“Discuss the global information (im)balance, and how the globalising force
of the media affects the concept of sovereignty of nation-states when it comes
to politics and culture.”
Globalisation is an idea of our time, highly contested and widely accepted at the same time. It relates to the economy, politics, culture, society, and generally, with everything we deal with in our everyday lives. Globalisation has been widely theorised by different schools of thought and each takes its own approach and reaches different conclusions. Held et al (1999) separate the theorists of globalisation into three different schools the hyperglobalisers, the sceptics and the transformationalists. Each of these schools represent a different account of globalisation and a different interpretation of it as a social phenomenon. I will not attempt to summarise the different views of each school but some of their different perspectives have to be taken into account since they represent different political trends and thoughts on globalisation.
One important argument is brought forward by the sceptics. Drawing on statistical evidence of world trade from the nineteenth century which shows that in fact there is only a slight rise on trade today compared with the Gold Standard era, the sceptics argue that globalisation is not a new phenomenon, but a return to the levels of trade before the great depression. Therefore they argue that globalisation is only a process of intense internationalisation (or transnationalisation) (see Held et all, 1999: 155-171). However, I will not consider globalisation as such, because globalisation deals not only with economic relations but also with cultural, political, social and environmental issues (see Lash and Urry, 1994: 279-312). It is not a coincidence that the concept of globalisation took off during the time of the information revolution. Even the first traces of globalisation deal, directly or not, with the circulation of information. The circulation, or sometimes imposition, of culture through religions and empires (which imposed information) in the pre-modern era is an example of early globalisation (see Held et all, 1999, ch 7). Waters (1995: 146) says that perhaps the most significant event in 19th century globalisation was when the war correspondent of The Times in the Crimean War of the 1850s was able to telegraph his reports instantly back to London so that events were available almost as soon as they happened. Taking into account that instantaneous electronic communication is required in order for transnational corporations (TNCs) to operate their global activities, the information revolution can be granted as the drive for the twentieth century globalisation.
Therefore, the discussion that takes place in this essay is based on this significant importance of the circulation of information and images around the globe. I will be specifically concerned with examining the power of media and how that power affects nation-states, national cultures and nationalities. Can we consider the existence of a global village/culture, or is such a consideration irrelevant?
This essay will deal with those issues in two parts. The first part is concerned with the European Union, and addresses the question of how an international multi-cultural organisation deals with media and information. I am specifically concerned with the European Union as a very good example where nation-states surrendered part of their sovereignty in order to join. Thus, the EU constitutes a good framework for initiating a discussion concerning media and globalisation.
The second part extends the
notions discussed in the first part to a global level. The EU is part of the
first world and it is geographically specified, that is it has clearly defined
borders and identified member states that had to have achieved a certain status
in order to join the Union (either that being political, economical etc.). In
order to consider globalisation thoroughly a discussion must expand to a global
level. Thus, the second part deals with the impact of media and communication on
the third world. Is the global circulation of information and images balanced,
or is there only a considerably one-way directional flow of information from the
first to the third world, and if the latter applies, what are the impacts that
such an imbalance leads to? This part also develops a discussion of the global
media/information organisations. Even though global organisations are not a
monolithic entity (see Sussman, 1997: 224), they do have common interests and
policies. As a few organisations control media, and information flows through
mergers, takeovers and strategic alliances, it is important to consider their
potential power through the exercise of such control.
The European Union.
The European Union is a primarily economic and secondary political Union. At the present time the EU is comprised by 15 member states some of which incorporate very different cultures. My aim in this part is to examine how a supra-national organisation deals with media issues on an international cross-cultural level.
Up to the 1980s, there was no concern to devise a common media policy; regulation was a matter of national politics. However, with the advance in new technologies (specifically satellite technology), the need for a common policy became apparent. Humphreys (1996) identifies two factors as being the drive behind the need for a common policy; the cultural factor and the economic factor.
In terms of culture, initially there was the optimistic view of creating a pan-European satellite service that would eventually lead on to cultural and political integration, but as the 80s wore on that view was abandoned and the issue became to preserve the cultural diversity in Europe (see Humphreys, 1996: 259). An alternative to the creation of a common culture is offered by Weymouth and Lamizet (1996) where they support the creation of an “extended cultural knowledge against which background a new kind of identity extending beyond national frontiers can emerge” (Weymouth and Lamizet, 1996:206). However such a view was never supported by the EU mainly because the basis of such a common culture could not be defined and because of the fear of small member-states that their culture would be overwhelmed by the larger states.
In economic terms, the need for a common policy was driven by the awareness of US domination in the European market as far as films and television programmes were concerned. US programme sales in Europe leapt from $330 million in 1984 to $6 billion in 1996 (see www.europa.eu.int/pol/av/info_en.html). European Commission officials thought that audiovisual production in Europe would benefit if market barriers were lowered, since that would bring economies of scale in the European market. Furthermore the raised demand for programming would be satisfied by an inter-European exchange that would be competitive with US imports (see Humphreys, 1996:260).
As far as European law is concerned broadcasting constitutes part of the service sector, and according to article 59 of the treaty of Rome, there has to be free exchanges of goods and services among member-states (see Humphreys, 1996:262). Additionally article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights explicitly confers rights to “hold opinions and to receive and impact information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers” (Article 10.1) (see Collins and Murroni, 1996:11). However, article 10.2 gives some autonomy to states regarding restrictions on the flow of information on the grounds of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, the protection of disorder or crime, the protection of health and morals, the prevention of the disclosure of expression received in confidence, and for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary (see Collins and Murroni, 1996:97-97). Thus a common European policy had to work around these frameworks: freedom of information with some restriction based on the above grounds.
The most important policy in the EU concerning the media came with the then called EC Commission’s green paper on television, which was produced in 1984 [COM (84) 300 final]. Its title was ‘Television Without Frontiers’ and its aim was to provide the basis for the drafting of a directive that in time would become EU law (see Humphreys, 1996:265). Its aim was to open community frontiers for national television programmes that would eventually boost television production in the European Union.
It only became a Directive in 1989 (Council Directive 89/552/EEC of 3 October 1989) and the five-year period between its initial publication and its enactment was “characterised by considerable tugging and hauling between various interest groups and governments” (Humphreys, 1996: 267). It is understandable that a policy of such a scope can have some bearing on a variety of interests, including political, economical and cultural ones. I will not discuss the extent of the lobbying that took place, however there is a need to talk about the proposal over the imposition of quotas into programming.
The idea of ‘quotas’ is something that existed even within member state national regulations. In the UK ‘as late as the 1970s, no more that 14 per cent of television programmes on BBC or ITV was allowed to be foreign […] [T]he foreign allowance was raised to 35 per cent of channel 3 programmes in 1993 by the ITA and the same proviso was later adopted for channel 5’ (Curran and Seaton, 1997: 326). Paradoxically when it came to discussion on quotas in the European environment the British government objected to any such interference with the free market (see Humphreys 1996:273). The idea of quotas in a European level was also challenged by the US governments arguing that “quotas would be highly damaging to US economic interests and that they would infringe the principles of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)” (Humphreys 1996:273). The result of US interference was that the French who were the main supporters of the idea of quotas had to agree to leave that issue outside the GATT negotiations in order for the negotiations to continue.
However quotas were introduced even in an ambiguous sense, and I am saying ambiguous because even though the directive introduced articles 4 and 5 to deal with obligatory European programming, both of these articles include the words ‘where practicable’. In particular, compliance with article 4 in 1992 was at 66.6% and 62.7% in 1996 (see www.europa.eu.int/comm/dg10/avpolicy/twf/art45/3rapport-d_en.html). The reason for the decline of compliance that has been put forward by member-states in their bi-annual reports, is that several of the channels not meeting the quota are special-interest channels, claiming that the type of programming they specialise in may affect their ability to comply with the Directive since there may not be enough European works of that type available.
Since the primary reason for the liberation of the media market was to promote European productions, and as I have just mentioned many European broadcasters claim that they cannot achieve the quota for European programming mainly because there are not enough works available, the EU initiated the MEDIA programmes (Measures to Encourage the Development of the Audiovisual Industry). These programmes intend to provide support schemes for the European film and television programme industry in order to increase its competitiveness. MEDIA I was adopted by the European Council in December 1990 and was allocated ECU 200 million for a period of five years (1990-5). MEDIA II was adopted in July 1996 and was given a funding of ECU 310 million. Humphreys (1996) is extremely critical of the MEDIA programmes. He mentions that the five-year budget of MEDIA I was extremely low and considerably less than the ECU 268 million that France allocated in support of the French film and television programme industry in 1990 alone; a limitation that reflected the continuing reluctance of the British and the Germans to allow higher expenditure (see Humphreys 1996:280-1).
Taking into account all of the above I can safely say that cultural integrity and the increase of domestic cultural production is an important facet in EU politics, even though the way it is addressed, as Humphreys points out, is promoting more commercialism and liberation in the media marketplace than promotion of European cultures. What is important to note at this point is that as I have already mentioned, the EU is part of the first world, highly industrialised, its state-members comprise some of the ‘healthiest’ and most sufficient economies in the world, and thus the resources required to pursue a specific line of policy are not difficult to be found. Also with a total population in Europe exceeding 370 million people that enjoy some of the highest standards of living across the world, the European Commission has a considerable bargaining power to negotiate and impose its policies to various global organisations that want to do business in the EU.
And this leads me to the
next part of my discussion. The European Union is a good starting point because
it is a multi-national organisation that has the ability to deal with some of
the global issues in a transnational level. However at the same time its is part
of the first world, and even though it suffered two major World Wars in the 20th
century, it has never been colonised, nor have its people been exploited by
third parties. On the contrary, some of the European countries were the colonial
powers during previous centuries.
The ‘Third World’.
The following part deals with globalisation and media in a different environment; an environment that does not enjoy the advantages of the European Union. I will look at media in the so-called ‘Third World’ or ‘periphery’. Even though I will be using the term ‘Third World’, I recognise that it is an ambiguous term which is times substituted by terms like ‘periphery’ or ‘the South’.
The discussion above was concerning the role of the media and the European Union, and I was mostly preoccupied with issues of culture and economy. Indeed, in the EU these are the most important facets for political discussion. When we deal with countries of the ‘Third World’ however, we can see that media issues go further than cultural and economical factors. It is a whole issue of representation of a culture, a nation, or a group of people to the foreign but also to the domestic setting. Media are important to this representation not just as carriers of cultural artifacts but also as mediums of information that nowadays are dispersed globally. Thus in my discussion in this part I will be preoccupied with two aspects of media in ‘Third World’ countries. The first relates with people’s access to media, and the second one with how are these countries represented in the global and domestic media setting and by whom.
The ‘Third World’ has close to 80 per cent of the world’s population, yet only 20 per cent of the world’s income (see Sussman, 1997: 215). 39 countries (that amount for over half of the world’s population) have an annual per capita income of less than $425 (see Sussman, 1997: 216). The economic inequality that is present between the ‘First’ and the ‘Third World’ accounts for much of the media inequality as well. Lack of funds, leads in a major lack of media production from that part of the Globe. Also citizens of the ‘Third World’ do not enjoy equal access to media as their ‘First World’ counterparts do.
Media and Information Access, 1989 (per 1000 population)
The above table relates only with data concerning Television receivers. The same traces of imbalance however can be found in other forms of media and communication. Of the world’s 700 million telephones, 75 per cent of them can be found in the 9 richest countries while the poor countries possess less than 10 per cent and in most rural areas there is less than 1 telephone for every 1000 people (see Hamelink 1995: 296). There are more telephones in Japan than in the 50 nations of Africa combined (ibid), Manhattan has more telephone lines than all of sub-Saharan Africa, and Italy has as many as Latin America (see Sussman 1997: 231).
The imbalance is striking specifically if we consider that out of those media and communication technologies that exist in ‘Third World’ countries most are enjoyed by a handful of local elites and/or government institutions. How can one consider a ‘global village’ facilitated by the media since the majority of the village population cannot even have access to these media. It is probably easy for a white male living in the South-east England earning £ 40,000 p.a. for example to consider himself a cosmopolitan, and enjoy images and information from all around the globe with the touch of a button, but can the same apply to a black woman living in a rural area in the sub-Saharan Africa?
Chomsky writes that ‘one reason for the sharp divide between today’s first and third worlds is that much of the latter was subjected to “experiments” that rammed free market doctrine down their throats, whereas today’s developed countries were able to resist such measures’ (Chomsky 1998: 361). Indeed, free markets played a facilitating role for the exploitation of the south, whether that is through the speculation of prices, offshore capital investment controlled by the north, or through low cost products sold to offshore markets that compete with local producers. But the issue of local resistance is the one that comes in mind when those things are concerned. One could wonder why don’t the locals resist to this exploitation. According to Hetata (1998), culture is the significant factor that prevents people from resisting against the globalising forces that lead to their impoverishment. The media as being the curriers and the propagators of culture, are quite significant in that field, and especially most of all television. He describes a situation where through television the loss of tradition is also accompanied by a western type consumerism, which in turns leads to a culture of capitalism. Wallerstein (1990) links the way in which culture is sometimes used with the justification of racism. He supports that culture has been used in order to ‘explain’ why under-developed countries remain under-developed, and that the dominant view promoted by the First World is that if Third World countries want to develop they must accept the core culture values in their own societies. This views penetrate into the Third World countries from what is called ‘media imperialism’. It is noted that the US produce two-thirds of all the media images in the world. By taking advantage of their domestic market which is enough to pay off the production costs, media products are then sold to other countries of the world, in prices that are much lower than the ones that a local producer would ask for a similar program (See Herman and McChesney 1997). Thus television stations are filled with mainly American productions that propagate the American culture, turning it into a ‘global’ one. According to Hetata (1998), this is one reason for the US struggle at the GATT conference in Uruguay to lift subsidies and tariffs on media production. As Herman and McChesney argue ‘The post-World War II US drive for open markets in communications was carried out in a campaign for what was called the ‘free flow of information.’ This meant the freedom of advertisers, sellers of communication hardware, publishers, motion picture producers, broadcasters, and telecommunications firms to do business abroad without constraint.’ (Herman and McChesney, 1997: 151). This proliferation of American images in other countries of the world, does not only lead to a state where people are becoming ‘Americanised’, it also leads to a state where people by accepting that kind of culture, lose their ability to resist (see Hetata, 1998). Tomlinson discusses Schiller’s work and even though acknowledging some of its defects (like a loose empirical base and some hints of conspiracy theory) regards it, along with Thompson (1995) ‘as highly significant in establishing a critical perspective on the power-structuring of cultural globalisation’ (Tomlinson, 1999: 81). According to Schiller the products of the commercial media contain the ethos and values of corporate capitalism and consumerism. That means that capitalism does not only defines and structures the global political economy, moreover in that process it determines the global culture (see Tomlinson, 1999).
Herman and McChesney regard the global media as the missionaries of corporate capitalism. In their study they look at several countries and analyse their broadcasting and printing system in regard with the political structure of that country. They explain how global media, or local media with the sponsorship of the north, favour capitalism and ‘free’ markets. With multinational corporations trading the same product all over the world, whether an advertisement will be broadcasted in a specific country by a local broadcaster or by a satellite service operating in another continent, the end result will be the same. For Sussman (1997) the issue of cultural imperialism has to do with more than the control of the channels of communication. He writes about the fact that in almost ‘Third World’ country there are western-style supermarkets, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Pizza Hut and Nintendo that cater for the local and foreign elite. The result is that ‘the depletion of foreign currency in bringing in these imported non-essential items is money not spent on basic needs like food production, health care, education, cleaning the environment, employment, and investment in local manufacturing’ (Sussman 1997: 223). However those are icons and lifestyles that have been initiated by the western images that circulate in the media.
When it comes to media representation of ‘Third World’ countries to the rest of the world a major problem arises. Since ‘Third World’ countries do not have the resources to produce their own images and views of their settings, they rely on foreign coverage of events. In general, the images that people in Europe and North America see from the ‘south’ are images relating with something catastrophic, whether that is a famine, a civil war, or another form of disaster (See Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1995). Major news stories are also produced and portrayed to the rest of the world by the leading information agencies like Reuters or Associated Press, all of them located in the core countries. Even attempts of individual producers to document some events like the US invasion of Panama are met with a lot of resistance (see Trent, 1998). Barbara Trend illustrates not only the painstaking process she and her crew had to go through to produce a documentary, she also explains all the difficulties they met afterwards to distribute it. According to her testimony, PBS had already produced a piece called ‘War and Peace in Panama’ that was afterwards distributed to the rest of the core countries. PBS’s story was not controversial, neither had it touched any of the important issues about the media and the US government’s manipulation of public opinion in the US and the rest of the world. However because it was the first one to be distributed, that meant that her documentary could not find an available time slot in other core countries. As she clearly writes ‘how many television hours is Germany or France supposed to spend on a small war in which they were not even involved? The fact that networks produce programming quickly and get it out into the marketplace first means that they can consume the only time allotted for the subject, thereby burying the real issues’. (Trent in Jameson and Miyoshi 241: 1998).
Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi (1996) sites the example of TV Globo in Brazil which is the major television network and its production (most of it exported to other countries as well) outnumbers those of any other station in the world. However we have to consider that this production is limited in the genre of soap operas. Nothing controversial is coming out that would disturb the affluent audience of Europe or North America that the advertisers are after. At the same time it is good to consider that the Globo group even though it is based in a ‘Third World’ country it has enjoyed plenty of sponsorship from the US (direct or indirect) even before the 1964 coup in which gave its full support, initially to the pre-coup conversion process and later on to the coup itself (see Herman and McChesney 164: 1997).
Most advertisers exercise editorial control over the programming of a station, even if this is not direct. James Squires, a former editor of the Chicago Times said that the ‘corporate takeover of the media has led to the death of journalism’ (Herman and McChesney 193:1997) The fact that advertisers would like to protect the business of their clients and thus keep everything controversial below the surface, means that issues like the exploitation of workers in the south by TNCs is something that would hardly ever be reported.
Even the internet which as a medium was initially considered to be a liberating one, is now undergoing some crucial changes that place it in the commercialised nexus. The recent merger that was announced in January 2000 by America On Line (AOL) and Time Warner will introduce in the market a new media giant. This will mean that AOL customers while enjoying their friendly AOL environment will be channeled to read only what AOL screens as suitable reading material. So for example if a news piece with the title ‘sweatshops operate in Indochina by Western TNCs’ is available, one can not be sure whether it will be promoted.
With only a few
organisations controlling most of the media flow and production in the world,
accurate reporting and representation can be considered to be an ambiguous
sense. Herman and McChesney identify as the five largest media firms in the
world (in terms of sales) Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Viacom, and News
Corporation. Each of these are most fully integrated global media giants. Second
come TCI, PolyGram, Seagram, Sony and General Electric. One look at the holdings
of each of those companies reveals that what they actually control is more than
the general public can realise. Most of them are already in have already created
strategic alliances between them and embarked in common ventures, thus making
the market even smaller as they operate in an oligopolistic setting with high
barriers of entry which makes it difficult for new entrants to get in the arena.
This can create substantial problems specifically for small countries of the
‘Third World’ who even if they want to protect their cultural boundaries
they will come under so much pressure that it will prove impossible to do so.
Why are media so important in the global setting? It is not only the speed in which information travels throughout the globe that grants them importance. Media can construct communities through the projection of their images and stories. Along with communities they also construct memories, how many times have we spoken with friends of ours about a movie that was on the television the night before. This construction of memories grants them the power to manipulate and reconstruct culture. One could argue that there is always the issue of the active audience and that not all people have the same reading of the same images but Herman and McChesney counter this view by saying that:
“…active audience analysis does not reach for a
broader and more global frame of reference – that would involve
‘meta-narratives,’ which are rejected as unscientific, in favour of
micro-analyses which focus on textual analysis and comparisons. This methodology
imparts a strong apologetic thrust, as analyses of the readings of individual
texts can only yield local conclusions and are almost certain to find variations
among individuals and groups, hence reader ‘freedom’” (Herman and
McChesney 195: 1997)
Roger Silverstone in an open lecture in November 1999 at the London School of Economics supported the view that ‘if we cannot regulate the media, we must educate people about the media’. This however might prove quite difficult especially when it comes to ‘Third World countries where even the basic education is missing.
There is nothing that I could say to put all this issue in a nutshell. Globalisation is a huge issue, and the media are definitely involved in it, either by being themselves transnational corporations or just by distributing messages and icons. The result however is that they do get involved in the sovereignty of nations, the excuse of ‘the free flow of information’ has gone too far, since what is circulating is anything but information. Regulation is something that has to be considered in a global setting. Advanced countries like the UK can regulate their media and enjoy their own productions. Poor countries however do not have the same availability since in every attempt of such a regulation they have received huge pressures (either by the denial of ‘aid’, or even direct pressures by the US government). Even UNESCO was unable to persuade the world (or better said the ‘First World’) governments to regulate the flow of information. The last attempt in the late 80s led to the US and UK withdrawal from the organisation. The flow of information is something that cannot be rectified on its own. It is a question of a greater political thinking that must deal with the restructuring of the global setting.
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 For a clear summary on the views of the different schools on globalisation see Held et all, 1999:3-10.
 Robertson 1992: 8 refers to McLuhan’s work in 1960 as being the one to relate media and globalisation through his idea of ‘the global village’.
 Especially in cases where language does not constitute a barrier; e.g. Austria – Germany, Ireland – UK, Belgium – France.
 Even though the name EU was only taken up in 1992, I will use it even for previous dates. However the reader might be concerned with the fact that the EU was called European Community (EC) up to that date.
 It was updated in 1997 by Directive 97/36/EC. However the update deals only with a few minor issues. The general policy that was established in the first Directive was maintained. For a summary over the changes that took place see: www.europa.eu.int/comm/dg10/avpolicy/twf/newtwf-e.html.
 For an extensive account over the lobbying that took place and the interests involved see Humphreys 1999:264-275.
 For a full discussion see www.europa.eu.int/comm/dg10/avpolicy/twf/art45/3rapport-b_en.html
 The aims of MEDIA I were: “1) to remove the barriers from national markets and to initiate cross-frontier cooperation in order to promote economies of scale; 2) to give priority to small and medium sized operations; and 3) to maintain proper regard for national differences and cultural identities, avoiding any cultural uniformisation and paying particular attention to the needs of smaller countries and less widely spoken languages”. (CEC, European file, 6/92, p7; quoted in Humphreys, 1996:280)
 Supporting activities of the MEDIA programmes included “support for the distribution of European films […] guaranteeing bank loans; supporting training; encouraging networking; the improvement of facilities for production of language transfer; and so on” (Humphreys, 1996:280)
 In particular in MEDIA I since his book was published in 1996.
 Approximate figure ranging chronologically from 1991 to 1997, depending on the each country. For more details see Østergaard (ed) 1997 where can be found analytical figures for each country.
 I do not imply that all member states have equal standards of living but since a common European policy is being followed even the smaller states enjoy the same policies and bargaining power like the larger ones.
 Specifically see chapter 6.
© Dimitrios Paraskevas 1999-2000
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