Professional practices: development
This essay aims to define development news and the questions this kind
of journalism faces. I will begin by explain the origins of the concept
that can be traced to issues around the New World Information and Communication
Order (NWICO). After, I will define de concept by contrasting it with
mainstream news. These are the product of private and public service media
around the world that postulate a dominant culture perspective and are
produced within western codes and standards of journalism. Perspectives,
news values, agenda setting, journalistic practices and ethics will be
In the end, I will consider some of the development news problems, like
the risk of falling into propaganda and the difficulty of survival in
a market led environment.
Origins of the concept
The concept of development communication first arose in the American
academic circles between 1945 and 1965 and is closely related with the
William Shramm was one of the defenders of this theory. The definition
was created after WWII due to the division of the World in three: West,
Eastern Europe and the rest (more recently the division between North
and South has been preferred by some researchers). Shramm postulated that
the poorer countries could be modernized through a transfer of knowledge
from the West. This involved the transfer of Western created models and
their adaptation to those countries, be it in social-economical areas
or in the media, mainly through training, education and technology.
This model was later criticized for measuring modernization in terms of
the GNP and over-looking cultural, political and social dimensions of
communication, like the connection between media and elite, and so considering
the media as neutral forces of development (Servaes, 1996)
This model would be considered responsible for the creation of dependency
of the Third World from the First and it's detractors would give rise
to the concepts of cultural and media imperialism. Central to these two
concepts is the idea that there is a one way flow of information from
some Northern countries to the rest of the world defended under the free
flow ideology. A flow that these countries have difficulty in reversing,
first, due to lack of resources for production or marketing; second, due
to the tradition of doing it the western way thanks to the transfer of
technology and training from the west; third, due to invading international
market measures that defend the media of the powerful in opposition to
protective media measures of the powerless (e.g. like the GATT accords,
where the USA tried to "invade" the European markets). (Sreberny-Mohammadi,
These questions were discussed in the UNESCO in what became known as the
plea for a NWICO by the Southern countries first led by the Eastern block
and later by the non-aligned countries. The debate was raised with a main
concern: change the imbalances in the global news flow and bring Third
World perspectives to world news.
With the withdrawal of the USA in 1984, and later of the UK, from the
UNESCO motivated by the disagreement about NWICO (the two countries have
the biggest shares of the global media market) the debate faded. However,
the questions it gave rise to are still pertinent (more than ever, I would
say). One of the legacies of NWICO was precisely the notion of development
communication. (Nordenstreng, 1996 and Winseck, 1996)
Definition: a question of perspective
Development communication aims, if not to change, at least to make a
dent in the reigning 'one-way flow information order' specially through
altering one of it's basic characteristics: the creation of news with
a single Western perspective.
Although the free flow of information is said by it's defenders to increase
diversity, actually, through competition for audiences that are saleable
to advertising agencies (the bread and butter of private media) the media
end up singing in unison. The largest audience is the one that belongs
to the dominant culture and that most media cultivate (except niche market
media or alternative media) since it is the one that will bring them the
highest rates and the biggest advertising profits.
This is specially true about the private media that will only survive
by satisfying the preferences of they consumers. So, far from encouraging
diversity of opinion, they present news within the pre existing frame
of their audiences values and beliefs (O'Neill, 199? p. 342).
When covering Iraq, international news agencies will be concerned with
whether Sadam Hussein (the bad guy, to most Western peoples judgement)
is complying to US demands in arms inspection. They are not concerned
about what the people of Iraq think of the issue and these are seldom
asked for an opinion.
Mainstream media, specially the so called "international" news
agencies, cover events with a consumer type in mind: usually a Northern
inhabitant. As Aggarwala exemplifies, when there was a coup in Afghanistan
in 1978 Western correspondents asked if the new government was pro-Soviet
or pro-West not what was the impact of the change to the people of the
Development news aims to give the other perspective or perspectives that
can be found in any event or issue. A development journalist would have
said precisely the opposite of what an executive of Associated Press once
said: "We are not going to get into covering Africa for Africans".
Development news aims to cover the news through the perspective of the
people involved in them, the people of the Third World.
(Aggarwala quoted by Thussu, 1996, p. 78)
The mainstream perspective is often more than just that: it is a distortion
of the truth. Reality is tamed to meet the needs of the organization,
be it the referred audience rates/advertisement requirements or the routines
of news production. (Helland, 1996, p. 53 to 54).
A good illustration of that comes again from Helland: a news correspond
in the Middle East signed a piece on the demonstrations on Iraqi without
ever leaving Israel. The piece was constructed in between him and the
London office within the usual perspective. (p. 53 to 56)
By omitting or distorting information mainstream journalists frame events
within a standard perspective or an underlying frame of mind resulting
from accepted occupational and institutional arrangements (Helland, p. 54
Development organizations have a different objective from mainstream news:
not profit but development. Thus, their values and routines, like agenda
setting, should not take them in the path of distortion. But the danger
of distortion may come to this media in another form: government intervention
and propaganda, as we will see later.
Spot news versus development news:
1) Agenda setting
Development journalism is more than just creating 'different perspective'
news. It should deepen the news by finding their causes and underlying
motives, which may require a thorough investigation. While main stream
media seem to have an obsession with spot news, action news or hard news
with a "coups and earthquakes syndrome" the development journalist
should look behind the obvious, using an investigative explanation. (Thussu,
1996, p. 78, 81)
The development journalist is not merely interested in the event itself,
but in the social-economic and political environment lying behind a situation
During the out-brake of plague in India in 1994, international media filled
the air, the screens and their pages with images of dying people and their
murderers, the rats. The anachronism fitted one of their news values:
it was unusual. But few news organizations went further than the show
of a few dozen people (in a country of one billion) dying or the easy
explanation of rats and lack of sanitation. Most failed to report that
the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had dictated in the
previous years' structural adjustments that impoverished the India health
system.(Thussu, p. 80, 81)
Therefore, development news has a different agenda from mainstream news:
not short term fast happening events but trends and processes, social
and economic changes that happen through years or decades not in a one
hour infotainment show. That is why the out-put of development news agencies
is so often investigative pieces or features, not hard news (e.g. Gemini
news agency in Unit 38b)
The development journalist "should critically examine evaluate and
report the relevance of a development project to national and local needs,
the difference between the planned scheme and it's actual implementation,
and the difference between it's impact on people as claimed by government
officials and as it actually is." (Agarwalla quoted by Thussu, p. 78)
In this perspective, the journalist should assume a pro-active role as
an agent of social change in contrast with the mainstream journalist that
usually only reacts to happenings: an accident, an election, a murder
2) News values
The agenda setting of the development journalist takes us directly to
the question of news values. The Northern media are concerned with elite
nations. Elections or major political changes in Southern countries will
only be briefly covered. Ethnic or civil wars in Africa, like the recent
case of Guinea-Bissau, the 17 year civil war in Mozambique and the still
on going war in Angola, are only covered by international agencies if
there is a group of Westerners living there or it affects some major Western
A natural disaster in the Third World as to be of big dimensions to get
covered by Northern media, while these cover even traffic accidents in
Elite persons also get coverage by Western media. Northern elite people,
of course. Thus, personalization is another news value: actions are seen
as resulting from individual people not from structures, processes and
institutions, which are more difficult to investigate. 'Bad news is good
news' is also a common belief of mainstream media. (Thussu, p. 80)
These values, resulting from the above referred comodification of news
tend to create simplified versions of complex realities that create stereotypes
of the Third World and their people. But this clichés are even
more detrimental for developing countries when their mainstream media,
Westernized by media training and copying of the North media processes
and standards, also copy the referred values. Through their mainstream
national media or through international media Third World audiences get
a 'clichetic' image of themselves instead of getting news about their
social-economic interests and their culture and traditions.
Because of the one way flow and the lack of media products exchange between
Southern countries, they also get a Northern image of them selves.
Even in countries where independent journalism has a tradition, developing
issues may not get covered. Not because of western value importation,
but because of the journalists lack of interest or lack of professional
gratification in covering those issues.
In India, a country with the largest number of poor people in the world,
issues of social-economic development may be ignored by the journalist
that asks "what do I get from covering the poor?". The proximity
to power and prominent people may seem much more attractive to journalists
then the proximity to poor farmers (Thussu, p. 81-82).
This question takes us directly into the topic of journalism practices
Agarwalla says: "development news is not different from regular news
or investigative reporting". He also stresses that development journalism
is the use of journalistic skills to report the developing process in
an interesting fashion" (Aggarwalla quoted by Thussu, p. 78). Hence,
the difference between developing journalists and mainstream ones resides
in the news agenda not in the professional practices.
Which means the development journalist may be affected by the same factors
as the mainstream journalist.
3) Professional practices
The mainstream journalists' power or control over their occupations (as,
thus, their autonomy) is limited by external constraints as well as by
internal ones (Dickinson, 1996, p. 22).
Political and social lobbies may influence the journalist in such a way
the final product may turn out to be propaganda. Commodification, resulting
from the profitable nature of media (even public service tends to compete
more and more for audiences and advertising), as well as the media owners
interests, create internal constraints for the journalist. So do work
routines, by taming the world of events and shaping reality according
to pre-established rules. News follow "a day time cycle which relays
heavily on a planning structure that creates routine agenda of predictable
stories which provide the back bone of each day's production requirements"(Dickinson,
p. 30, 31).
Those routinized predictable news are important in the creation of a mainstream
perspective, as referred before. Because of their different organizational
objective - development, not commerce - development media operational
procedures should not take them in the path of routinized predictable
frames of production, or their goal of investigating alternative perspectives
will be gone.
Thus, the development journalist must be a participant one. By conforming
to routines the neutral reporter conforms to officially produced information,
while the participant journalist uses is gathering skills to provide context
and background and brings in is interpretation of the facts. The development
journalist is of the second kind.
Being asked to conform to routine practices and to report according to
the organization's perspective may create in the mainstream journalist
an occupational conflict. His creativity, autonomy and his ethic values
may be subjugated to a consumer product and to management goals. (Dickinson,
p. 31, 32, 33).
The development journalist may have similar dilemmas. Nevertheless, his
problems will tend to result not so much from the consumer nature of the
medium, but from the proximity of state officials or politicians to developing
Problems: propaganda and funding
The development medium has the same goals has the developing country
government, even if of a private nature. If it is a public medium, the
chances of state pressures will be even greater. The journalist will face
the danger of transforming into a propaganda agent. A bigger danger in
developing countries than in the West. Here, public service media have
bye-laws that protect them (better or worst) from government intervention.
In developing countries a series of conditions make the public media more
vulnerable to state interference.
Most African countries are an example of this. There, political interference
is common. The media, regardless of whether they are state owned, pro
or anti government or independent, attract the attention of governments.
In the book I Accuse the Press the Kenyan journalist Philip Ochieng tells
how staff changes and agenda setting decisions in the independent media
where made by the Kenyan government (Okigbo, 1996, p. 186).
Many anti-colonial nationalist movements used the media as an instrument
for de-colonization. Newspapers in Africa and radio in Algeria are good
examples (Lewis, 1996, p. 581, Unit 24).
This close relationship between political power and the media continued
after independence. In many such countries the press was nationalized
and journalists transformed into civil servants. However, even the private
media are not immune to political interference that, in certain cases,
is accepted by the managers, editors and journalists in exchange for social
gratification. Being close to power gives you power.
In other cases political ideology is imposed through government blackmailing:
funding, subsidies, training offered by the state to media that can barely
survive without these.
A third case is that in which threats, violence and abuse of power are
used, if not to convince independent media to be official institutions
of power, at least to silence them. In many of the South American and
Asian pseudo democracies newspapers still get closed by the police, journalists
assassinated, editors threatened.
This thin line between propaganda and development journalism in the Third
World was the main argument used by the USA and other Western powers against
NWICO. The same countries that through defending freedom of the press
based on the 'sacred' value of the free market allow for a global 'one
way flow of information', against those that defend the role of the media
in improving peoples lives and helping the development of countries.
What is the future of development news? With the NWICO debate dying,
global liberalization of the media sector and tougher competition to survive,
the panorama does not look brilliant. Several regional news agencies established
in the 1970's with guidance of the UNESCO failed in developing a different
news agenda or in affecting the news flow. Even the success cases face
serious financial problems and need to be subsidized by non-governmental
organizations (e.g. Interpress Service). This difficulties deviate this
agencies to a mainstream agenda, a move that is not always the solution
since that means competition with commercial international agencies like
Reuters or AP.
Some small-scale media where more successful, like the Filipino Depth
News, the Malaysian Third World Network or Gemini News Service, a London-based
service with 100 correspondents around the world and 100 subscribers in
80 countries. These services usually have a small output and most of it
is constituted by features, specially opinion articles. Access to the
mainstream media in terms of selling their copy is a problem these organizations
face because of lack of competitiveness in spot news and lack of credibility
(Thussu, p. 83-96).
Are development news media a remain from NWICO that is in extinction?
Or are these, as the 'alternative media' they are destined to a brighter
future with the help of new electronic media like the Internet? This could
be the topic for a future essay.
Note: the author of this essay question should have considered the lack
of reference materials in this module and in the set and reference books.
Following the option's advice, I tried to compensate using module 4 information.
In the library of my university and in the Internet I did not find any
theoretical works on development journalism.
globalization, national identity and alternative media
This essay will begin by defining nation state, nation and national identity.
After, we will examine what is the role of the media in the formation
and maintenance of the nation state and national identity and whether
that role is preponderant.
Introducing the question of media globalization we will analyze whether
it erodes national identity (media imperialism) or strengthens it (concept
of 'otherness' - defense of national/local values).
Finally, we will examine reactions to intranational hegemony or global
(inter-national) hegemony through alternative media.
Media Imperialism and globalization/localization
Media Imperialism, as Boyd Barret put it, is "the process whereby
the ownership, structure, distribution or content of the media in any
one country are singly or together subject to substantial external pressures
from the media interests of any other country, without proportionate reciprocation
of influence by the country so affected" (Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1996,
This imbalance in the flow of cultural/media products motivated the proposition
for a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) by the Southern
countries supported by the Eastern block in the 1970's. As we can see
through Nordensteng unit, this states feared the impact of the massive
consumption of western media (produced either by the ex-colonizer country
or the neo-colonizers like the USA) in their national identities. After
the West tried to "buy" the South with offerings of technology
and western media education, the retreat of the USA and the UK from UNESCO
and the end of the Eastern Block subsided the debate (although some of
it's main concerns stills persist today in the debate about globalization).
Although we can recognize the impacts of imperialism in national identities,
through language, educational systems and the media (e.g.the doubling
of Filipino movies in American-English instead of Tagalog) we also have
to recognize that many southern countries, mainly through new popular
texts, have created forms that reinforce their cultural identity and that
even reverse the processes of cultural imperialism (e.g. the massive export
of telenovelas from Brazil to Portugal). Nevertheless, some pessimists
fail to see the national traits of these new southern genres (film in
India, telenovela in Brazil) and prefer to call them just a 'mimicry'
of Anglo-Saxon /western forms (Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1996, p. 385).
Therefore, we have to analyze the impact of media globalization in national
identities in two directions: one that comes along the media imperialism
theory and other that affirms a resistance in terms of audience readings
or through the creation of a sense of 'otherness'. This sense of the dichotomy
We/They is in the origin of media policies and alternative media that
defend local and national identities.
Media globalization can refer to the media as an economic activity or
as a channel of content. In the first dimension we can find the transnational
media corporations advancing into more and more national markets and taking
with them the second dimension: a common content that is flowing to local
audiences. Here we may find concerns over cultural homogenization, cultural
synchronization (Hamelink,1996, Unit13) or global ecumene (Hannerz,1997,
p.11-18), negative inferred concepts related with the theory of media
imperialism and the NWICO debate referred before.
But the idea of national identities being overwhelmed by international
common media content is contradicted by audience research that shows how
audiences "actively and creatively make their own meaning and create
their own culture, rather then passively absorb pre-given meanings imposed
on them (Das et al.,1996, p. 520).
Audiences resist through readings. Their socio-cultural identities interfere
in the interpretation of the message, so we cannot say that there is a
straight cause-effect between the producers intentions and the audiences
reaction. The audience contests the text when it does not read what was
intended but something else(Ang cited by Das et al, 1996, p.520) Cross
cultural studies like the one Katz and Leibes did on 'Dallas' or the one
on how Arab women read telenovelas, by Sreberny-Mohammadi , reveal that
audiences decode media texts according to their cultural experiences.
Therefore we can say that cultural/national identity is not passively
influenced by global media.
Media globalization may also reinforce national identity by creating a
sense of otherness: the idea that our nation is different from other nations
is increased by the knowledge people get of the existence of the 'other'
through the media. The perception of such international penetration may
take some groups to explore their own sense of national identity by creating
protective regulation (quotas for national music in radio stations in
Portugal) competing media ( telenovelas in Brazil) or alternative media.
We can see the trend for national/local ethnic preservation as another
response to globalization.
It is here that the global meets the local. In today's world there are
two concomitant processes going on: localization and globalization. Robertson
calls this inter-penetration of the global and the local glocalization.
(Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1996, p. 373). In the core of this process we find
the coexistence of international media, national main-steam media and
Alternative media eroding/building nations
Alternative media can be a reaction to globalization, in the sense of
international homogenization, or a reaction to intranational homogenization.
Voice of Free Algeria illustrates the second process: it contributed to
the formation of Algeria as a free nation and it had an important role
in the process of independence from France (Lewis, 1996, p. 583-584)
Revolutionary radios in Nicaragua, Radio Venceremos and Radio Farabundi
Marti, were also examples of how media can be used to fight against a
government and for the nation. On the other side, during the Sandinista
period the 75 radios funded by CIA to broadcast from neighboring states
into that country, can be said to have used globalization to undermine
national identity. The same happened with other foreigner media like Radio
Free Europe and Voice of America which contributed to the political changes
in the Eastern block. In this cases there is no doubt that media globalization
helped undermine the nation-states (Lewis, 1996, p. 591)
Local alternative media may also have a role in eroding old nationwoods.
They encourage neglected voices to speak up, helping differences to surface
and so contradicting the mainstream media's function of building national
identity. They may promote new methods of interaction based on participation
and democracy (e.g. newspapers delivered by fax in Mozambique) or the
use of different languages and customs (e.g.ethnic radios).
Alternative doesn't necessarily mean access to them is restricted. Faxes,
computer systems and even video distribution can make them available throughout
countries. Even high technology can be utilized to reach wider audiences.
American Deep Dish was a collectively run project which used a video,
made by people around the country, to show American resistance to the
Gulf War. The group leased time on satellite networks to broadcast the
program through satellite in America. The video was also shown on television
in several countries and used in workshops and seminars. (Lucas and Wallner,
1995, p. 176-194).
In this way we have the alternative media transforming the local and giving
it as global , in a process of glocalization. They can be used against
those in power in the nation-state, and so against intranational homogenization,
helping to form and transform cultures [since culture as Lewis states,
is a dynamic process (1996, p. 600)].
However, alternative media tend to have some difficulties. In terms of
management, democratic decision making may take to long (Lewis, p. 593-96).
They also tend to have difficulty resisting the mainstream media, that
end up buying them out. That's why so many alternative media are temporal.
There was a period when pirate radio flourished in Portugal (a process
similar to the 'radios libres' in France). Locally produced programs gave
voice to people without any other direct access to media. With the argument
of the limited radio spectrum, the state regulated the radios. Many where
incorporated into mainstream stations, others where subverted by Anglo-Saxon
music in an attempt to survive commercially in an era of intensified liberalization-privatization,
Diversity and access fell to business interests or to state interests.
That's why so many alternative media have a short period of life in their
contribution to the dynamic process of national identity formation.
But let us finish with a positive note: the Internet as an alternative
media is constantly creating 'imagined" communities (Anderson) based
in affiliation, ethnicity or nation that completely distance themselves
from the nation/state or even subvert national identity. According to
Poster, the Internet allows the "shift to a decentralized network
of communications which makes senders receivers, producers consumers,
ruler ruled upsetting the logic of the first media age" in a "second
media age" (Lewis, 1996, p. 605). The Internet is the total access
medium transforming the local/national into global and vice-versa and
eroding or defending nationwoods. This is the opposite of the absence
of national media.
Media in global context
From communism to consumerism: China and the Eastern Europe
Most countries that were subjected to major political changes, be it
the end of colonialism or the reform of the communist regimes, have changed
their policy towards the media during and after those periods. In most
cases, the media themselves contributed, to a certain extent, to those
We will analyze two cases. The first is the change of China from radical
maoism to the 'market socialism' it aims to be today and the role of the
media, especially television, in those changes. The second is the transition
of communism to capitalism in eastern Europe with the subsequent westernization
of the media.
(There will not be exhaustive statistics about the countries or regions.
Numbers will only be used to support some of the arguments in the text.)
"Modern broadcasting devices once the perfect instrument for capturing
loyalties and maintaining the state, are becoming consummate devices for
undermining the established order" (Price, quoted by Lull, 1997,
Although both the eastern European countries and China have been subject
to some of the major trends of today's media, the results of those global
influences are quite different. While Eastern Europe was subjected to
revolutions, and so to changes in political regime, China went mainly
through a process of economical reform. Of course, the political and the
economical go hand in hand, but while in eastern Europe there was a change
in the mode of domination of the elite (from state to private) and so,
a political change, in China the changes were basically economic with
the introduction of the socialist market economy and it's contradictions.
Yet, in both we find similarities.
Due to certain continuities in the ex-socialist countries it's not so
difficult to find some similarities with a present socialist country,
China, that aims to be capitalist. An example of this is the Chinese party
elite (that is transforming into a economical elite) that rules de media
in China and the ex-nomenklatura that kept the same control over the media.
In both examples the formation of an elite in and outside the media is
creating class differentiation of proportions that is difficult to find
in the western world today
In terms of media content, the effects of the total liberalization and
wild capitalism in the east European countries and the controlled localizing
an openness to private investment in China, seem to go in the same direction:
more entertainment and soft news and the decline of the serious press
while news, broadcast in particular, remain under the control of governments.
As for internationalization, while, in the press joint-ventures with the
west were rapidly made in the eastern Europe, in terms of broadcast, governments
keep a concern for national identity (laws against foreigner ownership
of television, commission of national programs) as it happens with China
when it issues laws against satellite dishies or when it broadcasts mainly
national programs. Of course, permeability to foreigner culture is greater
in Eastern Europe, but satellites (especially Star TV) are doing their
share in China. Both end up being permeable to globalization. Or to McDonaldization?
Globalization is taking place both in Easter Europe and China. But while
the latter and most Southeast Asia resist Americanization by adapting
western media products to Asian values and exporting Chinese-mandarin
programs, Eastern Europe is succumbing at all levels, fast and easy, to
In conclusion, nor Eastern Europe, nor China can escape a global tendency:
economicism rules the media world and the interests of governments and
of the business elite that back them up find expression in regulation
that favors concentration, annihilates civil society and translates in
the futility of media content (through increasingly more entertainment
Note: Some of the data in the first part of this essay comes from
my own observations and disperse data collected through talks, seminars
and the media since I live in Macau, a Chinese territory under Portuguese
administration close to Hong Kong.
Media history and social regulation
This essay aims to explain how new technologies influenced communication
industries focusing on the challenge they brought in terms of organization
and regulation of the media.
After a brief introduction to the conventional organization of the print,
broadcasting and telecommunication we will elaborate on a period of political
change, the late 1970's and 1980's, that deeply influenced the media.
Through examples from Britain and the United States we will illustrate
how liberal right-wing governments created the trend for concentration
and deregulation of the media that is observed today. Using Habermas concept
of the public sphere we will analyze this tendencies drawing on concepts
like public service and media convergence.
Some more recent trends like the transnationalization of the media and
a prospective re-regulation will be considered in the end.
In line with Paddy Scannell this essay does not aim to be an enumeration
of events and facts but to point out some of the most important social
concepts that derive from media history (1995, p. 301). The technological
changes were paralleled by political and economical ones. Both Margaret
Thatcher's and Ronald Reagan's governments promoted liberalization, de-regulation
and, as a consequence, concentration and cross-media ownership.
Thatcher had a certain intimacy with the press that supported her economic
measures as well as her political ones, like the Malvinas (Falklands)
war. By the time, men like Eddie Shah and Rupert Murdoch, profiting from
Conservative legislation that controlled the unions and from computing
technology created press empires. These subverted news values to commercial
needs by using ever-greater doses of sex and sensationalism (Ward, 1995, p. 277).
The Prime-Minister policies helped the press barons interests and these,
in exchange, supported her through three elections.
Thatcher had the opposite relationship with the BBC. During her term of
office the corporation provoked the Conservatives by broadcasting one
documentary on the IRA, giving publicity to what some would consider an
enemy of the nation, and by making a factual coverage of the Malvinas
war, instead of playing the traditional nationalistic role. Thames Television
also incurred in Thatcher's fury with a documentary on the deaths of three
There was revenge: the 1990 Broadcasting Act for independent television,
which insisted on profitability not on quality, was used to withdraw the
franchise from Thames Television. (Ward, 1995, p. 279)
More recently the trend reverted: British governments are concerned with
the influences de-regulated media have on the individuals and created
regulatory bodies like the Broadcasting Standards Council or the Press
Complaints Commission. We will consider this tendency for a form of re-regulation
In the United States the empire of the free market, de-regulation was
not so much felt. Even though, the FCC weakened some of its rules by relaxing
measures on mixed programming obligations and abolishing the fairness
doctrine. Meanwhile there were mergers in the press, market that remained
as free as it had ever been and convergence in the broadcast and cinema
industry with deals like Sony buying Columbia or General Electric acquiring
Challenges: the public sphere and public service; convergence and
In the 1980's two main dilemmas arose: the argument between the public
service media defenders and the free marketers (the first pending to the
social responsibility theory the second to the libertarian theory) and
the question of how to regulate media that tend to converge both technologically
and in terms of ownership.
Habermas concept of the public sphere added some fuel to these discussions
by providing an ideal against which to judge existing social arrangements
(McKenna, 1995, p. 342). His works, although previously studied in several
European countries, where only translated to English in 1989. That allowed
British and American scholars to use history to stimulate the debate on
the role of their countries media in democratic public communication.
For Habermas the media, by creating public opinion, were a crucial player
in the rise of the modern democracies in Europe. In the 18th century public
opinion became a force as people met freely without regard of status in
table houses, coffee-houses and salons to discuss social and political
issues affecting the public at large (McKenna, 1995, p. 337-338).
In this forum of public interest and common concerns, debate was independent
from the state and the market. As Habermas wrote, in the public sphere
"laws of the market were suspended as were laws of the state"
(1995, p. 238). The media of the time, the periodical press, played an
important role in spreading the ideas hatched in the salons. But the arrival
of the commercial press in the 19th century created the conditions for
the decline of the public sphere. The newspapers became more and more
depoliticized and hostage to the need of commercialism and advertisement
(McKenna, 1995, p. 341). The expansion of state and economic interests
put an end to the public sphere (Curran, 1997, p. 82).
Habermas concept has it's drawbacks like an excessive idealization of
this historical period (Curran, 1997, p. 82) or idealizing what was an
exclusive white, male, middle class public opinion. (Scannell, 1995, p.
But thinking of it's contribution as more conceptual than historical we
can use it to analyze the debate between defenders of the public service
and defenders of the free-market, a debate that became more and more important
with the 1980's technological and liberal changes.
The public sphere allowed a reassessment of the value of both private
and public media theories and thus contributed to the understanding of
the role of the media in contemporary democracies. ( McKenna, 1995, p. 364).
In the public sphere the private media where at the service of the public
being independent from both state and market. Today the two ideas became
mutually exclusive. Defenders of the public service media criticize the
concentration of ownership, the lack of diversity and the functioning
as a business instead of a social enterprise that the free-market brings.
Defenders of the free-market argue that public service broadcast was never
really independent from the state and so could never perform a watchdog
role, supposedly the most important function in maintaining democracy
(Curran, 1997, p. 84, 85).
The public sphere concept was used to show the serious political consequences
of the media regulation by the free-market. It illustrates how commercialization
led to the public being treated as consumers instead of citizens, to the
content being dominated by entertainment, not politics, and to the restriction
of ideas that contribute to democracy.
When in the 1980's right-wing governments lifted many rules in the USA
and attacked public service in Britain, the public sphere concept was
there to show the contradiction between media as economic organizations
and social institutions and gave critics an argument for regulation.
But if de-regulation is still the order of the day, not only in the USA
or Britain but at least in most eastern and western Europe, re-regulation
may be the next trend.
With telecommunications and satellite being able to distribute broadcasting,
print, voice and data, technological convergence became a reality. And
with it the difficulty to keep the regulatory separation between the different
modes of communication, print, broadcast and telecommunications.
Cross border satellite transmission or the fact one medium can do the
same thing as the other (telephone used to transmit video on demand) are
realities that call for a different type of regulation from that of the
Hybrid systems of regulation (e.g. between the common carrier and broadcasting
models in the case of the cable systems) are said to be already in existence.
So, although there as been a tendency for deregulation in the last two
decades, the new media technologies and forms have been creating new regulatory
frameworks. (McQuail, 1995, p. 373) Or, at least, making claims for new
regulatory measures to be taken. Like the claims of the new right for
regulation of the Internet (the contemporary medium closer to the ideal
Convergence in ownership may also be calling for regulation. It brings
lack of diversity in content and censorship, not from the state, but from
the corporation it self. Alliances between media conglomerates and parties
or governments are well known cases. Often those same multinational corporations
interfere in the agenda of the media they own in ways that try to favor
their economical interests. Nowadays there are maybe more chances of the
private watchdog to be undermined by the market than of the public one
by the state. (Curran, 1997, p. 85-87).
The trend for media convergence, with it's lack of diversity, tendency
for entertainment instead of politics, defense of 'the master's voice'
and of it's alliances with politicians or states, took the media as far
away from the democratic ideal of the public sphere as ever.
While it may be easier to regulate the media in terms of ownership, use
of frequencies, copyright rules, trade restrictions or standards, the
fact they tend to be international operations creates difficulties in
terms of regulation of access, conduct and content. Regulations tend to
have a national span while most media nowadays are multinational in reach.
Thus UN failures in controlling internationally undesirable media practices
(e.g. cross-boarder radio transmissions inciting ethnic violence between
hutus and tootsies in Rwanda) (McQuail, 1995,p.406).
But in contemporary 'information societies', societies dependent on information
and communication activities, the media may request regulation in their
own defense, since freedom may only be achieved by regulation. (McQuail,
1995, p.374) European Union supranational regulations for television content
are an example of that.
Multiplication of distribution of communication channels, technological
convergence, transnationalization (cross border communication and it's
consequences) and the advent of multi media lead us to think that the
question of regulation can only be seen in an international framework.
These phenomena may also take us to the idea that the development of an
international public sphere may be the only way to defend democracy against
the threats of 'politization' by controllers of international capital
supported by the USA, UNESCO or UK (Garnham, 1995, p. 251)
At a national level, those actors - the multinational corporations and
the liberal governments - are the ones that fight public service media
and defend private media forms that select access in their own profit.
What will happen at an international level? Is a global public sphere
possible? The future will tell.
National cinema in India and China
This essay will look at the relationship between the state and the film
industry in China and India. These represent two of the oldest cultures
in the world and are the two biggest nations. Cinema was an important
instrument to create and maintain national identity in such vast and heterogeneous
Through the countries film history - with a focus on 'Masala Film' in
India and 'communist cinema' and the 'fifth generation' in China -I will
explain how cinema reflected and projected government objectives as well
as helped maintain (enforce in some cases) cultural identity. I will compare
some aspects of these two quite different but sometimes similar cinematographies:
their relation with the West, the role of tradition and self-censorship.
I will use two approaches to study national cinema in China and India:
one institutional - how was the industry organised in different fazes
of the country's history - and another cultural - how did the country
defined and projected its image as a nation through cinema (Cooke, p. 150).
Tradition, the West and self-censorship
These two countries with such different political and economical histories
developed two cinema industries, one communist, another capitalistic,
with very specific, strong, non-westernised characteristics that share
more than just that. The way national tradition and western imagery and
arts were used to create national identity is common to both. The practice
of self-censorship under authoritarian regimes (Indian 'socialistic' regime
is not far from that), also.
In the birth of both cinemas there were nationalistic feelings as reactions
against the outside: in India because of colonisation, in China because
of the European settlements and Japanese invasion. In the fight between
indigenous culture and the new ideas from outside (McLoone p. 202), India
and China developed a cinema with very particular characteristics and
as defined as each nation's tradition and culture. Although nowadays none
is free from being permeated by the west through globalisation, until
recently their national cinemas had almost no influence from the West.
We can even say that there was a reaction against the West. In China the
Left Wing Movement was anti-western values as where communist films. Model
Opera Films took Western music and ballet only to "use the foreign
to serve things Chinese". Later, the Fifth generation visual abstract
cinema, far away from Hollywood conventions, preferred to draw on Chinese
In Hindi Film, the British where criticised until the colonialists, through
censorship, stopped it. So, western icons and values were adapted to criticise
Western dissolute ways: the overwesternised sexually uncontrolled villain
that drinks whisky is an example.
Tradition is another interesting feature in both national cinematographies.
Masala film aims for modernisation as did the nation's leaders, but it
was tradition that served this purpose: the genre is itself inherited
from Sanskrit theatre and the all-Indian hero that fights for technological
modernity ends up affirming a age old tradition: patriarchy and the superiority
of men over women. The virgin heroine is but a version of the same: 'modernity
yes, but let's keep out costumes' exactly what the people and the rulers
of India say in unison.
In China traditional melodramatic stories with a political twist where
the content of movies until Maoist times and even from then on the genre
wasn't much altered although the content became obviously propagandistic.
But tradition was again serving nationalistic interests in the Model Opera
Films adapted from Peking Opera. And the way the Fifth Generation uses
Chinese aesthetics and folklore once again shows that tradition is a vehicle
for the creation of national identity and nationalism in Chinese cinema.
Finally, self-censorship is another interesting characteristic of both
cinema histories. In China, more effective than censorship - whether mild
in the from of instructions or harsh in the form of intellectual purges
- was self-censorship. In a regime where all knowledge as no other purpose
but to serve the state ideology, producers and directors knew quite well
what to show.
In Hindi film, self-censorship comes from the fact that displeasing the
state may bring bureaucratic problems (the worst kind in India) to the
producers, error in which they don't want to incur. But it also comes
from the fact that in a capitalistic industry the consumer is sovereign
and Indian audiences don't accept the subversion of institutionalised
Two such different political systems and film industries with such similar
If national cinema moulds national identity according to the state mould,
it is also true that in most countries and times it is nothing but the
reflection of that mould.