We now live in a society within a global system; therefore we are affected by global processes in our everyday lives; which means that the world has shrunk. From the comfort of our sofas we can be spectators of events as they happen across the globe. As well as this, we have become consumers of global products. Globalisation has been defined in various ways. Bilton et al.(1996. p.54.) see it as the process whereby political, social, and cultural relations increasingly take on a global scale, and which has profound consequences for individuals’ local experiences and everyday lives. Some social analysts maintain that globalisation has been one of the most significant changes to have taken place over the last thirty years and its impact has been felt by individuals and nations world-wide. There is a general agreement among sociologists that globalisation is taking place. However there is considerable disagreement over its possible consequences. Some who take an optimistic view see globalisation as having many benefits, especially in e,powering local communities to produce their own media products. However writers who take a more Marxist standpoint link globalisation as having many benefits, especially in empowering local communities to produce their own media products.
However, writers who take a more Marxist standpoint link globalisation with cultural imperialism and the ‘Americanisation’ of culture.
As Giddens says, ‘The global system is not just an environment within which particular societies develop and change. The social, political and economic connections which crosss-cut borders between countries decisively condition the fate of those living within each of them’ Welsh (1997) suggests that the following factors are important in the development of globalisation. They are the increasingly global nature of the capital and the rise of global markets; the increasing global movement of people, the increasing importance of information technology in production, consumption and leisure, the increasing awareness of environmental issues that affect the whole planet and a growing awareness that politics has stretched beyond the nation-state. We can see that globalisation fundamentally affects three areas of society. Firstly in the economic sphere, there has been a tremendous intensification of economic competition around production, exchange, distribution and consumption of goods and services. Markets have become global and economists refer to the ‘global market place’. The increasing importance of the global economy has emerged from changes in the role of the state and an increased emphasis on the free market economy.
Secondly globalisation process affects the political sphere. it is interesting to note that the globalisation can have two consequences as far as nationalism is concerned. First. the promotion of global capitalism may weaker national boundaries. Second nationalism may actually be strengthened as a result of globalisation. In this case nationalism can be understood as a return to a respect for ‘local’ roots. Nationalism can become a form of resistance against the tide of globalisation and modernisation.
The third area is the relationship between globalisation and culture. This involves the consequences of globalisation on local cultures and identities and the extent to which media imperialism has occurred. It is in this context that the discussion of global media ownerships echoes the sentiments similar to cultural imperialism.
In recent decades there has been a revolution in communication systems. Forty years ago it was not envisaged that the introduction of satellite broadcasting for military use would herald satellite television broadcasting as a global entertaining medium. Other new technologies such as cable and information communication technology have transformed the scope of the mass media. Mass media enterprises have become global enterprises. This expansion is evident both in the scale of audiences and the concentration of global media ownership. The globalisation of the mass media clearly raises concerns in terms of ownership and control, hegemony and the impact of First World and Third World relationships. With the massive expansion of transnational corporations and related advertising, it is now possible to recognise and purchase products such as Coco Cola, Levi jeans, Mars bars and McDonald’s burgers world-wide. Theoretically it must now also be possible to travel around th world and never have to eat indigenous food. What Ritzer (1993) terms ‘McDonaldisation’ means that both the decor and the menu are immediately recognisable in whatever country we find ourselves. this can be reassuring because it is familiar, but it may also be evidence of a decline in local cultures.
As well as food, media products such as films are distributed globally. Films such as ‘Jurassic Park, superman, Independence Day and Star Wars were global box office hits. This world-wide popularity of goods and media products from transnational corporations has lead to the globalisation of culture and cultural imperialism.
The media as industry
The media industries really mean a big business; they are amongst the most profitable enterprises in the world and their close links with national and international politics have considerable implications for their role in democratic societies. The development of the media industries, with regard to its three processes of integration, diversification and internationalisation; has lead to the rise of corporate media and its precipitant phenomena- the concentration of ownership; which has been a feature of media business over the past century.
A discussion of the corporate media is incomplete without placing it in the context of globalisation. Globalisation in relation to communication has brought transformation to ‘spaces’ of interaction between people, information, institutions and cultural traditions. The patterns of social interaction and information flows are increasingly occurring across national boundaries to form new bases of political and cultural identity. In contrast to the historical tendency for communication media to be used to vertically integrate societies within the counters of the nation state, emerging patterns of social interaction, political organization and information flows are being supplemented by patterns of transnational, horizontal integration. The term refers to a host of processes through which (i) people are being inscribed into transnational patterns of marketing and political communication, (ii) alterations in flows of media products and information that integrate local spaces across national boundaries, (iii) harmonization of regulatory and legal frameworks and above all to (iv) new models of ownership and control in the communications industries that supplement traditional patterns of vertical integration within specific media sectors with forms of horizontal integration of ownership across media sectors, i.e., cable television, broadcasting, telecommunications, publishing, film, etc.
Marxist theoretical approaches to the role of the media vary, although they all share the basic assumption that the media are inextricably linked to the economic base of society. The instrumentalist approach maintain that the owners of communications companies or corporations use their control over cultural production to maintain the status quo, and in this way manage to retain their own power. It is very deterministic approach, in the sense that economic base is seen as responsible for shaping all the other social institutions. The infrastructure determines the form of the institutions in the superstructure, and the latter structures such as law, religion and media, act to legitimate or maintain the power of those who owns the means of production. In this way media, as part of the superstructure, relay messages that help to keep capitalism going. From this perspective, it is assumed that the dominant or ruling ideas of any historical period are those of the ruling class, and it follows from this that dissemination of the dominant ideas is heavily dependent on the distribution of economic power. Hence ownership of media institutions is essential to the maintenance of capitalist power. Instrumentalists argue that the products of the media serve to legitimate the power of the owners and reinforce the status quo, that is, the system as it is at present. From this perspective, the proprietors of the media are seen as having direct control over their products and this is especially so with the owners of newspapers.
The instrumentalist Marxist position is usually associated with the work of Ralph Miliband and the French philosopher Louis Althusser. Miliband argues that proprietors, especially the owner of newspapers, have used their position to exert a direct influence over their editorial staff, and hence over the actual content of their newspapers.
Marx maintained that those who own the means of economic production (the bourgeoisie) also take ownership of mental production, which means they have control over the dominant ideas of the time, and these ideas support their position of social power. In this way media operate as part of the ideological sate apparatus to produce messages reinforcing the ideology of the bourgeoisie (Althusser, 1972). The ideological sate apparatus include those institutions in the superstructure such as the family, religion, the mass media, the law and so on that serve to legitimate the power of the bourgeoisie without the need of force. Marxist critics Golding and Murdoch identifies a socially critical perceptive that focuses primarily on the relationship between the economic structure and the ideological content of the media. They opine that the characteristics of media production relate to profitability and the need to expand markets.
McQuail (1994) identifies the following key characteristics of media corporations’ activities within the capitalist market: (1) Controlling the development of independent media enterprises that might challenge their dominance (2) Concentrating on the largets markets for their cultural products (3) Avoiding too many investment risks (4) Reducing investment in less profitable media tasks like investigative reporting and documentary film making (5) Neglecting smaller and poorer sectors of the potential audience , for example ethnic minorities and (6) Biasing their news coverage and reportage on reinforcement of the status quo.
Marxists also argue that the media are engaged in the overt encouragement of commodity consumption because of the commercial advertising they carry. At a more specific level, the capitalist class manages to maintain its economic power through the advertising revenue collected from those that use the media to promote their products and services and ideological control is achieved through dissemination of messages espousing the benefits of consumption. MTV is an example of a satellite channel that carries sponsorship and is seen as delivering its audiences to advertisers. A former MTV Europe director has commented ‘sponsorship is simply a more subtle way of advertising…it associates the product with MTV; in the eyes of the viewer MTV is at the cutting edge – it follows that the product must be too’. Marxists would interpret this as further evidence that we are being manipulated by powerful capitalist forces that are urging to consume their products. There are other examples from the media that we could apply to demonstrate the power of the dominant ideology. The presentation of the game shows on television has been seen as another way in which greed and consumption are encouraged. The televised quiz shows are also criticised by Marxists; they argue that these quiz programmes reinforce the power of capitalism. Marxist citric Fiske points to a parallel between knowledge and power, he maintains that the quiz shows use knowledge in the same way that capitalist culture operates, that is in order to separate the winners from the losers, based on naturalistic assumptions of individual intellectual differences. The structure of society is essentially hierarchical and elitist, yet the dominant ideology insists that all of us can make it up the ladder. The ideology of equal opportunities in education is based on the assumption that ours is a meritocratic society and those who are naturally talented and motivated to work will rise above the others. By providing an ideologically acceptable explanation for failure and success, luck works to mitigate the harshness of personal failure. It is interesting to look at the prizes that are offered on these programmes. They are typically consumer goods, but occasionally they are more subtle such as respect and status. The prize offered by BBC’s greatest show Mastermind was an engraved glass bowl, so in general quiz shows reinforce the hierarchy of knowledge and at the same time, commodity capitalism. (Adorno)
The hegemonic or structuralist theory is the other school of thought in Marxist ideology.
The hegemonic theory was developed by Antonio Gramsci as a critique of classical Marxism. Gramsci believed that Marxism was an empowering and liberating doctrine, but as it stood, it assumed a fundamentally passive role for the working class. For Gramsci, Marxist theory largely ignored the relationship of ideas and ideology to revolutionary class action. Hegemony for him was a moral and philosophical leadership that was able to rule by winning the active consent of those over whom it rules. Hegemonic control was ideological control; workers would only accept political leadership through a process of socialisation whereby they came to accept the ideas of the dominant groups as natural and legitimate. Many sociologists and media researchers have adopted a hegemonic approach in their analyses of media texts. Two British academic centres in particular have produced a wealth of evidence on the ideological role of the media- the Glasgow University Media Group and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. They have been especially interested in the process of news production and the relationship between ideology and representation. Structuralists focus not on proprietors, but on the structures and pressures under which broadcasters and journalists work. The hegemonic approach argues that the media, taken as a whole, portray a loosely interrelated set of ruling ideas that permeate society in such a way as to make the established order of power and values appear to be based on ‘natural’ order. The approach does not see any ruling ideology being imposed on the audience, but from their perspective, a ‘world view’ is produced, as if by virtue of an unquestioned consensus. This world view is produced by white, middle-class, middle-aged, politically liberal men. These are the people who write the television scripts, collect and report the news and direct the cameras or commission others to do things. It is their ideas that infiltrate the texts of the media and other voices are not given space or are set aside to be subjected to be ridiculed. Rather than the owners having direct control, the actual structures within which these professionals operate force them to produce a set of dominant ideas. The production process, especially where it concerns news and current affairs, involves agenda setting, gatekeeping and news values that, taken together, constrain the nature of the final product.
Communication, globalisation and cultural imperialism
Almost all the modern information and communication technologies are products of advanced capitalist societies, as is much of the content and Walters(1995) argues that this is having important effects on globalisation and culture. Globalisation exports the ideology of consumerism. For example advertising sells an idealised Western life style as well as sex and status as exemplified in the song ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’. It presents capitalism and consumerism as unquestionably ideal systems. National boundaries are dissolving as a consequence of globalisation and we have learnt to look at the world through global spectacles. For example, during the Gulf War, we were able to witness the unfolding events from the safety of our armchairs: ’When an American fighter pilot bombs a building in Baghdad we are there with her seeing what she sees and war becomes a spectacle.’ The world is becoming media saturated and we are able to experience world events simultaneously.’ the demolition of the Berlin Wall, a major political event becomes a rock concert; the Olympic games expands its range of sports to include artistic rather than athletic events (rhythmic gymnastics, synchronised swimming, freestyle skiing) in order to reach a wider global audience. These media events are deliberately constructed as stylised mass entertainments and they are in Durkheiman terms, collective representations of global commitments to democracy, consumption, capitalism and liberal tolerance of diversity. Globalisation connect people separated by great distances into communities of interest or value-commitment, producing simulated communities.
The central assumption about cultural imperialism is that it is Western, or specifically American, cultural value system of consumerism and individualism has been exported to other countries especially countries in the Third World that are new to media technologies. The flow of international communication has therefore followed the contours of power created by Western transnational corporations.
More and more people are receiving the same message from the same centres of communication power. Thus it is assumed that local and indigenous cultures are being undermined or eroded. Hamelink(1995) sees an information imbalance between the core – rich industrialised nations such as the USA, Japan, Western European countries and Australia – and the periphery, including the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This imbalance is multifaceted. It may refer to access to new technology – hardware and software; it may refer to information capacity – the ability to produce, record, process and distribute information; and it may refer to different forms of information – scientific, financial, commercial, military, political and current affairs.
Massey (1993) sees inequality in power relations too. On the one side are the ‘jet-setters, the ones sending and receiving the faxes and the e-mail, holding the international conference calls, controlling the news, organising the investments and the international currency transactions’, whilst on the other side are ‘the refugees from El Salvador or Guatemala and the undocumented migrant workers from Michoacan in Mexico crowding into Tijuana to make perhaps a fatal dash for it across the border into the USA to grab the chance of a new life’. This approach prioritises the cultural over the political and the economic; it presents the existence of a global society as a possibility or indeed a reality.
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