Globalization within the media industry Essay

Globalization within the media industry

Globalization is associated to the idea that advanced capitalism, aided by digital and electronic technologies, will ultimately obliterate local traditions and creates a homogenized, world culture. Critics of globalization argue that human experience everywhere is becoming fundamentally the same.

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            Globalization “refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole”; in other words, it covers the acceleration in concrete global interdependence and in consciousness of the global whole (Robertson 1992: 8).

It involves the crystallization of four main components of the “global-human circumstance”: societies (or nation-states), the system of societies, individuals (selves), and humankind; this takes the form of processes of, respectively, societalization, internationalization, individuation, and generalization of consciousness about humankind (Robertson 1991: 215-6; 1992: 27).

Rather than referring to a multitude of historical processes, the concept above all captures “the form in terms of which the world has moved towards unicity” (1992: 175). This form is practically contested. Closely linked to the process of globalization is therefore the “problem of globality” or the cultural terms on which coexistence in a single place becomes possible (1992: 132).

            The actual process of globalization has been erratic, chaotic, and slow. Some observers of modern politics argue that a basic version of world culture is taking shape among extremely educated people, particularly those who work in the rarefied domains of international finance, media, and diplomacy.

Hyper elites of this nature make up what Samuel Huntington (1996) calls a “Davos culture,” named after the Swiss town that hosts yearly meetings of the World Economic Forum. Whatever their ethnic, spiritual, or national origin, Davos participants are said to follow a identifiable lifestyle characterized by consistent behavior (social ease, aristocratic manners, and the ability to tell jokes), technological complexity (knowledge of the latest software, communications systems, and media innovations), complex understanding of financial markets and currency exchange, postgraduate education in influential institutions, common dress and grooming codes, similar body obsession (dietary restraint, vitamin regimes, fitness routines), and a control of American-style English which they use as a main medium of communication.

Davos people, it is asserted, are instantly identifiable and feel more comfortable in each other’s presence than they do amongst less sophisticated compatriots. The World Economic Forum no longer commands the consideration it did in the nineties, but the term Davos has entered world vocabulary as a synonym for late-twentieth-century cosmopolitanism.

            Increasing on this idea, the sociologist Peter Berger (1997) argues that the globalization of Euro-American academic agendas and lifestyles has formed a worldwide “faculty club culture.” Since the sixties, international funding agencies have sustained academic exchanges and postgraduate training for scholars in developing countries, permitting them to build alliances with Western colleagues. The long-term consequence, Berger argues, is the formation of a global network in which similar values, attitudes, and research goals are collective.

The vision of an era of global communications seems particularly pertinent when changes in other spheres of human societies are taken into deliberation. The 1990s, with the fall of the Berlin Wall as an overture, have been marked by the crumple of both the physical and institutional barriers which had kept people separately over the previous several decades. The ever closer trade relations among nation-states, the growing number of transnational corporations, the appearance of global health and environmental issues and a common style of utilization of material and cultural products have all helped to bring about what is described as the “globalization” of our world.

As an idea, globalization is not a product of the nineties, or even the twentieth century, as some researchers has been quick to point out (Robertson, 1990; Hall, 1995). However, over the years the word has ever more been used to refer to a process through which the complete human population is bonded into a single society (Albrow, 1990), or “the concrete structuration of the world as a whole,” as described by Robertson (1990:50). This “single society” then forms the frame for individual activities and nation-state operations. It is conceived both as a journey and an aim with arrival at the globalize state a finality (Featherstone, 1990), which comprises a unit of analysis in its own right.

As globalization as an inclination of development has been recognized by many, whether it inevitably brings a unified, homogeneous global culture remains a controversial issue. From a neo-Marxist and functionalist point of view (Chew and Denmark, 1996; Hirst and Thompson, 1996), globalization, a product of capitalists’ drive to expand markets and exploit profits, only serves to achieve the hegemony of the few Western powers.

Others, particularly those with a sociology and cultural studies background (Featherstone, 1995; Robertson, 1990, 1992), have underlined the plurality of cultural development as a consequence of the anti-colonialism movement. Instead of losing one’s “sense of place” as of increasing global influences, the significance of locality was underlined in the constructing and deconstructing, setting in and disembodying of social forces.

As pointed out by Featherstone (1995), globalization suggests concurrently two views of culture. The first, taking a mono-culturalist point of view, treats globalization as the “extension outer of a particular culture to its limits, the globe,” through a procedure of conquest, homogenization and unification brought concerning by the consumption of the same cultural and material products (Featherstone, 1995:6). The second one, adopting a multi-culturalist stand, perceives globalization as the “compression of cultures.”

Media culture in most capitalist countries is a mainly commercial form of culture, produced for profit, and dispersed in the form of commodities. The commercialization and commodification of culture has lots of important consequences. First of all, production for profit means that the executives of the culture industries endeavor to produce relics that will be popular, that will sell or, in the case of radio and television, that will attract mass audiences. In lots of cases, this means production of lowest common denominator artifacts that will not affront mass audiences and that will attract a maximum of customers.

In a broad sense, media culture refers to the character of such institutions as religion, politics, or sports that expands through the use of media. Specially, when media logic is employed to present and understand institutional phenomena, the form and content of those institutions are altered. The changes can be minor, as in the case of how political candidates dress and groom themselves; or they can be major, such as the entire process of present-day political campaigning in which political rhetoric says very little but shows much disquiet. In modern society, every major institution has become part of media culture: Changes have occurred in every main institution that is a result of the adoption of media logic in presenting and construing activity in those institutions. Religion, for instance, has adopted a television entertainment viewpoint to reach the people. In sports, rule changes, styles of play, and the sum of money earned by players are directly linked to the application of a television format.

A medium is any social or technological process or device that is used for the selection, transmission, and reaction of information. Every civilization has developed various types of media, transmitted through social elements such as territory, dwelling units, dress and fashion, language, clocks and calendars, dance, and other rituals. But in the modern world, these types of media have been outshined by newspapers, radio, and television. Although social scientists tend to focus on the latter while discussing “media,” we could develop this application to show how other types of media can be regarded as basic features of social life. It is important to examine how media differ from one epoch to another and from one culture to another; every chronological period is marked by the dominance of some media over others, and the supremacy affects other areas of social life. Groups aspiring to power seek to expand leverage and legitimacy through media. In addition, select media encourage a public depiction of everyday life and political power according to the judgment of the dominant institutions.

Consequently, media culture cannot be just dismissed as a banal instrument of the dominant ideology but should be differentially interpreted and contextualized within the matrix of the competing social discussions and forces which constitute it.

With the initiation of media culture, individuals are subjected to an unparalleled flow of sights and sounds into one’s own home, and new effective worlds of entertainment, information, sex, and politics are restructuring perceptions of space and time, erasing divisions between reality and media image, as producing new modes of experience and subjectivity. These extensive political, social, and cultural changes have been accompanied by a spectacular propagation of new theories and methods to help make sense of modern culture and society.

Whether the global media will be more central than their predecessors is one of the most controversial matters surrounding these new technologies. In part, this dispute turns on which specific developments one chooses to look at: several aspects of the global media are highly centralized, others are considerably decentralized. In addition, much of the discussion about decentralization has been confused by failing to draw a distinction between ownership and control. Consider, for instance, the case of videotext. When some analysts claim that the global media are extremely centralized, what they have in mind is the question of who will own these new videotext services. Clearly, this is an important issue. But an equally valid question is: who decides which specific stories or messages each user will receive? In numerous cases, ownership of the global media remains highly concentrated while control of decision making has shifted in a more decentralized direction.

Much of broadcasting and publishing in the United States today is in the hands of a few media giants. No question is more significant about the global media than whether the established conglomerates will extend their power into the new media colonies. Some media analysts—including Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt, and Ithiel de Sola Pool—believe that the new technologies foster a shift from the last three decades of centralized network television back to the more segmented and localized media more feature of the American press historically. Naisbitt cites decentralization of corporations, together with media corporations, as one of the ten “mega trends” of our era. Pool notes that the high degree of media centralization characteristic of television is an exception to the prevailing historical patterns.

Communications through the ages has usually been directed toward individuals or small groups. Conversation fits this mold. So does all the writing up to the Gutenberg watershed, and much beyond it. It remained for the penny press of the nineteenth century to create the first true mass medium; prior newspapers had been little more than newsletters, aimed at businesses. Combined with the wire services, the penny press created a data base shared by a considerable proportion of the American public. Radio, film, and especially television extensive and enriched this pool of common information. With the telegraph and television came centralized national control over news content and procedures.

If there is to be a shift toward more decentralized media, satellites may hold the key. As one analyst put it, satellites are a “democratic technology.” (James Traub, 1984).

The effectual trademark rights ABC, CBS, and NBC hold over the term network have disappeared with the explosive growth of satellite-linked networks. Not simply has satellite transmission made modern cable economically viable, but it also has reduced network control of broadcast television by feeding programming directly to stations, bypassing the Big Three giants. According to media analyst Les Brown:

Satellite transmission has formed instant networks among the independents.

Indeed, satellites are quickly turning the entire program-syndication field into a form of networking, which could finally erode the affiliate structure that supports the three majors. During the 1960’s radio stations found it economically advantageous to disaffiliate from the networks, except for hourly news; and TV stations in this decade may well decide to go it alone must the satellite make it more profitable to do so.

The satellite has been a main factor in the challenge to AT&T’s dominance of the long-distance telephone market as competitors substitute satellite transmission for phone lines. Direct broadcast satellites also disperse communication by beaming signals directly to homes, avoiding traditional delivery systems. Finally, satellite-based videoconferencing permits people to communicate face to face over long distances.

The growth of alternative information sources can thus erode the hegemony of the three giant broadcast television networks. Somewhat, this is already happening. The three broadcast networks now race with syndicated programming carried on networks of independent stations, satellite cable networks, and other subscription television networks. The broadcast network share of the prime-time television audience was down to 68 percent in 1989.

But as the established media giants are doing quite well in acquiring ownership of the new media, particularly cable television and the home video market. These giants include: ABC, CBS, NBC, RCA, Time Warner, Inc., Times Mirror, Westinghouse, Cox Communications, Columbia Pictures, Storer Communications, Viacom, Oak Industries, Taft Broadcasting, Tribune Company, and Turner Broadcasting. Time, Inc., for example, may be associated in the public mind with print journalism, yet in 1986 its video division overtook publishing as the company’s major source of operating income. Time’s cable system, American Television and Communications, is the second largest in the country; its cable service, Home Box Office, is the largest and most profitable cable network; and it is now engaged in a joint venture videotex service (Covidea). There is thus much truth in Benjamin Barber’s assertion: “Even as the audience is broken into splinters, those who control it become fewer and more monopolistic” (Benjamin Barber, 1984, p. A27).

But if ownership is still extremely concentrated, operational control over the content and delivery of media messages appears to be moving in the way of greater decentralization. Take, for example, the development of the minicamera. “Minicams” have considerably simplified the logistics, lowered the costs, and reduced the time of filming. They require much smaller crews, typically only one to three people. When combined with satellites, this gadgetry has revolutionized news gathering by local stations. During the 1984 Democratic and Republican national nominating conventions, for example, several local stations were able to dethrone national networks by using minicams and satellite transmission. Convention news, which in the past had always been filtered throughout the eyes of network anchormen, was seen in 1984 from the perspective of reporters from more than four hundred local stations who fed their coverage directly to local markets. During evening prime-time hours, local stations often broke away from network coverage to show their own reports. News coverage has become decentralized between elections as well. In the last few years, the Washington press corps has swelled with the addition of local television reporters.

It is not hard to imagine how these developments might affect news coverage, especially if the national networks have a diverse point of view from regional and local stations. Decisions on news content will be less routinely prescribed in Washington and New York. Globalization loosens the grip of central editorial control within media organizations.

Perhaps the decisive image of decentralized media is that of solitary individuals at home with their videotex terminals creating personal, electronic newspapers. Although major experiments with electronic newspapers by Knight-Ridder and Times Mirror have flopped, they did consent individuals to serve as their own newspaper editors, using computer technology to select items of interest from a large menu of offerings.

By giving consumers more control over what they watch, and by permitting senders to target their audiences more competently, the global media thus permit us to decentralize decisions over media content, and make a more fluid relationship between users and senders of information. The new decentralized media let information flow between consumers and an extended range of producers (citizens with a gripe, candidates with a plea for votes, public officials with a message for constituents, interest-group leaders with an ax to grind) without the involvement of the professional press. Not only can the public construct its own daily newspaper without an editor’s judgment of what is important news, but it can learn the day’s baseball scores or stock quotes without thumbing through a sheaf of printed paper. Citizen activists and political leaders can make their cases on public-access channels. Political party and interest-group leaders can beam their messages directly to audiences from their own cable or satellite networks.

Globalization creates, in a sense, “unmediated” media. For much history, sending or retrieving information on mass scale requisite large media institutions like newspapers or television networks. Global technology facilitates users to contact the audience directly. Curiously, this development recalls the media that existed during the infancy of the republic, when newspapers were created, sponsored, and controlled by political leaders; Jefferson had his paper, and so did Hamilton.

Though, the disruptive prospective of the telephone in the world of communications was contained throughout the period of the patent, as we shall see when we consider the development of the telephone network (p. 248). So too were the social threats to the established order which numerous commentators thought were posed by the telephone. Breaches of the rules of propriety in conversation; the promiscuous possibility of the lower orders, unseen, cheeking their betters; even the dangers of catching colds and other diseases down the wire (Marvin 1988:81-97)—none of these came to pass. As a destroyer of societal norms, the telephone was as nothing when compared with the First World War. Socially as well as corporately, the telephone’s radical potential was curtailed.

For example, in the late 1870s, microphones and loudspeakers were attached to telephone wires for experimental purposes. A church service was brought to the bedside of a sick person. In Switzerland an engineer relayed Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (Moncel 1879:172). In 1884 a London company offered, for an annual charge of £10, four pairs of headsets through which a subscriber would be connected to theatres, concerts, lectures and church services. In 1889, following the successful transmission of a comic opera, a Chicago telephone company offered the same (Marvin 1988:212). In Paris and Budapest, all-day news services were available. The London experiment lasted until 1904, but the telephone news channels persisted into the inter-war years (Hollins 1984:35). There were many other examples (Marvin 1988:209-231), but these services were globally futile, exploiting a potential that had actually already been designed out of the system. The sensitivity of the telephone, once it worked at all, was intentionally limited in the interests of economy. The less bandwidth taken, the more conversations could be accommodated on a single wire at a more economically efficient cost. It was discovered that the human brain needs outstandingly little information in order to recognize a voice, a fact of which telephones were to take maximum advantage.

Coupled with the non-provision of hi-fidelity (or anything remotely close to it) was the failure to expand the interconnectability of stations even after the expansion of the central office exchange; instead each subscriber could simply talk to one other station at a time. Making it probable for one subscriber to talk to many others would have enhanced the telephone as a non-hierarchical means of communication. It was not to be and the very construction of the network system to limit telephony to one-to-one communication is therefore a mark of its oppression. That we permit broadcasting, a very much more inherently centralized, undemocratic and controllable technology, to do this is the obverse of that mark. Today, it is still by no means easy to set up multi-party telephone link-ups. The telephone was a device intended to aid commercial intercourse, not to redress imbalances in information power within society. Indeed, as events in Poland throughout the communist counter-coup against Solidarity in the early 1980s revealed, even the spin-off social use of the phone, in which unsupervised conversations between only two stations can take place, are sometimes too dangerous for the state to allow. The whole phone system was shut down.

On the model offered by Marvin (1988) we can perhaps explicate some of these issues by noting the parallels between the chronological (and continuing) development of television as a domestic medium and the histories of the development of, in Marvin’s phrase ‘when old technologies were new.’ This is to try to use a historical perspective to ‘denaturalize’ the now taken-for-granted, unobtrusive presence of diverse communications technologies within the domestic space of the household.

Moores (1988) offers an account of the distressed history of the introduction of radio into the home, and argues that while radio was gradually accommodated into the ‘living room’—that space in the house chosen to the unity of the family group—this ‘accommodation’ was by no means unproblematic (cf. Boddy 1984, on initial anxieties as to whether the ‘living room’ was, in fact, the appropriate location for the television set). As Moores points out, radio’s entry to the living room was ‘marked by a disturbance of everyday lives and family relationships’ (1988:26). By extension, I would want to argue that similar processes can be seen in the modern entry of global communications technologies (e.g. video and computers) into the home—and that, again, their entry is likely to be marked by their differential incorporation into masculine and feminine domains of activity within the home.

The work of Boddy (1984), Spigel (1986) and Haralovich (1988) offers a useful model for the analysis of the development and marketing of contemporary ‘global technologies’. In a close parallel to Moores’s analysis, Spigel (1986) offers an account of the difficult feature of the introduction of domestic television in America in the early 1950s. She is concerned primarily with the role of women’s magazines in presenting ‘the idea of television and its place in the home’ (1986:3) to their female readers—who were, of course, in their economic capability, the key target group who would-be TV advertisers wished to reach and, in their social (gender defined) role, the group seen to be responsible for the organization of the domestic sphere into which television was to be integrated.

Spigel argues that, in the early 1950s, television was seen as potentially ‘disrupting’ the internal arrangements of the home (just as radio had been perceived in the earlier period)—upsetting patterns of child rearing and marital relations, distracting housewives from the proper running of their homes, and necessitating a thorough-going rearrangement of the moral economy of the household. Indeed, from the industry’s point of view, problems were foreseen as to whether TV, as a visual as well as an auditory medium (and thus, it was presumed, one which would require of its housewife-viewers a degree of attention contrary with the performance of their domestic tasks) could, in fact, be integrated into the daily patterns of domestic life. The introduction of TV into the home did not take place as the easy, unmoved insertion of a globalization into the existing socio-cultural framework, not least because of concern that women would not be able to cope with the technological complexities of retuning the TV set, from one station to another.

The globalization of media is viewed as being the answer to humanity’s problems; they will create the ideal society. Viewing technical innovations in this manner is not new, as Marvin (1988) has demonstrated. Utopic visions have long accompanied media evolution. ‘Utopia’ was the pretend island envisioned by Thomas More in the 1500s. Its inhabitants had created an earthly paradise by adhering to a pious life and a communal spirit as well as to technical pursuit. In the following centuries, the Enlightenment gave rise to the notion of utopia that could be attained through persistent technological and social development.

The idea of progress views frequent developments leading to increasing comforts, the abolition of disease and the eradication of poverty, i.e. heaven on earth. Even though this was mostly a secular notion, Bury suggested that it drew inspiration from the linear conception of history in dominant Christian discourse. After the expulsion of Adam from the Garden of Eden his descendants had been offered redemption at a particular moment in time by Christ, who would return sometime in the future to lead the faithful back to paradise subsequent to ruling on earth for the period of a millennium.

The utopia vision of progress is characterized by a millennialism that conceives of a progressive movement towards ultimate fulfillment. Whereas religion offers individuals the dream of paradise, they are promised material comforts in an earthly utopia in the secular domain. The means of progress for the righteous is good deeds and correctly performed ritual, while for the adherents of the technological world-view it is hard work and the proper use of globalization. Contemporary propaganda implies that technological improvements within information society will ultimately lead to the arrival of the perfect state in which all desires of consumers will be fulfilled. Wertheim notes that many characterizations of the Internet are drawn from biblical descriptions of heaven (1999:256-261).

Most cultures seem to make sense of their temporal existence in terms of the ultimate end of their collective existence. The narrative themes of end-times and of a messiah-like figure are pre-biblical and are to be found in many religions (Thompson 1996:3-16). Utopic dreams appear to be integral to universal human myth. Even though the particular idea of progress is only a few hundred years old, it fits into ancient ways of thinking. In this, the age-old millennial myth is integral to contemporary discourse about information society (Karim 2001).

Thus, from this discussion three challenges become fairly clear. We must develop perspectives which can analyze how broad, interacting global systems help reconfigure virtual and material characteristics. They must balance notions of wide-scale, macro-level biases in technological development with analytical approaches which accommodate the contingency of social action. And they need to maintain holistic perspectives which don’t over-privilege the ‘social’, the ‘economic’ or the ‘cultural’, but rather allow the multidimensional nature of virtual geographies to be unpacked and explored.


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