United States Still the World’s Dominant Media Economy?
Is the U.S. still the world’s most dominant media economy? One could probably make an argument either way on this question. Scholars, authors, and media pundits all have worthy theories and learned perspectives. And there is no editorial or socially constructed consensus as to the whether the media potency of the U.S. — vis-a-vis an economically struggling and yet still culturally significant America — has passed it’s zenith and is on a downward slope. This paper posits that while the American culture still has an enormous impact worldwide, due in large part to mass media availability on a 24-hour news cycle in even the most remote parts of the world, the U.S. is not the exclusive, respected world superpower it once was. America has lost its “attractiveness edge,” as Nancy Snow phases it. She may be engaging in understatement. And albeit the image of America as the benevolent superpower that saved Europe from Nazism and protects the weak around the globe has faded, American corporate media companies have not lost enough credibility or viewership around the world to be considered number two to any nation. Hence, it is the position of this paper that yes; the U.S. is still the world’s dominant media economy.
The United States’ Image and Media Power Envelopes the World
Certainly reading Nancy Snow’s 2007 book — the Arrogance of America Power: What U.S. Leaders are Doing Wrong and Why it’s Our Duty to Dissent — is one way to approach how the world sees the United States. Professor Snow, a respected propaganda expert at the University of Southern California, writes that America is still viewed by millions as an “exciting, commercially driven, market-friendly adjunct global culture to one’s native culture” (Snow 119). To millions the U.S. still symbolized what Snow calls “â€¦openness, trend-setting,” the vanguard when it comes to fashion, music, television and film — but not dominant enough to “overrun or dilute the less powerful culture” (Snow 119).
Snow goes on to say the U.S. is “the face of our age of globalization” and as such the U.S. is by way of becoming a symbol of globalization that is more of a “threatening concept than American culture alone” (Snow 119). Clearly Snow believes that when the U.S. image transcends mere culture and becomes the “face” of global power, others around the world have legitimate fears that the U.S. wants it all, everywhere. In the eyes of those anti-globalization activists, the U.S. is espousing a “consumerist ideology that is harmful to the physical and mental environment,” Snow continues (119).
The face that Europeans particularly disliked — some to the point of public hostility — was that of former President George W. Bush, Snow explains. Bush was “â€¦more widely and deeply disliked in Europe than any president in U.S. history,” Snow adds, quoting from a New York Times column. On a research trip to Germany a few years back, Snow listened intently as German scholars and media professionals told her America’s propaganda came across to them as the “love of money, a market economy that helped the rich and hurt the poor,” social policies that were racist and an “aggressive” foreign policy (Snow 126). That said, the Germans also related their love for American popular culture, movies and music in particular. Her point in 2007 is that “â€¦no other country comes close to America’s dominanceâ€¦strangleholdâ€¦over global television, cinema, music, book and magazine publishing and internet presence” (Snow 126).
Powerful global media corporations — like those owned by billionaires Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner — are transmitting their “Western images and commercial values” directly and powerfully “into the brains of 75% of the world’s population,” according to Lee Artz and Yahya R. Kamalipour, both professors of communication at Purdue University (34). Through the power of their media blitz on the world’s community, Murdoch, et al., are globalizing an imagery that “â€¦is surely the most effective means ever for cloning cultures” (Artz, et al., 2007 34). And by cloning cultures, Artz asserts, American media moguls can make those cultures “compatible with the Western corporate vision” (34). Artz refers to this media haughtiness in several ways through his narrative: a) is the “mass-produced outpouring of commercial broadcasting”; it is the fostering of “consumerism in the poor world”; and one could even call it’s domination “neocolonialism” that will spark “new kinds of struggles to eradicate this enduring cultural influence in the Third World” (34-35).
Artz accuses American entertainment industries of embracing a production principle that is the “lowest-common-denominator” for mass audience — sex, violence, alcohol — and hence these industries are in reality “pandering to the basic, pleasure-seeking instincts in humans” (35). And because economic globalization has brought higher incomes to many citizens in Asian countries, resulting in an expanding consumer base for media, the U.S. entertainment industry provides these industrializing societies with those exploitative pleasure-seeking themes with little or no substance.
Those very Asian nations that Artz alludes to are experiencing “â€¦rising literacy levels” and “increased access to Western (mostly American) entertainment offerings” which leads those viewers to “look beyond their traditional cultural practices” (Rampal 2007 33). Even a casual visitor to Asian countries can see “â€¦the pervasiveness of American culture,” Rampal — professor of communication at Central Missouri State — states. And beyond the issue of U.S. cultural saturation among Asians, there is no doubt that indigenous media industries in Asia are being challenged and in many cases being smothered by Western culture and media.
Are there Potential Rivals to the American Mass Media Juggernaut?
Could the many nations within the EU become independent of media globalization and be weaned off of pap-filled entertainment programming from the U.S. All the indications based on research are that for the foreseeable future, there are no rivals to American Mass Media programming. Dr. Jeanette Steemers, professor of media and communication at the University of Westminster in the UK, writes about the emerging power of European television. While it is true that the “vast majority of television channels in Europe” remain targeted at and viewed by “distinct national audiences” due to barriers of language and culture in twenty-seven sovereign nations, it is also the case that American media — CNN, MTV, Discovery, National Geographic, et al. — is highly visible. That having been said, Steemers relates that while culturally viable programming in the twenty-seven countries (with 452 million people and 172 million TV households, 92 million of those households with cable / satellite TV) has in many respects lost out to the power of “consumer-oriented” and “global” programming, there is hope that cultural pride and local political realities will usher in a more appropriate news and entertainment agenda (59).
On a practical level, the advent of satellite transmission has made it nearly impossible for European countries to keep global (think U.S.) programming out of homes, Steemers writes (64). The heavy lobbying of commercial media interests in Europe — to eschew “restrictive legislation and ownership rules” — has prevented EU leadership from instituting a “single integrated market” to promote “a more sustainable European television economy” (Steemers 64). The EU would like eventually to provide the production infrastructure powerful enough “to compete with the United States,” Steemers explains (65).
In her “Lecture Two” from the University of Westminster Steemers asserts that even though “Globalization transcends national boundaries” the “Nation-State” remains relevant (Steemers 8). Western approaches to entertainment and cultural programming tend to “â€¦ignore alternative models and systems”; in fact there is validity in the “Media Imperialism Thesis” (Schiller) which posits that the U.S. sees communication as “a one-way” street and not “multi-directional” (Steemers 19). The imperialism thesis implies that while the U.S. still dominates computer functionalities (Microsoft) and entertainment programming (Disney, News Corp, Time Warner) by underestimating overseas resistance to that domination the U.S. perhaps is heading for an eventual fade (Steemers 21).
On page 24 of Steemers lecture two is a photo of Rupert Murdoch next to an unkind characterization of Murdoch, who is considered by many in the U.S. And elsewhere in the world a right wing ideologue, a multi-billionaire snake in the global grass whose political economy and economic clout allows him to invest in — and purchase, in many cases — corporate media companies the world over. If U.S. corporate media’s entertainment stranglehold is as compellingly powerful in the global community as some scholars believe, when candidly considering Murdoch’s corporate approach, add hard-core conservative propaganda to the entertainment genre to be more completely accurate.
Will China’s media interests — which has instituted new market-related practices and hence has “reshaped journalistic culture” — allow it to produce original, interesting and vital programs notwithstanding the tension between “rapid commercialization and continued ideological control”? (Ma 2000 21). Given that this article is 10 years old, and subsequent to its publication China has first flirted with Google, then sealed a quasi-censorship deal, and continues to censor its Internet content, Ma’s narrative may be a smidgen outdated. Still, Ma (professor of journalism and communication at the University of China Hong Kong) believes that just because China has moved from “planned socialism to market socialism” it would be “naive” to believe “market forces have initiated a process of peaceful evolution in China where the media have modeled themselves on the liberal media in Western capitalist societies” (26, 32).
Models of Media and Politics
A review of media / political models sheds some light on why the United States’ cultural themes have been such a dominant dynamic in Europe, among other global venues. In describing the three models of media and politics, Daniel C. Hallin and Paolo Mancini report that the media in Southern Europe (the “Mediterranean” or “Polarized Pluralist Model”) is “an institution of the political and literary worlds” more than it is market-driven (Hallin, et al., 2004 90). The North and Central European model is called the “Democratic Corporatist Model” — and is certainly more market-driven and far less politically driven; and the third model is the “North Atlantic” or “Liberal model” of media and politics (Hallin 87).
The North Atlantic or Democratic Corporatist model, according to Mark a. Baker II encompasses Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the “Low Countries” and Scandinavia, and can be broken down into three characteristics. These three — Baker calls the “Three Coexistences” — help define Hallin’s original conceptual model. In the first “coexistence” there is a “high degree of parallelism with a strong mass circulation press” (Baker, 2010 2).
The media in these nations frequently express “partisan and social divisions,” Baker writes. The second coexistence is the impressive and “high level” of “journalistic professionalism”; and the third is based on the strong commitment to freedom of the press and that the press is entirely autonomous from the state (Baker, 2). On the subject of freedom of the press, Baker refers to Hallin’s model and recalls that in 1776 the Swedish Constitution recognized freedom of the press and as time as passed there has been the “rise of mass literacy” which has its roots in the Protestant Reformation (and hence, Martin Luther’s name is prominent in this discussion) (2). Once the Aristocracy and Catholic Church no longer controlled knowledge and authority, Baker asserts, mass literacy and the mass market press exploded in these societies.
The third media model, the “North Atlantic” or “Liberal Model,” is really the only model that has been thoroughly analyzed in the critical, scholarly press. That model covers Canada, the UK, the U.S., and other Western cultures. There are “substantial differences though between the United States — a “purer example of a liberal system” — and Britain, “where statist conservatism, liberal corporatism, and social democracy have been stronger than in the U.S.” (Hallin 230).
In reviewing Hallin’s critique of these three media and political models it is not clear whether any of the three — or the three together — could blunt the juggernaut of American media’s continuing influence and potency in Europe or elsewhere. That of course wasn’t the purpose of Hallin’s research, but in reading through his models one can easily discern why the American media — commercial TV, print, movies and electronic media — has made easy inroads into Europe and remains powerfully influential, and a force to be reckoned with.
It seems that what happens to media and politics in the U.S. ends up happening elsewhere. Whether that is due to the saturation of U.S. political, entertainment and media culture into Europe and Asia or not, Hallin (3) reports that media coverage of politicians in the U.S. has “â€¦become increasingly negative over the past few decades” and the trend is “virtually universal across Western democracies.”
CNN / CNN International — American Perspective & Culture Flowing Freely
The extraordinary success of the Cable News Network nationally and internationally in itself is part of the answer to the thesis question posed at the outset of this paper: Indeed, U.S. corporate media companies continue to be the dominant media economy. The advent of the Internet has changed the way millions of people get their news and other information, and the ability to gain instant access to online news — from anywhere on the planet at any moment — has truly been a revolution in communication and has, at the same time, the tables on print media. Newspapers (especially in the U.S.) are on the shrinking side of the ledger as their revenue has been cut drastically because people are getting their news online.
Meanwhile, the Cable News Network (CNN) has been in the forefront of online content for perhaps longer than most other media sources, certainly those abroad. Jacob Groshek writes in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media that the online versions of CNN and CNN International are “remarkably consistent in telling audiences in America and abroad what to think about” (Groshek 2008 52). Telling people what to think about has a “big brother” sound to it but that is what major media outlets strive to do, and CNN is happy to be consistent with other media in that regard.
Groshek’s research shows that the CNN.com online content for the most part mirrors what CNN’s television news programs. CNN TV programs have 72 million “unique viewers per month” in the U.S. And CNN.com boasts 24 million “original U.S. news user” monthly (as of 2006) in the U.S. (Groshek 54). As regards CNN International (as of 2006) was distributed to over 198 million households around the world and “â€¦is the leading international news network in terms of viewership by almost 25%” (Groshek 54). CNN International has had “the largest broadcast news audience in Asia for the last 10 years” and moreover, CNN.com was visited by 70% more Asian respondents in a month than its nearest competitor, Groshek reports (54).
In the Middle East and Africa, CNN’s Web presence receives 19 million “combined page visits per month; in Latin America, CNN’s online site gets 16 million page visits monthly; in Europe, CNN.com records over 90 million page visits per month (Groshek 54). A feather in CNN’s cap is the fact that in Asia, Groshek explains on page 55, CNN International is “generally equivalent to that of Channel News Asia — a company staffed by Asians with a news format directed at Asians.
Does the aforementioned four paragraphs lead to the impression that U.S. media corporations are losing their audience internationally — or being beaten by rivals in other countries? Certainly, there can be disagreements on this matter, but the overwhelming evidence continues to show that U.S. media — albeit the global image of the country has taken a hit especially during the Bush presidency — dominates the world media stage. As Tim Arango explains in the New York Times: a) the American TV show “CSI” is more popular in France than in the U.S.; b) movies produced in Hollywood sell “far more tickets” abroad than in the U.S.; c) a Russian remake of the American TV sitcom “Married With Children” has been so wildly popular that the producer of the show, Sony, hired back “â€¦the original writers to produce new scripts for Russia” (Arango, 2008 1).
In Nancy Snow’s latest book, Propaganda Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World, 3rd Edition, she takes great pains to discuss the reasons for — and the duties of — the United States Information Agency (USIA), essentially the official American government’s propaganda machine. When one considers the enormous global impact of American commercial media — in addition to the $55 million budget of USIA’s propaganda, Snow’s remark on page 92 seems entirely apt: “America is now the Schwarzenegger of international politics: showing off muscles, obtrusive, intimidatingâ€¦never before has a country dominated the earth so totally as the United States does today. Globalization wears a ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ label” (Snow 2010 92).
Arango, Tim, 2008, ‘World Falls for American Media, Even as it Sours on America. The New York Times, Retrieved Nov. 24, 2010, from http://www.nytimes.com.
Artz, Lee, and Kamalipour, Yahya, 2007, the Media Globe: Trends in International Mass Media. Rowman & Littlefield: Landham, MD.
Baker, Mark a., 2010, ‘Hallin & Mancini, the North / Central European or Democratic Corporatist Model by: Mark a. Baker II’, Global Media. Retrieved Nov. 24, 2010, from http://globalmediastudies.blogspot.com.
Hallin, Daniel C., and Mancini, Paolo, 2004, Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge University Press: New York.
Groshek, Jacob, 2008, ‘Homogenous Agendas, Disparate Frames: CNN and CNN International Coverage Online. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 52, No. 1, 52-68.
Ma, Eric Kit-wai, 2000, ‘Rethinking Media Studies,’ in De-Westernizing Media Studies, eds. M. Park and J. Curran. Psychology Press: East Sussex, UK.
Rampal, Kuldip R., 2007, ‘Asia: The Hollywood Factor,’ in the Media Globe: Trends in International Mass Media, eds. L. Artz and Y. Kamalipour, Rowman & Littlefield: Landham, MD.
Snow, Nancy, 2007, the Arrogance of American Power: What U.S. Leaders are Doing Wrong and why it’s Our Duty to Dissent. Rowman & Littlefield: Landham, MD.
Snow, Nancy, 2010, Propaganda Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World, 3rd Edition. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2010.
Steemers, Janette, 2007, ‘Europe: Television in Transition’, in the Media Globe: Trends in International Mass Media, eds. L Artz and Y Kamalipour. Rowman & Littlefield: Landham, MD.
Steemers, Janette, 2008, ‘Media Around the Globe: Lecture Two / Comparative Media Theory. PowerPoint. University of Westminster.
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