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1. Perspectives on Globalisation
2. Television in New Zealand
The Impact of Globalisation on New Zealand Television
New Zealand is a small country in the southern hemisphere, close to the South Pole. It consists of two islands; the smaller North Island is the more populated one of the two; it also holds the capital and the largest city. In fact the country has ten times more sheep than inhabitants. It was the last place in the world to be settled by humans; it was also one of the last countries to get television. It is the democratic country with the most unregulated media policy. But globalisation even reaches into this part of the world…
Globalisation is often political. State regulation of media and popular culture is a political tool, either to fight off or to invite globalised cultural artefacts. But also the act of exporting cultural products is political. The aim of this paper is to look at the impact of globalisation on the media industry of New Zealand. It investigates the interrelation between media policy, media ownership, and media effects. Furthermore, it examines the form and content of television programs in New Zealand. This country was selected for a case study due to its unique media regulation. Moreover, its geographic, economic, and cultural peculiarities make it an interesting case for investigation. The first part of the paper provides the theoretical background for discussing the media situation in New Zealand. It introduces and briefly discusses the major perspectives on globalisation. The second part describes and analyses the media landscape in New Zealand. The four major television channels are looked at in more detail, describing their programming and analysing some selected shows. Background factors influencing the media situation in New Zealand are considered by the inclusion of media policy, ownership and effects.
Globalisation can briefly be defined as an interconnectedness of organized, planned, or coordinated activities in a global arena with some degree of reciprocity and interdependency (Thompson, 2003). The impact of this increased interconnectedness is evaluated by many scholars differently, depending on the underlying paradigm they are using. The paradigm of cultural imperialism is based on Marxist thoughts of economic determinism. With their influential essay Culture Industry Reconsidered Adorno and Horkheimer (1972) might have started the debate around the effects of globalisation. They claimed that capitalist forms of the distribution of media products create a standardized mass culture. Umberto Eco (1994) then counter-argued the concept of a standardized and passive mass culture with his view of an active audience, which is not passively receiving , but actively interpreting media messages, depending on their individual social, religious etc. background and often contrary to the intended ´mainstream` interpretation. The interpretation of media messages according to local circumstances is also called glocalization. Glocalization describes the resistance to standardized global media products by local or traditional interpretation or redefinition. Hybridity is more than just glocalization or local resistance to globalisation. It is a new perspective in political sociology which regards the effects of globalisation as a mix of standardizing and resisting forces that form new cultural hybrid identities and diaspora cultures. Before investigating the impact of globalisation on New Zealand television, the various theoretical perspectives on globalisation with their advantages and down-sides have to be outlined in order to apply them to the case of New Zealand television.
The global communication conglomerates are mainly based in North America, Western Europe, Australia or Japan and studies show a one-way traffic in news and entertainment programmes from these major exporting countries to the rest of the world (in Thompson, 2003). Despite the acknowledgement of intraregional trade, the cultural imperialist theory seems a promising tool for studying globalisation. Media ownership and export of media programs play the most important part in this theory. Hence, this theory focuses on the site of production and distribution of popular culture, while often neglecting the site of consumption. The increased conglomeration is a feature of globalisation, and it is often perceived as having negative effects. However, Hesmondhalgh (1997) points to a paradox within this common assumption. He says that independent record companies represent a format for a democratic popular culture, but conglomerates have the resources to take risks, to foster creativity and individuality. Hence, he argues that an increased conglomeration does not necessarily lead to a standardization of popular culture. A homogenization or standardization is believed to have mainly negative effects, because it eradicates indigenous cultures, as well as local autonomy and control.
On the one hand, this homogenisation refers to a commercialisation. Applied to television, this would mean a trend towards more entertainment focused programming with an emphasis on human interest topics with high emotional and visual appeal. In particular, commercialised news programming focuses more on soft news, reports more sensationalist, ´depoliticises` and simplifies news stories. This results in a general trend towards ´dumbing down` of politics in news reporting. On the other hand, the high export of American programs (e.g. Hollywood movies) to the rest of the world might pose a serious threat to the ideals and values of local cultures. While the former type of homogenisation is often at least partly admitted, the latter is strongly contested, since the effects of media content are much harder to research than media formats or frames. Compaine (2001) argues that the media caters to their audience and not to their owners; their primary goal is to make profit and not to promote an ideology. Hence, it is important to make a clear distinction between these two types of homogenisation; one refers to commercialisation of media formats, while the other one refers to a homogenisation in media content. The latter presupposes that individuals and groups from different backgrounds and cultures interpret media messages in similar ways. This is exactly what the glocalisation theory doubts.
The glocalisation theory resists a standardization or ´Americanisation` by claiming that local cultures with their tradition can redefine media messages through their individual interpretation. The semiotic analysis approach presupposes the individual interpretation of media messages. Although it recognizes a dominant reading of texts, individuals and groups can interpret media texts according to their individual background. Hence, media effects are different from person to person, or group to group. Media`s effects on its audiences are therefore very hard to research. The influence between media content and public opinion is multi-directed, with a complex interrelation between media content and audiences as well as various, sometimes undetermined other factors. Even after establishing and considering all significant factors that could have a potential impact on public opinion, studies can still fail to account for the full complexities of interaction between media content and public opinion, as a study by Vreese and Boomgaarden (2006) illustrates.
Their study Media Effects on Public Opinion about the Enlargement of the European Union shows how the news media coverage changes public opinion about EU enlargement, depending upon the visibility and consistency in the tone of the news. It refers to previous studies conducted in the field, while it acknowledges that there is only a limited body of research that makes a link between media and public opinion. The study tries to rule out other factors than the media as influences on public opinion. Economic evaluations, anti-immigration sentiment, domestic political considerations and cognitive mobilization are accounted for. The findings suggest a generalization that attributes the cause of influence to the media. This conclusion rests on the assumption that in matters of political information and especially foreign politics, the public relies mainly on the media as a source of information. However, assumptions about relations between causes and effects, as well as the determination of other factors are problematic. Barker and Petley (2001) even point out that unclear definition of the objects to be researched can lead to misleading prior assumptions and generalizations. They argue that most studies investigating the ´effects of violent media` do not define their research object well enough. The purpose, meaning and context of violence has to be considered and analysed in order to avoid too general and too simplified assumptions that condemn violence in the media on grounds of its presumed negative effects. Although media effects are difficult to research, assumptions about these effects are readily made and can even influence state regulation of the media. State protectionism of local culture in forms of censorship or quotas can be one measure to preserve local popular culture and to resist a presumed threat of homogenisation or Americanisation. Cloonan (1999) illustrates with a comparative analysis of state regulation of pop music how important popular culture is for constructing national identity and how the state can direct this process through the control of popular culture by various means. This indicates a link between cultural studies and politics.
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