2020 is the year to step up

(This originally appeared as the opening to today’s newsletter. Subscribe here.)

We can do more

With massive protests across the US over police brutality and systemic racism against black Americans, it’s worth us remembering how central a role media companies have always played in promoting racial prejudice. Not just news media but films, TV shows, video games, etc.

Bias still gets baked into content today, often unintentionally. It’s healthy to take account of not just where our companies may devalue or silence certain voices but how we can proactively bake anti-racist and civil rights values into the scripts we produce, games we develop, and content curation algorithms we code.

I’m compiling some resources to share. Please send any suggestions.

As a community, Monetizing Media subscribers are disproportionately wealthy, white, and in leadership roles at companies that shape pop culture and public discourse. So let’s recognize we are among the most empowered individuals in the entire world to make an impact through even small actions.

Politics is front and center in our industry right now 

In the immediate-term, government responses to re-opening after Covid-19 lockdowns directly affect production of all types of media content. Differences between countries and cities will be reflected in when different media companies get back to normal pace and what competitive advantages an early return may bring them.

In the medium-term, new regulatory regimes making media companies and/or social platforms liable for user-generated content are becoming reality in some places (like Australia) and center-pieces of political debate elsewhere (US).

An Australian appeals court upheld the recent ruling that media companies can be held liable for other people’s comments on their social media posts. (Expect it to be appealed again.)

New laws are long overdue to address the particular circumstances of social platforms rather than retrofitting laws written for telecom or traditional media. Hate speech, unlicensed use of IP, deepfakes, misinformation…there is a lot tied up in getting this right. Misguided, overly simplified laws here could be costly to media businesses (in a way that disproportionately hurts smaller companies) and exacerbate the problems they aim to solve.

In the bigger picture, a thriving media & entertainment industry requires liberal democracy, which is in retreat globally (see Freedom House reports on media freedom and on democracy). Most notable in the last week is China’s new national security law to criminalize criticism of government within Hong Kong, which has been the go-to outpost for Western media companies’ presence in Asia given its protections of free press and free markets.

It has become common even in the US and other Western countries for government leaders to label free press as an enemy — a culture likely contributing to the 20+ instances on-camera of journalists being arrested or assaulted by law enforcement at US protests this past week despite identifying themselves as press. 

As a political strategy, governments that are among the worst offenders of free expression and civil rights have become highly active in (directly and indirectly) buying stakes in US and European entertainment companies. It’s a bet that business leaders across our industry will self-censor their content for fear of offending a potential future source of financing.

History is filled with a repeating pattern of tragedies that media companies could have helped prevent but failed to address, either out of conscious decisions or wishful diminishment of obvious warning signs. 2020 is a moment for media, entertainment, & gaming companies to recognize that they are participants in the political arena whether they want to be or not. It’s a moment where company leaders need to step up at both the corporate level, by lobbying policy makers, and at the creative level, by evaluating the values their content infuses in audiences/users.