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[ecrea] 3 year funded PhD position in Communications Law

Thu Jan 12 06:41:37 GMT 2017


The Institute for Information Law (IViR) <> of the Law Faculty <> has a vacancy for a PhD candidate in Law.

In the digital media environment, user attention is scarce and competition for ‘eyeballs’ is fierce. Big Data analysis, algorithmic profiling and targeting readers with customised news and advertisements that match their individual interests are widely seen as potential solutions: ‘Everyone their own newspaper and personal headlines.’ The personalisation of news media content enables new financing strategies and means to capture the audience’s attention. But personalisation is also part of a more fundamental paradigm shift in the media’s role from public interest intermediary to personal information coach. This research will answer critical questions about the implications for newsreaders and society, and contribute to a new normative theory of the role of personalised media in a democratic society.

To do so, the PersoNews project integrates legal research, communication sciences and political sciences, undertakes comparative, normative and evidence-based research, and carries out experiments, interviews and surveys. The team performs quantitative and qualitative research to identify the user advantages, concerns and conditions of acceptability, as well as the drivers behind and the obstacles to news media personalisation, how they affect journalistic practices and whether they translate into new algorithmic journalistic ethics and self-regulation.

These insights feed into the legal-normative analysis, which will critically re-examine the existing regulatory and normative framework, identify gaps and make suggestions for future legal design. More concretely, the PhD research aims to critically examine the legal framework that protects the editorial independence of the media and ensures a fair balance between commercial pressures and the democratic mission of the media to inform. Advertising has always been one of the primary means of financing media content, and concerns about the integrity of editorial content vis-à-vis external influences are not new. Accordingly, media laws, e-commerce laws and unfair commercial practice laws in Europe have a long tradition of scrutinising the blurred lines between editorial content and advertising. An unanswered question that this PhD project will help to answer is to what extent the existing provisions are able to address new dynamics in the media value chain, new players, such as social networks, app stores and search engines, the growing influence of digital advertisers and ad networks, new forms of advertising in the media, and new challenges to media integrity.


The candidates should have:

  * an interest in the following fields: (European) communications law,
    regulation and fundamental rights law;
  * good knowledge of current developments in information markets and
  * excel academically, as shown in the grade transcripts and curriculum
  * a creative mind and analytical intelligence;
  * an interest in working in a multidisciplinary team;
  * strong communication skills;
  * excellent written and spoken command of English, and ideally
    knowledge of the Dutch and German language;
  * a (research) master degree in law, or equivalent degree. Candidates
    who are due to graduate before March 2017 are also welcome to apply.

      *Conditions of employment*

The position ideally starts 1 March or 1 April 2017, and is for 3 years or 4 years on a part time basis. Your monthly gross salary will range between €2,191 and €2,801, salary scale P on a full-time basis. The Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities <> is applicable.


University of Amsterdam <>

With over 5,000 employees, 30,000 students and a budget of more than 600 million euros, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) is an intellectual hub within the Netherlands. Teaching and research at the UvA are conducted within seven faculties: Humanities, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Economics and Business, Law, Science, Medicine and Dentistry. Housed on four city campuses in or near the heart of Amsterdam, where disciplines come together and interact, the faculties have close links with thousands of researchers and hundreds of institutions at home and abroad.

The UvA’s students and employees are independent thinkers, competent rebels who dare to question dogmas and aren’t satisfied with easy answers and standard solutions. To work at the UvA is to work in an independent, creative, innovative and international climate characterised by an open atmosphere and a genuine engagement with the city of Amsterdam and society.


Institute for Information Law <>

The Institute for Information Law (IViR) is part of the Law Faculty <> of the University of Amsterdam, and for the past 25 years one of the leading centres in Europe and worldwide in research in Information Law. IViR is host to an international team of more than 35 researchers that conduct research for national and European funding organisations (NWO, DFG, ERC), European institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe), international organisations and national governments and regulatory authorities.

The PhD candidate will work as part of a multidisciplinary team of 2 communication scientists and 2 PhD legal students, led by Prof. Natali Helberger. The research will be part of a European ERC project 'Profiling and targeting news readers – implications for the democratic role of the digital media, user rights and public information policy'. The team will operate within the larger structure of a research collaboration between the Institute for Information Law and the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) <> to conduct research into the shift from public to personalised communication in the areas of politics, commerce and health ('//Personalised Communication'//).

The concept of editorial control is essential for defining the role and responsibilities of the news media. It is also a concept that is under great pressure, in particular in light of recent developments. News media are relying more and more on data and algorithms to make editorial decisions. The appearance of hard data on article popularity and engagement seems to create tensions between on the one hand pleasing the news user with personalised recommendation, while on the other hand presenting what the editor determines is politically and socially relevant for the news user. The media also increasingly share their control over selection and presentation with data-driven intermediaries, such as Facebook or Google. These developments pose the question: What is the meaning of editorial control, and the reach of editorial responsibility and liability in such a data-driven news environment?

And what does the dispersion of editorial control over a host of old and new players mean for editorial independence, as an ‘essential requirement for media and a direct corollary of freedom of expression’ (Council of Europe, 2011)? In a data-driven environment, it is not only the influence of the editor that counts, but also that of advertisement networks, news personalisation apps, search engines, social networks, telecommunications operators, and hardware producers. Each party comes with their own vested interest in which types of content users ought to see, and why. The value chain diversifies, and the influence of personal preferences of users and data-driven third parties on editorial decision-making is growing. This calls for revisiting the existing rules in communications law and the self-regulatory codes of the press, which traditionally aim to protect editorial independence, and the audience’s trust in editorial independence.

The PhD candidate will carve out the contours of editorial responsibility in a data-driven and personalised news environment, and elaborate concrete suggestions as to the reach of the concept of editorial control (also in relation to new information intermediaries such as social networks and app stores), but also the measures necessary to protect editorial independence, and users’ trust in editorial independence. In order to do so, the PhD candidate will analyse the history and ratio behind the regulatory notion of editorial control and responsibility, the role of editorial control in media law and policy, and the way the concept is given form in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. Additionally, the PhD student will use insights from interviews with newsrooms and editors. The preliminary guiding research questions for this project are:

 1. //What is the meaning of established values and concepts such as
    editorial control, independence and liability in light of news media
    personalisation and the growing pressure of third parties and
    intermediaries on editorial decision making, and//
 2. //how should the law tackle new challenges to these concepts?//

      *Additional information*

Questions about the project content should be addressed to:

  * Professor Natali Helberger

<mailto:(n.helberger /at/>

Letters of application, accompanied by curriculum vitae and publication list and an academic writing sample in English (e.g. journal article, PhD dissertation) must be submitted before 31 January 2017, preferably by e-mail to:

  * (solliciteren-fdr /at/ <mailto:17-006%20PhD%20candidate%20in%20Law>

or by regular post to the:

  * University of Amsterdam to the attention of the P&O Department, P.O.
    Box 1030, NL-1000 BA Amsterdam

Please send all your documents in PDF or doc(x) format. Only complete applications will be considered.

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