Is the media sector being left out of AI policymaking?

24 Aug 2023

Image: Aphra Kerr/Concordia University website

Aphra Kerr of the SFI Adapt centre in Maynooth University tells Vish Gain that there are ‘blind spots’ when it comes to EU policies on AI.

The European Union is famous world over for being at the vanguard of tech regulation. Especially when it comes to new tech, EU policymakers are quite good at presenting a strong, selective and semi-permeable layer for companies bringing their products to the continent.

Most recently, for instance, Meta has had to hold back from launching its latest X (formerly Twitter) competitor Threads in the EU because it does not meet local regulations yet, even though it is available in most other markets in the world.

In the case of artificial intelligence – with its most talked about subgroup, generative AI, in mind – the EU has passed landmark legislation in the form of the AI Act to rein in the technology and monitor its application across various spheres of human life.

But like all good regulations, the EU rules have shortcomings. While our policies around AI are robust when compared to the US and the UK counterparts, a group of scholars across Europe think there is a “significant gap” between initiatives and the media and communications sector.

Media and AI policy ‘blind spots’

In a paper published earlier this year, a group of European academics argue that the EU policies around AI need a greater representation from the media sector.

One of the academics is Aphra Kerr of Maynooth University, who told in a recent interview that there have been some “blind spots” in EU policymaking around AI.

“There are a few missing voices. Where are the big public sector broadcasters or big film studios or even the private broadcasters? Where are all these voices? Do they not have anything to say on AI?” said Kerr when asked about the background dating back to 2018 that led to the paper.

“Maybe they didn’t think they had something to say and contribute on AI to the policymaking process, so that was the first thing that struck us. We’ve got the new digital players like Meta and Microsoft, they’re all over. But some of the other media players weren’t saying at all.”

Kerr is a professor of sociology at Maynooth and principal investigator at the Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI) Adapt centre for AI-driven content technology based in the university. She is also one of the co-authors of the paper, which she presented in Lyon recently.

“This research highlights the critical need for a comprehensive approach to AI governance in the media and communication sector,” she said at the conference.

“Media experts from academia and industry have been largely absent from key European AI policy initiatives since 2018 and thus the impacts of AI in the sector is poorly represented and understood.”

The paper proposes a novel multi-level framework to analyse the policy challenges in governing AI in the media and communications sector, considering “sectoral specificities and socio-technical consequences”.

By identifying four dominant uses of AI in the sector – automating data capture and processing, content generation, content mediation and communication – the research uncovers overarching opportunities and risks associated with AI implementation in the media and comms domain.

“We urge policymakers, industry leaders and stakeholders to consider the unique challenges posed by AI in this sector and take proactive measures to ensure AI development and adoption align with trustworthy requirements and European democratic values,” Kerr added.

Ireland’s unique role

Not every impact of AI on the media is negative, however, Kerr noted. Tech tools such as big data and AI can help journalists with large scale data analysis, she said, such as what would have been needed for the Panama Papers.

“But then there’s also some things that we thought – particularly thinking of politics and society – we would need to be careful about,” Kerr explained.

“Also, in terms of culture and languages – how do these things work across a multilingual Europe or even Ireland? Are we just going to have things in French, German, English and Spanish and not any of our other smaller languages?”

It’s not just the EU that should be asking these questions around the impact of AI on media. According to Kerr, civil society organisations and NGOs, such as AI for People, have an important role to play in “speaking up for those voices that are often not represented”.

“In Europe, the industry sector is represented very, very well. We also have some academic voices always represented. But I do think there’s probably some missing media voices there.”

And in that, Ireland too has a special responsibility in examining the impact of AI.

“We have a huge responsibility and role given the fact that we have so many of the multinational digital players located in Ireland,” she said.

“This is both a blessing and a curse because we have to look at ways of implementing new complex policies from Europe that come to Ireland, but we also have to attend to special concerns we might have around cultural diversity and politics that are particular to Ireland.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic