Annenberg Launches Center for Media at Risk

On April 19 - 21, the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania celebrated the official launch of the Center for Media at Risk, a new center to study and counteract the way that practitioners of all forms of media — journalism, entertainment, film, and digital — have been harassed, silenced, and coerced by the rising tide of authoritarianism around the globe.

“We are in unchartered waters,” the Center’s website describes. “Political intimidation threatens media practitioners worldwide, and disinformation campaigns destabilize public trust. The Center for Media at Risk offers the chance to strategize in response to threatening political conditions.”

The goal is to empower, protect, and ultimately save the media from creeping authoritarianism.  

The effort is being led by Barbie Zelizer, the Raymond Williams Professor of Communication at Annenberg, whose 14 books and 100+ articles and essays center on journalism, culture, memory, and images in times of crisis. Click here to read a Q&A with Zelizer about the Center’s launch.

Barbie Zelizer, Ph.D.

It is an evolution from the Scholars Program in Culture and Communication, which Zelizer has directed for more than a decade. The Scholars Program will now grow to become the new Center, focusing on this particularly acute and timely problem of threats to media.

The Center also has 33 affiliate organizations including Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Committee to Protect Journalists, World Press Photo Foundation, Writers Guild of America, and numerous departments and groups from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Center has held periodic events over the year leading up to the launch, including talks with journalists like Masha Gessen, Daoud Kuttab, and Graeme Wood as well as academics including Minelle Mahtani, Lilie Chouliaraki, and Manuel Puppis. It will resume these events in the fall, when it will begin hosting scholars and practitioners in residence.

This summer, the Center will continue to host Summerculture, a longstanding summer program for doctoral students, taking them somewhere around the globe — this year, to Berlin — to study and conduct in-depth research. In Berlin, the students will explore how Berlin’s media was put at risk during the Holocaust and the Cold War.

In Fall 2018, the Center for Media at Risk will welcome visiting scholars Wendy Chun and Cherian George as well as postdoc Daniel Grinberg.

The launch event, “What is Media at Risk?” brought in dozens of academics, journalists, filmmakers, and writers, with speakers including Soraya Chemaly, Maria Ressa, Jay Rosen, Mo Ryan, Amy Siskind, Zeynep Tufecki, Nancy Wang Yuen, and many more.  Read more about it here. 

In welcoming guests to the conference, Penn President Amy Gutmann wrote about Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote during the Constitutional Convention, in response to a woman’s query about what type of government the United States was to have: “A republic, Madame, if you can keep it.”

“Our freedom and our self-government depend upon the constant informed attention and understanding of its citizenry,” she wrote. “To that end, a free and unfettered press is absolutely essential.”