Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Transnational Media: Creating Consumers Worldwide

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Transnational Media: Creating Consumers Worldwide

Article excerpt

By the end of the 1980s, "globalization " had become the term for accelerating

interdependence.... The primary agent of globalization is the transnational

corporation. The primary driping force is the revolution in information and

communication technologies.(1)

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that recent advances in communications have led to the emergence of the "global village," I do not believe that globalization of the media industries sector has resulted in the formation of an international civil society as such.(2) Rather, this process has resulted in an international order organized by transnational economic interests that are largely unaccountable to the nation-states in which they operate. This transnational corporate system is the product of a rationalized and commercialized communications infrastructure, which transmits massive flows of information and has extended its marketing reach to every corner of every hemisphere. While the U.S. role in the creation and reproduction of this worldwide consumer society has lessened, the supporting institutions and the content of the information still bear a heavy American imprint.


The reality of American global information mastery was strikingly on display throughout the war in the Persian Gulf. During the actual hostilities, one account -- that of the transnational U.S.-based Cable News Network (CNN) -- dominated television screens around the world.(3) Though press interpretafions of the war may have varied from country to country, the broadcast images of high technology combat were identical worldwide. However remarkable a demonstration of the American information monopoly -- now challenged by an expanded British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service Television and France's newly created Euronews programming -- even this barely suggests the vast capabilities of American broadcasters and U.S.-based cultural industries to define reality.

CNN's broadcasts are but one kind of image, sound and symbol production. Such output also comes to us in the familiar forms of films, television programs, video cassettes, compact discs, books, magazines, on-line data and computer software. The transmission of this production is neatly explained by Walter Wriston, former chief executive officer of Citicorp:

The single most powerful development in global communities has

been the satellite, born a mere thirty-one years ago.... Satellites

now bind the world for better or worse, in an electronic infrastructure

that carries news, money, and data anywhere on the planet at

the speed of light. Satellites have made borders utterly porous to


Wriston properly makes no distinction between news, money and data: "...[H]undreds of millions of people around the world are plugged into what has become essentially a single network ...of popular communication."(5) Those global corporations and media-cultural conglomerates that have the capability to use the global satellite systems are indifferent to formal communication boundaries; digitized electronic communication transforms all messages and images into a uniform information stream.

This globalization of communication since the 1960s can be best understood as the phenomenal growth of such transnational media-information corporations as Time Warner, Disney, Reuters, SONY, Murdoch and Bertelsman -- based mostly in the developed economies -- in achieving a worldwide market share.(6) While state, non-governmental and non-corporate organizations have made good use of these new electronic networks, their use is dwarfed by that of the transnational companies. The capability of the private, resource-rich conglomerates to shift capital, currency, production and data -- almost at will -- constitutes the true levers of contemporary power.

Edward Herman describes the integration of broadcasting into a global market in recent decades, achieved largely through "cross-border acquisition of interests in and control of program production and rights, cable and broadcasting facilities and the sale and rental of program stocks, technology and equipment. …

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