Reviewed by TBS Review Editor Amos Owen Thomas, Griffith University, Australia
The fact that there is not a preponderance of books annually on transnational television may justify this brief comparative review of three significant books, which have appeared over the past few years from a so-called “Western” perspective. This review is not prototypical of the reviews expected for this review section, but serves rather to inaugurate it by highlighting books of the sort we would like to see reviewed which have been published in the recent past. While all of these books would be of critical interest to the readership of this journal, some have been published rather quietly and are less noted than they ought to be.
A balanced account of the development of global television, the Baker (1997) book is takes a critical look at this as a symptom of wider processes of globalization and postmodernity. A point which Baker strives to make is that globalization is not to be read as uni-directional from the West but is indeed multi-directional, even multi-dimensional. Given his interest in the interrelation of economics, organization and culture, the book examines in turn ownership, audiences and programming in the context of cultural change and claimed imperialism. This quite comprehensive book is almost breathtaking in its shifts from political economy to cultural studies to industry analysis and back again. Its Archiles' heel, perhaps, is that it is a somewhat armchair analysis of the phenomenon of global television, reliant largely on the research of others and paying only passing attention to more recent developments in Asia.
The Australian-based editors of the second book, Sinclair, Jacka and Cunningham (1996), propound their concept of geo-linguistic audience markets and subsidiary centers of television production. Its strength is that it comprises chapters on India, the Middle East, Greater China, Canada and Australia written by researchers resident in those countries or regions. The contributors document the growth not only of alternative English programming exporters in Canada and Australia, but also of new television production centers for the Hispanic, Arab, Chinese and Indian markets which are regional, diasporic and geo-linguistic. They analyze significant changes such as the growth of satellite television, convergence of electronic technologies, regulatory changes that accompanied shifts in political ideologies towards media privatization, lowered costs and decentralization of production, the rise of global media conglomerates, and the integration of national economies into the capitalist world system. These writers argue that all of these have contributed to the establishment of a far more complex international television market than was in place when the earlier studies of US programming dominance were made. But as with any edited book it can be uneven in quality and some of the country/regional chapters are more descriptive than analytical and prescriptive.
Herman and McChesney (1997) offer a rather ethno-centric chronicle of the expansion of global media conglomerates with content weighted heavily towards those organizations headquartered in the US. The book traces the roots of global media to the news, advertising and film industries of the first half of the 20th century through to the post-colonial agitation of NWICO. Quite perceptively, the authors analyze the role of transnational corporations, advertising (which they highlight), global capital (including IMF/World Bank), trade liberalization, telecommunications deregulation, new communications technologies and the like, in the inexorable growth of global media. Although the authors recognize some passing national and regional resistance around the world, they consider the US model as archetypal of media globalization. This empiricist and uncritical view would be challenged as myopic by researchers from Europe, Latin America and Asia in particular, and reveals an ignorance of the considerable research outside the US which has arrived at conclusions quite to the contrary of the authors.
Each of these three books takes a quite different tack on the common issue of global media, with special emphasis on transborder television, which is of interest to the readership of this journal. Drawn from three different continents and diverse disciplinary backgrounds, the authors and editors demonstrate the complexity of the issue and diversity of perspectives which we as researchers in transnational broadcasting need to be acutely conscious of. Nonetheless, one is left longing for an integrated theory of global media or at least of transborder television--perhaps an unrealistic goal for the present but something we should aspire towards even if it is ultimately unattainable. Of the three books reviewed above, Baker (1997) comes closest to modeling that attempt and is thus worthy of emulation. Perhaps by aiming for such integration we would bring greater focus to our research sub-specialization's and help us to see where each might fit the “big picture.” It might also make us less disparaging of those who adopt radically different approaches and emphases, and cause us to be more willing to learn from one another. TBS
1999 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo