Global Twighlight Zone

Globalization must be among the most contested terms in contemporary society.  It is, at once, the blessing that will unite the world in a common Kumbaya, or the curse that ravishes local economies, fosters inequality, and, at the end of the day, increases the corporations’ ability to exploit people and natural resources. Some observers regard globalization as a “natural” process, as the product of “human evolution” that inevitably leads societies on an upward trajectory (modernization). Others wonder if it is an old or a new phenomenon, or even if it’s happening at all (Mengisteab, 2005). Yet Mirza Jan, in a haphazard discussion of the globalization of media, argues that it is really happening, but it is not natural. Globalization reflects the operations of power in society:

Globalization is not necessarily a natural progression emerging out of the ordinary communication and interaction of people and cultures around the world. Rather, it results from eliberate (sic) human choice by a powerful group of nations, transnational corporations (TNCs) and international organizations (Jan, 2009, p. 66).

Deliberate acts, then, become the major force behind globalization, and for Jan, we should wonder whose interests are being served by globalization.

But before we even begin unpacking who benefits, there should be some sense of what globalization means. Jan points out, very accurately, that it is a buzzword, much like interdependence used to be back in the 1970s. Buzzwords become trendy and eventually they are rendered meaningless because they “are meant to cover a variety of phenomena” (Jan, 2009, p. 67). For Anthony Giddens, globalization means that “we now all live in one world” (2003, p. 7), which suggests a greater degree of integration, interconnection, and interdependence in the economic, cultural, social, political, and environmental (“Globalization”, 2008).

In other words, because of globalization we are experiencing a greater flow of ideas, products, capital, technologies, and people across national borders. But the process is neither simple, nor unproblematic.  Noam Chomsky suggests that the prevailing view of globalization is limited because it privileges one specific form of integration: “the investors’ rights version [… which works] in the interests of private power.”

The “investors’ rights” version of globalization is the prevailing model for globalized media.

Globalization and the Media

Media globalization, according to Jan, is not “truly global in nature”; it is not leading to the emergence of a “global public sphere” because global media only reach a limited audience, which often means affluent English-speakers. Notice I say often, and not always, because even bastions of globalization like NewsCorp recognize the need to translate and localize their content. However, global actors, whether companies, governments, or institutions, do promote models of how things should be done.  I feel that this is one of the areas in which globalization is most obvious, as Jan suggests:

Globalization of media is probably most pervasive at the level of media industry models — ways of organizing and creating media. The world is becoming a much more integrated market based in (sic) a capitalist or marketplace economics (2009, p. 67).

Private ownership is one of the time honored principles of capitalism. And it is not surprising that media privatization is increasing worldwide (Calabrese, 2008). Private media, or so it goes, are more efficient, and much more apt at fulfilling their role as watchdogs over the government.

Nevertheless, private media are not a godsend. They are businesses accountable to shareholders, and they operate according to the principles of efficiency, economy, predictibility, calculability, and control (Ritzer, 1993), which often leads to uniformity and ultimately reduces choice (McChesney, 1999). The true giants, furthermore, are horizontally and vertically integrated juggernauts that control the market. Horizontal and vertical integration allows companies to shut out their competitors (by buying or merging with them), to create synergies, to develop economies of scale, to specialize, and to control the entire process of production, distribution, advertising, and retail of their products. The downside of horizontal and vertical integration is, though, that it increases bureaucracy, and does not encourage innovation.

Why innovate, if you don’t really have to compete, and according to McChesney big media doesn’t need to compete. In fact, collaboration seems to be the norm as “many of the largest media firms have some of the same major shareholders, own pieces of one another or have interlocking boards of directors” (McChesney, 1999).

In terms of culture, most global media conglomerates are from West, and within this group, the majority are American. Such control greatly limits the availability of non-Western content.

Rank Company Country Market Value ($Bil)
98 Comcast United States 37.62
102 Walt Disney United States 31.13
103 Vivendi France 28.19
290 Thomson Reuters Canada/United Kingdom 19.81
318 DirecTV Group United States 20.28
385 Viacom United States 9.33
444 Time Warner United States 27.37
479 Omnicom Group United States 7.47
483 WPP United Kingdom 6.53
522 News Corp United States 14.53
587 Reed Elsevier United Kingdom/Netherlands 8.24
596 Lagardère SCA France 4.31
613 Dai Nippon Printing Japan 6.01
681 RTL Group Luxembourg 5.37
691 Toppan Printing Japan 4.22
753 Dentsu Japan 4.11
754 Publicis Groupe France 4.60
755 Pearson United Kingdom 7.61
789 DISH Network United States 5.03
849 Mediaset Italy 5.08
902 McGraw-Hill Cos United States 6.20
905 Liberty Global United States 3.38
932 CBS United States 2.90
974 British Sky Broadcasting United Kingdom 11.75
1007 SES Luxembourg 7.21
1028 Wolters Kluwer Netherlands 4.59
1040 Grupo Televisa Mexico 6.03
1186 Shaw Communications Canada 6.33
1212 Liberty Media-Entertainment United States 8.95
1229 Discovery Communications United States 4.36
1231 Cablevision United States 3.86
1240 Naspers South Africa 6.19
1281 Jupiter Telecomunications Japan 5.46
1286 Interpublic Group United States 1.82
1328 Yell Group United Kingdom 0.23
1378 CC Media Holdings United States 0.13
1468 RR Donnelley & Sons United States 1.60
1512 Eutelsat Communications France 4.56
1519 Axel Springer Germany 2.01
1521 Charter Commun United States 0.01
1539 Oriental Land Japan 6.25
1553 Virgin Media United States 1.57
1703 Fuji Media Holdings Japan 2.72
1715 Consolidated Media Australia 0.87
1835 Hakuhodo DY Japan 1.70
1835 Prisa Group Spain 0.35
1859 JCDecaux France 2.86
1865 Gannett United States 0.74
1875 Washington Post United States 3.39
1935 Fairfax Media Australia 1.44
1944 Singapore Press Singapore 2.80
1950 Telegraaf Media Groep Netherlands 0.79

Obstacles

The dominance of Western big media, nevertheless, does not mean that no other content is available ever, or that global media face absolutely no obstacles. On the contrary, research indicates that cultural proximity, language, and cultural specificity are significant barriers to the free flow of content (Jan, 2009). Cultural proximity (Straubhaar, 1991) suggests that audiences will choose available national and/or regional media offerings over international ones. Language, on the other hand, is  “natural barrier” for imports, which must be either translated, or subtitled. This increases costs, and is also dependent on the cultural specificity of the original product. This would be a third major obstacle  because the prospective audience may be unfamiliar, uninterested, unamused, or offended by programs that include too many specific references to the culture in which they were produced:

Sometimes a very popular sitcom, such as Seinfeld, is too United States-specific to export broadly in the global market, whereas Baywatch, featuring action and sex appeal, does better abroad, even after the U.S market [tires] of it (Jan, 2009, p. 68).

Potential Benefits

Mirza Jan’s view of media globalization, like McChesney’s and Chomsky’s, is very critical. However, a contrasting view holds that globalization brings about social and economic change. Modernization and democratization processes have both been linked to globalization. A recent example of this view was espoused by Cynthia Schneider, in a recent TED talk. You be the judge

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References

  • Giddens, A. (2003). Runaway world: How globalization is reshaping our lives. New York: Routledge.
  • Globalization, Social and Economic Aspects of. (2008). In W. A. Darity, Jr. (Ed.)International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 3(2nd ed., pp. 332-335) Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA Retrieved January 12, 2010, from Gale Virtual Reference Library via Gale: http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=GVRL&u=athe17405
  • Jan, M. (2009). Globalization of Media: Key issues and dimensions. European Journal of Scientific Research. 29(1), pp. 66-75.
  • Mengisteab, K. (2005) “Globalization: General.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Ed. Maryanne Cline Horowitz. Vol. 3. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, p 947-950. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Ohio University. 12 Jan. 2010 <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=GVRL&u=athe17405&gt;.
  • McChesney, R. (1999, November 11). The new global media: It’s a small world of big conglomerates. The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/doc/19991129/mcchesney/single
  • Ritzer, G. (1993). The mcdonalization of society.

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