The globalisation of media has had a drastic effect on media systems globally and the production and dissemination of information and culture. The following paper will outline how the globalisation of media restructures relations between different media corporations/providers. It will further address the impact of media globalisation on culture through examination of the two central discourses surrounding the cultural impact of media globalisation; homogenisation and hybridisation.
The media and communications sector is perhaps the sector where globalisation has had its most prolific impact. Globalisation of the media has facilitated a complete restructuring of media systems into a single global media system. Robert McChesney (1999, p.260) claims that where “previously commercial media systems were primarily national… [Recently] a global commercial-media market has emerged.” Organisations such as the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary fund have helped to facilitate media globalisation through encouraging states to deregulate markets in order to attract foreign investment.
According to McChesney (1997, p.1) “the global commercial system is a very recent development…until the 1980s media systems were generally national in scope… [however] pressure from the IMF, World Bank and US Government to deregulate and privatize media systems coincided with new satellite and digital technologies resulting in the rise of transnational media giants.” This demonstrates the three factors which have, and continue to, enable media globalisation are the deregulation of media ownership laws, the privatisation of previously state owned media outlets, particularly in Asia, and the proliferation of new media technologies.
A pertinent example of how deregulation and privatisation facilitate media globalisation was evidenced in China. Prior to 1999 China had been opposed to privatisation and deregulation of its media sector in order to allow foreign investment. However, in 1999 it was offered entry into the WTO on the condition that it “allow foreign investors to hold up to 49 percent of certain telecommunications companies, including internet firms” (Head 2001, p.414). The Chinese ‘communist’ government agreed this condition and deregulated its media sector. The decision by China illustrates the lure of being accepted as part of the global free-market, Lyons (2005) posits that “the admittance into the World Trade Organisation was a benefit that outweighed the past reluctance towards foreign investment.” This move toward deregulation of markets is a trend that has been evidenced increasingly throughout both the North and the South.
The globalisation of media has resulted in the concentration of media ownership into a handful of transnational media corporations (TNMCs). This arose out of series ‘mega-mergers’ between several large media corporations until finally, according to McChesney (1999, p.260), “the global media market has come to dominated by the same eight TNCs that rule the US media: General Electric, AT&T/Liberty Media, Disney, Time Warner, Sony, News Corporation, Viacom and Seagram.” The creation of this global media oligopoly has resulted in a vast restructuring of the power relations between media organisations. The concentration of media ownership has centralised power amongst media organisations into the hands of a small minority both within states and globally. Lee Artz (2003, p.8) claims that “globalization has redistributed resources within nations to the domestic elite and internationally to the TNCs.” Artz (2003, p.8) claims that “TNCs merge with local entities to circumvent regulations or disfavour” and that the national elites which constitute these entities “have adopted the mantra of deregulation, privatization and commercialisation.” Hence it becomes evident that the neoliberal economic policies that drive globalisation facilitate the reordering of power within the media sector both nationally and internationally.
Although the global media system is largely dominated by the eight dominant TNMCs, behind these corporations there exists what McChesney (1997, p.2) refers to as “second tier” corporations, “these firms tend to have national and regional strongholds or to specialize in global niche markets.” Although these second tier corporations are usually national or regional, according to McChesney (1999, p.265), “they are hardly oppositional to the global system, this is true as well in developing countries.” In saying that, second tier corporations are not necessarily compatible with the TNMCs.
Lyons (2005) posits that “there is fierce competition taking place between the first and second tier corporations” because the second tier corporations “don’t want to loose market share to the larger multinational corporations.” In short, the second tier firms strive to become TNMCs by globalising while the first tier corporations attempt to consume the second tier firms into their empires. This process again has a restructuring impact on existing power relations amongst media enterprises. Whilst the second tier firms attempt to globalise, the balance of power still remains with the TNMCs and their virtually unassailable grip on the global media system.
There are two processes by which TNMCs globalise; these are vertical and horizontal integration. Vertical integration refers to the process by which TNMCs gain ownership of both the intellectual property (media content) and the means of distribution. For instance McChesney (1999, p.260) cites the fact that nearly all Hollywood studios are owned by one of the major TNMCs which, in turn, also own the cable television channels which distribute their content. Horizontal integration describes the situation where TNMCs own a large portion of a specific media sector. An example of horizontal integration is News Corporation’s domination of the Australian newspaper industry, owning the most popular (tabloid) newspaper in every capital city and the only national broadsheet.
Vertical integration affects the power relations between media enterprises significantly by diminishing competition. If the same parent corporation owns both the content and means of distribution of that content they possess the power to price any potential competitor out of the market. This suppression of competition in the global media system further centralizes power amongst media organisations towards the major TNMCs and away from other, smaller media organisations.
Horizontal integration of media organisations has a detrimental effect on the diversity of content within certain sectors of the media system. That is, if the same TNMC controls several different media outlets within the same media sector it may deliver the same content through every outlet. Horizontal integration also has the effect of pushing smaller media outlets out of certain sectors as they do not possess the relevant resources to compete with the TNMCs, further perpetuating media ownership concentration and therefore further centralizing power within the global media system.
Media globalisation also has also had a significant impact on the production and reproduction of culture. Two dominant discourses exist in relation to the impact of media globalisation on culture; these are homogenisation and hybridisation. In rudimentary terms, homogenisation refers to the dissemination of one particular culture globally through media flows and hybridisation refers to the idea that media globalisation is actually disseminating a range of new, hybrid, cultural concepts.
Discourses espousing the homogenisation theory are critical of media globalisation and find their roots in political economy theory. Chris Barker (1999, p.37) posits that “one strand of the homogenization argument stresses the global reach of capitalist consumerism.” This theory proposes that the TNMCs that largely control the global media system as a result of globalisation disseminate a homogenous form of culture based on an ideology of capitalist consumerism. The negative view political economy theorists take toward this concept is “posed in terms of a loss of cultural autonomy and diversity in a process dubbed cultural imperialism” (Barker 1999, p.37).
Artz (2003, p.17) claims that “capitalist hegemony needs parallel media hegemony as an institutionalized, systematic means of educating, persuading, and representing subordinate classes to particular practices within the context of capitalist norms”, indicating that the global media system is merely vehicle through which the capitalist ideology of the TNMCs is disseminated to ‘subordinate classes’. McChesney (1999, p.266) claims, similarly, that “the global media system is better understood as one that advances corporate and commercial interests and values and denigrates or ignores that which cannot be incorporated into its mission.”
Another, similar, concept often espoused by those critical of media globalisation from a political economy perspective is that not only is the homogenous culture one of capitalist consumerism, but that it is also a specifically American or Western brand of culture. Barker (1999, p.38) asserts that “homogenization is regarded primarily as the spread of Western capitalism and culture.” This claim is problematic for two reasons; firstly, there is no single Western or American culture, hence how can global media flows disseminate a non-existent monoculture. Secondly, as Barker (1999, p.38) asserts, “it is the case that that the global flows of cultural discourses are any longer constituted as one-way traffic from the ‘west-to-the-rest’.” Furthermore, this argument presupposes that capitalism and consumerism are strictly Western concepts.
There can be no doubt that the global media system is based on capitalist ideology as it requires the existence of a global free-market to operate. Similarly the global media system, by nature, disseminates consumerism as it is largely dependant on advertising, however to say that media globalisation has created a homogenising of global cultural flows toward a Western or American monoculture is problematic. Cultural studies theorists claim that the homogenisation discourse looks at media globalisation in too narrow terms.
The cultural studies discourse surrounding media globalisations states that, the global media system does not disseminate a single homogenous culture but actually allows the hybridisation of cultural flows globally, Floya Anthias (2002, p.628) claims that hybridisation is a “process of redefinition’ which challenges the idea of the homogeneity of dominant cultures”. Anthias (2002, p.622) describes hybridisation as “the ways in which forms become separated from existing practices and recombine with new forms of new practices”, indicating that hybridisation is not merely the production of new types of culture from thin air but the merging of different cultural practices to create hybrid cultural forms.
One of the arguments that cultural studies theorists cite in their claim that media globalisation has a hybridizing effect on cultural flows is that the creation of diaspora media flows. These diaspora media flows are examples of what Karim Haiderali Karim (p.51) calls “decentralized global narrowcasting.” These media flows are produced by migrants who create media flows for people of similar culture within their host country (and sometimes in other countries), usually in their native language, Karim (p.51) claims that these media flows are “neither homogenizing nor all-encompassing”. Such media flows are an example of hybridisation because “they are produced with varying relationships to both their homelands and their host land” (Karim, p.51). These diaspora media flows are an ever growing trend, particularly among minority ethnic groups in Western countries and clearly illustrate how globalisation can create hybrid cultures.
Another argument espoused by cultural studies discourses surrounding the hybridisation of culture through media globalisation concerns the concept of ‘active audiences’. In opposition to the political economy discourse that the global media system disseminates a homogenous culture, cultural studies scholars claim that all audiences to which culture is exported will not interpret media content in a homogenous way nor will they necessarily accept it. Lyons (2005) claims that “the audience is now fragmented, know and addressable. This new audience is engaged and active in participation.”
An example of the concept of ‘active audiences’ was evidenced in India. Australian media mogul James Packer gained part ownership of Star TV, a company that distributes satellite television in India. When Packer attempted to air American television programs on Star TV they were not accepted by the audience. In fact, “Star TV only succeeded after it hired an Indian television executive who created Indian soap operas” (Lyons 2003). This example demonstrates that even if homogenous media content is disseminated by the global media system it will not necessarily have a homogenous effect on culture as audiences are not a blank slate on which culture can be impressed but rather an active consumer group that will interpret, accept or reject content accordingly.
The globalisation of media, primarily since the Second World War, has had an unprecedented impact on the structure of power relations within the media sector and the way in which culture is produced, reproduced and disseminated globally. The immense concentration of media ownership as a result of media globalisation through deregulation and privatisation of media markets and the proliferation of new media technologies has centralized power amongst media organisations. The concentration of media ownership has resulted in the creation of a global media oligopoly; this process has reordered power relations within the global media system almost exclusively toward this group.
Due to the creation of this oligopoly the diversity of media content disseminated through global media flows has been diminished, with huge cultural implications. A dialectic has emerged whereby the global media flows have two, seemingly contradictory, effects on culture. While the global media system disseminates capitalist consumer culture globally and uniformly having a homogenizing effect, it simultaneously has the effect of creating new hybrid cultures as a result of global flows of people and the interpretation of media flows. However, neither homogenisation nor hybridisation attempt the preservation of traditional cultures, homogenisation attempts to suppress them whilst hybridisation may subvert by incorporating them into new hybrid cultures. It is the future of traditional cultures to which the proliferation of media globalisation poses the greatest threat and how such cultures can be preserved will be an important question for future theory on media globalisation.
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