No. 5, Fall/Winter2000

Special Issue:
The Arab World

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Venkat Iyer, ed. (1999) "Media Regulation for the New Times." Singapore: Asian Media Information and Communication Centre. 168 pp. ISBN 9971-905-76-0

Reviewed by Abdullah Al-Kindi, University of Reading, United Kingdom

Regulatory frameworks have become a central issue in the new age of information. The main concern of this book is to discuss these regulatory frameworks which organize and control the services provided by the new media, particularly satellite broadcasting and the Internet. This book is important because it presents practical experiences from the regulatory frameworks that have been used to organize and control new media services in seven Asian countries (South Korea, Hong Kong/China, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, India, and Pakistan) and in Australia.

This book has its origins in a workshop about media regulation organized by the Asian Media Information and Communication Center (AMIC) in Bangkok in 1998. The book contains eleven chapters, nine of which describe how each of the individual countries deals with the new media. The first chapter presents general background about the need for regulations and a theoretical framework for coping with new communications. The final chapter summarizes the workshop's resolutions.

The predominant themes in this book are convergence, regulatory frameworks, new transitional media, the effects (social, cultural, economic, and political) of the new media, the share of each country presented in the book in new media services and infrastructures, and the tension between controlling the content of new media and benefiting from their economic competition. This review will focus on the general issues involved in regulating new media, and on the ideas presented in chapters 1 and 11, rather than on the specific experiences of individual countries.

The introductory chapter by Stefaan G. Verhulst details the need for regulations in the rapidly changing field of mass media and presents a theoretical framework for these regulations. Verhulst divides the views about regulating new media into two camps, the minimalists and the maximalists. The first argues that in the era of international markets and the global Internet, regulations become increasingly unsuitable. The maximalists, on the other hand, assert that media policies and regulations should promote social, cultural, and ethical values. The author confirms the continuing need for regulations, but argues these should not exclusively regulate the social control of content. Accordingly, he lists four main types of media regulations in the new era: social regulation of content, regulation of competition, regulation of pluralism and diversity of media, and regulation of universal services. In his conclusion to the chapter, Verhulst states that legal regulation "should continue to have an important place in the new media world."

One might ask here: Who can impose these regulations in an era in which every single person around the world could be considered a media institution through his personal PC and Internet site? And to what extent does the notion of new media regulation conflict with the terms of open space, a world without boundaries, and free expression? I would argue here that neither the national nor the international media or legal authorities can control the rapid and intensive flow of information around the world unless they apply two proposals. First, intensively censor the content of the new media. Second, cut off all kinds of services provided by these media (an approach that could take any country back to the medieval age). This introductory chapter confirms the need for regulations in the era of transitional media, but it does not answer the questions of how these regulations could be applied and what kind of authorities (legal, media, social, etc.) could impose them.

"Regulatory frameworks" is the term most frequently used throughout the book. All contributors confirm the existence of regulatory frameworks in the countries examined. These countries could be divided into two major categories:

1. Countries where governments and media authorities have succeeded in building a new regulatory framework to accompany the introduction of the new transnational media. According to Kyu Ho Youm, David Flynt, Teodory Y. Yabes, and Ang Peng Hwa, the cases of South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Singapore, respectively, are examples of this.

2. Countries where there has been a gap in time between the introduction of the new electronic and transitional media and the governments' initiative to regulate these new media. The cases of India and Pakistan, according to Arun Mehat, Venhat Iyer, and Javed Jabbar, belong in this category.

In the concluding chapter, the editor summarizes the workshop's resolutions by recommending that Asian governments should treat new media technologies as powerful tools, not as a threat. Venkat Iyer divides the workshop's recommendations into three sections: print media, radio and TV, and the Internet. In the section on print media, no single indication is made about the future of the print media in the era of new media, nor any connection envisioned between the two types. In contrast, the recommendations about how to deal with the Internet are very related to the themes of the book. Such recommendations and the experiences presented throughout the book about some Asian countries, however, should help countries and media authorities—both inside and outside Asia—to reconsider their policies in dealing with the new media. TBS

Copyright 2000 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo