Media and the Global Village : Myth or Reality ?

The revolutionary idea's of Marshall Mcluhan. were the first to capture people's attention about the process of globalisation. In 1967 he wrote, 'Time has ceased "space" has vanished. We now live in a global village......a simultaneous happening'. The media plays a vital role in creating this 'simultaneous happening'. We can in many instances view events live as they happen. Whether it is bombs being dropped upon Baghdad or Italy being defeated in a world cup, many people around the world can share the same moment. McLuhan's "simultaneous happening" is indeed a reality. The question to pose is what effects does this connectiveness have upon people and cultures?

Media is now an essential part of many peoples everyday life. Media reflects and creates the social and cultural world we live in. Marshall McLuhan recognised this in 1967 when he argued that our senses are transformed by the mediums by which we communicate. Meyrowitz writing much later harnessed the theories of McLuhan to produce one of the first studies to not just state that the media has effected our sense of time and space, but to actually reveal how it does this. Meyrowitz argument is that 'the evolution of media has decreased the significance of physical presence in the experience of people and events'.

A Global Culture ?

Despite evidence of this nature it is still important to explore some of the cultural effects of globalisation. One of the main arguments put forward is that a global culture, or a homogenisation of culture, will occur due to the ability of media to span the globe. McLuhan stated this kind of perspective in his book "The Medium is the Massage". He stressed the role of the media in creating 'the mass' as opposed to the separate individuals of 'the public'. He also made very sweeping statements that electronic technology "fosters and encourages unification". These kinds of generalisations are just that, generalisations and have to be looked at carefully. The important thing to keep in mind, is that a global culture would have to be based "on shared memories and a sense of continuity between generations".(Smith cited in O'Reagen:1993:104) Does the dominance of western media, especially American products and styles around the world create this kind of global shared meaning?

The figures speak for themselves, the United States exports around 150,000 hours of programs a year.(Ibid.:7) No other country in the world can even come close to such a large figure. Western agencies also dominate the news of the world. Their are four main news agencies, and it comes as no surprise that each one represents the main colonial forces in our history. The 'Associated Press' is a United States agency, 'Reuters' is English and the 'Agence' is French. The end result is an unbalanced, one way flow of information.

Cultural Imperialism

The question is does the ideology imbedded within these western texts change the culture's and values of the wide range of people who use them?. Information is not value free. Ideology plays an important part in the construction of any media text. Fiske in his book "Power Play Power Works" makes the reader acutely aware of this dimension. The domination of western media he writes has important implications. "The third world is not and cannot be represented in its own terms". Fiske reminds us that the power to represent the world is the power to mould it into a particular form. Many countries especially those in the third world do not have the power of representation. They receive news about their own region and the world at large which are constructed, western representations. As both Fiske and Lee have shown in their respective studies the west predominantly reports on only the "exceptional and unusual" events of the third world.{Lee:1979:17}

If the world shares the same media perspective, the same viewpoint, if we are all looking through the same lens out towards the world, a 'global village' may have been formed at a price. That price is homogenisation. There is undoubtedly evidence to suggest such a trend. Children fanatically collecting American sports cards here in Adelaide. Asian, African and South Americans discarding their local beverages for Coca Cola and Coffee. African women deciding not to breast feed their babies due to baby food formula advertising. On top of all this the power of the media to represent and construct the world rests in the hands of a few western corporate interests. All these social and cultural forces of the media have the ability to change cultural and political values world wide. This does not mean that the media, its news and advertising are creating a homogenised 'global village'. Without a doubt there is the potential for this to happen in the very distant future. But Unfortunately I am not a prophet capable of looking into the future. For the present a homogenised 'global village' has not been created. In many ways the media has increased our sense of place and difference, by linking us to the rest of the world. When we hear on the news that the French are resuming nuclear tests in the Pacific the media makes us more aware of our sense of place and difference as Australians. When we almost instantly witness a terrorist attack in Okalahoma, we become more aware of the difference between Australia and America's social problems. In this way the media contributes to our sense of place by bringing the world into our homes.

Localised Media

One of the ways in which our sense of place has increased is in the existence of local media.. These forms of localised media are vital to many minority groups and especially to third world countries. One of the most important elements of this kind of media is that the products or texts produced are made by the groups they cater for. Helen Molnar provides us with a case study of Aboriginal Community Television which is made by, and for the community. Molnar stresses how important this is because the uses they put their media to, and the style of their programs is very different from the white mainstream media which surrounds them. This kind of localised media provides a strong bulwark against the homogenising forces of the larger media players.

In the third world many social and political movements have developed this kind of local media. For example in an elite Washington journal called 'Foreign Policy' in 1989 an article warned that

"at the local level the developing world is far better organised in 1989 than they have been since European colonialism......Community activism in the third world is bringing new actors to International affairs"(Durning:1989:66-7 cited in Roach:1990:303)
Localised media in these countries has provided an opportunity for the power of representation to be placed into the hands of the local community. In this way they provide a means for the community to be linked to the world without being overcome by it.

The issue of localised media is the deciding factor. As Peter Lewis writes they 'hold the line for cultural identity in thousands of local contexts'. Lewis goes on to write that the greatest threat against alternative media may be market forces.(Lewis:1993:128) The evidence seems to back up his conclusion. Countries like America have the most to gain from the free flow of media products within the market place. It therefore comes as no surprise that when the N.W.I.O called for a two-way information flow in the late 1980's it was strongly rejected by the United States resulting in their eventual withdrawal from U.N.E.S.C.O.(Roach:1990:284)

There are arguments though which reject conclusions which equate the market domination of western media products with the creation of a 'global village' and the homogenisation of cultures. For example O'Regan argues that even multinational companies have to 'localise themselves in the markets they enter'. In many ways O'Regan is correct in his conclusions, but he underestimates some of the repercussions of market forces. Dennis Schroeder has noticed a trend in western media which is very alarming. He states that although the world has became smaller the

"news media which, rather than using new communication technology to cover the global village more comprehensively, appear to be concentrating increasingly on their own familiar neighbourhoods within the village"(Schroeder 1980:3-4 cited in McPhail:1981:242-3)

In this respect globalisation has resulted in the media contributing more to an inward looking localisation than to a 'global village'. The Internet has provided a great alternative to this. It has the potential to effectivley open up our local worlds, and truly link them with the rest of the globe.

Yesterday's Man

Despite the very real risks which media and cultural imperialism pose I would argue that history is a powerful force which acts strongly against such forces of homogenisation.. Bourdieu in his theory of social practice describes a notion of 'habitus', which he argues represents the dispositions of people. These dispositions are the products of history. As Bourdieu writes "it is yesterdays man who predominates in us". The person we are today is shaped and directed by the experiences of our past. The past "tends to perpetuate itself into the future" In many ways cultures are the same. Their specific values are the product of hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years of history. What Bourdieu attempts to show is that change comes out of the past and in reference to it.
This kind of theory is an essential tool when looking at media imperialism and the forces of globalisation. People make meaning through their history. Mass media globalisation may seem to be a homogenising force, but it cannot fight against the many varied cultures which inhabit this earth. Despite this we should not be apathetic towards the real dangers of globalisation.


Bourdieu.P, 1977, Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge Cambridge University Press,

Fiske.J, 1993, Power Plays, Power Works, London, Verso

Lee, Chin-Chuan, 1979, Media Imperialism Reconsidered: The Homogenising of Television Culture, London, Sage Publications

Lewis.P (ed.), 1993, Alternative Media: Linking Global and Local, Reports on Mass Communication no.107, France, UNESCO Publishing

Mcluhan.M 1967, The Medium is the Massage, London, The Penguin Books Press

McPhail.T.L, 1981, Electronic Colonialism: The Future of International Broadcasting and Communication, London Sage Publications

Meyrowitz.J, 1985, No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behaviour, New York, Oxford University Press

O'Regan.T, 1993, Australian Television Culture, N.S.W Australia, Ullen & Unwin

Roach.C, 1990, "The Movement for a New World Information and Communication Order: A Second Wave? in Media Culture and Society, 12,3

Rheingold.H, 1993, "Disinformocracy", Chpt 10 in Rheingold ,The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier U.S.A, Harper Perenial