Broadcast Research in the Americas: Revisiting the Past and Looking to the Future

By Spencer, David R.; Straubhaar, Joseph D. | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Broadcast Research in the Americas: Revisiting the Past and Looking to the Future


Spencer, David R., Straubhaar, Joseph D., Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


Canada, Latin America, and the United States have assumed great international significance in the past few decades as borders wither, goods and people move more freely around the globe, and finance takes on a more integrated and powerful role in global marketplaces. Trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), transnational production ventures such as those springing up in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Miami, and heavily traded regional markets in Latin America, for products such as telenovelas, to some degree advance trends that are likely to grow with little incentive to arrest development. The long experience of almost all the nations in the Americas with various modifications on commercial broadcasting also reveals trends that may be coming elsewhere. In this respect, the United States has been the leader in developing this pattern in both North and South America. Until recently, Canada resisted the trend to prioritize the commercial approach to electronic media. It should be noted that Canada is under no obligation to open its cultural markets to NAFTA. The Canadian government regards broadcasting as a cultural industry (Bird, 1988). Nonetheless, Canadian media are strongly supported by advertising, which has long been a significant force in industrializing nations like Brazil and Mexico and to a degree in smaller, heavily challenged cultures and states like Bolivia and Haiti.

Another fascinating precedent is the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic market, which represents both a settled large minority and a mobile diasporic population of recent migrants. In spite of its growing economic and cultural importance, the Hispanic culture and Hispanic language are not treated as equals to Anglo-Saxon and African American cultures and communities. Its extended history, its size, and its affluence may give some indication where other minority or migrant and scattered audiences in other American nations are headed, and particularly how they relate to the cultural industries and broadcasters in both their cultures of origin and the culture that now holds them. Will they willingly abandon their respective heritage symbols to join the unilingual U.S. market? Will they react as others have done before them and retreat to the protection of culturally defined communities? Will they emerge as a multilayered audience attending to both? In this respect, Canada has greatly outdistanced the United States in dealing with similar kinds of factors.

Globalization, Transnationalism, and Regionalism

Latin America and North America are interesting to other regions around the globe because they are advance harbingers of many trends associated with current market-driven or capital-driven globalization. All of the Americas, with the partial exception of Canada, have been primarily focused on commercial broadcasting since the early 20th century, due in part to the major economic influence of the United States and its models for commercial media (Janus, 1977; Schwoch, 1990). At the time, many Latin American countries saw these relations as top-heavy economic entities that in turn resulted in a cultural dependency on the United States (Cardoso, 1970). However, they can also see them as early developments in what is now called globalization. That is particularly true of economic globalization and cultural globalization.

Here the Canadian experience is a notable exception and to many degrees it remains that way. The first decade in Canadian broadcasting development was as haphazard and confusing as anything produced in the United States (Nolan, 1989). In essence, all licenses granted by the federal Department of Marine and Fisheries were intended for private development. Heavy restrictions were placed on the commercial use of broadcasting almost from the beginning, although the regulations did not hamper the curious and the adventuresome (Vipond, 1992, 2000). The broadcasting scene in Canada in the 1920s was populated by speculators, newspaper owners, churches, a large Toronto-based distillery, a Montreal electronics manufacturer and shortwave broadcaster, a couple of universities, and any one of a number of people wanting to test the waters. …

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