In the Service of Power: Media Capture and the Threat to Democracy

In many countries around the world today, political transitions and the rise of digital technology have changed the way governments influence the media. With some exceptions, pre-publication censorship and pre-approval of news and information is mostly a thing of the past. Political transitions in many countries have changed mechanisms of control.

This collection looks at the state of media around the world with an emphasis on what we call “media capture.” It comes out of a conference held at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in April 2016, and aims to introduce the concept of capture to a broader audience, show how capture is manifested in different parts of the world, and highlight some possible solutions. This is the first collection on media capture around the world and the first to consider how digital technology is affecting the issue.

In his paper, Kamel Labidi, journalist and former president of Tunisia’s National Authority for Information and Communication Reform (INRIC), details efforts to fight state control of media in Tunisia, and describes how intractable the problem was. After the Arab Spring there appeared a brief window of opportunity for reform to the media system, but media owners and their government allies fought back against reform.