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13 Jun, 2005

Changing Media Landscape: Cultural Challenge To Globalisation

Although relations between the travel & tourism industry and the media are subjects of ad nauseum discussion at international conferences, they avoid core issues like media ownership, journalistic integrity and wider subjects like the ‘war on terror,’ and the impact on culture, conflict and geopolitics.

The following dispatch reports on the Asian Media Summit 2005 organised in Kuala Lumpur by the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcast Development between May 9-11, 2005. It seeks to offer some different perspectives on the changing global media scene and its impact on the travel & tourism industry. Although relations between the travel & tourism industry and the media are subjects of ad nauseum discussion at international conferences, they feature repetitive and superficial banalities, avoiding core issues like media ownership, journalistic integrity and wider subjects like the ‘war on terror,’ and the impact on culture, conflict and geopolitics.


1. The Cultural Challenge To Globalization

by Dr Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and head of the Department of Public Information

Is there a challenge to globalization, and is it a cultural challenge?

More than forty years ago, in 1962, the UN’s then-Secretary-General U Thant warned that an explosion of violence could occur as a result of the sense of injustice felt by those living in poverty and despair in a world of plenty.

Why do I recall this today? Today, both the risk and the potential for a solution have increased. Nowhere is globalization more apparent than in the mass media. Television, radio, newspapers and magazines bring to our living rooms, and even our breakfast tables, glimpses of events from every corner of the globe. Any doubt I might have had about the reach and influence of global mass communications was dispelled when I happened to be in St Petersburg in Russia for a conference and was approached by a Tibetan Buddhist monk in his robes, thumping a cymbal and chanting his mantras, who paused to say “I’ve seen you on BBC!”

New communications technologies have shrunk the world, and – in a real sense – made it all one: one market, one audience, one people.

And yet this new world is not yet a safer or a more just world. There are many reasons for this, but one important element is that the information revolution, unlike the French Revolution, is a revolution with a lot of liberty, some fraternity, and no equality. What we have at present is a digital divide – an enormous gap between those with access to the benefits of this brave new world, and those without access.

The digital divide has many aspects. There is a technological divide – the enormous gap in access that means that 70% of the world’s Internet users live in the 24 richest countries, and that the 400,000 citizens of Luxembourg can count on more international bandwidth than Africa’s 760 million citizens.

There is a gender divide: Women and girls are yet to gain full advantage from changes that could ultimately redress the inequalities of centuries. And there is a governance divide. Many people, companies and governments in the developing world feel they have little control over these new phenomena that they know could have a powerful influence on their lives… and they are correct.

But – most significant to the topic of discussion – there is also a content divide. The global media of the 21st century reflects the interests of its producers. Whether we consider television, radio or the Internet, what passes for global media is really the media of the developed West. There is an occasional third world voice, but it speaks a first world language.

As far back as the first Congo civil war in the 1960s, the journalist Edward Behr spotted a TV newsman in a camp of violated Belgian nuns, going around with his camera and calling out, “Anybody here been raped and speak English?” In other words, it is not enough to have suffered: one must have suffered and be able to express one’s suffering in the language of the journalist. Inevitably, the globalized media has few authentic voices from the developing world.

Let me briefly outline for you just how pervasive developed world preoccupations are.

If I were to ask almost anyone who views the world through the global media what the most important political issue on the international agenda over the past two years was, I suspect that almost all would answer that it was events in Iraq.

And yet when the Secretary-General Kofi Annan was in Addis Ababa in July 2004 for the African Union summit meeting, he had dozens of conversations and meetings with African leaders and he observed a strange thing: “Iraq didn’t come up, terrorism didn’t come up, weapons of mass destruction didn’t come up.”

There were urgent and important subjects on people’s minds other than the ones dominating the media’s attention. In recognition of this, the UN has launched an annual list of the top 10 stories the world should know more about. We didn’t want to call them “under-reported” stories, because we aren’t trying to criticize the media, merely encourage them to devote more time and space to other parts of the world that don’t easily impinge on their consciousness – but should on their consciences.

And we could well ask: Is it despite, or because, the world has grown smaller that a large part of today’s intercultural conflicts are a result of perceived cultural humiliation?

Whether or not there is a cultural challenge, there is certainly a cultural disconnect. Once upon a time, what the West knew about the rest was not much – travellers’ tales and dispatches from a handful of foreign correspondents stationed in places where a Western government had an interest. And what was known of the West amongst the rest, was even less. One of those two has changed. But it is not the former.

Too many people in the world feel that the global media dismisses their most urgent – indeed life threatening – concerns as side issues, sums up their culture as curious but peripheral, their religious beliefs as quaint, or deeply flawed or downright threatening, and their life-and-death issues as remote and irrelevant.

In a world where people fear a clash of civilizations, the need for understanding, for dialogue across country has never been stronger. The Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister said the world could be divided into those who see diversity as a threat and those who celebrate it. Does the global media have a role to play in conveying the message that it is ultimately diversity that gives the human species its splendor, and has enabled it to make progress, through learning from our different experiences? I believe it does. Because, consciously or otherwise, television is the world’s foremost educational tool – even when it is not trying to educate. And the other mass media are not far behind.

A world in which it is easier than before to see or hear strangers at our breakfast table, through our daily dose of media, must also become a world in which it is easier than ever before to see strangers as essentially no different from ourselves.

The alternative may be the violence, terrorism, which has so dominated our headlines. If terrorism is to be tackled and ended, we will have to deal with the ignorance that sustains it. We will have to know each other better, learn to see ourselves as others see us, learn to recognize hatred and deal with its causes, learn to dispel fear, and above all just learn about each other.

I am not calling for a prescriptive approach to what new communications technologies should deliver. Rather, I believe that pluralism – what some call cultural diversity – is the answer. The development of local, national and regional media will bring new perspectives and voices into the globalization discourse. So I am calling not for less globalization but for more players in the global game. I would like everyone to be free to get themselves into the information age. Only this will bridge the content gap.

Bridging the content divide is not going to be easy. The barriers are many. But it must be done. This global media summit in Asia is an important contribution to this process. But it must be done. We can do a lot now to shape this new global information society. For decades the great challenge before our world was to make the world safe for democracy. That objective has largely been realized. Let us now work together to make the world safe for diversity.



Source: http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0403-25.htm

By Amy Goodman and David Goodman, The Seattle Times

[Amy Goodman, host of the award-winning radio and TV news show “Democracy Now!”, and her brother David Goodman, a contributing writer for Mother Jones, are authors of “The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them,” which was just released in paperback by Hyperion.]

George W. Bush must have been delighted to learn from a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that 56 percent of Americans still think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the start of the war, while six in 10 said they believe Iraq provided direct support to the al-Qaida terrorist network — notions that have long since been thoroughly debunked by everyone from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to both of Bush’s handpicked weapons inspectors, Charles Duelfer and David Kay.

Americans believe these lies not because they are stupid, but because they are good media consumers. Our media have become an echo chamber for those in power. Rather than challenge the fraudulent claims of the Bush administration, we’ve had a media acting as a conveyor belt for the government’s lies.

As the Pentagon has learned, deploying the American media is more powerful than any bomb. The explosive effect is amplified as a few pro-war, pro-government media moguls consolidate their grip over the majority of news outlets. Media monopoly and militarism go hand in hand.

When it comes to issues of war and peace, the results of having a compliant media are as deadly to our democracy as they are to our soldiers. Why do the corporate media cheerlead for war? One answer lies in the corporations themselves — the ones that own the major news outlets.

At the time of the first Gulf War, CBS was owned by Westinghouse and NBC by General Electric. Two of the major nuclear weapons manufacturers owned two of the major networks. Westinghouse and GE made most of the parts for many of the weapons in the Persian Gulf War. It was no surprise, then, that much of the coverage on those networks looked like a military hardware show.

We see reporters in the cockpits of war planes, interviewing pilots about how it feels to be at the controls. We almost never see journalists at the target end, asking people huddled in their homes what it feels like not to know what the next moment will bring.

The media have a responsibility to show the true face of war. It is bloody.. It is brutal. Real people die. Women and children are killed.

Families are wiped out; villages are razed. If the media would show for one week the same unsanitized images of war that the rest of the world sees, people in the U.S. would say no, that war is not an answer to conflict in the 21st century.

But we don’t see the real images of war. We don’t need government censors, because we have corporations sanitizing the news. A study released last month by American University’s School of Communications revealed that media outlets acknowledged they self-censored their reporting on the Iraq invasion out of concerns about public reaction to graphic images and content.

The media organizations in charge of vetting our images of war have become fewer and bigger — and the news more uniform and gung ho. Six huge corporations now control the major U.S. media: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post, Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 TV stations), General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Universal Pictures and 28 TV stations), Time Warner (AOL, CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines), Disney (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 72 radio stations), Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and 183 U.S. radio stations), and Bertelsmann (Random House and its more than 120 imprints worldwide, and Gruner + Jahr and its more than 110 magazines in 10 countries).

As Phil Donahue, the former host of MSNBC’s highest-rated show who was fired by the network in February 2003 for bringing on anti-war voices, told “Democracy Now!,” “We have more [TV] outlets now, but most of them sell the Bowflex machine. The rest of them are Jesus and jewelry. There really isn’t diversity in the media anymore. Dissent? Forget about it.”

The lack of diversity in ownership helps explain the lack of diversity in the news. When George W. Bush first came to power, the media watchers Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) looked at who appeared on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC. Ninety-two percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, there was even less diversity of opinion on the airwaves. During the critical two weeks before and after Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations where he made his case for war, FAIR found that just three out of 393 sources — fewer than 1 percent — were affiliated with anti-war activism. Three out of almost 400 interviews. And that was on the “respectable” evening news shows of CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS.

These are not media that are serving a democratic society, where a diversity of views is vital to shaping informed opinions. This is a well-oiled propaganda machine that is repackaging government spin and passing it off as journalism.

For the media moguls, even this parody of political “diversity” is too much. So as Gen. Colin Powell led the war on Iraq, his son, Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led the war on diversity of voices at home.

In the spring of 2003, Michael Powell tried to hand over the airwaves and newspapers to fewer and fewer tycoons by further loosening restrictions on how many media outlets a single company could own. Powell tried to scrap 30-year-old rules that limited the reach of any television network to no more than 35 percent of the national population, and limits on cross-ownership that, for example, prevented newspapers from buying television or radio stations in the same city. The new rules would have allowed a broadcast network to buy up stations that together reached 45 percent of the national population.

The attack on the existing media-ownership rules came from predictable corners: Both Viacom, which owns CBS, and Rupert Murdoch’s conservative FOX News Channel were already in violation, and would be forced to sell off stations to come into compliance with the 35-percent limit. The rule change would enable Murdoch to control the airwaves of entire cities. That would be fine with Bush and the Powells, since Murdoch is one of their biggest boosters.

Murdoch declared in February 2003 that George W. Bush “will either go down in history as a very great president or he’ll crash and burn. I’m optimistic it will be the former by a ratio of 2 to 1.” Murdoch leaves nothing to chance: His FOX News Channel is doing all it can to help.

It looked like Powell, backed by the Bush White House and with Republican control of Congress, would have no trouble ramming through these historic rule changes. The broadcast industry left nothing to chance: Between 1998 and 2004, broadcasters spent a boggling $249 million lobbying the federal government, including spending $27 million on federal candidates and lawmakers..

This would normally be called bribery. At the FCC, it’s just business as usual.

You would think that FCC deregulation, affecting millions of Americans, would get major play in the media. But the national networks knew that if people found out about how one media mogul could own nearly everything you watch, hear and read in a city, there would be revolt. The solution for them was simple: They just didn’t cover the issue for a year.

The only thing the networks did was to join together — and you thought they were competitors? — in a brief filed with the FCC to call for media deregulation.

And then, something remarkable happened: Media activists — an unlikely coalition of liberals and conservatives — mounted a national campaign to defeat Powell and stop the corporate sell-off. The FCC received 2 million letters and e-mails, most of them opposing the sell-off. The Prometheus Radio Project, a grass-roots media activism group, sued to stop the sale of our airwaves, and won in federal court last June. These are hopeful signals that the days of backroom deals by media titans are numbered.

Powell announced his resignation as chairman of the FCC in January.

Arguably the worst FCC chairman in history, Powell led with singular zeal the effort to auction off the public airwaves to the highest corporate bidder. In so doing, he did us all a favor: For a brief moment, he pulled back the covers on the incestuous world of media ownership to expose the corruption and rot for all to see.

Kevin Martin, Bush’s newly appointed FCC chairman, will, according to an FCC insider, be even worse than Powell. Leading conservative and right-wing religious groups have been quietly lobbying the White House for Martin to chair the FCC. Martin voted with Powell on key regulations favoring media consolidation, and in addition has been a self-appointed indecency czar. The indecency furor conveniently grabs headlines and pushes for the regulation of content, while Martin and the media moguls plan sweetheart deregulation deals to achieve piecemeal what they couldn’t push through all at once. This is the true indecency afflicting media today.

The major media conglomerates are among the most powerful on the planet. The onrush of digital convergence and broadband access in the workplaces and homes of America will radically change the way we work, play and communicate. Fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) from the regional Bells, Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony, bundled services from cable companies, and increased capacity in satellite and wireless technologies will transform the platforms on which we communicate.

Who owns these platforms, what is delivered over them and, fundamentally, in whose interest they work are critical issues before us now. Given the wealth of the media companies and their shrewd donations into our political process, the advocates for the public interest are in far too short a supply..

A blow against media ownership consolidation — now or in the future — will have far-reaching implications, as critical information gains exposure to a caring, active public. Instead of fake reality TV, maybe the media will start to cover the reality of people struggling to get by and of the victories that happen every day in our communities, and in strife-torn regions around the globe.

When people get information, they are empowered. We have to ensure that the airwaves are open for more of that. Our motto at “Democracy Now!” is to break the sound barrier. We call ourselves the exception to the rulers. We believe all media should be.



by Aidan White, European Federation of Journalists

Asia Media Summit, Kuala Lumpur, 2005

This should be a golden age for journalism. We have the technology. We have the professionals and creators to deliver high quality services. And we have a great hunger among people for reliable, timely, and useful information..

But this is no glittering era for media. Everywhere, there is the increasing perception that media fail to carry out their watchdog role in society.

Is this because politicians don’t want to let go of the controls of media or it is because the vested interests of the increasingly global media industry the have lost all sense of mission in the single minded pursuit of market share and commercial gain?

Certainly, confidence in media among readers, viewers, listeners and users of information is at an all time low. Within journalism, too, morale is low..

This developing crisis of confidence leads to less challenging journalism and less risk-taking in programme making. For all the talk of more channels and more choice, the market models are uniform, and the content models are depressingly copy cat from country to country and continent to continent.

As a result, pluralism and diversity, the cornerstones of democracy and cultural values are weakened in the process.

It is little surprise that there is a growing debate about how to put quality back into media and about curbing the influence of an increasingly powerful corporate elite.

We should begin by reiterating that well established if oft forgotten policy that media products are not like other economic products they have a social, cultural and democratic value that makes them special within market conditions.

The argument goes that the media market itself cannot protect pluralism and diversity. People all the people need information services outside the market imperatives of ratings, profits and commercial objectives.

But why is it that politicians (well, at least those who don’t own media directly) are so reluctant to put in place policies and rules that support these principles?

In Europe, Parliamentarians are angry that 13 years after a Green Paper on pluralism and media concentration in the internal market, the Commission remains stubbornly opposed to any proposal to set limits of the power of media owners.

In fact, of course, the European Union has bowed to ferocious lobbying by international media organisations, who resist rules to protect pluralism and to strengthen cultural diversity.

Even more, they want to dismantle completely the commitment to public service that has hitherto driven broadcasting policy. Last year private broadcasters and European publishers launched a full blooded attack on the very idea of publicly funded media, rejecting the core notion of public service values in media.

In France, big business, including the defence industry, is grabbing chunks of the French media market raising fears for the future of editorial independence.

In Britain the BBC, under pressure from the government and private media, is cutting almost 4,000 jobs in a desperate attempt to fend off criticism about its privileged status as a public broadcaster.

In Italy, the Prime Minister, whose political and commercial interests dovetail into one dangerous agenda for pluralism, has a stranglehold on both the private and public broadcasting media.

In the United States big media bought political influence in Congress, which secured the passing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act allowing a small number of media corporations to expand into dominant positions in the US market. Deregulation has boosted both the commercial power of companies like AOL Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, but it also gives them political power.

They have demanded even greater relaxation of rules on media ownership, spending enormous sums more than one billion dollars in recent years according to the Center for Public Integrity on political donations and lobbying key politicians.

And the consequences both in Europe and North America are a handful of powerful global media groups exercising increasing control of the expanding media and leisure market spanning film, television, book publishing, music, new online media, theme parks, sport, the print media and even the theatre.

The trend towards ever larger media groups is presented as an inevitable part of the media’s development.

Complacent legislators argue that the increase in the number of channels, the arrival of digital media, and convergence of broadcasting, computing and telecommunications technologies, makes media concentration and cross media ownership rules obsolete.

I’m not so sure. The competition for market share is driving down standards and cutting deep into the fabric of quality journalism. Wherever I travel to meet with my members, the message is uniformly grim: professionalism is under attack, working conditions and employment rights are being reduced.

Across Europe and North America some of the world’s most powerful media employers are slashing editorial budgets, they are cutting back on training, and on investigative reporting. The shift in employment conditions tells the story most dramatically.

As many as a half of all journalists working in Germany, Europe’s largest media market, are freelance or in casual employment. They have precarious working conditions and almost no control over the use and re-use of their work because of draconian contracts that wrest control of copyrights from authors and creators.

If you want to know the extent of the crisis, just ask the journalists of Hungary where there is not a single fully employed journalist at work. Not one. They are all denied access to social benefits and rights that used to be taken for granted in a well regulated labour market. When the fabric of employment rights is ripped to shreds, there is a profound weakening of professionalism.

But is it all bad news? Not really.

Last year the Republican dominated Federal Communications Commission got a shock when they introduced relaxation of ownership rules on behalf of media owners. The public rose up and angrily tossed them back.

Tellingly, in spite of the most Republican administration for years and in spite of the enormous power of media conglomerates lobbying hard for deregulation and for more concentration local communities the US flatly refused to accept more media concentration.

Across the metropolitan US, coalitions of civil society groups including unions, civil liberties groups and local communities combined to mobilise public opinion against changes in ownership as people threw out the attempt to strengthen the hand of big media in local media markets.

Rejected by people on the ground at the end of last year the changes were formally abandoned in January of this year.

It was a tremendous victory for citizen’s power and clear evidence that people want to protect pluralism but it was not reported widely in the media..

While in the United States there are some grounds of optimism, in Europe and elsewhere the situation is getting progressively worse.

In the years since the fall of Communist regimes in central and Eastern Europe, the encroachments by Western media groups have prevented or made difficult the development of independent or nationally based media groups in these countries.

Governments seem to be in retreat from long held commitments to ensure that strong regulation plays its role in protecting and developing media. In Asia, as new markets open, the challenge to government will be to resist the temptation to maintain political influence on media while creating a framework for a public private mix that offers pluralism and quality in equal measure.

It’s time to stop back tracking and start coming forward in defence of strategies that respect culture and diversity, give priority ft to public service values and encourage quality journalism.

Quality requires some minimum conditions:

<> The citizen’s right to information

<> Open and accountable government

<> Action to enhance pluralism by supporting diversity in media

<> Strengthen the ethical and professionals rights of journalists

<> Support for editorial independence

All of these demands, buttressed by decent pay and conditions and respect for the right to organise in journalism, provide an unanswerable agenda for change that is urgently needed to reinvigorate the landscape of journalism and media worldwide.

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