Global Media For Global Control
A variety of counter trends seem to call the idea of a linear process of media globalization into question. Many of the arguments against it have concentrated on the growth on national media markets throughout the world or on the information gap between developed and developing countries. Amazingly, though, the topic of foreign reporting has not attained a very prominent place in the globalization debate, although numerous content analyses of international news show that foreign reporting in all media systems is usually heavily impacted by particularist views.
The widely discussed paradigm of ‘globalization’ has often been considered applicable to international mass communication. John Lewis Gaddis maintains that due to the communication revolution it is no longer possible for a state or nation to prevent its people from being informed about world affairs (Gaddis, 1991, p. 103). For Anthony Giddens globalization is shaped by developments of the world capitalist economy, the nation-state system, the world military order and the global information system (Giddens, 1984, 1985). Like ‘modernization’ and ‘dependency’ in former scholarly debates, the phenomena of globalization must be conceptualized on different levels of theory building: politics, economics, as well as international communication and culture.
Indeed, the mass media may be considered agents of globalization. The coverage of sport events like the Olympic Games or political highlights like the opening of the Berlin Wall and the signing of the ‘Oslo’ peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians were covered by most media systems throughout the world. International reports about incidents like the massacre on Tiananmen Square in Beijing are considered necessary–though not sufficient–conditions for the emergence of a common value structure, international standards of human rights or even a transnational world culture and a global identity (Barker, 1997, p. 18f.).
However, a variety of counter trends seem to call the idea of a linear process of media globalization into question. Since media events like the ones mentioned above are rare, they must be considered weak evidence for the adoption of ‘globalization’ as the master paradigm of media development. Instead, the processing and publication of news through nationally based media systems, including multinational networks like CNN, are shaped by the selection of topics, facts and arguments or frames which often result in diametrically opposed coverage in different countries, even where the same event is concerned. News items often contain stereotypes and discursive techniques which have a particularist impact on international media agendas and on the media consumers’ images of the world. Instead of representing global or, at least, pluralist views, the images represented in the news are all too often fragmented. From the perspective of comparative political communication research the question remains whether the differences between foreign news reports do not pose the most serious challenge to the globalization paradigm.
Amazingly enough, many of the arguments against media globalization have concentrated on the sometimes rapid growth of regional, national and local media institutions, empires and markets throughout the world (Ferguson, 1992; Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1996; Straubhaar, 1997). While these developments are often considered expressions of resurgent nationalism and separate cultural identities, the topic of foreign reporting has not attained a very prominent place in the globalization debate. This might be due to the fact that the phenomenon is itself very heterogeneous and much harder to grasp than the institutionalization of new media in the ‘Third World’. It requires time-consuming quantitative and qualitative content analyses to generate empirical data, and complex theoretical concepts are needed to explain interactions between the mass media, politics and society. One might be justified in assuming that theory building about foreign reporting has stagnated since the debate about the New International Communication Order and has so far missed the turning point to the globalization debate.
The following contribution will try to conceptualize the puzzling and seemingly contradictory relationship between foreign reporting and globalization. Furthermore, it seeks to outline implications for international and domestic politics. If international mass communication can really be characterized by a growing gap between globalization and particularization, future international and intercultural tensions in world politics might be reinforced by problematic developments in the mass media.
Meckel and Kriener (1996) are not the only ones who maintain that the content level of international mass communication is a counterforce to globalization when compared to other sectors of media development. There is a high degree of continuity between the criticism of foreign reporting in the old debate on the New International Communication Order and the new debate on globalization.
It is the disintegration which explains the non-concurrence of the different levels of media globalization. However, even if the mass media are independent of external factors, they can impact political and economic relations between countries and cultures. Unfair treatment of country A in the media system of country B might lead to political and economic losses for country A or B. Although they themselves are not interdependent with the forces of the world, the mass media can have serious international repercussions.
Any discussion of this kind should outline its underlying theoretical assumptions concerning media effects. Firstly, the mass media’s ability to impact or even manipulate society and politics should not be overstated. Contradictory and sometimes puzzling findings about media effects and media usage are evidence for the fact that mass media are not omnipotent, but that their products are, in fact, manipulated by audiences and the public. Even seemingly standardized fiction like the soap operas ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ are filtered through structures of meaning construction by the consumer on a national, local or individual level and therefore the media seem to have limited effects on people’s minds and thinking (Liebes and Katz, 1990). In Germany, ‘Dallas’ was often regarded as an expression of the patriarchal society which was criticized especially by the political left (Herzog-Massing, 1986); in Holland, the soap was welcomed as counteracting the loss of family values (Ang, 1985); and in Algeria, ‘Dallas’ was interpreted as a warning against the loss of such values (Stolz, 1983).
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Kriener, M. and Meckel, M. (1996) `Internationale Kommunikation. Begriffe, Probleme, Referenzen’, in Meckel, M. and Kriener, M. (Eds) Internationale Kommunikation. Eine Einfuhrung, Opladen, Westdeutscher Verlag, pp. 11-18
Liebes, T. and Katz, E. (1990) The Export of Meaning. Cross-cultural Readings of Dallas, New York, Oxford University Press
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Straubhaar, J. D. (1997) `Distinguishing the global, regional and national levels of world television’, in Sreberny-Mohammadi, A. Winseck, D., Mckenna J. and Boyd-Barrett, O. (Eds) Media in Global Context. A Reader, London, Arnold, pp. 284-298