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Has the Internet changed global media?
Introduction To answer the question ± has new media technologies such as the Internet changed global media systems, and if so, in what ways and to what extent ± we will start by defining core concepts, namely, the nature of global media and what is the ³new´ in new media; then we will probe into the technological changes precipitated by new media and put these changes in the context of society, economics, politics and culture. In this paper, we will focus on the Internet as an example of new media technologies ± hence, the shortened title and question: Has the Internet Changed Global Media? It is important to note that changes brought about by technology are not a simple µcause and effect¶ analysis:
We need to understand technology, especially our media and information technologies« to grasp the subtleties, power and consequences of technological change. For technologies are social things, suffused with the symbolic, and vulnerable to the eternal par adoxes and contradictions of social life, both in their creation and in their use. The study of the media«in turn requires such a questioning of technology. (Silverstone, 1999, p. 26)
Furthermore, the questioning of technology has to be put in the context of society, economics, politics and culture, and in order:
«to understand µwhat¶s new for society about new media?¶ it must locate technological developments within the cultural processes and associated timescale of domestic diffusion and appropriation. (Livingstone, 1999, p. 1)
Part I: Defining Core Concepts
The ³global´ in global media
When we think of global media, who or what comes to mind? Is it ³global´ - in the sense of an international media approach, as compared to local or national media approaches; in the shape of media companies that operate beyond the national boundaries of their head office or place of origin; by possessing a global reach into the audiences located in different parts of the world; by the delivery of global content that reflects a shared media experience? The answer is probably all of the above (Steven, 2003, p. 35-36).
This textbook definition is limited in scope, as it does not explain the true nature of global media, exhibited in the exercise of market power and global reach over audiences across the world. Robert McChesney attributes the nature of global media to neoliberal deregulation and new communications technologies resulting in:
«fewer and larger companies controlling more and more, and the largest of them are media conglomerates, with vast empires that cover number media industries. (McChesney, 2006, pp. 101-105)
This is the new global media, and its inherent nature is to advance its own corporate and commercial interests in a state of ³hyper-commercialism´ (McChesney, 2003, p. 266).
There are growing signs of a backlash against global media (January, 2003, p. 32) (Van Aelst and Walgrave, 2002) (Friedman, 1996).1 There is optimism of forces at play, in the form of local traditions and culture, coupled with domestic regulation and public policy, as countermeasures to the global media onslaught (Giddens and Griffiths, 2006, p. 626). The Internet¶s decentralized model is enabling and empowering civic participation, and providing a platform to mobilize political communication and democracy in action (Van Aelst and Walgrave, 2002) (Donk, 2004). Also, there is the countervailing nature of the Internet, potentially as a viable commercial alternative to mainstream media on a global scale (McChesney, 2006). Matt Drudge in ³breaking´ the Monica Lewinsky affair before mainstream media is proof of this potential (McChesney, 2006 p. 108). So what is ³new´ in new media technologies?
The ³new´ in new media technologies The popular meaning of new media is the distribution or exhibition of text on a computer, instead of paper (Manovich, 2002). This does not capture the role of computerization in the development of new media. Historically, it is the fusion of calculation (Babbage¶s ³the Analytical Engine´) and for storage (Louis Daguerre¶s daguerreotype) that has transformed ³«the computer as a media processor into a media synthesizer and manipulator´ (Manovich, 2002 p. 28). This change is exemplified by the amalgam of the consumer and producer for journalism at the edge, which is explained later.
µNationalist and religious revivals can thus be understood as a backlash against a world in which µnational leaders no longer have the ability to comprehend, much less control, these giants (global corporations)¶ Whitewash: racialized politics and the media, John Gabriel (1998), p. 23
Comparing the characteristics of old media with new media - the ³new´ in new media involves the conversion of continuous data into discrete representation i.e. digitization (Manovich, 2002 p. 28). The ³new´ is defined by creating, accessing or re-using media objects, with the Internet as a distributed media database. Old media is related to the old logic of industrial mass production of standardization and conformity. In the post-industrial society, new media enables customization and individualization (Manovich, 2002). This paper takes the view that the Internet is ³new´ in new media technologies, and it is making inroads incrementally and cumulatively over time into the domain of global media. It is early days for the Internet, but there is a shift away from utopian and dystopian views.
Part I: Summary ± Defining Core Concepts To summarize, the true nature of global media is exhibited by media giants exercising their market power to fulfill their corporate and commercial interests; there are countervailing forces to the global media oligopoly - in domestic markets with local traditions and cultures, and the Internet as a viable commercial alternative to mainstream media; and new media represents the logic of a post-industrial society, that of individual customization rather than mass standardization since the Internet represents µ«the shift of all culture to computermediated forms of production, distribution and communication¶ (Manovich, 2002 p. 30), manifested in ³new´ ways to synthesize all media types in all stages of communication.
Part II: Has the Internet Changed Global Media? There are several views from a multi-disciplinary academic field of political economists, media cultural theorists, historians, technologists, political scientists and even public policy wonks, as to whether the Internet has changed global media. The literature reviewed is wide and varied but we can identify three distinct perspectives.
Firstly, and pessimistically as it would appear, the Internet as a change-agent is no match for the ³double-whammy´ of global hegemonic media structures and the dominance of neoliberal capitalism (Herman and McChesney, 1997, Schiller and NetLibrary, 1999).
Secondly, and more optimistically, the emergence of alternative commercially viable online media is a sustainable and long-term challenge to mainstream media and over time, to the hegemony of global media (Witt, 2004, Gillmor, 2004, McChesney, 2006).
Thirdly, despite the failure of the NWICO debate (Vincent, 1998), the Internet persists as a democratizing societal force (Dahlgren, 2005 p. 155), as a power base for the µbottoms-up¶ convergence of the consumer and producer (or ³prosumer´) (Shirky, 2009), as a mobilizing force for collective action (Van Aelst and Walgrave, 2002) and as a participatory web interface for journalism at the edge (Lasica, 2003) revealing the future potential of media and technology convergence as a mirror of the eventual convergence of the political economy with the culture industry.
Global media overpowers the Internet The idea that global media is overpowering the rise of the Internet, can be traced back to the originating political and economic forces of the 80s and 90s that led to market ³liberalization´ and privatization of public interests, and coincided with the rise of the transnational media corporation (Herman and McChesney, 1997, Chomsky, 1999)2. This is described as a
«new stage of global corporate capitalism that has come to provide the basis for the formation of a global media system. (Herman and McChesney, 1997, p. 26)
In this view, the potential of the digital revolution is not called into question in this view. Instead, the Internet is integrated into the dynamics of global capitalism (Schiller and NetLibrary, 1999).
Noam Chomsky in Profit over people: neoliberalism and global order (1999) said that µthey take the form of µsocialism for the rich¶ within a system of global corporate mercantilism in which µtrade¶ consists in substantial measure of centrally managed transactions within single firms, huge institutions linked to their competitors by strategic alliances, all of them tyrannical in internal structure, designed to undermine democratic decision making and to safeguard the masters from market discipline.¶ (p. 39)
Further, the Internet does not pose an immediate or even foreseeable threat to the global hegemony of the media conglomerates (Herman and McChesney, 2000).3 But even for the staunchest media critics, the Internet represents a glimmer of hope. McChesney and Schiller called the Internet µ«a two-ton gorilla of global media and communications«and a genuine technological convergence is taking place¶ (McChesney and Schiller, 2003 p. 15). In 2006, Robert McChesney appeared to be a new convert to Internet¶s potential, which he ascribes to the plethora of new, Internet-only options of digital radio that have sprung up to compete with mainstream radio stations (McChesney, 2006 p. 108). Access to a global audience, and improvements in Internet technology over time, are changing the name of the game.
Citizen Journalism and Blogging : a new paradigm? One of the earliest examples of citizen journalism, OhmyNews had 70% of its content from over 26,000 registered citizen reporters (Cheon, 2004) (Kim and Hamilton, 2006). The motto ³every citizen is a reporter´ is a change from public journalism to the public¶s journalism (Witt, 2004) powered by the Internet to enable multimedia real-time reporting real-time by citizens for citizens. This change is evolutionary, grassroots and democratic:
«technology has given us a communications toolkit that allows anyone [to] become a journalist at little cost and, in theory, with global reach. Nothing like this has ever been remotely possible before´ (Gillmor, 2004 Intro, xxiii).
The complexity of the blogosphere, as an organic and evolving conversation fueling a bottoms-up generation of storytelling that feeds into mainstream media (Witt, 2004)4, is evidence of its staying power and continuing evolution. Media futurists predict that by 2021, citizens will produce 50 percent of the news ³peer-to-peer´ (Willis and Bowman, 2003) cited in (Gillmor, 2004). Willis and Bowman call it participatory journalism ± which is less about informing the public but how journalists encourage and enable conversations with citizens (Willis and Bowman, 2005). Together, these changes reflect a new paradigm.
µ«the evidence suggests that the Internet and the digital revolution do not pose an immediate or even foreseeable threat to the market power of the media giants. In the current political climate, moreover, it is likely that the global media firms will be able to incorporate the Internet and related computer networks into their empires, while the egalitarian potential of the technology is minimized¶ (p. 107)
Leonard Witt references the statement made by Joichi Ito, CEO of Neoteny, outlining the ecosystem of weblogs, at the 2004 World Economic Forum in Davos.
How has global media reacted to this phenomenon? In a post-broadcast era of computermediated communications, some are slow to adopt new media such as podcasting and Flickr (Willis and Bowman, 2005). Others are attempting to the change the game-play to protect its hegemony (Gibson, 2006)5. The more enlightened embrace the Internet to empower change inside their own organizations. Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC World Service and Global News division said that the BBC¶s role is shifting from broadcaster and mediator to facilitator, enabler and teacher: µWe don¶t own the news anymore. Our job is to make connections with and between different audiences¶, cited in (Willis and Bowman, 2003).
The hard lessons of the NWICO debate Is the Internet becoming the ³new´ global media system? We start in the 70s with the MacBride Commission report on an imbalance in one-way news and entertainment flows from the global North to global South (Steven, 2003, p. 35-36). UNESCO and ITU were pushed by developing economies to establish policies to redistribute Western domination of media power and resources in preparation for the impending information society, that became known as the new world information and communication order or NWICO (International commission for the study of communication and MacBride, 1980). The MacBride proposals were roundly rejected by the United States and most of the Western world.
Instead, a new regime of communication markets and policy frameworks were created, anchored in the World Trade Organization (WTO), new domestic regulators, self-regulation and an augmented role for the private sector in the ITU, OECD and the WTO (Lievrouw and Livingstone, 2002, pp. 394-395). The original claim, for developing countries to strengthen their communication capacities, to leapfrog over the industrial age into the information society (Pitt and Weiss, 1986, p. 126), had not transpired. Golding and Harris concluded that:
«the strategy at UNESCO was played out within a larger context: attempting to use the US system as a vehicle for gaining increased market entry into the Third World (Golding and Harris, 1997, p. 111).
Ironically, the adverse reaction of the Western world to the NWICO debate has turned the political economy of the information society into ³digital capitalism´ (Dan Schiller, 1999).
µPower is moving away from the old elite in our industry ± the editors, the chief executives and let¶s face it, the proprietors¶ Rupert Murdoch, cited in Gibson¶s article.
The NWICO debate can be viewed historically as an effort to ensure that the concept of availability of and use of other communication technologies was given equal importance in global debates (Vincent, 1998 p. 178). The outcome was severely criticized because:
The so-called µnew world order¶ advocated by Bush and promoted by current United States, Western and United Nations policies has not provided many of the answers one might expect of a µnew order¶. While political supremacy has been addressed in much of the dialogue on the topic, issues of democracy and human rights are largely ignored. (Chomsky, 1994)
A democratic allocation of a global communication order was unfortunately lost.
The Internet: the ³new´ NWICO? The growing digital divide, the backlash against global media giants and the dominance of Western hegemonic infotainment industry, are cumulative factors towards the Internet becoming the new global communications order by default. Technologists and culture industry observers are documenting these changes, and the corporate world is taking notice. In his book entitled µHere Comes Everybody¶, Clay Shirky identified three major changes brought by the Internet (Shirky, 2008). Firstly, the Internet «is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversations at the same time«¶ (Shirky, 2009)6, in a ³many-to-many´ pattern (as compared to ³one-to-one´ with the mobile phone, and ³one-tomany´ with television). Secondly, media digitization means that the Internet µbecomes the mode of carriage for all other media¶ (Shirky, 2009)7 and it is not only the information source but also a ³site for coordination´. Thirdly, and more importantly, Shirky recognizes that the audience can now also be consumers and producers ±
Every time a new consumer joins this media landscape a new producer joins as well. Because the same equipment, phones, computers, let¶s you consume and produce (or prosumer). It¶s as if, when you bought a book, they threw in the printing press for free´ (Shirky, 2009)8.
The more social the Internet media becomes, the greater the potential.
Taken from the interactive transcript of Clay Shirky¶s TED talk ³How Social Media Can Make History´ filmed in June 2009, and made available on TED conferences online at http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html
Interactive transcript excerpts from Clay Shirky¶s TED talk, Ibid. Interactive transcript excerpts from Clay Shirky¶s TED talk, Ibid.
In this sense, the Internet is full of the promise and potential of a democratizing force:
It is especially the capacity for the µhorizontal communication¶ of civic interaction that is paramount. Both technologically and economically, access to the Net«has helped facilitate the growth of large digital networks of activist s. At present, it is in the tension -filled crevices deriving from the changes in the media industries, in sociocultural patterns, and in modes of political engagement that we can begin to glimpse new public sphere trends where the Internet clearly makes a difference (Dahlgren, 2005, p. 155).
Dahlgren¶s description of the horizontal communication model is in alignment with Shirky¶s description of the decentralizing effects of technology. Dahlgren¶s analysis is also aligned with the µbottom-up¶ changes envisaged by the technologist in Shirky.
There is direct evidence to support optimism of the Internet as a democratic force. Political engagement is enhanced through collective action ± µPolitical action is made easier, faster and more universal by the developing technologies¶ (Van Aelst and Walgrave, 2002, p. 465). The derailment of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in 1998 was largely attributed to the concerted Internet-based campaign of an international network of organizations of multiple countries (Van Aelst and Walgrave, 2002) (Smith and Smythe, 2003).
In analyzing the Internet empowerment of individuals involved in political democracy efforts, three critical factors were identified (Van Aelst and Walgrave, 2002). Firstly, the use of the Internet as a tool for mobilizing political action meant that the social groups were better organized and more effective. Secondly, communication and coordination among the social groups to create a global event occurred without a central command and control point. Finally, activists were enabled by the low cost of operations on the Internet to run sustained and multiple campaigns. It shows that the Internet can power collective action to support democratic movements. When coupled with the voice of the individuals who wants to be heard, it is a powerful alternative to traditional media. It evidences the shift of media and culture, into computer mediated forms, made possible due to the synthesis of all media types in all stages of communication (Manovich, 2002, p. 30).
Decentralization in itself is not sufficient. There must be an active online community, making use of the Internet as a platform for communication and expression, as per Rheingold¶s virtual communities (Rheingold, 2000). The Internet as a participatory web combined with edge computing, applies to journalistic endeavors. Lasica refers to ³journalism at the edge´ as:
«individuals playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, sorting, analyzing and disseminating news and information ± a task once reserved almost exclusively to the news media (Lasica, 2003, p. 1).
The broadcast paradigm is being up-ended by the new paradigm exemplified as ³publish first, filter later´ (Shirky, 2009). This typifies the new approach of edge journalism ± inclusive civic and citizen participation propelled by new media technologies ± arguably a lethal combination that is rapidly shifting from traditional and mainstream media to the power base of the consumer and producer empowered by the Internet.
Conclusion Many notable academics are highly skeptical of the Internet as a global commercially viable medium to challenge the oligopoly of media conglomerates. This is an understandable, considering we are in the early days of media convergence, in view of the dominance of Western hegemonic media giants, the existence of entrenched media structures, the failure of NWICO to create an alternative global communications order and the gradual creeping in of the same old media culprits into the Internet domain. Still, the global media players are playing catch-up with the latest technological and societal changes on the Internet, and in some cases, they have been successful in keeping ahead of the Internet as a media competitor.
The Internet as a technology has forced the global media players to re-evaluate their strategies and tactics. The changes precipitated by the Internet are coming fast and thick, every day, and multiplied by expanding connectivity and faster connections. Every consumer coming online each day is a producer (Shirky, 2008). The ³mass´ is no longer in mass media, but it is the ³mass´ in individualization and customization growing multifold. This is the change to watch out for. Even the substantial resources of the global media conglomerates are unlikely to keep up. These events situated in society and culture, backed up by politics and economy, seem to point to the future potential of media and technology convergence as a mirror of the eventual convergence of the political economy with the culture industry.
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