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Globalization—the integration and global interdependence of national economic and political systems—is the result in large part of the worldwide spread of communications. The resulting integration and interdependence is having a significant impact on existing communication systems and creating new uncertain trends in all communications and telecommunications systems in the 21st century.
Globalization, according to The Economist magazine, is one of the 10 most overused words of this decade. Phrases such as global corporations, global media, and global economy clearly reflect the term’s popularity, but often its true meaning and implications become lost or obscured.
Nayan Chanda, editor of the online newsletter Yale Global, says that globalization means “reconnecting the human community, an effort that began some 50,000 years ago when the earliest forms of man began to travel out of Africa to North and South America and accelerated after Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.” Tribal conquest and the search for better life, or in Columbus’s case the search for oils and spices, were the reasons for the earliest forms of globalization. Faith-based pursuits by religious groups and, more recently, pure curiosity have propelled the worldwide migration of people across the globe.
Transatlantic cables and satellites, however, greatly accelerated the interdependence of nations during the past 100 years. In the past decade, it has been the worldwide spread of the Internet, with its progeny theWorldWideWeb (WWW), that has caused what The NewYork Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman has called a “flat world.”
In the space of just a few years, the Internet has blossomed from an arcane tool used primarily by academics and government researchers into a worldwide mass communications medium that has rapidly become the backbone of all communications and financial transactions within society and the new global economy. The World Wide Web, invented by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s, provides the geographically based subsystem that ensures even more spectacular growth. The Internet has over a billion users and has been doubling every year over the past 10 years. At its current rate, everyone on the planet will have access to the Internet within approximately 5 years or less. No previous telecommunications advance—not the telephone, television, cable television, the VCR, the fax, or even the cellular telephone—has more cultural and political impact on the global media landscape than the Internet.
As nations around the world awaken to the importance of creating a robust communications infrastructure, they will be less dependent and less willing to accept what has been considered a one-way flow of information and communication goods and services from the United States. This flow undoubtedly places a greater burden on U.S. policymakers to pursue the basic idea of a free, unregulated, unrestricted flow of news, entertainment, and information. Clearly, trade in information goods and services and the future of journalism itself face new challenges.
In his biography Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, Anthony Everitt writes, “Even the largest empire the world had seen was created slowly because communications were slow and unreliable” (p. 10). He points out that although a network of “well engineered roads were constructed, travel was limited,” and since Rome had no public postal service,
letters (which were scratched tablets or written on pieces of papyrus) were sent at considerable cost by messenger. . . . The trick by a private correspondent was to persuade a traveler going in the right direction to take his or her post with him and deliver it. (p. 10)
It wasn’t until the wealthy French financiers, the Rothschilds, deployed racing pigeons around 1813 that the value of timely communications accelerated the concept of multinational business and finance. The family established a European-wide network of carrier pigeons to capitalize, among other historical events, on Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo, which they knew about first.
Within a decade, the telegraph reduced the reliance on pigeons, but it wasn’t until the introduction of undersea cables, originally laid for the telegraph and subsequently used for telephony, that multinational trade and commerce began to accelerate. In 1927, with cooperation between American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T; “the Bell system”) and the British Post Office, a program of transatlantic communications between New York and London was begun, and a new undersea cable communications infrastructure was created that still exists today.
The next great leap forward occurred in 1957, with the Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite. “About the size of a basketball, but weighing 184 pounds, Sputnik whipped around the globe,” according to the space writer Leonard David (2002). “Every 98 minutes and with every orbit, Sputnik I thumbed its nose at America’s technological prowess, political esteem in the community of nations, as well as its military strength.”
Sputnik I started the so-called space race. President John F. Kennedy declared that the United States would put a man on the moon within a decade, and his administration formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA created today’s communications-satellitebased system. In 1962, the administration formed the Communications Satellite Corporation with the passage of the Communications Satellite Act. This legislation enabled the government, as 50% owner, to create a vehicle for the start-up of a new domestic carrier in competition with the existing AT&T monopoly, a global organization called INTELSAT (the International Consortium of Satellites). INTELSAT was the predicate for the first worldwide communications system available to every country in the world based on their individual use and investment.
Within 10 years, more than 80 countries had joined the INTELSAT system, further shrinking the globe and enabling broadcasting as well as telephony to expand exponentially. This innovative effort created yet another communications wave, encouraging the growth of multinational and transnational enterprises of all kinds. The global presence of these new multinational corporations accelerated the deregulation and demonopolization of so-called PTTs (Postal, Telephone, and Telegraph) or government-owned and -run telephone monopolies. As a great deal of new capital was needed to launch competing services, only private companies could afford such expensive enterprises.
Broadcast and related media monopolies, which the government also owned or controlled, were also privatized for the same reasons; new capital was needed to build new media outlets and to satisfy the corporate demand for advertising. The result was striking. In 1980, according to a report by Christina Holtz-Bacha and Pippa Norris (2001), there were only a few commercial television systems in Europe. In slightly over 15 years, however, the balance was reversed, with only a few countries—Austria, Ireland, and Switzerland—with government monopolies in broadcasting.
The sudden expansion of private TV produced a huge surge in the import of U.S. programming, leading to new fears that commercialization of the media was akin to the Americanization, or “electronic colonialism,” of Europe. The same refrain followed in Latin America, Canada, and Asian markets, which like Europe soon opened their markets to private broadcasting and the deregulation of their public telephone systems.
As advertiser-supported media has grown, the future of public service broadcasting has been threatened. While there have been several studies that in general have suggested that commercial television produces less news and information, and therefore tends to erode the cultural and political fabric of individual nations, this concern has not been proved. In fact, there is a tendency, Holtz-Bacha and Norris argue, toward a sort of “self-selection strategy” that is always in operation. In other words, people who prefer news or information tend to watch and prefer noncommercial broadcasting, and there is an expectation that commercial television is more for entertainment. Moreover, their research suggests that when commercial channels did provide informational news content, there was a kind of “dummying down” of the news, or, as they called it, “infotainment.” The result is a “tabloidization” of the news, with an increase in sensationalism and an emphasis on negativity and personalization.
Governments, nonetheless, responding to public demand for more television options but not having the budgets to subsidize such expansion, favored noncommercial, advertiser-supported alternatives. As a consequence, the past 20 years have resulted in a significant increase in advertising to support such initiatives. Indeed, the 2007 worldwide budget for advertising now exceeds $600 billion, twice what it was 20 years ago.
While U.S. media and program suppliers are criticized for preventing the development of a critical perspective on society, most nations around the world have successfully established their own—however embryonic—production outlets to feed the ever-growing media distribution channels. This component, related to the development of a robust communications infrastructure, is now widely seen as important to national wealth and well-being and essential to participation in the global knowledge society and economy. As a consequence, so-called national information systems, economic plans that encourage and support new communications initiatives and infrastructure, are everywhere.
Computers and the Digital Age
While there is no doubt that the development of satellites contributed greatly to the expansion of commercial broadcasting throughout Europe in the 1980s and had a similar effect worldwide, it also created an avenue for the global expansion of trade and commerce.
The development of direct broadcasting by satellite (DBS) was also a threat to national hegemony. For example, the mere idea that tiny Luxembourg, with a population under 500,000 people living in an area of less than a 1,000 square miles, could launch a satellite with a “footprint” covering most of Europe was threatening to television executives and government policymakers throughout the European Union. Luxembourg, because of its multilingual heritage, was already a commercial broadcaster with international leanings. Its over-the-air signal covered all of Luxembourg and portions of France, Germany, and Belgium. Moreover, the tiny country decided almost from the beginning to broadcast programs with advertising in several languages. In the 1980s, CLT (Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Télédiffusion), the largest commercial broadcaster in Luxembourg, launched a medium-power satellite service called SES ASTRA, which operates a fleet of satellites covering Europe, North America, and Africa.
The real threat to national hegemony was the development of the computer. The computer enabled creation of the Internet, and with the Internet came “media convergence,” a vehicle for the distribution of voice, video, and data over a single system.
Currently, there are in excess of 1.1 billion Internet users in the world. Depending on the growth of the mobile Internet, with the cell phone industry quickly embracing Internet-based protocols, it is likely that the world will be “connected” within the next few years.
The Period of Internet Boom and Bust
As mentioned earlier, it was the creation of the World Wide Web, the graphical user interface superimposed on the Internet, in 1990, that presaged the tremendous growth of the modern-day Internet. The Web, as it came to be called, revolutionized business and industry. The Web has also transformed education, health care, government, and other leisure and entertainment industries.
Creation of the Web, along with passage of the Communications Act of 1996, the first major rewrite of the law governing ownership and use of the telecommunications infrastructure since 1934, led to the widespread perception that almost any business plan that proposed using the Internet was going to be an instant success. The 1996 CommunicationsAct, while allowing cross-investments between existing players, clearly invited new players to the field of telecommunications. It has often been said that once the regulatory gates were opened inWashington, the capital markets in NewYork were quick to follow with financing.
Millions and millions of investment dollars poured into Internet start-ups as business, government, organizations, and institutions scrambled to increase their presence on the “national information highway.” Paradoxically, however, although the world’s information infrastructure was built in record time, as The Wall Street Journal reported, only about 3% of the new infrastructure was actually being used due to federal regulatory barriers.
This period of Internet investment in the United States and elsewhere in the world is referred to as the “dot-com boom.” Sadly, the “dot-com bust” followed soon after. Many of the business plans were built on the hopes and dreams of those proposing a new way of doing business. They lacked, however, real-world applications or were based on applications whose time had not yet arrived. The net result of these investments—by one estimate, hundreds of billions of dollars or close to the cost of building the entire U.S. national highway system—was that they had to be written off. Many of the fledgling companies had to file for bankruptcy or simply go out of business altogether. The good news is that the “dot-com bust” set the stage for yet another telecommunications revolution as many of these facilities and systems, expensive to build, were resold for “pennies on the dollar.” Now, literally thousands of new communications links have been established at a fraction of the original cost.
Beginning of the End of the Monopoly System of Communications
Given the worldwide spread of the Internet and the establishment or creation of the World Wide Web, there was a growing belief among policymakers and regulators everywhere that the monopoly concept was dead. In the United States, in any event, AT&T was given monopoly status at the turn of the century because of the belief that having basic phone service was a public necessity; a public good, and everyAmerican ought to have access to it. By the early 1980s, 97% of Americans had at least one phone and often more. In Western Europe, where the monopoly form of government enterprise was preferred, probably for both efficiency and control, this form of organization had run its course too. Privatization and deregulation of communication systems were common government responses as new telecommunications and information technologies were developed and competitive alternatives emerged.
More important, the development of the computer, the onset of digitization, and the creation of the Internet or Network of Networks, clearly signaled the end of monopoly. In fact, this was evident worldwide. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission was looking for ways to inject competition through the use of interconnection initiatives and the creation of the so-called specialized-carrier status. The Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice had already filed its massive lawsuit against AT&T for monopoly abuse. Other countries, particularly in Europe, were already making plans to privatize and deregulate their national telecommunications service in part to prepare for the changes the computer revolution was ushering in.
The New Geography of the Global Economy
In the wake of the rapid spread of computers and telecommunications, and the development of global corporations, yet another demand on nation states, and especially cities and regions across the world, was created. That demand was, and is today, to create the 21st-century information infrastructure so vital to the wealth and well-being of all cities and communities in a new global, knowledge economy and society. As the economies of the world become more integrated, one of the realities is that political power devolves to cities and regions worldwide. Information or knowledge becomes the new wealth, replacing gold as the monetary standard. As the former Citibank chairman Walter Wriston (1997) put it, “Information technology [becomes] the tools of wealth creation.”
Even before the dot-com boom and bust era of the late 1990s, President Clinton and Vice President Gore were sounding the alarm. Gore particularly was promoting not only increased commercialization of the Internet but also the development of the broadband, high-speed Internet. He called it simply Internet II and was seeking federal funding from Congress to develop such a high-speed broadband system.
Both Clinton and Gore were keenly aware that we were entering a new uncertain era in which information or knowledge would become the most important indicator of national wealth. They knew that it was important for America to awaken to this basic shift in the structure of the global economy and that as a country we should begin to change institutions, both public and private, to respond to the challenges presented by the new global information economy.
Although the Clinton-Gore initiative, called the National Information Infrastructure (NII), clearly involved reforming the law to allow existing players to invest in the future and allowing new players to participate in that information age as well, the administration was aware that real growth had to take place within communities across America and that all sectors of our economy and society needed to be involved. Toward that end, billions of federal research and development dollars were targeted toward public projects across the country in health care, education, business, and electronic (or “e”) government. The Clinton administration tried to put the spotlight on community development.
The tiny country of Singapore in many ways created the model for what is occurring, indeed what must occur, worldwide to succeed and survive in the new global economy. As the technology of telecommunications and computers converges with the forces of the new global economy, political, social, and economic power is devolving rapidly to smaller and smaller entities. Probably, the best geopolitical entity for a rebirth or reinvention of a governing system that encourages knowledge-based production and activity is the city. Not surprisingly, the city in many ways has always been the center of commerce and the crucible of civilization. Today, in the new economy, where ideas themselves are the basis for the new wealth, the city becomes the most likely incubator of creative and innovative products and services.
More than 25 years ago, Singapore created a National Computer Board whose goal was to create “an intelligent island.” By that, government leaders and policymakers meant not only the infrastructure of the new age but a mind-set that used technology as a tool of social, political, and economic transformation. As Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong stated in announcing the formation of a community-wide, government-created Intranet called Singapore One, the network “will empower Singaporeans to work efficiently in a smart environment to facilitate the use and access of information to enhance their business, personal, and family lives.” The government saw the use and deployment of technology as crucial to the “next great leap forward.” Although Singapore is only a small nation of less than 3 million people, the government aggressively began wiring the country and targeting key industry sectors for transformation. Eventually, every sector of the Singapore economy and society was automated.
Today, Singapore has launched what is called Infocomm 21, a broad strategic plan to take the country to the next level of the digital future. Singapore’s stated goal is “to develop Singapore into a vibrant and dynamic global infocomm capital with a thriving and prosperous e-economy and a pervasive and infocomm savvy e-society.”
Next door to Singapore, Malaysia, a far bigger country primarily dependent on agriculture, launched the Multimedia SuperCorridor Project. An area of approximately 10 by 20 miles and including the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, it is, in effect, a free-trade zone for IT and telecommunications research, development, and manufacturing. Like Singapore’s government, Malaysian officials are appealing to global corporations to make the Multi-media SuperCorridor their Pacific regional headquarters and have offered a package of incentives to companies in the IT and telecom fields. For example, the SuperCorridor guarantees IT and software developers duty-free importation of all related equipment and a 100% investment tax allowance. These kinds of incentives are obviously attractive to IT companies such as IBM, Microsoft, or Google.
Like Singapore, Malaysia also promises world-class physical and IT infrastructures within the Corridor; no censorship of the Internet, and no taxes for the first 5 years of operation for those earning the so-called Pioneer status. Malaysia garnered major attention in the United States by inviting companies to its Corridor and reportedly had several billion dollars in investments promised when they first launched the initiative. By providing globally competitive tariffs, freedom of ownership, exemption from state and local ownership requirements and other permits and ensuring intellectual property protection and a series of legal innovations, such as digital signatures and the so-called new cyber laws, and ensuring and enhancing online security, Malaysia sought to position the Corridor as an attractive location to invest and operate.
Unfortunately, the SuperCorridor has not thrived as initially hoped due to the repressive, by Western standards, actions of the government, including limitations on press and political freedoms.
In the Middle East, the Gulf state of Dubai was taking out full-page ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major publications proclaiming itself a “city of the future.” In October 2000, Dubai opened its “Internet City” in a technology and media “free zone.” Like Malaysia’s Multi-media SuperCorridor, Internet City provides tax-free locations for further development of knowledge-based industries and duty-free import and export of media and information products and services.
Through an arrangement with the U.S.-based company, Cisco Systems, which provided technological vision and expertise, Dubai built what has been labeled the world’s largest Internet facility in the world, allowing the highest technically practical transmission speeds throughout the Internet City. These amenities and others have attracted Microsoft, IBM, Dell, Siemens, Sony, Ericsson, and other global corporations. Dubai’s strategy is comprehensive. In addition to its telecommunications facilities, it also boasts a first-rate transport and shipping infrastructure, free health care for all its citizens, and virtually no crime, along with countless modern shopping malls. Despite its roots in Islam, Dubai has very few cultural and religious restrictions and serves a diverse population of 150 different nationalities, factors that make Dubai a truly cosmopolitan world city.
There are other cities all over the world attempting to replicate the successes of Dubai, Singapore, and Malaysia in one respect or another. Canada has launched a “Smart Communities” program, and Europe has an aggressive “digital cities” project. In the United States, despite the Clinton-Gore NII, which funded billions of dollars of innovative digital cities projects, significant progress has not been made. Sadly, in the second half of 2006, the United States had fallen to 25th in the world in household penetration of broadband technology.
However, the effort of Silicon Valley to create a privatepublic regional consortium is noteworthy. Kenichi Ohmae (1995) and social science writer Neil Pierce (1993), author of City-States, both say we must acknowledge the emergence of a global economy; that national economies do not count as major factors in measuring innovations in governance. the city-state or region state is perhaps a more important way of looking at economic and social developments across the world. This national ability to encourage regional infrastructure development, and indeed an economy based on the use and production of media and information products and services, is the key to success for those regions and nations most likely to succeed in this new global economy. Silicon Valley succeeded without the kind of government support offered in other countries. Perhaps the lesson here is that the concept of devolution really works if communities can organize themselves to take advantage of the power they actually have.
The World Is Flat
Thomas Friedman (2005), The NewYorkTimes foreign affairs columnist and author of The World Is Flat: The Globalized World in the 21st Century, says, “Globalization . . . is shrinking the world from a size small to a size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time.” It is
a force that gives it its unique character—is a newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally. And the phenomenon that is enabling, empowering and enjoining individuals and small groups to go global so easily and so seamlessly is what I call the flat world platform. (p. 10)
Friedman points out that this platform is the byproduct of the convergence of personal computers and a new information infrastructure, the Internet, which suddenly allowed individuals worldwide to collaborate regardless of the distances between them.
No one anticipated this convergence. It just happened— right around the year 2000.And when it did, people started waking up all over the world and realized that they had more power than ever to go global as individuals, they needed more than ever to think of themselves as individuals competing against other individuals all over the planet, and they had more opportunities to work with those other individuals, not just compete with them (pp. 10–11). Friedman cited a number of applications such as accounting, radiology, and banking that are done out of Bangalore (now known as Bengalooru) for a price that is considerably lower than if they were done in the United States. For example, in the evening in the United States, a radiologist in Bengalooru, who makes less than $15,000 a year, can read an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or other radiological report and have it back to the attending physician in the United States to read the next morning. Perhaps most important, he or she can do it for a fraction of what it would cost in the United States. This outsourcing of jobs, what has been called offshoring—shifting more work, including the relocation of business processes, to achieve a labor cost advantage—is on the rise among global corporations around the world.
This worldwide competition for jobs is multiplied by a number of cities and regions around the world positioning themselves to capitalize on the new global information economy. Singapore’s Intelligent Island project, Dubai’s Internet City, or Canada’s Smart Communities—whatever they’re called, these new enterprise zones have both the broadband technology of the new age and aggressive plans to use technology to transform their regional economy and society. The best ones are those looking to play a leadership role in this new age. Recognizing that it is creativity and innovation that will be the hallmarks of the new global economy, they also have strategies to attract, retain, and nurture the most entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative workforce.
The Future of News and Information
It is clear that as the world becomes increasingly global and out of necessity every nation needs to develop robust communications infrastructures, the concern with American imports of television, music, films, and software of all kinds becomes a more acute problem when developing a domestic or national communications infrastructure. For many years, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has complained that governments worldwide are seeking ways to block the free flow of information, particularly theatrical films.
MPAA has been a leading proponent of free trade in part because many countries are opposed to the importation of American films. At the same time, American filmmakers have concerns about piracy, which is rampant in many countries. Clearly, while governments want to do one thing, the worldwide consuming public wants another. Television, which produces all forms of audiovisual materials, has run into the same nagging import restrictions, tariffs, and administrative barriers to the free trade of information goods and services.
More recently, the UNESCO (United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization) adopted a treaty promoting or recognizing cultural identity. The MPAA, among others in the industry, opposed U.S. support of the resolution. The United States stood alone, along with Israel, in opposing the cultural treaty on the grounds that it would be used for trade purposes to block the importation of American information and entertainment products, which constitute a major percentage of U.S. exports.
This concern about the “free flow” of information across borders is certainly not new. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the term The New World Information Order was introduced into the debate by the McBride Commission (named after the Nobel Prize winner Shawn McBride), which was concerned that the flow of information and communications heavily favored the United States. The developing countries were expressing their frustration with what they called a form of electronic colonialism, with the United States and the West dominating media flow. In protest, the United States and the United Kingdom, among other countries, withdrew from the UNESCO in the 1980s and rejoined only a few years ago.
The concerns expressed by the McBride Commission with regard to the concentration and commercialization of and unequal access to information and communications still persist. The commission’s call for a “strengthening of national media to avoid dependence on external sources” has seen some success, with many countries developing robust communications media unique to their national economies and cultures.
The concern with U.S. dominance of media flow does not extend to the developing nations alone. Indeed, in the mid-1970s, France published a treatise called “The Computerization of Society,” written by the then Secretary of the Treasury, Simon Nora, and coauthored by his assistant Alain Minc, which called for a way of taxing information flows as well as information assets. As early as 1976, the French government realized that there was a basic change in the structure of their economy and it was going to be increasingly difficult to tax or control information products and services. They were also concerned with the collection of information for subsequent data processing that was being done in the United States by multinational corporations located in France. To keep the data from being transmitted and processed elsewhere—and in turn to create a robust data-processing industry in France, the French devised the concept of “data protection” and argued that nations such as France had a duty to control “the transborder flow of data” in order to preserve and enhance the communications and information technology infrastructure so essential to the economy of the future. For the first time, it was clear that data flow and media flow were one and the same and that the loss of information could hurt domestic economic development.
France and much of Europe subsequently developed privacy laws to control the flow of all data—they called it “name-linked data”—under the guise of protecting privacy. Such laws applied to both persons and corporations and severely threatened the free flow of trade and commerce. Multinational corporations doing business in France and elsewhere in Europe were concerned about the new data protection laws and vigorously expressed their reservations. Consequently, government authorities backed off of strict enforcement as it applied to corporations. Yet the die was cast. It was clear for many reasons that, if possible, information processing should be done locally and that these nations would assume greater responsibility for developing the industries important to their future in the coming, yet-to-be-defined knowledge economy.
In 2005, at the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, the European Union (EU) joined most developing nations in expressing their concern over the widespread development of the Internet and U.S. control. With support from the UNESCO and other UN agencies, including the Office of the Secretary General, the ITU appears to have launched a new forum for resolving many of the problems UNESCO identified through the WSIS. These problems, or issues, are diverse. They include Internet governance and helping close the digital divide by providing more Internetbased tools and access to Third World countries.
Concentration of the Media
A related concern expressed by the McBride Commission, and now the object of growing consumer interest, is media concentration. Large media companies dominate the flow of all kinds of information in the United States and worldwide. This issue is of concern to governments and consumers alike. The key issue is that increased media concentration limits localism—diversity and pluralism at the local level. The business of commercial media is to attract large audiences in order to sell advertising. Quite understandably, when sports and entertainment attract larger audiences, then news and public affairs do not have the same profit potential.
More and more nations are deregulating and privatizing their existing national monopolies in both telephony and broadcasting. To pave the way for foreign investment in media development, commercial or advertising-supported initiatives are dominating growth worldwide. While some argue that this is, in itself, a healthy development because these new commercial initiatives are replacing the old monopoly organizations, this trend is troubling to all who believe in localism as a central component of a vibrant democracy. If one believes that democracy depends on a relatively informed electorate, and that diversity and pluralism facilitate such informed citizenry, the opposite is occurring. People are less informed while becoming more entertained. The consequence may in fact be a step backward for the worldwide growth of democracy.
Many media companies, particularly those fully invested in broadcasting, cable, or newspaper ownership, argue that there’s more diversity and competition in the media now than at any other time in history thanks to the Internet, satellite TV, and other innovations such as the cellular revolution with its advertiser-supported video and mobile Internet services. However, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) by the Consumer Federation of America, among others,
most people still rely on their local newspapers and local television stations as the most important sources of local news and information. Those sources thus have disproportionate impact on public opinion . . . and further consolidation would be highly problematic.
University of Washington Professor Lance Bennett (2000) agrees that while “the proliferation of media channels in more open markets has made for intense competition for audiences . . . the diversity of content in both news and entertainment forms did not increase” (para. 3).
Lack of diverse content in local news and information is a global phenomenon. At a Harvard University conference in 2002, David Gergen, the former advisor to four presidents and Director for the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard, expressed “concern that international news coverage nearly reached a vanishing point in the mainstream press before 9/11 2001.”
The reasons for this phenomenon appear to be (a) the U.S. public’s continuing decrease in interest in international news, (b) the transition of networks from being family owned to being part of conglomerates, (c) the loss of influence of newspapers’ editorial pages, and (d) a reluctance on the part of news organizations to take responsibility for the lack of international coverage. In general, participants at that conference, and others in universities and think tanks across the country, are expressing concern about Americans’ ignorance of world affairs and the state of journalism and journalism education, and asking what can and should be done to remedy the declining interest in international matters.
James Hoge Jr., the editor of Foreign Affairs, writing 10 years ago in the Columbia Journalism Review, asked the question, “Foreign news, who gives a damn?” Hoge further wrote, “A world less threatening to America is less newsy.” But in 2007, at least, one cannot make the argument that matters elsewhere in the world threaten America less.
This is precisely what concerns the retired CBS foreign correspondent Tom Fenton (2005) in his book Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Dangers to Us All. “Corporate greed and indifference have all but killed the kind of news gathering ethos that produces results,” Fenton complained. He, for one, clearly has lost “the sense of duty and urgency” that motivated and drove him. “The mega-corporations that have taken over the major American television news companies squeeze the life out of foreign news reporting” (pp. 11–12).
Fenton (2005) explained how after the Tisches, the New York investment family that also owned Lowe’s Hotels and other properties, took control of CBS from its founder William Paley in the mid-1960s, they began looking for ways to cut costs. Because foreign news gathering was so expensive, CBS was told to cut many of the foreign correspondents. The other networks have done the same and today essentially buy stories and pictures from a third-party news gatherer and do their own “voice-overs.” In light of what is happening to international news, Fenton and others have asked how Americans can really express their will about what is happening in the world if they remain uninformed and ignorant of world affairs. Fenton believed that to do so “means letting the government operate beyond our shores without our full knowledge and facing a world that increasingly hates us . . . it means effectively allowing interested lobbies to run areas of foreign policy without our consent” (pp. 68–72). The future of our democracy does not look good, he argued persuasively.
The Promise of the Mobile Internet
What most of us call a “cell phone,” developed from the architecture of the earliest wireless telephones in the early 1990s, has revolutionized communications. There are now close to 2 billion mobile phone users worldwide. Mobile phone penetration has crossed that of telephones connected to landlines. Perhaps more important, cell phone use in even the world’s poorest nations is experiencing double-digit growth. “In Bangladeshi villages, cell phones are widely shared and rented out by ‘telephone ladies’ found throughout the village. Farmers and fishermen use the phones to call markets to work out where they can get the best price for their products. Small businesses use them to shop around for supplies. Mobile phones are used to make cashless payments in Zambia and several other African countries” (The Economist, 2005, p. 11). They can have, says The Economist, a dramatic impact, “reducing transaction costs, broadening trade networks and reducing the need to travel.”
A recent report by the Aspen Institute on the Fifteenth Annual Roundtable on Information Technology (Adler, 2007) concluded
that innovative mobile technologies are causing disruptive tectonic changes that will shape unalterably the way the next generation will live, work, play and interact with the world. . . . In India, worshippers send text prayers to the temple of a Hindu god. In China, coupons received on cell phones are redeemable at MacDonald’s. In Singapore, drivers can pay tolls and buy tickets with a mobile device. In South Korea, an online dating service sends a text message when a person matching another’s profile is nearby. In Los Angeles, high school students flirt, make dates and carry on courtship rituals in electronic forums. People in 22 countries cast 680 million text message votes for contestants during the most recent season of American Idol. (p. 3)
It has been reported that it took over 10 years to achieve the first billion mobile users but it will take less than 3 years to reach the second billion and for the third billion, less than that. Now that advertising is finding its way to the mobile Internet, allowing users to watch video clips of their favorite shows and receive regular reports of sporting events and other items of interest, cell phone costs are expected to drop. Declining costs will make it possible for essentially everyone in the world to have a personal mobile phone and, importantly, access to the Internet.
The potential for a rebirth of democracy and citizen participation in global governance issues is enormous. Rick Stengel, editor of Time magazine, believes that we have indeed reached a critical juncture in the history of the world where technology is changing the very nature of the information age and empowering citizen participation in world affairs as never before. In the United States, the former senator George Allen, a candidate for reelection from Virginia, was defeated in 2006 because of an ethnic slur captured by a cell phone and recorded on the Web site YouTube. Europe’s “mobile democracy” came of age, it is said, with a Spanish election. In March 2004, after a terrorist attack in Madrid, the Socialists rode to power on a wave of text messages expressing anger at the conservative government. In elections in the Congo and the Philippines, the same technique was used to rouse the faithful, and in the presidential election in South Korea, the current President Roh Moo-Hyun is said to owe his office to a surge of support from young people using their cell phones to connect with like-minded supporters.
Avazz.org, an online activist community for social justice, founded in part by MoveOn.org, has plans to operate in 10 languages targeting citizens in eight countries and four regions to reach 70% of the global online population of 900 million people. Their aim is to end global poverty, create an alliance for regulations and policies that stem global warming and climate change, and, among other issues, identify and promote candidates for UN leadership.
This new wave of democratization sweeping the world is more than just a fad limited to young people alone. It is more than simply a protest or indication of one unique demographic’s opposition to what is happening worldwide. It portends a framework for a new method of exercising the will of the people. Yet it is reactive. The technology invites such participation. Taken together, such initiatives may fall short of the new digital governance that Rick Stinger of Time Magazine envisions.
It is clear that communications will continue to play a comprehensive and critical role in the expansion of the global economy and the world community. The integration and interdependence of the economic, social, and political systems of nation-states, which began more than 50,000 years ago and is now accelerating through the Internet, will continue at an even faster pace.
Government and governance—how we relate to those who are elected and appointed to serve us—must change too. We are already seeing the development on a global scale of mechanisms for ensuring that the global corporation has some checks and balances on its far-flung activities and influence worldwide. By retooling many of these existing organizations and creating new ones, the rights of privacy and intellectual property, piracy, terrorism, the free flow of communication, and democracy itself must be addressed. Through new international/global agreements, the framework for global policy and some form of regulation is inevitable.
The interdependency of nations that is driving globalization is unquestionably economic, but the social and political integration and interdependence are also very real. Interdisciplinary understanding of the connections between social and political needs and concerns, and mechanisms for harmonizing such differences must be a priority for governments and institutions. Doing so will require a new global awareness of world affairs by citizens everywhere.
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