Globalisation, Culture and Politics
One of the major claims, notably by hyperglobalists, is that globalisation erodes the power of the state; that it has increasingly become difficult to exercise authority over territorial space. The coming of digital technologies and communications that transcend geographical boundaries – expansion of the world wide web – have been interpreted as a direct assault on state sovereignty.
The global media, especially television and the Internet, are said to possess great potential:
to spread democratic values and opportunities,
to empower and encourage participation even by marginalised groups
to subvert and challenge government power in the case of restrictive regimes (i.e. they can circumvent state control of information flows)
to reduce the power of the nation states through increased trans-border information flows
The Internet, in particular, can spread information more rapidly during times of crisis.
All this great potential of the global mass media has justified state regulation of the media.
A good example to use in analysing the power of the global media is Tiananmen Square demonstrations in China, 1989.
Through CNN, the suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square was broadcast into the living rooms across the world.
The Tiananmen Square events heralded a major challenge to state control over flows of information within its territorial space (increasingly, governments are finding it difficult to regulate or control media flows because of rapid technological changes.
Chinese students managed to effectively use Western media to advance their cause (in similar fashion to the way Somalis hijacked global news agencies to tell their own story) – using banners bearing American symbols and written in English for the benefit of the wider global television audience. The goal was to influence global public opinion.
New information and communication technologies have been seen as ‘technologies of freedom’ (Ithiel de Sola Pool, 1983).
Such events have brought up questions such as:
Is the state still relevant as an analytical category
The state as a problematic and elusive concept in the social sciences
World society still composed politically of nation-states (e.g. United Nations)
But this Chinese case also shows limitations on the part of the global media conglomerates, as exemplified by the Murdoch case.
It is important to note that almost invariably, where profit interests clash with public interest values, the former always carries the day.
Murdoch’s statement in 1993 that, “Advances in technology of telecommunications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere. Satellite broadcasting makes it possible for information hungry residents of many closed societies to by-pass state controlled television channels,” angered Chinese authorities, who threatened to prevent Murdoch’s News Corporation, in particular its Star Television, from entering the lucrative Chinese market.
To placate the Chinese authorities, Murdoch removed BBC World Television service from his Asian satellite service.
Another case where News Corporation backed down in response to Chinese government pressure is when he is believed to have influenced the News Corp publishing company, HarperCollins to reject an agreement to publish a controversial book by former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, who the Chinese government disliked. As Governor of Hong Kong, Patten had been highly critical of the Chinese government over its human rights record, and had maintained the criticism in his memoirs (Audio debate from NPR).
The globalists see market reforms coupled with wider access to media technologies as ushering in information democracy.
On the contrary, anti-globalists, critical political economists and media imperialism theorists interpret the way corporations gain power and market domination as undemocratic (see for example Schiller, 1996; Herman and McChesney, 1997; Mosco, 1998).
The growth of the Internet presented a serious dilemma the Chinese government (also Myanmar) – where on one hand developments in e-commerce are considered vital for Chinese development, yet they also pose a threat to the traditional state control of information flows.
The Chinese government response was to block access to certain foreign websites, particularly news organisations such as CNN, BBC, NYT and Washington Post – as well as human right organisations websites that are critical of Chinese policy.
In January 2000, the Chinese government introduced new regulations that ban ISP from running foreign news on their websites, requesting them, instead, to use reports from official Chinese outlets.
This is not peculiar to China, as we shall later see. In Zimbabwe, ISPs are required to register/be licensed, and the huge entry costs are prohibitive.
The communications revolution has made it possible for interest groups to ignore constraints of geography.
As we noted from Held and McGrew, huge networks of environmental, human rights and civil society groups that draw in local, national, and international organisations have emerged. These groups are able to respond immediately to international events (e.g. Seattle, Genoa, etc.), and counter state propaganda wherever they can.
Other examples include the so-called “netwars” waged against world trade talks, landmines, etc. These activities have led to talks about ‘global civil society’ (See, for example Keane, Scholte, and others on global governance/global civil society).
The state and media regulation
Governments have always intervened in all forms of economic activity, making the claim of ‘free markets’ just an ideal (Hesmondhalgh). In the cultural industry, they intervene in three main ways:
through legislation: e.g. competition laws, copyright, privacy, etc.
through regulation: e.g. to promote fair competition by preventing cross-ownership; public interest concerns; pluralism and diversity in the public sphere
by providing subsidies – e.g. in the case of research that led to the creation of the Internet (an interesting account is by Lawrence Lessig: The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Wired World); growing debate on Internet Governance
ownership (structural) and content regulation have always been issues of critical importance to the state
Some governments have enacted statist cultural policies to protect local media production companies and fend off Hollywood dominance:
Mexico and Brazil, whose protectionist policies have led to strong local media industries
Islamic governments have attempted in varying ways to halt global media flows (e.g. Iran banned satellite dishes in 1994)
Germany has attempted to curb internet traffic in porn and Nazi material by targeting ISPs
Deregulation, Re-regulation and Marketisation
Following the long downturn that Hesmondhalgh describes, neoliberal ideas emerged in the 1970s to explain the downturn as a result of public ownership and close regulation. Neoliberalism thus called for the privatisation of public enterprises as well as regulatory change. The term for these changes was deregulation, and it was particularly popularised during the Reagan/Thatcher administrations in the USA and UK.
Deregulation was a particularly exciting term in the cultural industries, where it was taken to imply freedom from government interference.
Deregulation implies governments are relinquishing their regulatory powers
Deregulation has also been taken to imply stronger markets and weaker states
Deregulation has also been associated with discourse about rolling back the state
The use of this term has led to what Steven Vogel has referred to as ‘semantic confusion’, in the sense that deregulation is used to refer both to the introduction of more competition within a market (what he calls liberalisation) and the reduction or elimination of government regulations (deregulation) – as if the two were the same process.
The more appropriate term is re-regulation, which means that legislation and regulation were not removed in the process. Rather, governments are reformulating old rules and creating new ones. As a result we end up with freer markets (liberalised) and more rules – in fact there are even more complex rules (e.g. the British Ofcom which regulates the entire communications sector).
In fact what has happened is that governments have combined liberalisation with re-regulation.
Hesmondhalgh prefers the term marketisation – which is a critique of the assumption that the market is an efficient and fair allocator of resources. He argues that both deregulation and re-regulation provide misleading positive connotations in describing the spread of neoliberal policies.
Although all cultural industries are subjected to state legislation and regulation of one form of another, two sectors have been of particular importance to the state the world over: telecommunications and broadcasting.
Until the 1980s, both sectors have been subjected to direct state ownership and control throughout the world (except in the USA). But even in the USA, both sectors were under strict government regulation.
But why Broadcasting and Telecoms?
Broadcasting was considered a limited national resource right from the beginning. The limited nature of the electromagnetic spectrum meant that it had to be allocated in such a way that those who were privileged to own frequencies would do so in the public interest.
Unregulated radio broadcasting, as evidenced by the radio craze in the US in the 1920s, lead to chaos, as stations interfere with one another’s signals.
Thus even in the USA where radio grew in an unregulated environment, it became clear that the state needed to be involved in the allocation of frequencies. The FCC was introduced in 1927 to address these concerns.
In the UK, on the other hand, broadcasting took the public service model right from the beginning, and this model was taken up by other European countries and also exported to the colonies.
Right from the beginning, it became clear that broadcasting was a powerful tool – commercially (promoting goods and services), politically (influencing people’s voting habits) and culturally (shaping people’s identities and advancing the nation building project). For these reasons, governments sought direct control of broadcasting institutions throughout the world.
Telecommunications on the other hand were seen as vital in fostering national identity and encouraging economic development. Governments thus sought to make telecommunications a universal service. In most countries they were run as parastatals – through Postal, Telegraph and Telephone authorities, PTTs. In the USA, though, a private monopoly was favoured, giving rise to AT&T.
The rationales for state involvement in both sectors was seriously challenged in the 80s.
In the telecoms sector, the main argument advanced by proponents of marketisation was that opening up the sector to international competition would bring about more efficiency and better services to the consumers – thereby driving the countries out of the Long Downturn.
In broadcasting, the technological revolution – new cable, satellite and digital technologies – suggested to proponents of marketisation that spectrum scarcity arguments were no longer valid. Proponents of marketisation argued that there was no more justification for state regulation. Further, there was growing concern that state monopoly broadcasting limited the range of viewpoints that the viewers/audiences could be exposed. The provision of more channels was therefore seen as the answer.
Four Waves of Marketisation
This process has been summed up in what Hesmondhalgh has described as Four Waves of Marketisation that took place in the 1980s and 1990s.
Important changes in cultural industry policy took place within this period which had ramifications for the globalisation of culture and the cultural industries themselves.
But what was the driving force for these changes? Hesmondhalgh and other writers in the curriculum agree that these changes were consciously brought about to support the interests of the giant multinational companies (see Held and McGrew; Herman and McChesney).
Policy changes in the USA from the 1980s onwards
Changes in other industrialised countries, influenced by changes in the USA (Western Europe, Canada, Australia, etc). These are discussed in more detail by Peter Humphreys (1996); Collins and Murroni (1996); David Levy (1999) among others.
Changes in transitional and mixed societies (see, for example Curran and park, 2000)
Convergence, and new laws that seek to reflect these changes
All this regulatory activity point to the salient point that despite claims to the contrary, the state remains the centre of political activity
The Second Wave
In the case of the second wave that relates to Western Europe, the emergence of the EU has brought more interesting but complex dimension to the subject of communications policymaking, where the introduction of a higher political level (the supranational level) above that of the state has raised questions about communicative sovereignty as well as identity (Schlesinger, 2001; Morley and Robins, 1995; Collins, 2002).
But even in Western Europe, the state still matters as it retains some regulatory power, and remains the pre-eminent locus and focus of collective identity (Schlesinger, 2001).
distinct national languages
insurmountable historical differences
All these point to the fact that public spaces are still largely conceived within the boundaries of the nation-state. (Read passage from Schesinger, p98 on ‘Europeanness.’
However, we cannot ignore the challenge that ‘Europeanisation’ poses to national cultural policymaking. The important question that Schlesinger raises in his article is: “What, if anything, can the state do to ensure that it sovereignly pursues nationally determined media and cultural policies in a Europeanising political and economic context?” (see Compendium). Is it still necessary to do so? (Tore will purse these issues next week)
The Third Wave of Marketisation and the African Experience
Hesmondhalgh’s so-called third wave of marketisation coincides with what has come to be known as the democratisation decade in Southern Africa. The pressures for communications reform in this part of the world is therefore a confluence of national demands for political opening and global demands for both political liberalisation and free market reform.
In Africa, too, we have seen the emergence of ‘supranational’ regulatory frameworks in the communications sector. Most of these frameworks promote neoliberal market reform and advocate the liberalisation of both the telecoms and broadcasting sectors. What is interesting to note is that some of these blueprints were Western sponsored – designed by Western consultants, hence carry global influences. The interests are obvious: it’s easier for transnational companies to trade with regional blocks instead of singe countries …
SADC Protocol on Transport and Communications
TRASA Telecoms Regulators Association of Southern Africa
COMESA – towards harmonisation of ICT policy
African Charter on Broadcasting (MISA, USAID, OSISA)
Declaration on Human and People’s Rights
To what extent do nation-states adhere to these supranational policymaking bodies?
However, different African countries have pursued different approaches to ‘liberalisation’ at the national level.
To a large extent, this is a legacy of the NWICO debate of the 1970s and 1980s, which advocated development of national communications policy through the state. This perspective remains quite strong in most African countries, notably Zimbabwe.
NWICO debate did not only centre on imbalances in global news flows. It also included the unequal and unidirectional flow of images from North to South or centre-periphery; including the role of advertising in promoting consumerism
Interestingly, centre-periphery argument has another layer apart from First World vs. Third World. It also applied to Europe vs. the USA – making it even more complex (see from example Collins, 2002).
McBride report was published in 1980
1994 is the year when the USA and UK pulled out of Unesco in protest
What is important about the NWICO debate is that it lays the basis for thinking about an international public sphere – as an international communication order implied a transnational communicative space (Schlesinger (2001)
URTNA (Union of Radio and Television Networks of Africa) can be interpreted as part of the early concerns leading to the NWICO debate. URTNA was the media unit of the OAU. Anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism; exchanging programmes on culture and development. It was sponsored by UNESCO and UNICEF, and received contributions from subscribing national governments.
Contrary to beliefs that global capitalism shapes state policies according to its requirements, Robert Horwitz (2000 and 2001) has illustrated through the South African Communications sector reform how the state remains central in both political action and social solidarity.
Horwitz’s argument both in his 2000 book and his 2001 article is that, “though globalisation creates pressures, opportunities, and constraints, communications reforms are shaped largely by domestic actors through domestic political institutions.”
Brief Historical background of SA
- First colonised by the Dutch, then the British
- Under Apartheid grip for since the late 1940s
- The media served white interests, and used as a tool of repression
- Broadcasting in particular was used as a tool for divide and rule (Bantustan radio)
The SABC, in word, was a public service broadcaster (set up by none other than John Reith himself), but in practice it was an arm of the apartheid regime: promoting the National Party’s apartheid ideology in programming, editorial content, and hiring of staff.
Converging interests on the eve of independence in 1993:
The NP feared the prospect of having broadcasting in the hands of a black majority government in the post-independence era
Nelson Mandela’s ANC on the other hand feared the idea of going into elections with the SABC in the control of the NP
The NP therefore wanted to move with haste to privatise the SABC, which would guarantee continued white ownership, as capital was predominantly white
Civil society, particularly the labour movement, was quick to notice the NP strategy, and pushed to have broadcasting reform as part of the peace negotiations.
This led to the creation of an independent regulatory body, the IBA, which was responsible for licensing of new players and regulating the industry.
The IBA privatised some of the SABC radio stations and licenses several community radio stations. It also licensed a new commercial TV channel, ETV.
It has come up with a much-celebrated three-tier system of broadcasting encompassing public service, commercial and community broadcasting.
What is interesting is that all the three tiers have a public service mandate and local content requirements in different percentages.
South Africa attains independence in 1994 – when the rest of the world s grappling with communications reform.
How South Africa has moved way ahead of even most European countries in terms of setting up a converged regulator
The view of the mass media as a unifying force in a country with about 11 official languages (broadcasting and nation-building).
The ANC envisaged broadcasting as an ally in the nation-building project
These concerns influenced the debate on whether to retain a large SABC or to privatise some of the stations and remain with a lean SABC (Horwitz, 2000).
SA’s three tier broadcasting system, and the requirement that all the three tiers serve the public interest. The stipulation on local content quotas for even the commercial broadcasters (MultiChoice, Etv)
The unique SA method of policymaking through nationwide consultation also stands out. As Horwitx point out:
“South African communications institutions are more progressive than the models they apparently ape. This is due largely to the distinctive internal political processes that establish the new communications policies and to the unusually open nature of the South African state during the transition period. The South African reforms, contrary to current conventional wisdom of top-down, state-directed liberalisation, were built via participatory democratic practice that engaged civil society and the state in policymaking (Horwitz, 2001)
Zambia: A Case of Reluctant Reform and Donor-Driven Reform
States are not equally capacitated to in terms of their ability to negotiate with global forces concerning the liberalisation of their media sectors
Weak Zambian economy has made the country heavily dependent on donor support in almost everything, including state budget
This had a bearing on the independence in terms of policymaking
Communications reform process and debate largely foreign-driven (borrowed discourse) – Panos Southern Africa and MISA
A relatively open space for debate
Civil society groups have teamed up to force government to reform
The Private Members’ Bills
The introduction of the IBA and South African influence (South-South).
Zambia’s Ministry of Information has licensed several community broadcasting stations, and a few commercial channels, including MultiChoice Zambia & Trinity Broadcasting
More than half of the licensed broadcasting stations are religions – mostly owned by the Catholic Church.
Despite powerlessness, the state still matters: it has refused to privatise the ZNBC as well as the state-owned daily and weekly newspapers.
Zimbabwe is the only country in the region that still retains state monopoly broadcasting.
Strict laws inherited from Rhodesia still in place
Court challenge to state monopoly broadcasting in 2000
Broadcasting Services Act – High entry requirements
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act – registration of journalists and media companies
High and prohibitive entry requirements in an imploding economy
Stringent local content requirements – 75% (How local is local content – see borrowed formats – play some Zim music)
Tight ownership regulations 12% shareholding
Restrictions on foreign ownership (must be Zimbabwean citizen ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe – just is the case in the USA)
Unrealistic licence conditions: 2-year renewable
Political imperatives seem to guide the reform process
Tightening the grip on civil society (barring organisation that focus on Governance issues)
The context is very important in the Zimbabwean case: land reform
Many and varied responses to neoliberal pressure to liberalise communications sector
To a large extent, national responses to the spread of neoliberalism are influenced by preceding debates on media imperialism (championed by Kaarle Nodenstreng, Herbert Schiller, the Matterlarts, among others) and anti-globalisation sentiments that are spreading across the world.
While it can be argued that liberalisation and privatisation of media systems throughout the world, coupled with the development of cable and satellite technologies, has reduced the state’s capacity to exercise communicative sovereignty, it would be rather far-fetched to conclude that the state is no longer relevant.
As Nicholas Garnham (1986) has argued, globalisation has challenged but not eliminated states as power centres (containers) (in Waisbord and Morris, 2001)
States are still carrying out the critical function of lawmaking. The variety of media policies that the state makes are an expression of sovereignty.
The state is still responsible for licensing broadcasters, and imposing limitations on telecoms ownership & operations as we have seen.
Reports about the death of the state as wrong diagnosis.
Withering away of the state?
Post-state world? Global governance?