has created a visual tool to compare the different parties, and together with the Daily Telegraph they also published an interactive map about the different right-wing populist parties in Europe which highlights their differences and similarities. However, not all the victorious populist parties were right-wing, for example the radical leftist Syriza won the election in Greece.
The Finnish Institute in London continues to investigate the media effects on the public’s knowledge and potential information asymmetries. Recently we published the report Knowledge Gap and the Information Environment – More informed citizens or a growing divide? which examines the media effects on distribution of knowledge between different socioeconomic groups.

Opening Cultural Data: Inspirations from Britain and Finland

Sampo Viiri blogs about the Finnish Open Cultural Data course’s study trip to London 15–16 May 2014.

The GLAM organisations (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) have in their collections enormous amounts of cultural data that have so far been accessible mainly in physical format. Nowadays the Internet makes spreading knowledge digitally much easier. The Open Cultural Data course, organised by Open Knowledge Finland, aims to provide tools and skills for the Finnish GLAM professionals on how to digitally open their organisations’ cultural data to broader audiences. The Finnish Institute organised workshops in London 15–16 May as part of the course that has been held in Finland this spring.
Thursday 15 May
The group gathered at Mozilla’s London office where Paula Le Dieu and William Duyck explained about the activities in which Mozilla UK participates. Mozilla is a non-profit organisation heavily based on volunteer participation. The idea of open source and openness are at the core of all Mozilla activity. Mozilla’s main product, the Firefox browser, has championed open source principles and nowadays all the main browsers embrace certain openness standards. One of the reasons why the US based Mozilla decided to open their London location was because the principle of open web was already firmly rooted in Britain. For example the BBC has a public role of making content available to everyone. The government, creatives and the GLAM sector were all enthusiastic regarding to Mozilla’s ideas of openness, so the UK was a fitting base to build open source tools.
 
We discussed the main obstacles for GLAMs to “push their archives through the door”. Opening data requires new skills and also new attitudes, and sometimes there is a fear that opening data leads to lost profits even though the reality can be quite the opposite. Content is also only valuable when combined with expertise. This is why there needs to be good communication between the GLAM professionals and the technology infrastructure providers.
 
One of the initial reasons to kick off Mozilla was that by the end of the nineties, the basis of the Internet had changed. For the early geeks the web had been inherently interesting and exciting. They had gotten used to poking things and learned how to “make the web”. For the second wave of Internet users the web was just a thing to consume, which required a different kind of approach.
 
Mozilla’s Webmaker project aims to make the broad audience once again participant in “making the web” by providing easy-to-use tools. William Duyck presented the Webmaker and various different tools that Mozilla has developed for the public. This is something highly relevant for the GLAM sector and cultural data as well. By embracing the broad audience and making them participate the GLAMs could open their data with less costs than by making everything themselves.
 
Mark Hedges and Stuart Dunn from King’s College London’s Department of Digital Humanities continued on the community participation theme. They have done research on different crowdsourcing projects in the field of humanities. According to them the GLAM sector’s engagement in digital methods has typically led to enhanced experience in exhibitions and adding certain extra to the collections. However, recently crowdsourced methods have also contributed to creating genuinely new knowledge and interpretations to the material.
 
Mark and Stuart showed several interesting case examples where crowdsourcing has produced, for example, more detailed collection and object metadata, retroactively corrected OCR (optical recognition software) texts of archival material, the narratives of social media, and creative input from the visiting public itself. One of their findings has been that most high profile and successful crowdsourcing projects have been coordinated by the GLAM sector, not by universities. Galleries, archives and museums have always been public facing, meaning that their engagement in crowdsourcing would be quite natural. 
 
Last but definitely not least, Adam Green from the Public Domain Review introduced the benefits of public domain for the GLAM sector. The Public Domain Review is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to promoting and celebrating the public domain in all its variety. Adam showed some interesting material he had collected on his website and different online projects based on non-copyrighted material. One of the best aspects of public domain is the possibility for the public to recreate and remix the material in whichever way they choose. This can lead to a feeling of collectivity and participation. We discussed the different possibilities and problems with copyrighted works and pondered how public domain material could also be used to create profits. The group concluded the day by making some GIF animations from stereographic images.
 
Friday 16 May
 
Friday’s sessions were held at the British Library, where Nora McGregor, Anna Vernon and James W. Baker from the library’s Digital Research team enlightened us about their interesting work with digital collections. The Digital Research team works with already digitised material, inventing new ways on how to use the library’s vast collections. Perhaps their most well-known project is the British Library’s online images on Flickr, where the library has published millions of pictures from their scanned books. Nora explained about the quite ambitious move when they decided to publish the pictures without knowing what might lurk in the depths of the collections. Sometimes you need a certain bold attitude to open cultural data. Anna Vernon introduced us to the different copyright aspects that need to be dealt with when publishing the collections online. The rules vary by country but the common EU legislation also opens possibilities for collaboration.
 
One important topic raised in the discussion is that because Finland is a small country and it doesn’t have big organisations like the British Library, we need collaboration in the GLAM sector to fully use the potential of digital collections and data. Hopefully this spring’s course will lead to new ways of collaboration in Finland and maybe also with other countries’ organisations.
 
Lastly James W. Baker held a workshop where the group invented new ways of using digital tools on imaginary collections. As James said, it is easy to get obsessed with data but what really matters is the research and how to use the data. This is where I believe the GLAM professionals step in. When the professional staff and also the researchers develop new digital tools and skills together, there are huge possibilities in humanities research. This is a topic in which the Finnish Institute in London will also continue to look into this year by conducting a survey on new trends of digital humanities in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Finland.
 
Overall, the two days were full of excellent presentations and the atmosphere was very enthusiastic. Personally, my head was buzzing with new ideas and knowledge and my notes full of scribbled remarks and future questions. Always a good sign.
 
 
More information (mostly in Finnish):

http://avoinglam.fi/
http://fi.okfn.org/koulutus/avoin_kulttuuridata/
Twitter hashtags: #kulttuuridata #datakoulu

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