Media imperialism


Media imperialism (sometimes referred to as cultural imperialism) is an area in the international political economy of communications research tradition that focuses on how "all Empires, in territorial or nonterritorial forms, rely upon communications technologies and mass media industries to expand and shore up their economic, geopolitical, and cultural influence."[1] In the main, most media imperialism research examines how the unequal relations of economic, military and cultural power between an imperialist country and those on the receiving end of its influence tend to be expressed and perpetuated by mass media and cultural industries.

In the 1970s, research on media imperialism was mainly concerned with the expansion of US-based news and entertainment corporations, business models, and products into postcolonial countries as related to the problems of communication and media sovereignty, national identity formation and democracy. In the 21st century, research on media imperialism probes the whole gamut of the media, for example, how an Empire's global economic, military and cultural expansion and legitimization is supported by "the news, telecommunications, film and TV, advertising and public relations, music, interactive games, and internet platforms and social media sites."[2]

For the past seventy years, media imperialism research has been undertaken by a wide range of international communication and media studies scholars, North and South.[3] Some of the key researchers in this area are: Oliver Boyd-Barrett,[2][4][5] Luis R. Beltrán and Elizabeth Fox,[6] Ariel Dorfman,[7] Thomas Guback,[8] Cees Hamelink,[9] Dal Yong Jin,[10][11] Armand Mattelart,[12][13] Robert W. McChesney,[14] Tom McPhail,[15] Toby Miller and Richard Maxwell,[16] Tanner Mirrlees,[1][2][17][18] David Morley,[19] Graham Murdock,[20] Kaarle Nordenstreng,[21] Herbert I. Schiller,[22][23][24][25] Dallas Smythe,[26] Colin Sparks,[27][28] Daya Thussu,[29][30] and Jeremy Tunstall.[31][32]

History of the conceptEdit

The concept of media imperialism emerged in the 1970s when political leaders, media producers, and some citizens in postcolonial countries began to criticize the ownership and control Western and American media conglomerates wielded over much of the global communication and media system. Representatives of postcolonial countries proposed a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) at UNESCO to contest and counter-balance the enduring and enlarging global communication and media powers of old and new imperial countries (e.g., the United Kingdom and United States). Supported by the MacBride report, "Many Voices, One World", countries such as India, Indonesia, and Egypt argued that the large Western and American media corporations should have limited access to the fledgling communication and media systems of postcolonial countries. They argued that national cultural and communication sovereignty was integral to their broader national sovereignty and economic and social development projects. The assumption was that Western and American media corporations (and their products) would undermine or subvert the national development process of postcolonial countries by institutionalizing inappropriate media models, business practices and content. In response to the postcolonial countries' protest against media imperialism and proposal for a NWICO, the United States and United Kingdom left UNESCO.

Key Theorists and DefinitionsEdit

Herbert I. SchillerEdit

In Mass Communication and American Empire, Herbert I. Schiller emphasized the significance of the mass media and cultural industries to American imperialism, arguing that "each new electronic development widens the perimeter of American influence," and declaring that "American power, expressed industrially, militarily and culturally has become the most potent force on earth and communications have become a decisive element in the extension of United States world power."

In his 1976 book Communication and Cultural Domination, Schiller conveyed the very first definition of cultural imperialism, describing it as:

the sum processes by which a society is brought into the modern [U.S.-centered] world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating centres of the system. The public media are the foremost example of operating enterprises that are used in the penetrative process. For penetration on a significant scale the media themselves must be captured by the dominating/penetrating power. This occurs largely through the commercialization of broadcasting.

For Schiller, cultural imperialism refers to the American Empire’s "coercive and persuasive agencies, and their capacity to promote and universalize an American ‘way of life’ in other countries without any reciprocation of influence." According to Schiller, cultural imperialism "pressured, forced and bribed" societies to integrate with the U.S.’s expansive capitalist model but also incorporated them with attraction and persuasion by winning "the mutual consent, even solicitation of the indigenous rulers." In some ways, Schiller's early definition of cultural imperialism is akin to Joseph Nye's more recent idea of soft power in international relations.[33]

The historical contexts, iterations, complexities, and politics of Schiller's foundational and substantive theorization of cultural imperialism in international communication and media studies are discussed in detail by political economy of communication researchers Richard Maxwell,[34] Vincent Mosco,[35] Graham Murdock,[20] and Tanner Mirrlees.[36]

Oliver Boyd-BarrettEdit

In 1977, Oliver Boyd-Barrett described media imperialism as the unequal and asymmetrical power relationship between different countries and their media systems. Boyd-Barrett defined media imperialism as "a process whereby the ownership, structure, distribution or content of the media in any one country are singly or together subject to substantial pressure from the media interests of any other country or countries without proportionate reciprocation of influence by the country so affected."[5] Boyd-Barrett emphasized how the corporations that owned the mass media in imperial countries such as the United States (but not exclusively the United States) were also exerting ownership over the mass media in smaller countries while shaping their media business "models", production standards, and formats.[37] From the late 1970s to the 2020s, Boyd-Barrett authored and edited numerous books and volumes on continuity and change in media imperialism.[2][38][39]

Tom McPhailEdit

In 1987, Tom McPhail defined cultural imperialism as "electronic colonialism",[40] or, "the dependency relationship established by the importation of communication hardware, foreign-produced software, along with engineers, technicians, and related information protocols, that establish a set of foreign norms, values, and expectations which, in varying degrees, may alter the domestic cultures and socialization processes."[41]

Paul Siu-NamEdit

In 1988, Paul Siu-Nam Lee observed that "communication imperialism can be defined as the process in which the ownership and control over the hardware and software of mass media as well as other major forms of communication in one country are singly or together subjugated to the domination of another country with deleterious effects on the indigenous values, norms and culture."

John Downing and Annabelle Sreberny-MohammadiEdit

In 1995, John Downing and Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi said: "Imperialism is the conquest and control of one country by a more powerful one. Cultural imperialism signifies the dimensions of the process that go beyond economic exploitation or military force. In the history of colonialism, (i.e., the form of imperialism in which the government of the colony is run directly by foreigners), the educational and media systems of many Third World countries have been set up as replicas of those in Britain, France, or the United States and carry their values. Western advertising has made further inroads, as have architectural and fashion styles. Subtly but powerfully, the message has often been insinuated that Western cultures are superior to the cultures of the Third World."

Needless to say, all these international communication and media studies researchers agree that cultural imperialism is undertaken by the world system's dominant imperial countries with and through the available and new means of communications and mass media, and often to the detriment of the countries on the receiving end of this process.

Tanner MirrleesEdit

In 2016, Tanner Mirrlees redefined media imperialism in a historical study of how the US national security State partners with US-based yet globalizing media corporations to spread media and cultural goods intended to organize trans-national consent to American foreign policy.[42] Building upon the political economy of communications scholarship of Herbert I. Schiller, Mirrlees argues that although the US government and media corporations pursue different interests on the world stage (the former, national security, and the latter, profit), they often collaborate to support the co-production and global distribution-exhibition of Empire-extolling media and popular cultural goods. Mirrlees focuses on four dimensions of media imperialism:[1] 1. a structural alliance and symbiotic relationship between the US nation-state (pursuing its geopolitical interests in world affairs) and US-headquartered media and cultural industries (pursuing their economic interests in world markets); 2. the US nation-state's geopolitical support for the trans-national economic dominance of the US-based media and cultural industries; 3. the US media and cultural industries' support for the US nation-state's international propaganda, "soft power" and public diplomacy campaigns in other countries; and, 4. American media and cultural products whose messages and imagery is intentionally or inadvertently functional to the glorification and legitimization of the US Empire. Although Mirrlees' study focuses on the specificity of American media imperialism and the role of the media and cultural industries to US economic, military and cultural-ideological power, the four dimensions of media imperialism it identifies may be evident in the practices of other old and new imperialist powers.

Dal Yong JinEdit

In 2015, Dal Yong Jin extended the concept of media imperialism to encompass the growing global power of US-based Internet and social media platform corporations such as Google, Apple, Facebook. Jin argues that a handful of corporations based in "Western countries are the world’s dominant digital platform owners and operators and a large number of non-Western countries are digital platform users."[43] In the book Digital Platforms, Imperialism and Political Culture, Jin conceptualizes "platform imperialism" as "an asymmetrical relationship of interdependence between the West, primarily the US, and many developing countries".[44] This asymmetrical platform relationship between the United States and the rest is "characterized in part by unequal technological exchanges and therefore capital flows" and reflects the "technological and symbolic domination of US-based platforms that have greatly influenced the majority of people and countries."

Criticisms of Media Imperialism TheoryEdit

Critics of the media imperialism "theory" have been around since the early 1980s.[45] Often, critics of the media imperialism theory tend to reject or deny that media imperialism exists, or alternately, present a meta-critique of one or more of the statements and claims made by the scholars associated with the media imperialism theory. As summarized by Tanner Mirrlees in Global Entertainment Media: Between Cultural Imperialism and Cultural Globalization,[46] critics of media imperialism theory tend to make one or more of the following points when dismissing media imperialism theory or criticizing it to complicate or revise in some way: 1. The US is not an imperialist power, ergo media imperialism doesn't exist; 2. postcolonial countries such as China and India headquarter large and internationalizing media corporations; the idea that postcolonial countries are victims of a US-centered media imperialism is simplistic and irrelevant in the 21st century; 3. the media and cultural trade relationship between the US and other countries may not be balanced, but there is more than a one way flow of media and cultural goods from the US to the rest: while the US exports a lot of media to the world, it also imports media from the world, suggesting a two-way or multi-directional flow of media goods; 4. consumers around the world are not forced or coerced to watch, listen to and read US media and cultural products; they may select and choose these "foreign" goods instead of "domestic" or nationally made and available media; 5. the texts of US media and cultural products do not communicate a one-dimensional American imperialist ideology to the world; they offer a multiplicity of competing narratives of America, warts and all; 6. the local and national reception contexts for US media and cultural products are complex, as consumers make a wide variety of interpretations of US media and sometimes adapt them to their own local and national cultural environments; 7. political and business elites in countries purportedly afflicted by US media imperialism may weaponize the concept for political ends: the censorship of unwanted or subversive ideas to maintain national propaganda regimes, the protection of fledgling or established national media corporations from international competition, and the promotion of the growth of national media oligopolies, first at home, then abroad.

United StatesEdit

Most research on media imperialism going back to the 1970s has focused on the significance of the United States and referred to it as the world's most significant media imperialist.[2] For instance, media corporations based in the United States exert media influence in other countries, especially those lacking strong media industries.[1] A major cultural influencer in other countries is television.[47] Specifically in relation to news and entertainment American TV has a strong presence in the international arena. American news networks like CNN often have large international staffs, and produce specialized regional programming for many nations.

Movies produced by major Hollywood studios and distributors have presence and popularity around the world. For example, Hollywood is a major producer of films, which tend to be high quality and are released internationally.[48] Hollywood relies on four capitalist strategies "to attract and integrate non-US film producers, exhibitors and audiences into its ambit: ownership, cross-border productions with subordinate service providers, content licensing deals with exhibitors, and blockbusters designed to travel the globe."[49] Hollywood's dominance is not total, as other countries have their own film industries: "Bollywood", for example, describes India's Hindi-language film industry, which is large and prosperous.[48]

Another form of mass media used for media imperialism is music.[48] Much of today's, and older, American music finds itself popular in other countries. However, in the "British Invasion" of the 1960s, British music became popular in the United States. Since then, there has not been such a large shift of imperialism.

Overall, American media imperialism can be seen as a positive and a negative. Negative views towards it stem from the negative connotation of the word 'imperialism'.[4] This word is associated with political imperialism, in which a large country creates an empire out of smaller ones. However, media imperialism can be seen as a positive when it is viewed as a way to create a consensus narrative. A consensus narrative is a result of "products that provide us with shared experiences".[48] By having similar experiences, it opens the gateway for communication and development of relationships. Yet, this can also become a problem when the cultural exchange is not balanced or reciprocated. American culture is being transmitted to other countries, but other cultures may not be[weasel words] received in return.

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ a b c d e Boyd-Barrett, Oliver; Mirrlees, Tanner (2020). Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change (1st ed.). New York: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-5381-2155-9.
  3. ^ Gómez García, Rodrigo; Birkinbine, Ben (2018-06-27), "Cultural Imperialism Theories", Communication, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0209, ISBN 978-0-19-975684-1, retrieved 2022-06-12
  4. ^ a b Oliver, Boyd-Barrett (2014-12-19). Media imperialism. London. ISBN 9781446268704. OCLC 899205069.
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  6. ^ Beltrán, Luis Ramiro (1980). Comunicación dominada : Estados Unidos en los medios de América Latina. Elizabeth Fox (1a ed.). México, D.F.: Instituto Latinoamericano de Estudios Transnacionales. ISBN 968-429-209-0. OCLC 7666987.
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