Hello everybody today we will talk about a very dear topic to me, media. Media law to be precise. My today’s guest is a water polo player and a water polo official for the water polo club in Düsseldorf, Germany. Before my 9 month long hiatus from water polo during which time I started to write more seriously, I spent half a season playing for his club DSC 1898 (DüsseldorerSchwimmclub 1898) and there I became aware that my today’s guest has chosen to get a masters degree in Media Law.
Sometime later I decided to check up on him and his masters degree and asked him if he was willing to do this interview with me. The topic and the reason for our interview will be Media Law. As someone who is pretty active in the media for some time I have noticed some things about the media and its potentials. Both good and bad. My opinion is that the rise of social media has taken the old generation of law makers by surprise. What is media and how can we implement certain limitations without affecting freedom of speech you can find out in our today’s interview, so without any further ado Mr. Mathias Iking
Hallo Mathias, thank you for doing this interview with me. How are you and your family in these challenging times? How have these times affected the water polo side of your life?
Hallo Tomo, thank you for your invitation. I really shouldn’t complain since health is the greatest good in these times and everyone around me and my family is healthy. But normal life has become complicated, both privately and in sports. As a club official I have a lot more organizational effort to keep our sporting operations going as far as possible. In addition, the contact with our athletes and trainers suffers, as I absolutely avoid visits during training.
Do you think that due to the pandemic all of sports, or maybe just some sports, water polo included, are losing kids?
I think the whole pandemic situation will have a negative impact on water polo in Germany for years to come. In particular, the initial swimming training for children has practically been idle for a year now. As a result, swimming will likely lose talents from at least two to three age groups. This will definitely have an impact on the quality and quantity of the children in youth water polo in the next few years and of course later on in adult water polo as well. But our sport is not the only one in Germany that is suffering. Most sports feel the same way. In my region, North Rhine-Westphalia, alone, sports clubs have lost around 175,000 athletes, many of them in the youth sector.
Studying Law in Germany sounds like something that takes a lot of ones time haha. How did you manage it, or maybe better to ask, how did you organize yourself to remain active within water polo and also focus on your primary job and a Law school on top?
Legal education in Germany demands a lot from you. You need a lot of stamina and discipline to accumulate a lot of knowledge over a long period of time and then place it correctly in two final exams. So you have to be well organized and be able to deliver precisely to the point. In this regard studying isn’t really that different from sport. The challenge for me was to do both in parallel.That worked out especially because I found a good environment in Düsseldorf.I studied in Düsseldorf, so I didn’t have long distances between the swimming pool and the lecture hall. At a later point in my studies, I needed a part-time job in the legal field. The club supported me in this and found me an entry-level position with my current employer. This employer also gave me the chance to develop myself and still pursue my sport. Without these opportunities, I would have had to give up water polo in favor of my professional training. So I am very grateful to my employer and my club for the support. When I started to be a club official, I understood that my career is very much linked to the club’s philosophy. In Düsseldorf, it is part of the club DNA that water polo can be combined with work and family. If you are committed to serving the club, it always gives something back.
What got you interested in Media Law? The law part, or the media part?
The decision to pursue a master’s degree in media law in addition to my work as a lawyer had various reasons. I thought it would be the right step to further educate myself in a future-oriented area of law with regional reference points and intersections with my personal interests. I have been specializing my work in data protection law since 2018 and I am generally interested in topics about information technology and of course I am consuming media every day, both privately and professionally. The economic region around Düsseldorf and Cologne also has significant points of reference to media and technology. The master’s degree in media law gave me the opportunity to kill many birds with one stone and it was not only limited to the pure media area, but also included areas of law such as intellectual property, e-commerce, IT security or competition law. Coming back to your question of whether the law part or the media part influenced me, I would say that I was attracted to both. After all, you also need an interest in both areas in order to properly understand the context and goals of a client and to be able to advise him.
When speaking about media and its regulations, do we speak about all media, or mostly mass media? Is there a difference between the media and the mass media?
In the current public discussion, regulation is usually associated with mass media. But one has to bear in mind that the mass media are only a strong sub-group of the general media. When we talk about media, we are talking in a broader sense about communication as such and communication basically serves to exchange information.This interview, for example, or the channel with which we conduct it, can also be described as a medium, even if the information that we are both exchanging would always remain between us. The special thing about mass media is that they not only provide a large number of people with the same information in a short time, but at the same time or precisely because of this they represent a significant factor for individual and public opinion-forming, with a not inconsiderable risk of manipulation. For this reason, it is considered necessary to legally regulate the mass media more significantly than other media, for example media for individual communication.
How do you think has this fast forming global opinion affected the world, water polo and all sports in general?
There are both positive and negative developments for the world and for sport. You reach a lot more people with the information you publish, and they are more inclined to participate in the formation of public opinion. However, you get more and more the feeling that extreme streams of opinion are more “loud” and more noticed.I would like to see the majority of moderate users of social media speak up more often and stand up to the extreme opinions. In water polo, however, I tend to see the positive aspects in the foreground. I rarely see the boundaries of mutual respect being crossed.
Does mass media start with Mr. Guthenberg and the invention of his printing press some 500 years ago, or are the pre-historic paintings in the caves of our biological ancestors the first steps into to world of today’s mass media?
Gutenberg’s method of letterpress printing and the associated significant increase in the distribution of fonts can certainly be described as the birth of the mass media in Europe. Although prehistoric wall paintings were suitable for recording and passing on noteworthy information for a long time, they did not achieve the necessary range of information in a short time to classify them as mass media.
Could you have a short breakdown of media history for my readers and me?
The first newspapers appeared in Germany at the beginning of the 17th century and were considered the most important medium well into the 20th century. Telegraphy was invented in 1837 as the first form of modern wired telecommunications. Less than 40 years later, the first functional telephones were available. The first silent films were made around 1895, making them accessible to the public earlier than the radio was in 1906, which is due to the fact that radio frequencies were initially reserved for military purposes.The first computer was developed in 1941. Television only had its breakthrough in the 1950s, although the necessary technology for it had been around since the 1930s at the latest.In the years 1973 to 1983, the computer scientists Vinton Gray Cerf and Robert Elliot Kahn developed the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), which are necessary for connecting networks and transmitting data packets, and thus created the basis of the Internet, the most disruptive (media) technology of the past 30 years.
From my research I have found that, as it goes with any new technology, at the beginnings of mass printing books were considered to be the devils work by the powers that be at that time, but let us take politics out of the equation. How do we differentiate between censorship and regulations, and how does free speech fit into all of it?
Good but also difficult question – I’ll try a simple answer.Censorship begins at the latest when the state or a power group itself exercises control over the information and opinions published in the media. With the regulation, a basic order or a framework for the media is sought, so that it is precisely to be excluded that the state or power groups receive or exercise a determining influence in their interests on the publication of information. There will always be a fluid border in between. Like many others, I consider freedom of speech to be the foundation of democracy. So should freedom of speech always be guaranteed in a democratic state? Definitely yes. Does that mean at the same time that freedom of speech is limitless? Definitely not. Freedom of Speech reaches its limit as soon as it unduly violates the rights of third parties that are equivalent to it. For example, freedom of speech experiences a limit in the area of human dignity. The difficult task of a democratic state in this context is to ensure a sustainable balance between freedom of speech and the rights of third parties.
What is your opinion about the social media, from your personal and as a law professional point of view?
If you look at my profiles on Facebook or LinkedIn, it should be obvious that I am not an excessive user of social media. At the moment I use social media more as a support for networking and for information gathering, but not exclusively. Perhaps I will at least partially adapt this behavior in the future, as social media are playing an increasingly important economic role, especially in the area of acquisition. Because by participating in social media, one can generate a very large reach with relatively simple means. To do this, however, you have to stand out from the crowd in some way. Violations of moral or legal boundariesby users inevitably increase in such a competition. However, my legal perspective is less focused on user behavior, but rather on the role the respective companies play behind the respective social medium. And here it has to be emphasized that behind the successful social media there are profit-oriented companies with considerable market power. At these companies, one can critically question where the well-being of the user or law-abiding behavior stand. So why do I use a social medium like Facebook even though I have a critical attitude towards the company behind it? The answer is quite simple. There are a lot of users I am connected to on this platform and on possible alternative platforms this is not the case. So why should I use the alternative? This describes very simply the so-called “network effect”.
According to you, how has the recent resurgence of the social media platforms affected our water polo as a sport and as a community?
Let’s take a general look at water polo and its community first. There is a saying about water polo that it is more a way of life than a sport. I think that fits very well. In my opinion we have a small but passionate community in and out of the water in every country. But overall, our sport is not extremely popular and beyond national borders, the networking of the community and the opportunity to get informationis decreasing significantly. Increasing water polo visibility on social media is a very easy way to generate cross-border attention and connections. Especially in a pandemic situation like now, when it is not very lively in many German swimming pools, it is wonderful that it becomes livelier outside the swimming pool. I hope that the media presence of our sport will be expanded even further, because this will certainly also increase the popularity of our sport.
Do you think that the recent changes, within our sport and its community, have more to do with the social media itself affecting our world in general, or has it more to do with the members of our community using the social media and everything that comes with it?
The basic principle of social media is networking with like-minded people. Man is a social being. So it can very well be argued that social media addresses a basic human instinct for togetherness. Our society is also becoming increasingly digital, not only because of demographic change, but also because the inhibition threshold for using digital content continues to decrease in society. I believe that the change in the water polo community is in large parts related to this fundamental change in society and the basic principle of social media. In addition, in the recent past, many water polo clubs and associations have discovered the general benefits of social media and are expanding their media presence. The pandemic intensified these factors, as digital networking and exchange were used as a substitute for the largely limited real personal contact.
According to you, what approach should the water polo community accept in dealing with the social media? Does our community have to protect our children from the negatives that come with social media, or is it up to the governments and other political entities to integrate new laws, rules and regulation to protect the youngest and the most vulnerable ones within our societies from the societies themselves?
I see the correct use of social media as a social responsibility. It would be wrong to rely solely on state intervention. These are in any case limited in relation to the cross-border companies behind the social media. Legislation has also been unable to keep pace with technological processes for a long time. So the state can establish basic rules of the game. However, this does not replace the fundamental social mandate to sufficiently sensitize the user with regard to the use of social media. Simply put, in this area, social media is no different from road traffic. There are also state rules here, but parents still have to teach their children the correct and safe behavior in road traffic themselves. And as in road traffic, the imperative of mutual consideration should be strongly anchored in each and every one of us when it comes to social media.
And unfortunately we have reached our final question. You gave us a lot here to digest. To my readers and to me personally. Thank you for your time and for your effort once again. On the positive note, do you think that water polo as a sport is doing the right moves in modernizing and digitalizing itself, or should we say “update-ing” itself?
Thank you Tomo for this opportunity. I hope that I have done justice to this exciting topic and that I have not scared you or the readers away. I think in water polo there are many clubs that are on the right path and have made great progress, especially in the recent past. But there are also many clubs that lack professional media competence. I think it’s the same with the associations. This is where we have to start and close the gaps. With a unified, professional image, our sport would be able to increase its visibility exponentially.