Media Imperialism

While Theodor Adorno, in “Culture Industry Reconsidered”, critiques the effect of profit-making interests on the quality of art produced in terms of its effect on masses, Fred Fejes makes a similar argument on a more international scale. Newer modes of questioning communications media has impulsed media to not be thought as a tool for development (which is a Western thought), but as an obstacle in developing nations. How transnational corporations structure their businesses in Third World countries is a matter of empirical research, but a theoretical grounding is necessary to anchor the questions and the scope of study, Fejes emphasises. Instead of generalizing models of development as ‘modernization’, the last decade has seen interest develop in the dependency theory. Dependency theory, although not described in detail in Fejes’ work, asserts that the economic interests of wealthy nations aid in deepening the inequality between “center” (dominant, industrialised states) and “periphery” (dependent states with low per capita GNPs) states. (Ferraro 2008)

Fejes also argues that within nations themselves, there is a fault line that places the urban sector (or the economically and politically powerful) aligning with the interests of dominant nations, and rural sector which is exploited for these economic interests. Keeping this in mind, it is also important to understand the historicity of these dominant structures, especially with a neocolonial approach. While Marxist views would argue that the end of imperialism occurs with power changing hands (for example, when British and France taking over German colonies after WW1), dependency theorists would argue that imperialism continues regardless of the specific identity of the dominant states. The idea that colonizing forces are modern and developed, and that developing nations are today at the position of developed nations in history, is thoroughly rejected by dependency theorists.

There are also internal conflicts in a country that aid in strengthening of an imperialist structure; caste and class may form the basis for this. It is not just the external factors that affect the development in periphery countries (Fejes asserts these are only good for conspiracy theories), but the way these interact with internal factors. Dependency theory also does not provide researchers with testable propositions, but frames a way of questioning the hegemony of power in developing nations. With this, Fejes concludes media should be analyzed in how it affects the power structures within a nation, and then this study should be linked with how transnational investments encourage dependency and dominance.

The main crux of the argument is to realise the commercial interests of transnational corporations, and how they seek to dominate national interests. For example, the advent of Free Basics (started as a partnership between Facebook and 6 other companies) to provide “free” internet in developing countries, while also violating net neutrality. In India, it was planned to be released with Reliance Communications (also a leading corporation in Indian communication technology) (Russell 2015). This clearly demonstrates the idea that internal power and economic structures (Reliance) share commercial interests with external factors (Facebook). While being marketed to provide internet access to communities without it, there were deep commercial interests in the venture that conflicted with national rights of privacy, net neutrality and data protection. Only Facebook-approved applications could be accessed with Free Basics (with Facebook as the only social-networking site and Whatsapp as the only messaging app), the submission guidelines for which disallowed HTTPS connections (which means that data going through the platform would be readable by Facebook) among other things[3]. While Free Basics was banned from India by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) a year after it was started, it found roots in Pakistan with Telenor Pakistan (subsidiary of Norwegian Telenor). Free Basics is an example of the attempts of transnational corporations attempting to monopolise markets.

References:

  1. Ferraro, Vincent. “Dependency theory: An introduction.” The development economics reader 12.2 (2008): 58-64.
  2. Russell, Jon. “Facebook Takes Internet.org And Its Free Mobile Data Services To India.”TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 09 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 July 2017. <https://techcrunch.com/2015/02/09/internet-org-india/&gt;.
  3. Facebook. “Technical Guidelines – Free Basics – Documentation.” Facebook for Developers. Facebook, n.d. Web. 27 July 2017. <https://developers.facebook.com/docs/internet-org/platform-technical-guidelines>.
  4. Fejes, Fred. “Media imperialism: An assessment.” Media, Culture & Society 3.3 (1981): 281-289.
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