POLIS addresses the ethical impact of mediation and journalism in public life along three distinct but interrelated dimensions:
The expanding scale of mediation, which refers to the complex relationship between media, globalisation and public action.
The emerging scope of mediation, which refers to the controversial fusions of civil life with market forces that mediation has today intensified to an unprecedented degree and, finally,
The civic styles that mediation enables through new practices of deliberation, participation and consumption.
The three themes make up the programmatic agenda of POLIS. Around them, POLIS clusters together an array of specific issues and topics, addressing them in the form of research projects and publications; debates, seminars and conferences as well as graduate courses and summer schools. While providing a coherent structure that conceptually integrates distinct activities, the three agenda themes are simultaneously broad and independent enough to allow for diversity, flexibility and relative autonomy in POLIS' planning.
Moving away from mainstream views of the global as the sum total of world regions and of journalism as a practical skill, POLIS focuses on three ethical challenges that journalism faces in a globalised world: the political question of plurality, the cultural question of the 'other' and the humanitarian question of world suffering.
The cultural question of the 'other', addressing the ways in which journalism mediates the often contested relationships between distant others, their understandings of each other and their capacity to act in ways that acknowledge and respect difference rather than foster conflict.
The political question of plurality, addressing the ways in which media confront us with political difference at a global level; the increasing diversity of local publics; the uneven and often difficult development of media markets and their publics around the world, i.e. China, India, Russia etc
The humanitarian question of world suffering, addressing the ways in which media confront us with the issue of action in humanitarian emergencies; but also addressing action as the mechanism of legitimation of 'just wars' (Jihad; 'war on terror').
The economic question of inequality, addressing the ways in which incentives are created for investment in the media and communication industries in a way that forecloses many opportunities for the disadvantaged to access communication networks or to contribute to ongoing dialogue promoted by international agencies.
POLIS approaches the relationship between media and the market as a multi-faceted phenomenon that effectively transforms relations of power, civic identities and public practices and therefore needs to be addressed at more than one level. Inevitably, POLIS is seriously concerned with the ongoing privatisations in the media industry and the liberalisation and deregulation of media markets, seeking to explore the extent to which these impact on journalistic practices and values as well as reconfigure the relationship between information and entertainment, public and private, global and local.
- Challenges located in media industries: privatisation of media industries; expansion and deregulation of commercial media networks; digitalisation of media services and individualisation of media consumption.
- Challenges located in corporate organisations: risks of mediated visibility (scandals and crisis management); ethical pressures on transparency (CSR and the rise of corporate citizenship; financial journalism); new media and emerging communicative spaces in organisations (blogs, online brand communities).
- Challenges located in public life: the production of the media celebrity; political marketing; place branding and national identity; humanitarian branding; consumer ethics (the ethicalisation of food and fashion; tourism; toys and games); the role of financial journalism in democartising-cosmopolitanising corporations
POLIS is interested in identifying the changing civic cultures that the media enable today, by providing people with new technologies, information and practices to act as citizens in increasingly marketised, globalised and virtual environments. Part of this process of change is a reconfiguring of the concept of citizenship itself along a political and a cultural dimension. Whereas political citizenship is transformed through the emergence of novel ways in which new media, in particular, engage people with online forms of participation and political deliberation as well as facilitate offline civic action and activism, cultural citizenship is cultivated through the ways in which the immediacy and ubiquity of the media increase our awareness of the world at large and of our own sense of belonging to and engaging with it. There is an inherent empowering potential in such practices, as in the mobile media users now becoming generators of often powerful and subversive news content or in the new trans-national spaces of sociality such as Facebook and YouTube. Yet, insofar as such ways of being a citizen are harnessed by market interests and rationalities, there will always be ambivalence as to their implications on our civic cultures and public life.
The figure of the citizen-consumer captures the ambivalence between empowerment and consumption that such practices of citizenship entail and, at the same time, formulates the ethical challenges for news journalism in broadening our thinking about what a political community is about, what a cosmopolitan engagement with the world may be or how civic deliberation make take place in and through the media.