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The media will assume a stronger role in social reform

Sitra’s new report discusses the role of the media in a society in transition.


Media release 28 September 2006

Sitra’s recently published report Media uudistuvassa yhteiskunnassa; Median muuttuvat pelisäännöt (Media in the new society. The changing rules of media) discusses the role of the media in a society in transition. Written by Juhani Wiio, the report seeks to understand the role of the media in the structural change processes in societies and in social reform projects. The analysis focuses on new social initiatives and innovations. The report is also a description of the current media in transition and its new operative models.

According to the report, the role of the media is influential in social change and social innovation processes.

“The role of the media in social change can either be progressive or conservative,” says Wiio. Media can support the renewal of society by introducing new, constructive angles and new knowledge. It can question prevailing operative models and paradigms. The media can, however, also impede progress and cast doubt on warranted social reforms or take a passive stance in a change situation.

What is particularly important in a change situation is the feedback that policy-makers and other social actors receive through the media. It has a direct impact on how positively social reforms and initiatives are perceived and how likely they are to be accepted.

“The media could take a more active role in promoting social reform without compromising their journalistic principles. Involvement in social change does, however, require solid competence on behalf of the media,” says Wiio.

According to the report, the key trend affecting the media at the moment is its increasingly market-driven nature. As a result, the media becomes more mediatised, homogenised, tabloidised and polarised. Digitisation is also a factor that extends to all aspects of communication. Wiio subscribes to the often expressed view that the most dramatic change in the media will, however, ultimately be caused by the Internet.

Changes in the media itself will directly affect the way it can and will operate in a change situation in society. Changes in the media as well as its digitisation require a new range of competences, creativity and production structures, content production skills and media management style.

The media is becoming more polarised both in terms of content and structurally. These polarisation processes are overlapping. Content polarisation means that the media more clearly focuses on either market-driven journalism or socially oriented journalism.

Structural polarisation means that the media is divided into mainstream and other media.

“The mainstream media is the ‘large stage’ on which it presents us with what is noteworthy or important at a given time. The media outside the mainstream form ‘fringe stages’,” says Wiio.

One of the key arguments in the report is that no large-scale renewal of society is possible without the contribution of the mainstream media.


The report also lists six recommendations for action:

1. The media should be integrated into the innovation system and innovation environment concepts when planning social development measures.

2. There should be an academic research project based on cross-disciplinary co-operation to examine in a scientific and profound manner the significance of the media in the development of society.

3. The curricula of those universities that can be entitled “innovation universities” should include a basic module in communications.

4. The key actors in the innovation system should continue to support training in innovation journalism.

5. University-level journalist training should continue to be provided and the amount of communication training provided at secondary and polytechnic levels, in particular, should be optimised and centralised into efficient and high-quality schools.

6. Measures promoting co-operation in the field of communication and ICT training should be supported with a variety of means, both at policy and practical levels.

Further information

Juhani Wiio, Media Consultant
Tel. +358 400 501 707

Timo Hämäläinen, Reseach Director, Sitra,
Tel. +358 50 502 4900

Publication details

Media uudistuvassa yhteiskunnassa. Median muuttuvat pelisäännöt (Media in the new society. The changing rules of the media.).
Juhani Wiio
Sitra Reports 65.
Sitra. Helsinki 2006.
ISBN 951-563-528-4 (bound), ISSN 1457-571X (bound)

You can order the report from Sitra, tel. +358 (9) 618 991, e-mail: The report (pdf, in Finnish) »