Journeys in Media Space. Global Media and National Controls: Rethinking the Role of the State (2001)

The power of states to control the images that permeate their terrain is in question everywhere. Freedom to receive and impart ideas seems to be breaking out all over, but it would be naïve to see the world as a place where information moves without various forms of restriction. Redefined state power and changes in modes and practices of authority are more likely than state decline. A frenzied testing of new and modified techniques aimed at regulating, if not mastering, the market for speech accompanies the undercutting of former attributes of state autonomy. There are many elements at work in this experimentation and redefinition by the state, and elaboration of them forms the substance of my lecture. In particular, there is a shift away from the singularly inward forms of state control to outward-looking, regional or multilateral approaches, and away from law and regulation towards negotiation and agreement. Tentacles of influence by one state over the media of another are hardly new; but the process of interaction, through treaty or agreement on the flow of ideas, information, and sheer data, is intensifying.

Globalization of the media usually refers to the pervasive activities of big conglomerates and the extent to which messages they produce dominate the world’s consciousness. The global market is, however, not merely a forum for trade in films and television programs. It is also an increasingly interdependent site for the development and application of formal and informal rules that shape common narratives; a space in which ideologies compete and forge allegiances that ultimately determine the persistence of governments and nations themselves; and an arena where imagery becomes a supplement or substitute for force. Pressure to affect policy formulation and public opinion abroad has always been a preoccupation of those holding or seeking power, as governments attempt to influence populations through propaganda, both inside and without their boundaries. Now the process of doing so has become more technologically and globally refined, though traditional tools such as international radio remain useful (especially for societies where new technologies are not highly developed and power continues to speak to population in ways known and documented).

In this interdependent environment, the definition of what speech practices exist within states and how information technologies evolve within their boundaries are no longer left wholly to the states themselves. Evolution of local systems is an essential part of the global infrastructure. Decisions involving a state’s information space have external ramifications for trade and global security. International attention is sharpened as governments become obsessed with the power of information, both as an attribute of domination and wealth creation in times of peace and as a weapon of effective control in times of war. Thus, though states still legislate individually to maintain their cultural identity, the significance of what they do is increasingly subject to a wide variety of international incentives, pressures, and obligations.

The world is engaged in a vast remapping of the relationship of the state to images, messages, and information within its boundaries. National governments, public international agencies, multinational corporations, human rights organizations, and individuals are involved in this process. All is under construction, yielding, as it were, a thorough shaking and remodeling of communications systems. Thirty years ago, cable television sparked transformations; twenty years ago the communications satellite did the same. In the last ten years the Internet and the convergence of new technologies have invited wholesale restructuring. In this teeming experiment, the various players and observers are seeking a vocabulary of change and a set of laws and institutions that provide legitimacy, continued power, or the opportunity to profit from technological advantage. There is a need to examine this process of remapping from various perspectives and provide a framework for understanding its background, mechanisms, and prospects. Only with a grasp of the massive changes taking place can a detailed and sophisticated understanding emerge of implications for cultural and political change, the playing out of human rights debates, and changes in the shape and functioning of governments.

In this lecture, I will develop a systematic approach to issues of media regulation in a world of changing technology, altered corporate arrangements, and shifting ideologies. Then, I will describe tones of global media reorientation, the constellations of change that occur as geopolitical, ideological, and technological transformations interact. I set forth several analytic theories that might be used to explain shifts in state strategies. I then turn to tropes of restructuring in this global framework: the use of models and metaphors, specific themes and influences, especially privatization, self-regulation, and control of offensive content. I explore the efforts to find new categories of thinking about the relationship of the state to its media, in the face of the inevitable persistence of older modes of description and analysis. I deal with the language of change, the exterior housing in which state and non-state actors articulate and reformulate doctrine with respect to wildly varied contexts for the adaptation of information technologies. Finally, I try to piece together what elements exist of a more or less coherent foreign policy toward media globalization. I bring these various influences and actions together by redefining and categorizing national responses to new information technologies. The task is to pull explanatory factors apart and, by doing so, see their interconnectedness.

Transcript : Transcript of Journeys in Media Space. Global Media and National Controls: Rethinking the Role of the State (2001)