Evaluate the claims made by authors arguing that media ownership and concentration lead to cultural imperialism with specific reference to a media text(s) of your choice. Do you agree?
Media concentration and its impact on the effective citizen cultural participation has always been an important matter in both our past and modern society. Many authors argue that media ownership and concentration leads to cultural imperialism. To evaluate these claims we first need to define, with reference to several media texts, what the common terms of cultural imperialism, and media ownership and concentration generally refer to.
Using multiple sources, more than refering to one specific media text, will help us to build a omniscient and objective knowledge about the subject. Throughout the years, these terms – taking into account today’s’ increasing wide range of media and ways of communicating – have evolved significantly in both their value and connotation, leading towards a critical point for our contemporary society and the ones to come. After explaining the meaning of cultural imperialism, we will then take a look at what media ownership and concentration stands for in our modern world and how it leads to cultural imperialism.
Many authors – sociologists, anthropologists, and ‘philosophers’ – tend to explain, in the most accurate way, these two symbolic terms without any strong conviction in the end. For John Tomlinson this expression does not have a particularly long history. In the 1960s cultural Imperialism became a part of the general intellectual currency – a “generic” concept:
“It (cultural imperialism) brings together two words which are themselves extremely complex and problematic, in an attempt to provide a covering concept for a very broad range of issues” (Tomlinson, 2002: 3).To make it easier we shall divide these two terms and attentively study the definition of “culture” and the definition of “imperialism” independently, ultimately arriving at a better understanding of the importance in defining this expression. In Oxford Dictionary the word “cultural” is defined as:
“an improvement or refinement of mind, manners, etc., by education and training; condition of being thus trained and refined; particular form or type of intellectual development or civilization” (Shorter Oxford Dictionary, 2007: 261).
Despite that the word “culture” is still one of the three most complicated words in the English language, by the nineteenth century the British anthropologist E.B. Tylor (1874: 185) provided probably the most popular definition of culture:
“Culture is… that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
Imperialism is, itself, defined as “the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas; broadly: the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence”. Historically, imperialism is defined through the economic system (and its reference to colonial rules) and the political system, in which appears the Marxist analysis of stages, the modern capitalism and the fight between the American and Soviet Union (Williams, 1958).
“Commonly associated with the policy of direct extension of sovereignty and dominion over non-contiguous and often distant overseas territories, it also denotes indirect political or economic control of powerful states over weaker peoples. Regarded also as a doctrine based on the use of deliberate force, imperialism has been subject to moral censure by its critics, and thus the term is frequently used in international propaganda as a pejorative for expansionist and aggressive foreign policy” (Wesseling, 2004: 7226-7232).
If we now jointly consider these two definitions, we then nearly approach the following definition by Martin Barker and Julian Petley (2001: 22):
“It seems to mean that the process of imperialist control is aided and abetted by importing supportive forms of culture.”
Let us now examine a clear and direct example of cultural imperialism by Robert Cecil (1971: 6). In his folio about cultural imperialism, he essentially focuses on the impact of the colonisations across the world. For him this is the beginning of pure and simple cultural imperialism. If we have a look for instance at some meetings of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as Unesco, when the French-speaking Africans and English-speaking Africans stand up to make a speech to the assembly, you can obviously distinguish characteristics of French and British culture.
Respectively, French-speaking Africans speak in rather an silver-tongued, logical way; while the English-speaking Africans tend to be more blunt, empirical and, occasionally, even humorous. Which methods are used to convert a nation under cultural domination? The leading method is language.
As an example, if you compel somebody, throughout an educational system or as a means of economic concern, to speak your language, to some extent you are imposing your pattern of thought on them. A French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, in an interview (Paris, 1996) communicated the following:
“Only knowledge of language enables the influence of the culture expressed by that language to be fully effective and to reach the soul of another people.”
We can also find this cultural panel in advertising campaigns, such as McDonald’s, Pepsi, Durex or Ford. Ford’s advertising, like the others cited above, adapts itself to cultural differences between the many countries in which the brand is available. The American ads are generally bringing back the classic American way of life, using old gangster movie patch-work as background references. Asian ads for Ford feature a fantastic, cartoon-ish style.
While the UK ads are usually matching with the English humour style: short, direct, colorful and relevant. If we then sum up all those different approaches of the expression we can see that cultural imperialism is, finally,spreading and exalting habits and values; a practice in which diferent economic powers play a big part. It is with this link to economic power that the media ownership and concentration now interferes.
Media ownership and concentration
To explain the meaning of media ownership and concentration, we need to think about the natural tendency of capitalistic economic systems linking to oligopoly or monopoly.
“Media concentration is defined as an increase in the presence of one (monopoly) or a few media companies (oligopoly) in any market as result of acquisitions and mergers or the disappearance of competitors” (Meier & Trappel, 2004: Chap. 4).
Indeed, Indeed, the “world” is basically ruled and owned by mainstream media conglomerates. In the late 90’s, there were nine corporations (mainly from the U.S.) that dominated the media world called the ‘Big Ones’.
According to an article from The Nation, the ‘Big Ones’ never totally changed.
“The top ten media companies around early 2002 were AOL, Time Warner, Disney, General Electric (quote in the article as a media company), Sony, News Corporation, Liberty Media, Vivendi, AT& T, Viacom, Vivendi and Bertelsmann”
(Robert W. McChesney, The Nation Magazine :1999)
However, as Mark Crispin Miller points out (2007) companies may “come and go”. I chose to use the reference of mainstream media conglomerates ‘ruling the world’ because these corporations, even if they seem to refer to media corporations, they share members of the board of directors (also known as the process of interlocking directorates) within a large panel of big companies, including each important economic devise such as Oil Companies, Pharmaceutical and Health car companies, Banks and technology companies.
All of these companies are followed by many other “Second tiers” companies that each earn billions dollars of business. For example, ABC/Disney, among other corporations, owns FedEx, Boeing, City National Bank, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; CBS/Viacom owns Dell, American Express, Akamai Technologies, Lafarge Corp, Amazon.com, etc. “We are living to serve advertisers purposes. C’est notre raison d’être” claims the CBS C.E.O.. This capitalist economical process ruled by the constant need of power is very frequently seen as a problem for contemporary media and society.
Media ownership of concentration and cultural imperialism
So, how is this media ownership and concentration leading to cultural imperialism? The situation of an healthy and fair democracy is when choice is given to all. In other words, is when media impacts on the market by offering a wide range of ideas, information and types of culture.
It is well-known that radion, newspapers, television and, mor recently, internet form a part of everyday life that democracy finds and uses as a way of expression in general media circles. What if, however, this circle is altered by economic ownership, competition and profit? There may be some media etablishment preaching the diversity, but it would only be on a external look. The worry is that so many agencies are often held by one giant only:
“Defenders of narrowing control of the media point, accurately enough, to the large numbers of media outlets available to the population: almost 1,700 daily papers, more than 8,000 weeklies, 10,000 radio and television stations,
11,000 magazines, 2,500 book publishers and more …Unfortunately, the large numbers deepen the problem of excessively concentrated control. If the number of outlets is growing and the number of owners declining, then each owner controls even more formidable communications power” (http://www.globalissues.org, 2007; Bagdikian, 2000: 222).
In terms of “quality” of the information reported, the media concentration makes it totally subjective (through the eyes of a few men pulling strings). While concurrential competition can be a good aspect for news reporting and media in general to push for a better quality, the concentrated control of media companies (oligolpoly) and its very special competition has reduced media under cheap popular information through crude sensationalism rather than quality, detailed reporting etc. This type of competition clearly affects the journalism’s ability to spread quality news and alters the gap of theorical and professional journalism. But those decisions are firstly made because society and people change. Readers and viewers care 5more about scandals, celebrities affairs and local news (check the emergence and success of tabloids and magazines like Hello, OK, Star, and the Sun, which are also basically owned by the same man: Rupert Murdoch). Therefore, according to Fair.org website:
“Newspaper editors and television news executives have reduced the space and time devoted to foreign news coverage by 80% to 60% during the past 15 to 20 years” (http://www.fair.org, 2009).
In terms of political aspect, there is hardly any obvious or revealed strategy adopted by governments. Of course they need to stick the law and human rights on the top of the list, but if we have a closer look over media ownership and their relation to the politics, we can find mutual gainful links (such as censorship, subtle truth distortion etc.). Although for now, let us take the example of Berlusconi. In this case, Berlusconi, with the help of the media and their stinginess, efficiently controlled the government’s and population’s mind.
With his own media (and with the journalists he co-opted with money) he controlled the parliament, the public opinion 1and the state bureaucracy in order to change the realistic substance of his judiciary charges, which could lock him and his subordinates to jail. By controlling the media, controlling people’s minds, spreading opinions and influencing decisions has never been so simple!
Concerning diversity and homogeneity of media content, it is known that media organizations try to cover all audiences and public.
They can’t afford to provide worldwide information and decline it to more than thousands culture. Thus they use “omnibus media.” Transporting everything for everybody. It, then, reduces the diversity of opinions and commentary for common purposes. To widely sum up: one idea for all, which then involves a sort of imperialism since no other choice is given. Furthermore, the fact that international and national news is passed on by only a few preponderant global news agencies, and that the national and local news is delivered by only one agency makes the journalistic sources of news coverage very limited in scope. However, there is no empirical or scientific evidence that editorial quality has declined under monopoly conditions according to Werner A. Meier and Joseph Trappel (2004: chapter 4).
Most of the media companies listed above are American, thus talking about cultural imperialism consequently implies to especially focus on the American media supremacy. You can travel to the most reclusive village and you will be able to satisfy your craving for a Big Mac, entertain yourself by watching a Hollywood blockbuster in your comfy Nike shoes.
“This proliferation of American products across the globe is more than mere accident. As a by product of globalization, it is part of a larger trend in the conscious dissemination of American attitudes and values that is often referred to as cultural imperialism”
Galeota, 2007: 1).
Also, if we take cinema production as an alternative example: a few years ago, the youth of the world had a choice between China’s history review by way of Walt Disney’s Mulan, and the Old Testament recreated by Stephen Spielberg’s The Prince of Egypt – still coming from American media productions. Foreign history and legends painted with the American background colors! At the same time, foreign productions crossing the U.S. borders are also submitted to an “Americanization” on the scenario and screen production.
TenkÅ« no shiro Rapyuta (Castle in the sky) is the 1986’s animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. The Japenese version includes traditional and minimalist soundtracks by Joe Hisaishi. The european exported version includes the same sountrack and original dialogues with subtitles; while the American edition changes the music, dialogues and deletes scenes.
After this incident, Ghibli Studios (Hayao Miyazaki production) refuses to export their films within the U.S. borders. But if America triumphs on screen in the vanguard, it must also triumph through the universal message of Hollywood – a message of individual voluntarism, easily transferable (and easily ingestible) to all peoples of the planet.
Here we tend to explain the origins and, through many sources of modern cultural imperialism, the composition of media ownership and concentration. After reading many articles, views, and claims about these different subjects, it was clear and obvious to realize their common interaction. The increasing globalization of media activities across the industry of media during the past ten years has made media ownership and concentration a fundamental socio-political, cultural and economical phenomenon.
This media concentration clearly leads to a cultural imperialism interacting all over the world. Moreover, media concentration reduces the sources and information given to the reader/spectator. But on the other hand, we also have to consider another aspect of the problem: the basic psychological behaviour of our society. Historically a “leader” has always been at the forefront of society. Whether religious, monarchical, political or cultural the presence of leadership brought security and direction to the people (Montesquieu, 1748).
Whether right or wrong, the views of the leader were adopted by the people often leading to cultural unrest and misguidance. The “safety needs” of the people, as Maslow claimed manifests itself in the choice and preference for leadership. In many ways the role of the leader has been adopted by the media giants who express their views to a widespread audience of followers. From the famous Thomas Hobbes (1660) claim “Man is a wolf for other men” (or commonly translated as “Dog eat Dog”), we became a society of “loup et moutons” (wolf and sheep).
The population is now known for following ideas and opinions like sheep, and ingurgitates the information without questioning it (check the French INPI Campaign, 2001). Like a Sheppard herding sheep, the media giants (the Sheppard) can control and manipulate views of the people (the sheep) without the true facts being presented. So, whose fault is it if we talk about cultural imperialism? The media giants spreading the exact ideas and opinions without the foresight for a true and objective opinion or the people who blindly believe the opinions forced upon them?
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