This page displays write-ups related to communication that was purely developed for academic purpose.
Communication policy! Where exactly does it come from?
As Tasuro Hanada remarks ‘Policy is a medium of control acting upon politics and at the same time a product of political process’ (cited in Raboy, 2002, p.5); to answer the question, ‘where communication policy comes from?’, it is important to trace the political and economic history so as to draw a general assumption in regards to policy making and to understand what various factors could have influenced the making of certain policies.
As Cuilenburg and McQuail note (2003, p.186) the earlier period till the mid of 19thcentury was the ‘no-policy’ period and only with the emergence of new innovations in the field of communication at the start of Second World War were regulatory measures introduced. So, back then communication and media regulations were focused on technologies, such as telegraph, telephony and wireless, that were state owned and broadly used for national interest and security. However, after the Second World War, the economic ‘stagflation’ of the 1970s brought changes in the market structure. State monopolies e.g. state owned telecoms and broadcasting were open for liberalisation and privatisation. This created an environment for ‘interaction’ between the ‘states own national interest’ and ‘commercial enterprises operation’ that lead to the ‘origins of communication policies’ (Cuilenburg and McQuail, 2003, p.182). The most powerful country the United State itself, felt the worst effect of recession in its history until the mid 1970s, which lead to a significant transformation in policies to restore ‘economic stability’ and ‘social order’.
During this period, a variety of interest groups vied to make themselves heard and to influence the policy making process; which Dunleavy(1991, p. 12) describes a ‘pluralist’ concept that is mostly applicable in ‘liberal democracies’ This pluralist approach has helped to develop policies both in USA and UK. In USA at the highest level are the ultimate policies makers, who are the elected politicians and work closely with the civil servants. Then there are the regulatory bodies that are formed primarily by legislatures that exert great power in making policies. Lastly there are the media organisations putting forward their own concerns about media and communication policies. And beyond all this are the citizens for whom policies are said to be made and to whom those who make and employ policies are answerable (Hutchison, 1999, 125). Here, pluralist anticipate policy makers’ resolutions through varied ‘interest groups’ who ‘lobby the government, legislators and parties’ and also ‘balance the electoral forces amongst currently less active voters’(Dunleavy, 1991, p.24), thereby avoiding a particular actor to ‘gain hegemony’ to influence policy (Freedman, 2008, p.31). However, if we investigate carefully, we will understand that the policy making process might not necessarily be based on public interest and that the classical pluralism theories, where power is seen to be dispersed and pressure from different groups is said to ease the emergence of more efficient public policies, might not be valid. What masks the public eye is how there is a ‘continuing and intimate relationship between the key corporate interests and government policy makers’ that ultimately affect policy (Freedman, 2006, p.916). The fact that the ‘key corporate leaders’ of major organisations play a vital part in the political process by creating ‘lobbying organisation’ and ‘business policy groups’ to ‘support or oppose pending legislation’ (Akard, 1992 p.602-612) is particularly important. As Freedman (2006, p.916) states ‘corporate interests increasingly circumscribe and swamp the policymaking sphere’. An example can be the 2003 UK Communications Act during which, ‘representatives from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Television are said to have met with the ministers six times’. Leigh and Evans (2005) expose that ‘Mr Murdoch secured private reassurances from ministers during heavy lobbying that he would be able to buy Channel Five if he wanted to’ (Cited in Freedman, 2008, p 917). We have to understand that lobbyists working for big corporations can manipulate policy and the politics behind policy making. Every step of the process is ‘marked by fierce competition for, or deployment of, resources, influence and power’ (Freedman, 2008, p.3). This conclusion contradicts the classic pluralist principles of diverse interest groups being able to exert power on the government; perhaps influence is directly proportionate to high level of resources and contacts; and since elites have exactly that, they are the ones playing a vital role in manipulating policies. As Hutchison (1999, p.137) says, ‘the policy for the most part is the preserve of interested parties, and of an elite’.
There is also the question of why politicians would listen to the lobbyist or, to that matter, the cooperate elites in media? What’s in it for them? Politicians require media to reach the mass audience and to make sure their policies and initiatives are covered and also ‘to gain advantage at the expense of rival parties’ (Hutchison, 1999, 126). The politicians or the government would also not want to ‘antagonize powerful newspaper proprietors or media commentators and risk unfavorable coverage’ (Freedman, 2008, p.88). One example given by Freedman (2003) would be the relationship between Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch, who owns the newspapers Sun, Times News of the World and Sunday Times, and how it seemed to be ‘shaping the direction of Labor Party policy’ (Cited in Freedman, 2008, p.88). This relationship of bargaining between politicians and media organisation leads to an outcome where there is infliction of self-motive driven policies. To provide another example, let us look at June 2003 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) act that lead to change in the media ownership rules. Michael Powell increased the limit on national ownership for a company owing TV stations from 35% of TV households to 45% where Powell (2003) said that it was designed to ‘protect core policy goals of diversity, localism and competition’ (Cited in Savigny, 2004, p.228). This decision was not protested by Fox and CBS, who would benefit from this ruling and as Mundy (2003) states ‘was actually conceived by the lobbyist for News Corporation who were determined to keep liberalization of ownership rules on the political agenda’ (cited in Freedman, 2008, p.108). Further, to understand where the communication policy comes from and how it is made, it is equally important to understand how regulators are elected and who elects them. For example, the election of Michael Powell as the chair of FCC in January 2001 can be scrutinized to understand how the elite network really works. Firstly, Powell is the son of former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and worked with former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as policy advisor. He also had influential supporters in congress. John McCain of the Senate Commerce Committee and Billy Tauzin, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, both men with a track record of backing deregulatory measures for telecommunications and broadcasting were also equal supporters of Powell (Freedman, 2008, p.107). In all this if we add the fact that Fox and CBS, both of which are owned by Rupert Murdoch, always seem to have pro-congress news in their agenda, then the elite equation becomes very clear. So perhaps policies are actually made by power elites who seem to work through a network.
This also highlights the need to understand how there is a constant ‘switch over of roles between politics and broadcasting’ (Hutchison, 1999, p 128). Michael Powell is again a really good example of this ‘revolving door’ phenomenon, how he went from being Chair of FCC i.e. the public sector to one of the largest private equity organization in media, Providence Equity Partners (Freedman, 2008, p 94).
So far we have talked about the factors that influence communication policies inside a state, in terms of the USA the global power. However, in this globalizing world where boundaries are slowly fading away, the power of transnational companies and international organizations to influence policies cannot be ignored (Morris and Waisbord, 2001, p. x). Organizations such as the EU, UNESCO, and International Telecommunication Union (ITU), etc., can influence policies beyond the borders of the states. Hutchison (1999, p.130) states that ‘politicians who operate in the pan-national stratum of government are also involved in media policy, most obviously in the European Union’ and gives the example of the European Parliament, which is actively supporting public sphere, promoting pluralism and controlling media ownership in Europe. An example could also be the conditions imposed by the EU on the merger of AOL and Time Warner and the refusal to allow the merging of the UK’s leading music company EMI with them (BBC, 2001). Moreover, in this global context of interdependence and interconnectedness, we cannot forget that the policy changes in powerful countries, such as the USA, may affect other countries. So, when analysing where communication policies come from and how they are made, it is important to recognize the power elites with affluent resources and networks within a state. Equally important is to bear in mind that the policies of less rich or less powerful states might equally be influenced by powerful, rich, elite states such as the USA, where multinational companies and organisations remain in the hands of elite networks.
Akard, P. J., (1992), ‘Corporate Mobilization and Political Power: The Transformation of U.S. Economic Policy in the 1970s’ in the American Sociological Review. October 57 (5),597-615. [Online] <http://www.jstor.org/sici?origin=sfx%3A&sici=0003-1224(1992)57%3A5%3C597%3ACMAPPT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S&cookieSet=1> [Accessed on 25 November 2009]
BBC news, (2000). EU hurdle to AOL, Time Warner merger [online]. BBC corporation. Available from: < http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1113492.stm> [Accessed on 27 November 2009]
Cuilenburg, J.V. and McQuail, D., (2003), ‘Media Policy Paradigm Shifts: Towards a New Communications Policy Paradigm’ in the European Journal of Communication. 18 (2), 181–207. [Online] Available from: Sage publications <http://promusica.se/Library/Electronic%20texts/Cuilenberg_McQuail2005.pdf > [Accessed on 24 November 2009]
Dunleavy, P., (1991). Democracy, Bureaucracy and Public choice: Economic Explanations in Political Science. London, New York, Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo and Singapore: Prentice hall
Freedman, D., (2008). The Politics of the Media Policy. UK and USA: Polity press
Freedman, D., (2006). ‘Dynamics of Power in Contemporary Media Policy-making’ in theMedia Culture Society. 28(6), 907-923. [online]. Available from: Sage publications <http://mcs.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/28/6/907> [Accessed on 25 November 2009]
Hutchison, D., (1999), Media Policy: An Introduction. UK and USA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd
Raboy, M., (2002), Global Media Policy in the New Millennium. Luton: University of Luton Press.
Savigny, H., (2004). ‘The Media and the Personal Lives of Politiciams in the United States’ in the Parliamentary Affairs. 57(1), 223-235. [online]. Available from: Oxford Journals. <http://pa.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/57/1/223> [Accessed on 27 November 2009]
Organizations that campaign around the reporting of conflicts: Special attention to DART and IWPR
We have experienced the importance of media from history; one fine example is the Vietnam War. When the US media portrayed uncensored version of corpses on television it lead to public outcry, causing US to lose public support and finally the war (Thussu and Freedman, 2003). To check what the government is doing and how it justifies the war, the role of a committed journalist and media as a watchdog becomes indispensible. For this reason there are organisations that campaign around reporting of conflicts, mainly because it is a difficult task to report the ‘truth’ when there are powerful agencies trying to suppress or hide the reality.
In this essay we begin by explaining what war is and how it has changed and why it is important to report around conflicts. We then discuss about different organisations that support reporting of conflicts and explain in detail two organisations ‘Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma’ and ‘Institute for War and Peace Reporting’ (IWPR). At the end we critically compare and contrast the two organisations to draw conclusion on how effective they are in campaigning around reporting of conflicts.
The information for this essay has been collected through books and mainly through websites. Some information was also drawn from direct contact with the organisation employee. What this essay fails to showcase is discussing in detail about a particular conflict where both Dart Centre and IWPR might have worked at the same period. This comparative analysis was not possible because of the 3000 words limitation and also mainly because Dart Centre official website sheds little insight on its activities and it was difficult to get in touch with Dart members.
Uppsala Conflict Data Project defines armed conflict as ‘a contested incompatibility that concerns government or territory or both where the use of armed force between two parties results in at least 25 battle-related deaths. Of these two parties, at least one is the government of a state’ (cited in Gleditsch, N. P. et al., 2002:619). Though cold war has ended there are conflicts that are still ongoing and escalating. In 2001 alone there were around 34 active conflicts in 28 countries (ibid). Cold war has also changed the nature of conflict; it is now no longer between nations but mostly within nations with casualties shifting from military personnel to civilians (Pottebaum and Kanbur, 2004:459).
Thussu and Freedman (2003) classify Post-Cold war conflicts into three categories: i) war that has ‘geo-strategic or economic’ interest like the war over Iraq that was found to be for the control of oil, ii) giving Yugoslavia as an example they classify the second type as the conflict erupting out of ‘ethnic and nationalistic politics’ and iii) the ‘invisible’ conflicts that have high death tolls but is shunned away from the international media like the conflict in Sudan. The reality is there are armed conflicts happening and will continue to happen around the world. People will get killed, injured, and displaced from their homes and infrastructures will get destroyed leading to a direct impact on the existing support systems like food, health and social system (ICRC: 2009, DFID:2005, Manoj and Baker: 2007). In such situation information and news becomes vital with media playing a crucial role.
War in itself is news worthy and real interest to media (Webster, 2003:58) with so much of action happening around. Media can act as a ‘critical observer, publicist and, most recently, as battleground, the surface upon which war is imagined and executed’ (Thussu and Freedman, 2003: 4). Therefore reporting the truth becomes indispensible. Though news can be easily circulated from one place of the globe to another with the development in modern communication technology (Hawkins, 2008: 5), it is in reality the work of committed journalists who put their lives in danger to get these news.
We tend to overlook the fact that these journalists are also human beings. First they too react to suffering like we all do; hence there is always a ‘contradiction between professional need and human feeling’ (Woollacott, 2006: 80). Second in a conflict zone what they really want might be ‘as much as redress for terrible wrongs or rescue from the threat of death’ (ibid). How to protect journalists reporting wars has become a major issue. For example, after the death of a reporter called John Schofield in Croatia in 1995, BBC introduced Hostile Environment Training and made it compulsory for its members to train before going to areas of conflict (BBC World Service: 2010). After all, if the deaths and injury of journalists keep escalating than the future for the reporting of conflicts will be in a serious jeopardy (Tumber and Palmer, 2004: 46). Thus, there needs to be organisations that assist journalists in covering conflicts, to protect their right to press freedom in an autocratic government and to ensure their safety from threats and deaths. However, also equally important it is to train them on correct reporting of conflict because how a conflict is covered not only affects the reporters psychological health but also that of the audiences (BBC: 2010).
Organisations that improve war reporting:
Large media organisations such as BBC World Service Trust, Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) and Agence France-Presse foundation (AFP) provide training to journalists who report on conflict even when the journalists are not directly associated with their organisation. BBC World Service Trust has worked in countries like Angola, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia and Russia providing extensive training courses to develop professional ethics and objectivity in reporting (BBC World Service Trust, 2010). TRF and AFP both have also been training journalists around the globe and they even provide support to media organisations and NGOs (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2010, Agence France-Presse foundation: 2010). Further, all these media organisations have reputable awards like Rory Peck Trust Awards, Kurt Schork Awards for freelance and local reporters that encourage journalists to do better reporting. When journalists are associated with big media organisation they are to some extent protected in war though not completely. The situation of freelance journalists or local journalists as compared to them is very different. So who protects them during conflict and who fights for their rights?
There are many not for profit based organisations that campaign around reporting of conflicts and work to protect and train local as well as international journalists. Few examples of such organisations are Amnesty international, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), The Frontline club, Reporters Without Frontiers, Human Rights Watch, The Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma and so on. ‘Amnesty International mainly defends individuals from human rights abuses but also time to time trains Journalists in covering issues related to human rights’ (as said by Fiona Mclaren, Amnesty International, 14 May 2010). In addition to this it also fights for the journalists who might be imprisoned and mistreated. Recently Amnesty International has been trying to protect Journalists in Azerbaijan who are suffering of harassment, imprisonment and even death threats for freedom of speech (Amnesty International, 2010). However this is not the core activity of Amnesty International unlike Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that specifically fights for press freedom and publicly voices concerns for the life and safety of the journalists who are imprisoned or threatened and acts on their behalf (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2010). In this essay we will only discuss in detail about two organisations that campaign around reporting of conflict, they are i) International War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and ii) The Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma.
The Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma:
Dart centre began with a mission to help journalists improve coverage of trauma and conflict by reporting victims of violence with sensitivity, dignity and respect. Its mission began from a small program initiated by a faculty member at Michigan State University in 1991 for students studying journalism (Dart centre for Journalism and Trauma, 2010). At present it is affiliated with Columbia University drawing resources and training materials from various disciplines (mental health experts, media professionals, researchers and educators) to train and provide necessary skill and knowledge to journalists’ worldwide in reporting violence and tragedy effectively (ibid, Fearn-Banks, 2009 :184).
When a reporter covers a crisis whether street crime, natural disaster, conflict, accident or any tragic incident, it may often have an emotional impact on them. This does not only hinder in the way they might collect news but could also have a lasting psychological affect. As Professor Roger Simpson, director of the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma says “Violent events are not discriminating in how the affect the emotions of those directly involved. Journalists who have rushed to the scene will show some of the symptoms of shock and trauma. Some testify to ‘going robotic’ not being able to read the notes scribbled at the scene, and being overwhelmed emotionally.” (cited in Fearn-Banks, 2009 :184). Consequently, efficient news reporting on such shocking incident demands knowledge, skill and support which Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma is striving to provide.
Dart runs a number of activities to achieve its mission. Firstly the Dart Centre website (www.dartcentre.org) itself is a useful source for information to journalists and educators providing a range of articles, interviews, advice and tips (Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, 2010). The Research Unit at the University Of Tulsa Department Of Psychology studies the impact of news coverage of traumatic events and encourages scientific inquiry. The Centre is also dynamically involved in improving the trauma curricula in journalism, developing materials for both students and working media professionals. In timely manner it also organises seminars, training and consultation programs to working journalists and encourages them to volunteer to educate their colleagues through newsrooms.
Another best way Dart encourages effective reporting of trauma events is through awards and fellowships. Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma which was established in 1994, recognizes the best reporting from North American on the impact of violence, crime, disaster and other traumatic events. And every year Ochberg Fellowships which is named after the psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, M.D., a pioneer in the study of trauma, provides mid-career journalists from US, Europe, Australia and Latin America for weeks of intensive seminar on trauma reporting (Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, 2010).
Overall Dart centre seeks to provide support academically and professionally to students and working journalists on ethical issues around reporting of trauma and how the impact of trauma coverage affects both the news consumers and the news professionals.
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR):
Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) emerged around 1990s (Harris, 2008). It initially begun with a small organization in the early ‘90s called Yugofax whose sole purpose was to inform the public about the wars in the Balkans. By the mid of 1990s, after the war was over it changed its name and established itself as a non-governmental organization called IWPR (ibid). It is an international network of four partner not-for-profit organisations that consists of Board of trustees from media, human rights, business and NGOs. Chairman of The Financial Times Sir David Bell chairs the International Council that links the Boards (Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 2010).
IWPR believes in information being the key to drive positive changes in peoples’ lives especially in pressing situations such as conflict and crisis (Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 2010). It gives voices to people during situations of war, dictatorship and political turmoil by building public information and encouraging debate to demand government to act and to assure human rights. It works with local (community groups, media houses, NGOs, government) and international partners (INGOs, UN, Universities, international broadcasters and publications) connecting local media to civil society to address the issues adversely affecting the population (ibid).
Everything is in a state of emergency in a crisis situation with journalism being no exception and that is why support to journalism is all the more necessary. In such places the media suffers financial need, struggles for press freedom and professional skills and ethics. One of the core missions of IWPR is to make sure that professional journalism skills are rooted within individuals and society (ibid). Thus to see that this is met it provides training in professional journalism, does on the job mentoring investigating local issues of concern, inspires high standard of journalism ensuring that reporting leads to positive change, provides support to local media by establishing and strengthening local media institutions and gives a global platform through online and widespread media (ibid).
In a nutshell, IWPR is mostly concerned about building high level of public awareness through information so that people can use it for positive change even in most difficult situation. This it does by strengthening local media and by engaging them with civil society and government.
Critical look at IWPR and Dart:
Dart Centre and IWPR both campaign around reporting of conflict but in different ways. Dart Centre is more concerned with how journalists report trauma whether in conflict, violence or natural disaster and specializes in resources and special reports to help them while IWPR is a charity more concerned with development of local media in conflict ridden regions so that people who are living the story can acquire the skills to report their story in order to bring change through collaborative work.
IWPR time and again conducts seminar and training across the world. It has been running major programs in Afghanistan, Caucasus, Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, the Philippines, South Eastern Europe, Syria, Uganda and Southern Africa (IWPR, 2010). For example IWPR has worked for more than a decade in Caucasus for different projects to train and build capacity of more than 1200 media professionals. It has helped to build professional networks through out the region to bridge the gaps between various conflict divides (ibid). Empowering regional newspapers and local radio to provide better reporting for extended public debate and to drive an impact has been its sole objective.
Dart Centre on the other hand has it’s headquarter based in New York and global office based in Europe and Australia and has programs running in Indonesia and Germany (Dart, 2010). While IWPR has a long term projects in the community to help local media, Dart Centre is more focused on academic inquiry regarding trauma reporting and even building journalism profession in that regard by partnering with universities like Columbia University, University of Tulsa and University of Washington. Dart Centre is trying to reach its resources to journalist from different countries through its regional offices while IWPR gets itself involved with the local community to conduct its programs.
For its researches and core activities Dart Centre receives most of its funding from theDart Foundation at Mason, Michigan, USA. Dart Foundation is a private family foundation established in 1984. It initially focused its funding on education and youth programs but now its major support goes to Dart Centre for Journalism & Trauma (Dart Foundation, 2010). However, Dart Centre also accepts funding from individuals and other organisations. Nevertheless, since most part of its funding come from a private family there is little controversy surrounding it. This is also particularly because of the nature of work that Dart conducts, which is for the most part academic.
Conversely, when it comes to the funding of IWPR it could surround some controversy and this in particular is because of the kind of work it does and where most part of its funding comes from. IWPR receives its funding mostly from the west: from the US state department, US Aid, the National Endowment for Democracy, the US Institute for Peace, George Soros's Open Society Foundation, the British Foreign Office, the European commission, the OSCE, UNESCO, and other European governments, among others (John Laughland, 2005). The authenticity of the news collected by IWPR from conflict regions thus can also be questioned after all funding policy is particularly important to non-governmental organisations because it determines the institutional neutrality.
Organisations such as International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) is very particular about this matter and so are many other non-governmental organisations and IWPR is no exception. Perhaps realizing this, IWPR clearly states in its website that it is fully transparent about its sources of funding and that it refuses to accept earmarked money, especially if it is beyond the development of independent press (IWPR, 2010). It also states that they will not partner with U.S. or any other military or with local projects closely associated with the military and will not accept funds from any source that would manipulate their independence. However, Martin Woollacott (2005) who served as a board member for couple of years in IWPR himself states that IWPR might be undermining the power of its western donors, after all ‘the argument runs, they are as much in the business of regime change as the Bush administration and are, wittingly or unwittingly, instruments of American power’ (cited in guardian achieve 2005).
Because what journalists have to say about war is important, it is important to protect them and at the same time to train them so that they can protect themselves in conflict while providing an excellent reporting. Both Dart Centre and IWPR have done a good job is helping them report about news from different angel. Dart highlights the importance of covering trauma and provides support to journalists in that sense while IWPR helps journalists to develop skill and resources for effective reporting and acts as foundation for networking for change.
Both these organisation also provide platform for reporters to voice their stories. They have award winning websites and social media platforms (facebook, you tube, twitter, iTunes) where they regularly feed the public with news that their journalists have covered. The stories that they cover might be of importance. However, the truth remains that these organisations cannot compete with multinational media organisations such as Fox News, BBC, New York Times and so on. Time and again they might be able to arouse interest on their news from these media giants, but on most part these multinational media outlets have their own trained journalists out in the field covering the news. In addition to this, the reach to larger public is far greater for BBC or Fox News than for Dart Centre or IWPR. Hence, it is important for these organisations to work closely with the multinational media company to make their niche more effective.
Nevertheless, what remains valuable is how both these organisations do offer help to media professionals covering conflict either by training, supporting the local media or by providing rich resource materials for sharpening the reporting skills.
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An attempt to understand the role of the mass media in society through the concept of “hegemony”
In this capitalistic twentieth-century, we cannot ignore the role established by the mass media as a principal and crucial tool in shaping the cultural sphere of our society. ‘Pubic information, intercommunication and exchange’ of the ‘social knowledge’ in society now solely depends upon mass media (Hall, 1977:340). Its role rests on the information that it provides which stimulates political ideas, social action, public policy agenda and priorities and further more (Khuori, 1999). Hence, what media imparts as information to the public becomes very important, for as mentioned earlier, this information is what produces the values in cultural sphere that drives the world today. In order to understand the mass cultural process one needs to examine how media industries function (Gottdiener, 1985: 980). So, in this essay we examine and dissect mass media through the concept of hegemony, to understand its role. How hegemony exists in the media system, in corporate decision making process and how ‘ideological hegemony’ is deep-seated in the very ‘intellectuals’ responsible for providing information to the general public will be discussed. We firstly will understand the concept of hegemony before analysing the media system and also talk about counter-hegemony to shed light on how media can sometimes go against the existing dominant hegemonic ideology in a society. Lastly we will talk about the limitations of hegemony in arriving at an understanding of the role media plays with in the society.
Hegemony is a concept that was first posed by an Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) in his notebooks; while he was imprisoned. He was attempting to understand why after World War I, there was no working class uprising over fascism in Northern Italy during the regime of Mussolini (Gitlin, 2003: 252). An ardent follower of Marxism he witnessed the failure of the Marxist theory - the process by which masses (proletariats) should overthrow oppressive capitalist bourgeoisie systems, to move towards a less oppressive economic system (Marx and Engels, 2002: 10-12). Gramsci built upon Marxism to conceptualize hegemony focusing more on the ideological independence and ‘human subjectivity’ rather than economy (Daniel, 2000). One of the limitations of Marxist theory was the fact that ‘superstructure’ .i.e. ‘cultural and political institutions’ were seen as being dependent on the ‘economic base’; Gramsci tried to highlight the autonomy of such ‘superstructure’ away from the ‘base’ (Stevenson, 1995:15).
Hegemony according to Gramsci centres on ‘cultural and ideological means’ through which the dominant or the ruling class retain their dominance on ‘subordinate classes’ by building ‘spontaneous’ mass ‘consent’ (Strinati, 1995: 165; Gitlin 2003: 253). Stevenson (1995:16), suggests that hegemony is a continuous battleground where the ‘bourgeoisie and the working class construct economic, political and cultural alliances with other social groups’ and that ‘ideology is represented as the social cement that binds together different class alliances’. He further adds that the ideology works only when it is able to relate to the ‘common sense’ of the people and influence them for change. Hence, Gramsci’s hegemonic ideology is based on the fact that the ‘dominant social group in a society have the capacity to exercise intellectual and moral direction over society at large and to build a new system of social alliances to support its aims’ (Thussu, 2000:68). Military force might not always be the best possible way to gain power; in fact it is achieved not with ‘legal and legitimate compulsion’ but by ‘winning active consent’ of the subordinate class (Hall, 1982: 85). The dominant class develops and upholds its hegemony in ‘civil society’, i.e. by generating ‘cultural and political consensus’ through unions, political parties, schools, media, the church, and other voluntary associations which is where hegemony is exercised by the dominant class over allied classes and social groups (Thussu, 2000:68).
There is still a question as to why people would indisputably consent to let the dominant class control them, why would they agree to cultural and political consensus. Gramsci answers this by suggesting that the subordinate group is not ‘ideologically indoctrinated’ but accepts the values and leadership of the dominant class since it also reflects their own interests (Strinati, 1995: 166; Hall, 1982:85; Gitlin, 2003: 253). As Strinati suggests (1995: 167), ‘if we accept that hegemony is also about the battle for ideas, and the consent to dominant ideas, then it might be argued that it also includes concessions to the ideas and values of subordinate groups’. However, we can also disagree by saying that perhaps it is merely a false consciousness created by gradually shifting the ‘public interests and perception’ towards the dominant class without the public consciously realizing it (Stevenson, 1995:16). Regardless, Gramsci is able to explain precisely what the earlier Marxist were not able to that is the ‘“free consent” of the governed to the leadership of the governing classes under capitalism’ (Hall, 1982:85).
Hegemony and the media:
Gramsci highlights the importance of certain institutions in particular mass media, as the ‘subject to production, reproduction and transformation of hegemony’ (Strinati, 1995: 168). Gramsci therefore points out the fact that it is important to analyse the role of media in the context of hegemony (Strinati, 1995: 169). Media is no doubt a powerful tool that affects not only individuals, but other institutions including society and culture (McQuail, 1997: 90). In Hall’s word (1982: 86) media are the institutions that ‘not only reflected and sustained the consensus’ but ‘helped produce consensus and manufactured consent’, acting as an important tool to establish hegemony. Hall analyses the media through a hegemonic framework, he starts by saying that public trust media because ideologically they projects independence and impartiality from the political or economic interests of the state. However, media existing within a state are obliged to follow the ‘formal protocols of broadcasting’ and depend on ‘the form of state and political system which licenses them’ (Hall, 1982: 86-87). Hence the question of their operation being state driven is very likely. Hall (1982: 88) mentions media as being an ‘ideological state apparatus’ used to mediate social conflicts.
An interesting example of this state driven hegemonic ideology is the one given by Curran who compares the modern media with the medieval church showing how media is still used for social control by different dominant players. According to Curran (1982: 227) like the medieval churches media bind different people together by promoting collective values and social solidarity; back then it was the Christian faith while now it is consumerism and nationalism through international sporting contests and consumer features. He specially focuses on British media and how they promote collective identity through monarchy just like the Church. Cannadine (1983) gives an example of how the BBC in 1932 helped create a fascination for British royal family and helped project an image of British as one ‘whole’ by broadcasting an image of the fatherly figure of George V (cited in Stevenson, 1995:17). Here we can easily see the BBC supporting the British regime in other words the state to build a common consensus while supporting hegemonic ideology. Curran (1982: 227) also adds that just like the medieval churches, media now also gives attention to the ‘outsiders’, earlier it was witches and warlords now its youth gangs, terrorist, drug addicts, militants etc. The role of mass media says Curran (1982: 227) ‘is interpreting and making sense of the world to the mass public’; and while doing that they tend to reproduce the hegemonic ideology.
Production of hegemonic ideology can best be explained in regard to the professional communicators, like journalists, who are very important to ‘amplify systems of representation that legitimize the social system’ (ibid). Journalists can be termed as ‘intellectuals’, who according to Gramsci are responsible for ‘production and dissemination of ideas and knowledge’ (Strinati, 1995:171). We also need to understand that Journalists though thought to be autonomous are bounded by the hegemonic system, they unconsciously frame the news that is in keeping with the ‘institutional arrangement of the society’ (Gitlin, 2003: 269), or in other words the hegemonic ideology and though they do not do it intentionally, it stems from the way they make news decisions, the way they have been trained and socialized from childhood (Gitlin, 2003: 257). They unknowingly have a tendency to promote the ideology of the political and economic elite by simply doing their job.
According to Ben Bagdikian, there are three stages of selection for the news. First the editor decides that a certain site or event needs to be investigated for news; second a reporter decides what to look for at the site and lastly the editors decide on how to pitch the story to public (cited in Gitlin, 2003: 258). However, these are just the three processes; behind this there are various other aspects governing what news to cover and why. There is the ‘institutional structure of the media, managers who set the corporate policy’, then the budget. Further, the owners of the media who fall into the elite class want to respect the political economic system in order to gain their own political and economic advantages (Gitlin, 2003: 258). Since legitimacy in media organisations is what attracts audience, the top media managers make sure that their news operations are carried out in the way that this is projected, ‘their forms of social control must be indirect, subtle, and not at all necessarily conscious’ (Gitlin, 2003: 259). We see here that there are lot of ideological forces that shape the news. Media that acts as a window to the world and a provider of social knowledge are in reality controlled by corporate and political elites who, by controlling ideological space, are making the public think what the dominant class want them to so that they remain in power. So, basically hegemony is enclosed in the news or programs, which helps maintain the dominant ideology.
Commercial media as a hegemonic ideology:
While discussing about hegemony in respect to media, we also need to talk about the commercial media. According to Gitlin (2000) commercial media have slowly through ‘format and formula’ influenced people to think and behave in a certain way (cited in Murphy, 2003:59). Today people who are not consumers they might be regarded as an outsiders, such is the trend created by the media. It has instilled a feeling that each one of us must become a consumer or aspire to be one in order to be in the ‘norm’ of the society. With the help of media and through the expansion of consent, ‘slow but powerful ideological process began to shape both moral order and common sense, aligning the cultural practice of consumption with freedom, individuality, civil liberties, etc’ (ibid). Stevenson, (1995:146) gives an example of a Levi jeans advertisement and how by watching just the advertisement a consumer is addressed with a ‘unique’ sense of craving, the ideology has an effect on the consciousness of the consumer without him/her realising that they are in reality a social class exploited by a hegemonic ideological process. The way media operates now is exactly what Gramsci proclaimed about hegemony, it is about one class’s struggle over another by creating values that the dominated class must follow.
Gitlin argues that by controlling what the media feeds the public (the dominated class), the ruling elites are infusing a false consciousness among them, which limits them in acting for change. However, Williams who follows in the footsteps of Gramsci differs by suggesting that there can be room for change with counter-hegemony (Stevenson, 1995:17). According to him hegemony is not constant and is always changing by challenging, resisting and reaffirming the ‘dominant hegemony’ (ibid). William states that ‘traditions, institutions and formations’ are the three cultural processes for hegemony, where in the traditions are always ‘invented and reinvented by the national state’ and these newly formed traditions rely on institutions such as mass media and education for transmission in order to establish a ‘dominant consensus in contemporary society’ (ibid). For example media can be said to promote counter-hegemonic ideology if it shows a program or a report that questions the government involvement in war. We all know about the invasion of Afghanistan by the USA on 2001 after the 9-11 attack. During that period, the USA media was more concentrated on sending messages about the war on terror and Al-Qaeda, hence no one questioned the invasion of Afghanistan and as a result the elite group in this case Bush received consensus from the public for the invasion (Rall, 2002). If the war on Afghanistan by the USA had been questioned at the point when the war was beginning then the media would have acted against the hegemonic ideology of the US government led by Bush. Hence according to Williams, the concept of hegemony does provide space for critical reasoning, so that a new class may challenge the existing ideology and resist change from the hegemonic ideology (Stevenson, 1995:181). Another example of counter-hegemonic ideology could be the 30 November, 1999, Battle of Seattle, where tens of thousands people took to the streets to protest at the launch of new millennial round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organizations Ministerial Meeting. This can be said to be against an existing hegemonic ideology, consequently a counter hegemonic approach.
However, we have to understand as recognised by Schiller (2003) the importance of ‘informational and cultural power’ as being a key factor in governance and that these are no less important than the army and the police, to achieve social control (cited in Stevenson, 1995: 5). Also it is difficult to challenge the elite hegemonic ideology reinforced by the media because it ‘collides head on with the fundamental interest’ of the dominant class and since they are the ones who have control over the ‘informational apparatus’ and ‘the cultural institutions that influence, if not determine, social thinking, the idea of challenging’ them becomes hard (ibid).
Hegemony cannot always explain the role played by the media in a society. According to Gottdiener (1985: 982), since hegemony suggests that the dominant class controls the class consciousness in a society, it neglects the fact that people are different and people have a different reflective thought capacity and that there are no ‘homogeneous human subjects’. Further, when hegemonisst talk about false consciousness they neglect the fact that consciousness and ideology are two separate entities for ‘ideology is not consciousness it is the representation of ‘imaginary’’ (Gottdiener, 1985: 983). That is why he suggests a semiotic analysis of mass culture in the society because the ‘users of mass culture are more active and more creative than previously thought’ (Gottdiener, 1985: 978). He thereby modifies the concept of hegemony one step further through a semiotic approach because it is a fact that ideology cannot be controlled fully and that the struggle to control it will always continues (Gottdiener, 1985: 978). Another research done by Johnstone et al. (1976) ‘on the background, orientation, and ideology of journalists found that homogeneity in background or orientation is not the rule. For example, those who had a journalism education tended to think it was not necessary, while those who lacked it thought it would be worthwhile. There were important regional differences in regard to prestige, reliability, and whether a journalist would use stories from other media in his/her own reports’ (cited in Altheide, 1984:481) Thereby concluding that news or information selection in mass media might not necessarily be inflicted by hegemonic ideology and that journalists are not always socialized to dominant ideology.
Though the concept of hegemony has its own limitations it has proved worthwhile in understanding the media organisation and the information they impart against a broader background (Altheide, 1984:486); which helps create a mass culture that in turn influences attitude and behaviour in the society. It has equally contributed to an understanding of the relationship between media and power. By using the hegemony concept and analysing how the media industry functions we were able to understand the role that the media plays in mass culture, and how this role reinforces hegemony. This essay tries to cover the concept of hegemony drawing arguments from various researchers and at the same time also sheds light on its limitations. We discussed how media itself works in a hegemonic framework and how managers try hard to project impartiality. We also briefly discussed the relationship between the political elite and media owners and how ‘intellectuals’ working for the media,are conditioned to bolster hegemony in the society. As a result, an important institution such as the media that plays a vital role in the society if, in itself, is influenced by hegemony, the role that it might play in the society is unquestionably influenced by hegemonic ideology.
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Murphy, P. D., (2003). Without Ideology? Rethinking hegemony in the Age of Transnational Media. In: Artz et.al. (eds.) The Globalization of Corporate Media Hegemony. Albany: University of New York. pp.55-75
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Stevenson, N., (1995). Understanding Media Cultures: Social Theory and Mass Communication. London: Sage
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Creation of global media market through development of communication technologies.
Technology has always been fundamental for human civilization and its development. Historically with the advances in technologies human civilization has had huge impact in social, political and economic arena. We have advanced from agricultural based to an industrial society with major innovations in technologies. And today we are in the age of information which is embarking to be the leading power in the ‘post industrial-age’ (Mowlana, 2005, p 175). But information exchange and communication have always existed in the history, though in a much traditional form. It developed from clay tablet in Mesopotamian, Papyrus roll in ancient Egypt and Greece, paper in China which then moved to Europe where printing press was developed and then postal service in Britain (Thussu, 2003, p 12-14). Communication and efficient information was always felt vital for expanding both national and international trade.
Although we became familiar with the word ‘globalisation and information society’ in the twenty first century, the transformation of communication from national to international level had already begun with the introduction of the telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century (Hills, 2002, p 3). The new telegraph technology was introduced in Britain in 1843 and later in 1847 in USA. With the help of telegraph information exchange became quick and easy which helped British Empire to have more direct control on its colonial territories and have Military and strategic advantage. From 1860s in the United States and 1870s in Britain the use of telegraph advanced the growth of big businesses and helped in the expansion of US companies into Europe before World War I (Hills, 2002, p 4-5). Telegraph and cables also became indispensable to press in the mid-nineteenth century; it presented an opening to gain an edge in the field of mass communication (Winseck and Pike, 2007, p 3). Around 1871 the telegraph lines had stretched half of the world between Australia, China, Europe and Japan, due to which information was accessible within few days. Press agencies such as Reuters were established that took advantage of this situation (Scholte, 2005, p 91). This reveals how telegraph had already created way for globalisation of media market back then.
Later it was the trans-border telephone connections and radio communications from 1890s that gave further momentum to globalisation (Scholte, 2005, p 91). Telephone was introduced in 1877 and was dominated by America which was manufacturing the highest number of telephones (Thussu, 2003, p 19). Another great technological advancement was the radio which was able to do wireless transmission between countries in 1866, followed by the invention of television in 1926 and computer networks around 1969 (Scholte, 2005, p 91). Technological innovation of television and cable networks helped the process of homogenization by instigating ‘cross national broadcasting and the multiplication of channels’ (Hallin and Mancini, 2004, p 260). However, the most crucial component of communication infrastructure was the introduction of satellite that had many advantages which was lacking in other means of communications, it was able to ‘form the star point of a communications net’ enabling linkages to people separated by geographical boundaries (Roddy, 2006, p 1). McChesney (2000, p 78) states that ‘the rise of global media market is encouraged by new digital and satellite technologies that make global markets both cost-effective and lucrative’. Introduction of cable and satellite helped quick circulation of information throughout the globe; however the global media market picked paced only after the liberalisation of media and communication industries.
After the economic stagflation in the 1970s there was a change in the global political arena, shift in ownership, from public to private where markets were opened up for commercialisation. Many countries were dissatisfied with their telecommunications that had evolved around ‘monopolistic’ operators, this lead to liberalisation of telecommunications in many countries with an aim of lowering the prices out of competition (Geradin and Luff, 2004, p 1). An example of this could be the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) that was split into 22 local companies breaking the monopoly and thereby liberating the market for private competition (Thussu, 2003, p 83).
McChesney (2000, p 78) says that the institution of global capitalism such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) encouraged the rise of global market. McChesney further remarks (2000, p 81) that ‘global media system is the direct result of the sort of “neoliberal” deregulatory policies and agreements (e.g., NAFTA and GATT) that have helped to form global markets for goods and services’. WTO that replaced GATT also ‘had clear agenda of privatisation and liberalisation’ and insisted that in order to stimulate economic growth, free flow of information was indispensable. From the three key agreement signed in 1997 under the auspices of WTO, the one that most likely to affect the international media and communication industry is the GATS fourth protocol on Basic Telecommunication Services that obliged 69 signatory countries to liberalise their telecommunication and provide market access and equal treatment to foreign corporations (Thussu, 2003, p 84-87). From the year 1980 to 2000, the global trade has grown enormously and in recent years a number of nations including China have joined the WTO, thereby expanding its scope (Geradin and Luff, 2004, p 1). Though many believe that the involvement in international trade is likely to enhance the economic development of nations, Thussu (2003, p 116) notes that the prime beneficiaries of this WTO agreement has mostly been the Transnational Corporations that dominates the global trade.
Without doubt, liberalisation and privatisation has evolved many Transnational Corporations and has also lead to many horizontal mergers of these corporations that wanted to establish monopoly in a particular sector for greater market shares and better profits. Today media ownership has been concentrated to fewer large conglomerates of which many are from the USA. With the development of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) act in June 2003 that changed media ownership rules, the conglomeration of media ownership accelerated even more, with big corporations taking control of over more than one distinct sector of media (McChesney, 2000, p 16). One reason for this to happen was also because the development in communication technology has advanced in such a way that the ‘twenty first century term’ mass media which represents ‘primarily print, media, radio, television and cinema’ has ‘combined to forge a new product with enormous potential for economic market’ (Mowlana, 2005, p 170). This has specially become possible with the introduction of internet where digital convergence has become possible. The various media forms can become ‘convertible’ into each other: printed documents can be scanned to image files; text message can be turned into a voice message, telephone handsets can display pictures, a television can display information on computer, cinema can be watched in internet etc., (Mueller, 2004, p 314). This, as a result, led to big corporations having specific concerns, like Disney, which was concentrated with cartoon films and theme park operations, to acquire television networks throughout USA along with radio stations, book publishing company, recording labels and also some space in the net etc., (Thussu, 2003, p 123-124). With the major mergers happening around, what becomes clear is that there might not be a space for small or middle sized media to survive, according to McChesney (2000, p 20) ‘firm either gets larger through mergers and acquisitions or it gets swallowed by a more aggressive competitor’. He then talks about the trend of ‘vertical integration’ in this deregulatory time, where the media firms are not only producing content but are also holding distribution channels, which guarantees ‘places to display and market their wares’ and gives an example of Disney that owns ABC and the News Corporation that owns Fox (McChesney, 2000, p 21) there by strengthening their existence globally, which has resulted in the concentration of media power in the hands of very few big conglomerates.
The most recent development in the technology ‘satellite’ has chiefly been used as a tool to deliver media products – ‘information, news and entertainment’ – across the globe (Thussu, 2003, p 119). There is no denying that the global media market that might have slowly begun from the telegraph has enormously grown with the introduction of technologies such as satellite and cables. However, with the introduction of the new technology, computer and the internet, the possibility of wider convergence of – telecommunications, information technology (IT) and media – has become feasible. Here it is important consider that though internet might show scope of developing the global media market further, its access is limited to only few percentage in the globe, hence its influence in the global media market might take some time to develop, but its importance cannot be neglected.
As Thussu (2003, p 7) remarks, ‘global media market evolved partly as a result of deregulation and liberalization of the international communication sector in the 1990s and partly as a consequence of the rapid expansion of new communication technologies, notably satellite and cable’, I conclude by saying, one of the key aspect of deregulation and liberalization of the market was actually the advancement in communication technologies – growing parallel to it - and that as a whole the growth of global media market was largely because of the introduction of newer technologies.
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Hills, J., (2002). The Struggle for Control of Global Communication: The Formative Century. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press
McChesney, R.W., (2000). Rich Media Poor Democracy: Communication Policy in Dubious Times. New York: The New press
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Mueller, M., ‘Convergence: A Reality Check’. Geradin, D, and Luff, D., (2004). The WTO and Global Convergence in Telecommunciations and Audio-Visual Services. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid and Cape Town: Cambridge University Press
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Scholte, J.A., (2005), Globalisation a Critical Introduction. 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
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Understanding globalization of western media organizations: through the concept of cultural imperialism
The word ‘cultural imperialism’ surfaced around 1960s but the interest on this topic wasrenewed only recently. There are many reasons for this renewed interest like: the innovation in different Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) including internet, ‘growth and influence of American-exported cultural industries, and the shifting state of international relations and global politics in the aftermath of 9/11 and the American-led war against Iraq’ (Smandych, 2005:3), which has made cultural imperialism a favourite topic of discussion among intellectuals.
The term ‘cultural imperialism’ is such an ambiguous and complex concept that it is difficult to conceptualise in a single definition (Tomlinson, 1991:2). Hence, its definition seems to range vastly from a narrow to broader and formal definitions according to different theorists. An article in a website titled ‘American Popular Culture: Cultural Imperialism’, as mentioned by Smandych (2005:3) defines it as:
‘The domination of other cultures by products of the US culture industry’.
While Schiller (1976) defines it as including: ‘The sum of the process by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced and sometimes even bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating centre of the system’ (cited in Thussu, 2000:61; Smandych, 2005:3, Mohammadi, 1997:49).
The central position of ‘cultural imperialism’ is that certain dominant cultures are threatening the vulnerable traditional cultures. ‘In fact cultural imperialism gathers in a number of fairly discrete discourses of domination : of America over Europe, of the West over the rest of the world, of the core over the periphery, of the modern world over the fast disappearing traditional one, of capitalism over more or less everything and everyone’ (Tomlinson, 1999:80). Consequently, when understanding cultural imperialism we have to comprehend that it is not just an ‘invasion of indigenous culture by a foreign one’, as neo-Marxist would argue, it is equally an important aspect in ‘spreading capitalism as an economic system and a set of class relation’ (Tomlinson, 1991:23-25). It seeks to understand ‘how the power relations of economic and political dimensions infiltrate the culture sphere’
For some theorist ‘cultural imperialism’ is synonymous to ‘media imperialism’ which will entail the media to be incredibly important in the process of cultural imperialism (Tomlinson, 1991:22). However, Chin- Chuan Lee (1979) reasons that the ‘neo-Marxists’ are the ones using the concept of ‘cultural imperialism’ since they adopt a more holistic view of the media’ where as the ‘non-Marxist’ or the ‘pluralist’ prefer the term ‘media imperialism’, keeping it restrictive, without linking it with other aspects of culture like economics or politics (Tomlinson, 1991:20-21). However, in today’s world while analysing media, one cannot separate it alone from culture, since it play a valuable part in human’s life; shaping everyday attitude and behaviour (ibid). Consequently media cannot be separated from broader complex whole – culture - and one has to look into media as an aspect of cultural imperialism. As Golding (1977:291) suggests, ‘cultural imperialism includes the results of international media, educational and cultural systems and is more inclusive term than media imperialism’.
Boyd-Barrett (1977: 117) defines ‘media imperialism’ as: ‘The process whereby the ownership, structure, distribution or content of the media in any one country are singly or together subject to substantial external pressures from the media interests of any other country or countries without proportionate reciprocation of influence by the country so affected’.
He concludes by agreeing to Golding saying that ‘media imperialism’ is a much specific term. However, ‘media imperialism’ could be an important component in understanding ‘cultural imperialism’ (Boyd-barrett, 1977:119, Tomlinson, 1991:22) since much of the discussion on cultural imperialism revolves around the media – ‘television, film, radio, print journalism, and advertising’. Both the terms media and cultural imperialism broadly tries to discover how cultural hegemony is built and reinforced in the society through mass media (Sarikakis, 2005: 80). According to Jonathan Friedman (1994):
The discourse of cultural imperialism from around the late 1960s tended to set the scene for the initial critical reception of globalization in the cultural sphere, casting the process as ‘an aspect of the hierarchical nature of imperialism, that is the increasing hegemony of particular central cultures, the diffusion of American values, consumer goods and lifestyles’ (cited in Tomlinson, 1999:79).
So, global culture will tend to have a hegemonic ideology. And that ‘media and cultural imperialism, both can be used in conjunction to globalization’: earlier colonial control was seized through the military and economic dominance but now dominance is achieved cleverly through the use of mass media and cultural products (Sarikakis, 2005: 81). Today the media is constantly expanding technologically and penetrating almost all parts of the world and is playing an important part in the ‘modern western capitalism’ (Tomlinson, 1991:22). When we trace the history of globalisation we see that it evolved with technological advancement, from the invention of telegraph, to the telephone, radio, television and then finally the celebrated internet. However, it was only with the invention of the satellite (McChesney, 2000: 78), that the face of global communication changed. Marshall McLuhan somewhat through his concept of ‘Global village’ highlights the power of electronic media to restore collective culture (Walters, 2001: 12).
Earlier communication was exclusive to Western Europe but with liberalisation and privatization of industries it expanded to the rest of the world - from Latin America, Africa to Asia - with big global corporate companies exploiting the benefits (Schiller, 1992: 12). These huge conglomerates have expanded themselves into ‘film, TV production, publishing, recording, theme parks and even data banks’ occupying what accounts to the ‘total cultural environment’ (ibid). Schiller (ibid) points out that the cultural conglomerates are not exclusively from America but are emerging from other parts of the world as well, like Japan, France, German, English etc. However, today when we look at the global media market, we see that it is heavily dominated by ten or more ‘vertically integrated media conglomerates’, most of which are from the United States (Herman and McChesney, 1997:104). According to the data of 1996 Herman and McChesney claim that the biggest five global media giants were - Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Viacom, and News Corporation – and Granville reconfirms this 2001. The expansion of these US based global conglomerates seem like will get more wider, as the news corporation headed by Rupert Murdoch states that their ambition is to further grow by expanding into ‘every form of programming – news, sports, films, and children’s shows—and beam them via satellite or TV stations to homes in the United states, Europe, Asia and South America’ while they already rank fifth with approximately $10 billion on 1996 sales (Herman and McChesney, 1997:70). Hence, there is no denying that the media conglomerates will only get stronger and larger. With the huge dominance of American media in international market, however, one can expect the global culture to be heavily influenced by American culture.
Subsequently, when we talk about western media organisations and western countries, it can be assumed that we are emphasizing on USA and the multinational corporations based there. The media make-up of America is so advanced that it is the only country in the world where the market domination by the media is completely accomplished with prominence in commercial media that is steadily being followed by the rest of the world (Herman and McChesney, 1997:137). Therefore the new emerging transnational enterprises rely on the U.S. ‘cultural styles and techniques’ to learn and by doing that they in turn are heavily influenced by the American culture. An example of this would be a research carried out in Brazil, that identified the Brazilian television programming being influenced by American Media and that their version of soap opera was a third world replica of the western culture. Consequently, it possessed the same value as of the U.S. programs .i.e. consumerism. This is ‘the role of popular culture in an age of transnational corporate market domination’ (Schiller, 1992: 13). There are instances when western journalists provide training for non-western journalist and broadcasters. While doing this the western journalists tend to expose the non-western journalists to western values, they also teach them about ‘objectivity’ but this objectivity is in regards to handling wired copy of the news from an international News agencies (Boyd-barrett, 1977:125).
Media is a powerful tool, and with the right use of this tool a ‘subtle’ power can be exercised. Joseph Nye, Jr. (1990) suggested media to be a ‘soft power’ an instrument of cultural imperialism for holding a global dominance. Fraser (2003) also uses the term ‘soft power’ to explain how America uses it instead of military coercion to morally through ‘global appeal of American lifestyles, culture, forms of distraction, norms and values’ to influence the world (Smandych, 2005: 7). The mass media is one of the chief sources of wealth and power for the western world especially U.S. for it has communication networks running all across the world. It is through mass media that USA is able to sell its products. For example the establishment of global brands outside America, like McDonalds, Coke, Microsoft, Calvin Klein, Levis, IBM, NIKE etc. became possible through global media. Some of these terms are even used to explain western cultural hegemony or American hegemony, like ‘Coca-colonization’, ‘McDonaldization’ etc (Tomlinson, 1999:83). Hence, we can say that the mass media have become an integral part of the U.S. system; it not only gives massive profits but also act as a tool to create an American cultural - hegemonic ideology around the world.
However, it is not easy to capture the attention of the audiences every time even for global media conglomerates, for this, they have to constantly have to alter and revamp their products to make it more attractive and appealing, in order to create a market for different American products. Hence they invest a lot of money and time to improve the quality of their film, television programs and recorded music (Schiller: 1992: 29). Also, these media materials carrying the message of American culture when exported outside tend to stimulate people by raising their expectation and need for similar quality product in their local media market as well (Schiller: 1992: 30). Hence Schiller says these countries become dependent on US communications technology and investment, as well as their media products. Also, since media exports are dependent on sponsors for advertising they even choose to advertise the western goods and services thereby unknowingly promoting ‘American way of life, through mediated consumer lifestyles’ (cited in Thussu, 2000:62). For example Music Television (MTV) has been localized in different parts of the world. ‘It draws from local cultures to produce commercial goods saleable to local/national markets, directed from a centre not identical to their operation locus’ (Sarikakis, 2005:82).
Another way USA promotes ‘the consumer lifestyle’ is through Hollywood. Hollywood today enjoys a position of market hegemony with its movies being distributed all around the world. According to Boyd-Barrett (1977: 131), it was the ‘economic of scale’ factor that gave advantage to Hollywood to establish hegemony all over the world. Movie might be a little too expensive to make but after production it is very cheap to distribute and the size of the American market alone is able enough to incur not only the capital spent but gain high profits. This made more than one enterprise easily survive and the anti-trust legislations lead them to penetrate foreign markets and eventually Hollywood emerged as a strong enterprise that no non-American could compete, there by able to dominate the film industry.
Cultural imperial clearly shows how by enforcing a commercial and capitalistic hegemonic ideology through mass media, western media organisations were able to set foot on the global frontier. Further, how by strategically using the concept of cultural imperialism they were able influence viewers and listeners to not only accept the American way of life but to look up to it. Cultural imperialism however, fails to recognise the fact that culture does not transfer in a ‘unilinear way’. According to Appadurai (1990), ‘movement between cultural/geographical areas always involves interpretation, translation, mutation, adaptation, and ‘indigenization’ as the receiving culture brings its own cultural resources to bear, in dialectical fashion, upon ‘cultural imports’’ (cited in Tomlinson, 1999:81). Also cultural imperialism fails to differentiate between individuals; different people have different perceptive power and difference in opinion. All the people who read or view might ‘pick and choose what they want to hear and read and interpret imported materials from their own frames of reference’ (Herman and McChesney, 1997:152), this cultural imperialism does not address.
Likewise, cultural imperialism clearly explains the dominance of an ideology - capitalistic western ideology - influencing other parts of the world through media. However, it fails to shed light on the counter flow of information through media that is happening all around the world. Counter flow might not be very much rampant but it is surely occurring around us. We can take the example of Al Jazeera. Firstly established in Arabic language, now it has a channel that runs in English as well and was mainly established for the western population (Morley, 2006:33). Usually news is formulated by the media channels in the developed world like the BBC, CNN, and FOX etc to the developing world; it has always been this way. Now, with the establishment of Al Jazeera, not the west but the other side of the world - an Arab world - is making the news in English language and is sending it out to the rest of the world, especially the west (Morley, 2006:33). This is clearly an example of counter flow of information which the concept of media imperialism does not clarify.
In summary, cultural imperialism is a very wide phenomena and can be interpreted is various forms. However, many theorists seem to equate media imperialism with cultural imperialism. In reality media imperialism is more restrictive while cultural imperialism is more inclusive. ‘The political and economic power of the transnational’s and their global reach is’, according to Schiller, ‘accompanied by an ideological power to define global cultural reality’ (Tomlinson, 1999:81). The transnational organisations are deeply embedded in the capitalistic system, in a way that their function itself is to provide momentum to capitalist ideology through media. They tend to create an illusionary world that attracts audiences to change their belief and perception to comply with what they perceive, which ultimately makes them the clients of capitalism.
Global capitalism has been able to expand itself to a whole new level only because of the rise in transnational media conglomerates. With newer and finer innovations in communication technologies, especially with the introduction of satellite, these multinational corporations through movies, music and TV programming were able to impart a hegemonic ideology about American Culture that influenced the rest of the world and there by gave them dominance in global sphere. In this way they were able to sell American products and make profits by influencing mass media with this hegemonic ideology of capitalism and commercialisation. During this process they were not only benefitting in global political economy but alongside were also forming a global culture.
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American Programming, good or bad!
With the invention of cable and satellite television, access to American programs and movie is just a switch away -- though an under developed country, Nepal is no exception to this. The easy access alone determines the extent to which American Programming is affecting global television network. It was the Americans who first came with the creative concept of sitcoms and reality television that became a trend setter. "Borrowing" concepts from American shows many television producers in different countries made a profitable business through programs like Wheel of Fortune, America's next top model andWho wants to be a millionaire. No doubt American programming has been inspirational for many television channels worldwide. However, the extent to which it can impede the functioning and survival of local channels is equally pivotal.
Recycling and rejuvenating American shows is an easy thing to do but with no original essence the growth of the national broadcast media and cinema industry might suffer in the long run. Due to the easy access of American channels and their increasing popularity national channels are competing against technologically and creatively more advanced giant. Local channels are not just loosing viewer-ship but also their chance of survival. In Nepal post democracy television channels sprouted everywhere. At present though there are around ten television channels; each is struggling for its existence. These days not only urban audiences but also the rural ones are attracted more towards the heavily dominant American and Indian Programs.
Hollywood and many American television programs like Desperate housewives, Friends,Seinfeld and The Simpsons depicts life in America. This is always good for people around the world who cannot afford to travel as they get to see life in a free and developed country. This also helps to bridge the social and cultural gaps between continents. However, whatever is shown on the television and movies does not necessarily mirror reality. The 'liberal' projection of American life has particularly fascinated youngsters towards western style of living there by shadowing the rich culture and tradition of Nepal where lies the identity of Nepalese.
Furthermore, media being a powerful tool for social change needs to be sensitive about the messages it conveys to broader mass. Some American hit shows and movies that are broadcasted globally implant political messages to educate audiences. Feeding American political values and beliefs to the global mass through media giants, is it correct? I believe in media being a tool for communicating social messages like empowering people to take responsibilities regarding depleting environment and global warming, poverty, population growth, pollution or perhaps trafficking. The list is endless. Particularly, in the case of Nepal, with the end of internal conflict, should prioritize the process of peace building through media.
In conclusion, American programming is not completely bad but there needs to be a check and balance for the growth of national television and film industry. The government needs to monitor contents on such channels so that American culture is not overly influential. This will be a step towards safeguarding the rich cultural and social heritage of a country.