Media, gender and diversity in the age of globalisation

Date: January 1, 1970
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Recent developments in the media highlight the importance of examining and understanding issues relating to gender in the media against the backdrop of globalisation, in general, and media globalisation, in particular

This is easier said than done because it is relatively uncharted territory.  While both globalisation and media globalisation have received considerable attention from scholars and activists in recent times, the process of developing a gender analysis of media globalisation is still a work in progress.  However, clearly it is an important process that requires the participation and contribution from people involved in both media and gender-related issues in the global South. 
What exactly is media globalisation?  According to American media scholars Edward S. Herman and Robert W. McChesney, the primary effect of the globalisation process is “the implantation of the commercial model of communication, its extension to broadcasting and the ‘new media,’ and its gradual intensification under the force of competition and bottom-line pressures.” 
In their view, “The commercial model has its own internal logic and, being privately owned and relying on advertiser support, tends to erode the public sphere and to create a ‘culture of entertainment’ that is incompatible with a democratic order.  Media outputs are commodified and are designed to serve market ends, not citizenship needs.”
German media economist Manfred Kops provides further, detailed and useful insights into the impact of globalisation on the mediaHe acknowledges that, at one level, media globalisation can be a positive and legitimate strategy that brings benefits to media companies as well as their customers.  This is basically because media globalisation involves the expansion of media markets, which generally results in media products becoming cheaper and more competitive. 
Apart from reducing costs for consumers and increasing profits for companies, this process can also have an indirect but positive impact on the economies of the countries where such companies are based – through the creation of new jobs, for example. 
However, he points out, the “economic peculiarities” of the media give rise to trends that are not so positive, especially from the viewpoint of the citizen – as distinct from the consumer.  As a result, many aspects of media globalisation have potentially negative effects on public communication. 
The first of these is the tendency of media globalisation to encourage concentration of media ownership, also known as media concentration.  The natural fallout of a reduction in the number of media enterprises is, obviously, less diversity at the very source. 
Secondly, the globalisation of media markets generally results in reduced diversity in media content.  Even if media concentration and conglomeration can be prevented or, at least, mitigated through appropriate regulation, an economic peculiarity  of the media, which Kops refers to as the “non-rivalry of media consumption,” inevitably gives rise to the dominance of “mainstream,” formulaic content.  
Thus, if cost efficiency is the primary positive feature of media globalisation, diversity is its main casualty:  diversity in media companies and outlets, diversity in the variety of media products available to address the interests, needs and concerns of varied audiences, and diversity in the images and voices represented in the media.
 The resulting ascendancy of media monopolies and majoritarian mindsets, together with the preponderance of mainstream content based on the lowest common denominator, jeopardise public communication in any real sense of the term and diminish public discourse at all levels – local, sub-regional, national and international.
The good news is that, according to Kops, many of these malfunctions can be mitigated by appropriate regulation of the commercial media, which can reduce the impact of market rules, as well as through vibrant non-commercial and non-governmental media, such as public service broadcasting and community broadcasting. 
The question is how gender fits into this picture. According to American feminist media scholar Carolyn M. Byerly, “Media conglomeration today, which has no shortage of critiques, lacks a feminist analysis, even though gender is a deeply imbedded aspect of the phenomenon.”  It is essential, she suggests, to develop a solid cross-cultural gender analysis of media conglomeration.  In her view, “The absence of gender-specific language and concerns signals an underlying problem in the (media reform) movement and provides a compelling reason for a parallel feminist movement to articulate what women need from a more democratic media system.”
What does media globalisation mean for gender balance in the media?  It is probably safe to assume that the growing trend towards media concentration and the consequent reduction of plurality and diversity in media organisations is not good news for gender equality in the media – in terms of ownership as well as access.  Similarly, the dominance of “mainstream,” formulaic content, which clearly militates against diversity in content and plurality of voices and views in the media, is unlikely to promote more gender equality in the media. 
For example, women are no longer missing from the Indian media, whether as media professionals or as subjects or even sources of news.  If ‘symbolic annihilation’ resulting in the absence of women from the news pages was the problem a couple of decades ago, the media in India are now replete with images of and references to women. The question today is not so much “Where are the women?”  but “Who are these women?”  Also, “When, where, how and why do they appear?”  And who, among women, are still missing from the media?  Whose concerns and needs are not being adequately addressed by and in the media? 
According to Katerina Anfossi, a Latin American communicator, the “homogenisation that comes with (media) concentration has never been favourable to women … women are about diversity.”   Clearly, then, it is important to pay attention to media globalisation  and the attendant tendencies towards media concentration as well as mainstream content, in order to ensure media diversity and sustainability – which are undoubtedly good for democracy as well as for responsible business.
 Ammu Joseph is an independent journalist and author based in Bangalore, India.  Among her publications are two books related to gender and media:  Whose News?  The Media and Women’s Issues and Making News:  Women in Journalism.  She is a founder-member of the Network of Women in Media, India.  This article is based on the keynote address  by the writer on Globalisation, Gender, Media and Diversity at the 2nd Gender & Media Summit, Johannesburg, 7-8 September 2006.

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