Monday, September 21, 2009

Media's Role

After reading Hanson’s chapter 3, “The Globalization of Communication,” I recognized the stark contrast regarding the purpose of media in Western versus non-Western countries. When describing Western intentions, Hanson notes, the United States encouraged “liberalization of trade and services, its most important export sector” (66). This quotation demonstrates the economically, export driven intentions of Western media and the encouragement for international corporations and investments.

However, the objectives of Western media contrast those of non-western nations. It seems that non-western nations are often more concerned with preserving individual cultures rather than using media as an export commodity. As Hanson notes, media in developing countries began as a form of educational and cultural preservation, rather than as a defense tactic as it was used in the United States. The maintenance of cultural identities persists today through processes of localization. For example, India preserves its culture through language retention and promotion by broadcasting local media in rural villages and in native languages. This localization strategy, through which countries such as India, Brazil, China and Italy have adopted American media programs, such as MTV and altered them to suit their national preferences, demonstrates the non-western desire to preserve national cultures.

As Hanson notes in Chapter 5, many scholars would argue that global digitalization creates a dependency on the West. I agree that developing nations are initially dependent on the West for media infusion, but nations then alter the media to satisfy the demands of their own culture, thus becoming independent from the West. For example, India brought media and advanced communication to its rural villages during the Gyandoot project, in an attempt to maximize the relationships between citizens and government officials by reducing corruption and increasing communication. This project depended on Western technology but morphed the usage to benefit itself.

Thus, I find that an essential difference between western and non-western media is the use of media as an export and liberalizing medium in Western nations, whereas many developing nations import Western formats of communication and shape them to satisfy local and national cultural identities. Rather than promoting cultural identities as an alternative to Western ideals, many nations, such as India, actually aim to preserve national ideas through containment and broadcast of local news.

Another interesting idea created in the Hanson reading is the concept of freedom and democracy in media. Hanson mentions the extremism that develops within the Al-Jazeera network, such as the flagrant images of dead American soldiers. Thus, with the rise of private, democratic, and international networks, news media is changing. This encourages me to question the purpose of media. Is it to retain national languages and cultures, through localization and containment, such as in India? Or is it to promote and globalize anti-Western cultures through international networks such as Al-Jazeera?

1 comment:

  1. It's an interesting view to consider Western media as designed for export and non-Western media as mainly geared for internal consumption towards reinforcement of a national or local (rather than international or supranational) culture. As I was reading your post, it made me think of a few questions:
    - If Western media is motivated by the commercial possibilities of export, does it say something about the security we feel in our own national culture? That is, is it because we don't think cultural reinforcement through our media is necessary?
    - Does producing media for export represent a "next step" in development vis a vis modernism theory?
    - Several non-Western countries are increasingly making a name for themselves in the global media sphere, and often without removing cultural signifiers. Korean films especially come to mind, as does the popularity of several Korean dramas. Interestingly enough, the industry of diaspora comes into play here as well. The Korean drama, Jewel in the Palace was immensely popular throughout Asia, and the local Asian/Chinese station in San Francisco even imported the Chinese dubbed version which was again broadcast to immense popularity in the Bay Area. I thought it was interesting that in this case, the diaspora community was not just consuming a local product from the homeland, but staying on top of the homeland culture and trends, even if those trends originated somewhere else.
    Personal observations aside, I think a closer analysis of media exchange between non-Western countries might be needed to flesh out this idea further. Non-Western media might not be penetrating Western countries the way the reverse relationship works, but that's not to say that non-Western media doesn't travel beyond its own national borders.