A Case Study of Commercial Television in India: Assessing the Organizational Mechanisms of Cultural Imperialism

By Crabtree, Robbin D.; Malhotra, Sheena | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

A Case Study of Commercial Television in India: Assessing the Organizational Mechanisms of Cultural Imperialism


Crabtree, Robbin D., Malhotra, Sheena, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


Some might call it a satellite invasion. Others might conceptualize it as a groundswell. Either way, the commercialization of television in India is reality. The process through which entrepreneurs---on the ground and in the air--have created and capitalized on this trend is a remarkable story. The events associated illustrate a global trend in the commercialization of mass media and of cultures. While debated from many perspectives, the majority of scholarship about international communication and the effects of media across cultures operates at either the macro-structural level or at the individual/audience level. We present this case study as an opportunity to examine the processes of media and cultural imperialism (CI) at the organizational level.

It has become increasingly clear that world media relations have changed since the 1970s when the topic came to international prominence. Straubhaar (1991) asserted that while "the United States still dominates world media sales and flows, national and regional cultural industries are consolidating a relatively more interdependent position in the world television market" (p. 56). We position this article adjacent to Straubhaar's work on Brazilian television, as it may evidence his notions of asymmetrical interdependence and cultural proximity, though we continue to agree with Schiller (1991) that this is "not yet the post-imperialist era" (p.13). As this case study illustrates, "local media forms may be implicated in cultural imperialism through their roots in the Western cultural industries" (Goodwin & Gore, 1990, p. 69).

In this essay we seek to (1) relay the experiences of Indian broadcasters who are developing a new commercial television industry in India; (2) point out some of the antecedent influences--social, political, economic, and technological forces--which have precipitated this moment; (3) provide some initial insights into the possible cultural implications of commercial television in India; and (4) position this case study within the theoretical and empirical traditions of media/cultural imperialism, ascertaining the adequacy of this paradigm to the case of India.

Media and Cultural Imperialism

Media and cultural imperialism have been used to describe a modern manifestation of colonial and imperial relationships, whereby peripheral countries are turned into markets for the cultural products of dominant nations (Schiller, 1976, 1991). This, in turn, produces a market for the manufactured goods and cultural products of those exporting nations, as well as the accompanying beliefs, values, and ideologies. Cultural imperialism has been conceptualized variously as a strategy on the part of dominant countries, a local policy on the part of receiving countries, and an effect on the people and practices in the latter (Lee, 1979). Dominant nations have clear strategies concerning the export of cultural products. The profit margin of most Hollywood films (and increasingly television programming, as well), depends on the foreign market (Jowett & Linton, 1989; Wasko, 1982). Affected nations have policies whereby they adopt foreign technology, and with it the corresponding software or programming. These policies primarily benefit the elite (Roach, 1997; Schiller, 1991). Although not easy to measure, cultural imperialism is also an effect. While the degree of demonstrated effect on audiences may be small or indirect (Morgan & Shanahan, 1997; Elasmar & Hunter, 1997), it has been hypothesized that affected countries absorb values, working styles, consumption patterns, and so on, from the exporting nations (e.g., Beltran, 1978). What is most insidious about this process is that it tends to be unilateral. Dominant countries disseminate news, information, and entertainment, while affected nations receive and absorb it without a balancing two-way flow (e.g., Nordenstreng & Varis, 1974).

Globally, there are a small number of "source" countries with the ownership of local media organizations in the hands of, or operating in the interest of, multinational corporations. …

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