An Armchair Tour of Global Media: A Look at Media Theories Worldwide

I. Introduction

Despite claims regarding the globalization of the world's media, it is undeniable that significant differences still exist. It is important to be aware of these differences especially since we do live in a world where intercommunication between countries has become increasingly important. An awareness of the different systems existing can help minimize problems arising from miscommunication and ignorance. In Hachten's "The World News Prism," he writes, "... despite our impressive technological expertise, political differences and cultural conflicts prevent the international news process from working smoothly and harmoniously." He continues saying,"More and faster news communication across national borders does not automatically lead to better understanding; often it results in enmity and distrust, since the profound cultural and social differences that characterize the world community preclude agreement on what is legitimate news (Hachten, 13)."

It is beneficial then to be able to understand trends in world media. It is also useful to be able to trace the history and be aware of the future of these different media perspectives. Essentially, divisions in the nature and role of world media can be seen to stem from a fundamental political dichotomy concerning the relationship between media and government. These differences are related to whether

1. Media is controlled by the government or

2. Media operates 'free' of government.

Hachten writes that although no press system operates completely autonomous of government, or completely under the thumb of a government, all press systems do exist somewhere along these two extremes. For Hachten, the question is not "whether government controls the press, but the nature and extent of those controls (Hachten, 15)."


II. The Media Theories and Concepts

Although Stevenson treats his examination of Hachten's five Media concepts and Schramm's co-authored Four Theories as two separate ideas with a number of similarities, it is possible to integrate the two as there is so much common ground. The two agree that divergent political systems form the major thrust for media differences.

A. Government controlled media
Government controlled media can be seen simply to be media that operates in a government controlled environment. There are three main concepts behind media that have emerged from such an environments. Authoritarianism is seen to be the oldest and most pervasive concept, with two modifications in the twentieth century - the Communist and Developmental Concepts.

1. Authoritarian Concept

We can see from this then, that the government, historically has always had some sort of relationship with the press. The Authoritarian concept is viewed as the oldest of media concepts, tracing its roots from the as far back as Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century. With this invention came government limitations and restrictions on something they saw could challenge their authority, as it ended church and state monopoly on knowledge.

According to Hachten, the basic principle of authoritarianism is the press is always subject to the direct of implied control of the state or sovereign. Diversity of views is seen as wasteful and irresponsible, harmful to the country's development. Under this system, the press are allowed to gather and publish news, but the news must be for 'the good of the state', and should not criticize authority or challenge the leadership in any way.

Eighteenth -century Englishman, Dr. Samuel Johnson gives a valid reason for this: "Every society has a right to preserve public peace and order, and therefore a good right to prohibit the propagation of opinions which have a dangerous tendency (Hachten, 16)."

In Uganda, a country attempting to convert from such an environment to one of 'free press', this system is still very much in effect. John Macarthur's 1991 article, "Slouching toward Freedom in Uganda" details the difficulty press in 'developing' countries encounter when trying to implement 'free press' ideologies.

In his article, he details a number of cases where journalists were arrested and charged for comments that here, would stir no concern. Three journalists who asked visiting Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda 'impertinent' questions, - one of whom asked whether the aging Kaunda did not feel it was time to step down and hand power over to a younger person - were imprisoned. William Pike, editor of New Vision, a government-run paper, told Macarthur in an interview, "...we have to follow the government lines in editorials. It would be absurd for the government to publish a newspaper that contradicted its policies (Media Reader 313)." Pike sums up the problem simply,"You're having an evolution of press freedom here. It's a political struggle. We have to establish the boundaries and rights of the press. I don't think you can go from complete dictatorship and terror to pure democracy overnight." The situation is further complicated by other worries. Pike says also, "...there's no point in getting upset about just one thing like press freedom [when there are so many other problems] (Hachten, 313) ."

2. Communist Concept

The Communist concept is seen by some as a variation of the authoritarian one. This was a theory advocated mainly by Lenin. According to Lenin, mass media controlled and directed by the Communist Party could concentrate on the task of nation building by publishing news relating to the entire society's policies and goals as determined by the top party leadership. There were three main aspects of this press:

a. The press was to be one-party,

b. It was to control both incoming an outgoing news,

c. The news was to be 'positive' information that furthered party goals, rather than reflecting the interests of the people,

d. It was to be used as a means of exercising control over the people, along with the secret police.

This concept has declined in practice extensively. The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident in April 1986, heralded a change, Hachten writes, as the Soviet was forced to publish negative news about its activities in the face of competition from western media. In 1988, the Soviet Union stopped jamming broadcasts on foreign radio waves. Border censorship of publications has also ended. This 'new' form of media is not completely free from the shadow of its past however.

As Roger Cohen reported in the New York Times, Dec. 1992, "Journalism has been reinvented in Eastern Europe as a craft involving independence and objectivity, but politicians remain uneasy and sometimes ruthless about the new press freedom."

3. Developmental Concept

In a way somewhat similar to John Martin's and Anju Chaudhary's media division by economic wealth (Comparative Mass Media Systems 1983,)Hachten's development concept is applied mainly to 'underdeveloped', or poorer countries that are lacking in media and other technological resources. Central tenets of this perspective are:

a) All instruments of mass communication should be mobilized to assist the government in nation building, fighting illiteracy and poverty, building a political consciousness and helping in economic development),

b) Media should support government, rather than challenge it,

c) Information, like in authoritarianism concept, flows from the top down,

d) Individual rights and other civil liberties are ranked low importance compared to larger problems of poverty, illiteracy, disease and ethnicity,

e) Each country has a right to restrict the flow of news between its borders as well as foreign journalists. Hachten describes this concept as an attempt on the part of poorer countries to limit the flow of information they receive from the western world threatening traditional cultures, as well as an attempt to have some control over news content about themselves. He further states that this trend too appears to be a dying one, citing examples such as the move of much of S. America including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, from dictatorships to democracies in the 1980's.


B. Media Independent of Government

This was seen to be media that functioned theoretically independent of government control. It was a political system built on the separation of media and government and characterized by "the freedom of the press". This concept evolved as reaction against the stringencies of the authoritarian press system. Libertarian theory/Western concept comes under this branch. The Social Responsibility concept has much in common with some modifications, whereas the Revolutionary Concept has only a few common threads.

a. Libertarian theory/Western Concept

The Western libertarian journalism ideals can be traced to the liberal political traditions seen in the works of the likes of John Milton, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. The main premise was that there should be a variety of news sources and publications available from which the public could choose. It was believed that nobody should have a monopoly on truth and that the people were capable of making the right decisions about what to believe if enough voices were heard and the government did not intrude.

b. Social Responsibility Concept

Although closely linked to the Liberalism concept, Social Responsibility concept strives to improve the precepts established by the former. This view states the media have obligations to the public that transcend media profitability. Their reporting was to be reliable and objective, and they were also obligated to ensure that all voices in the community were given the opportunity to be heard.

c. Revolutionary Concept

This concept has one trait in common with the Western concept, and that is they both try to operate outside of government controls. Lenin provided some of the ideology for this view of the press - an illegal and subversive communication that used the press and broadcast to overthrow a government or take power away from unwanted rulers. The people of this press have no faith in their government and do not believe they owe it any loyalty. It is not seen as fulfilling their interests, and as such, should be overthrown.

Examples of this type of press can be found in Russia and Africa. In Russia, copies of the Samizdat, secretly typed political tracts and mimeographed copies of illegal books were passed among dissidents. The anti-colonialist movements in many African countries also serve as examples. Political dissidents (who later became leaders), such as Awolowo, Nkrumah and Kenyatta were editors of small political papers that first expressed grievances against the British rulers, encouraged nationalism, and finally advocated political independence (Hachten 28).

Radio broadcasting has also become a valuable tool in the revolutionary concept - especially in post-independence years. It has and still plays a vital role in assisting revolutionary groups trying to overthrow the fragile governments of developing nations. Hachten notes that Black Africa has been plagued with coup d'etat's and that during these times of severe political crisis, the radio often functioned as the primary medium of mass communication. This significance is not ignored by rebels, who often seize the radio station before storming the presidential palace, as they recognize the importance of controlling information at the political center of power. Hachten also adds that during a struggle, military struggles subsequently occur outside the broadcast station because if the rebel group can announce a takeover on the nation's only broadcast station (even before it has actually been accomplished), it helps them accomplish the desired end.

There are, of course, other methods of classifying the differences that exist between global media, and there are also more subgroups and inter links than I have given. However, for the purposes of this rudimentary tour, the sites we have visited are, I feel a sufficient indicator of the various types of media to the simple tourist.


II. Kenya Media vs. Ugandan Media

'Developing' Country Example

When reading about Ugandan press in John Macarthur's 1991 article, "Slouching toward Freedom in Uganda", I came across an interesting snippet of information about Kenyan press. According to the article, Ugandan press, limited as it was, was still seen to be more progressive than Kenya's. Macarthur writes, "...in some ways the press in Uganda, though ragged in appearance, is freer and livelier than in ...Kenya, where the one party government of president Daniel Arap Moi brooks less criticism than Musuveni's one party state."

However, just six years later, things are so vastly different. To me, this is an example both of the dynamic world of media as well as s reflection of the constant political change occurring in Africa. Kenya is no longer the one-party government Macarthur wrote about, and what is more, the media is no longer developmental-focused as Hachten remarks in "The World News Prism". In fact, politics makes it to the front page on a regular basis since the introduction of a multi-party system.

A Kenyan article I read strongly shows Kenyan attempts to move away from development journalism. Professor Peter Cole, a journalism professor, said development journalism seemed to mean, "just tell the good news. There is simply no point in development journalism. The truth may not always be convenient, but it will always come out." Despite the problems and conflicts arising from government owned media, Kenyans are making attempts towards the liberalization theory method of press reporting.


Japan's Push to 'globalize' its Media

For the Japanese, the current emphasis is on selling Japanese news values to an International audience. The nation's top public broadcasting corporation, Nippon Hoso Kyokai(NHK) and Media International Corp. - a consortium staffed largely by former NJ employees and owned by four dozen major companies, are starting to disseminate Japanese shows overseas. In 1991, the company broadcasted eight to ten hours a day of Japanese and English Language shows, in the U.S. and Europe.

The hope of this undertaking is to reduce the misunderstanding and misrepresentation the Japanese feel are the norm currently. The stations hope to calm Japanese foreign critics by giving them news from a Japanese perspective.

Keiji Shima, chairman of NHK, said, "You have to be Japanese to cover certain Japanese matters," an idea echoing the feelings of people in the country that "ill will" towards Japan were a result of misunderstandings about the country. I found this interesting, because to this date, we have mainly heard this complaint from developing countries. Japanese complaints, however, reinforce the idea that it is the West that dominates the dissemination of news.

Schlesinger goes on to say in the article that Japan is having a difficult time implementing their plan. Capital Cities Inc/ABC Inc. and European Broadcasting Union were slated as likely partners, but the companies are not too interested.

AN ABC executive said of the proposed Global News Network, "Mr. Shima's ideas are laudatory in principle but maybe not practical." American broadcast executives say Japanese programming "tends to be drier, less analytical and less graphically sophisticated."

This reveals that despite differences in mass media, in order to succeed, these differences need to be minimized, rather than celebrated and appreciated. It raises questions of whether there is a possibility of being successful in the global arena if one does not conform to the western style.


Works Cited

Cohen, Roger. "Propaganda to Journalism: Europe's latest Revolution." New York Times 27 Dec. 1992

Hachten, William A. The World News Prism: Changing Media of International Communication. 4th ed. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1996

Macarthur, John R. "Slouching toward Freedom in Uganda." Washington Journalism Review. Vol. 13, No. 4. May 1991: 31-38.

Rpt. in Media/Reader: Perspectives on Mass Media Industries, Effects, and Issues Ed. Shirley Biagi. 2nd ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Inc., 1993. 309-314.

Martin, John L. "World Media Revisited." 1992 Ed. Shirley Biagi. 2nd ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Inc., 1993. 291-296. Schlesinger, Jacob M. "NHK TV Sees More in Global Network Than the West does."

The Wall Street Journal. March 28, 1991: p. A-12 Rpt. in Media/Reader: Perspectives on Mass Media Industries, Effects, and Issues Ed. Shirley Biagi. 2nd ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Inc., 1993. 318-319. Stevenson, Robert L. "Global Communication in the Twenty-First Century." New York: Longman, 1994


Last updated: December 3, 1997
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