Going Global: The Impact of Satellite Television
on News and Society
"Consider man, the prosthetic god. Not being able to run very fast or for very long, he has grafted onto himself additional feet, until he can travel farther and faster than any other animal, and not only on land but also on and under water and in the air. He can reinforce his eyes with glasses, telescopes, and microscopes. Thanks to orbiting satellites, he can, without displacing himself, count wildebeest in the African veldt, or missile silos outside Novosibirsk. Lacking the dolphins ability to communicate great distances, he amplifies his voice with the aid of radio waves...[H]e has acquired a perpetually growing communal memory in the shape of the written word, the photograph, and the recording. Everything we know now, we know forever."
W. Rybczynski (1983) from Taming the Tiger: The Struggle to Control Technology
Satellites have changed the way news is distributed and received around the world. Privatization of news media has allowed global news networks, namely CNN and the BBC, to break up longstanding government monopolies. Continuous news has found a global audience, both for convenience and the most updated story details. Breaking news relies on up to the minute updates, and every second counts in the competitive global news arena. CNN dominates the global airways, but critics maintain that this product is merely a cultural export from the United States. Effects of global news include a surge in the local news market and an overall increase in news appetite. The intrusion of global television news into traditionally oral cultures threatens the individual's sense of cultural identity. Marshall McLuhan's vision of a global village, however, is becoming increasingly possible as reception costs fall and more media hungry individuals than ever are able to access satellite broadcasts. Access to satellites and the expanding Internet has the potential to create a shared consciousness around the world through global news and cultural interaction.
Developments in satellite technology during the past three decades have impacted the ways in which news is spread and how this information affects the global society. In 1945, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, devised the possibility of geosynchronous satellites. It wasn't until long after the war that NASA realized Clarke's vision in 1965 (Worringham 1990). At first, satellite technology was too expensive for the masses, and it was only employed by government officials and elite members of industrialized nations.
Technological improvements since then have allowed for a decrease in satellite size and cost, and an increase in production and distribution of television programing which can be broadcast to every inhabited continent on the planet. The direct broadcast satellite dish, what Richard Parker calls "the symbolic cornerstone of the internationalized, yet individualized, TV future," is now smaller and less expensive than ever before (1994, 40). Digital compression allows more channels to occupy the same bandwidth necessary for the transmission of one analog channel. This increased capacity to transmit information, along with reduction in the overall costs of distribution, is moving the world one step closer to a global communication culture.
Extent of Satellite Communication
According to Salah Guemriche, "today every household in the world is within reach of a satellite...a means of monitoring ideas that come from elsewhere" (1997, 23). While this appears to be true, not all the inhabitants of the world are wealthy enough even now to pay for the technology required to tune in to the world. In India, for instance, where satellite dishes are too expensive for many poorer individuals, cable is used to connect several neighborhood households to one home with a satellite dish for little or no fee (Quinn 1996).
Global, not Universal Audience
CNN International, which was launched in 1985, is now available to more than 102 million households in more than 210 countries (Culf 1996). Stevenson warns that for today's mass communication audience, "global does not yet mean universal" (1997, 44). The technology is available for the global distribution of information, but there are only a few distributors originating the messages. Hamid Mowlana argues that "while we are verging on global reception, we are still not anywhere near the ideal of global communication" (1995, 43). Richard Worringham agrees that "it would be wrong to assume that all nations benefit from these television relays, or that the flow of information and entertainment is reciprocal"(1990, 195). He goes on to say that there are technological and political limitations to the ultimate goal of truly global two-way communication.
Jim Willis discusses two distinct knowledge gaps which are emerging as technology advances throughout the world at widely differing paces. He also notes the large amounts of information available to those living in industrialized nations, such as the United States and Great Britain. He states, "We could become a much more learned and informed society if we took advantage of all this information...the gap between the knowledge available and the knowledge assimilated might actually increase instead of decrease" as the flood of information grows larger (Willis 1995, 19). Another widening knowledge gap that Willis examines is the gap "between the haves and the have-nots...the result of the rising cost of accessing information" (1995, 19). According to Richard Parker, "in many countries serviced by CNNI...apart from a virtual handful of elite households and government offices, luxury hotels catering to Western business travelers and tourists are the core of local audiences" (1994, 43). This trend, however, is reversing as prices for satellite technology decline.
Media privatization and Competition
There is a major change occurring in the global news arena. "An activity that was once mainly state-owned and monopolistic is becoming privatised and competitive" (Economist 1997, 71). These changes are linked to the developments in satellite technology and the recent reduction of transmission costs. According to Foote, global news networks broadcasted over satellite television are able to offer different points of view than the often singular government channel available in many countries. He states, "for millions of viewers in developing countries, a single, government channel may be the only option for news; other points of view are simply not available. The Cable News Network (CNN) and BBC World Service Television have now penetrated many of those national monopolies" (Foote 1995, 127).
Government Control of Information
Governments throughout the world have long sought to control their people by controlling the modes of communication within their borders. In a speech in London in September 1993, Rupert Murdoch, media mogul in charge of the BBC's international news service, BBC World, said "satellite broadcasting makes it possible for information hungry residents of many closed societies to bypass state-controlled TV channels" (Auletta 1998, 267). Stevenson states that alternative points of view transmitted by global news media allow individuals to separate themselves from their governments' "official state-driven viewpoints" (1997, 46).
Through direct satellite broadcasts, CNN and the BBC are able to transmit news around government gatekeepers, directly into the living rooms of the world's inhabitants. Satellite signals are harder to scramble than traditional radio transmissions, so governments have difficulty policing illegal reception via small satellites (Worringham 1990). Leo Bogart agrees that satellite broadcasting technology, in addition to the ever expanding Internet, has a "global reach that is difficult or impossible for repressive governments to control" (1995, 1).
Guemriche states that direct satellite transmission erases national borders, and television as a means of spreading information could "spell danger to any established order" (1997, 22). A communications professor at the University of New Hampshire argues that government control of national identity goes beyond physical borders and suppression. He states that "national sovereignty isn't based only on power and barbed wire; it is based also on information control. Nations are losing control over informational borders because of CNN" (Henry 1992, 24).
The Cable News Network (CNN) started as a domestic news channel in the U.S. in 1980. Its owner, Ted Turner, decided in the mid-1980s to go global, and he developed another network which he called CNN International (CNNI). Today this continuous, global news network is the leader in worldwide communications, and is available to hundreds of millions of viewers in more than 200 countries (Culf 1996). Despite its seemingly universal audience, Parker accuses CNN's reach of being "substantially broader than it is deep" (1994, 43). CNNI does, in fact, broadcast to nearly every country in the world, but its audience is still dominated by the wealthy minority of the population.
Although its programming is produced outside of the U.S., many critics still view CNNI as an American product with a biased view of the rest of the world. On the other hand, one program broadcast on the network, CNN World Report, is seen as "the first truly global newscast" (Wilkinson and Dickey 1990, 51). This program consists of three minute pieces sent to CNNI by more than 90 participating local networks throughout the world. CNNI airs each contribution unedited, complete with broken English or translated voiceovers.
"[Ted Turner] believes the emergence of global, instantaneous news was one of the straws that broke the camels back' " to bring about the end of the Cold War (DeMoraes 1998, B1). When CNN was first broadcast, interest in this innovation of global news was so widespread in diplomatic circles that it became a "new channel for diplomatic communication" (Foote 1995, 129). Tony Verna coined the term teleplomacy' to describe this impact of satellite television news media, especially CNN, on the behavior of key players in international affairs (1993). World leaders are increasingly turning to CNN for information whenever a crisis breaks out. They are sure that CNN will be on the front lines with cameras rolling. Thanks to the widespread availability of CNN in government offices, according to Tom Rosenstiel, "diplomacy now involves leaders communicating to the entire diplomatic communityif not the publicsimultaneously" (1994, 27). The messages broadcast on CNN are not always positive, and unpopular nations and their practices are placed in the open to be judged by the collective global conscience. According to William Henry, "CNN has also become a kind of global spotlight, forcing despotic governments to do their bloody deeds, if they dare, before a watching world" (1992, 24).
Total Access Granted
Many times CNN is granted exclusive access to world changing events. For instance, during the Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein allowed only CNN to have its own phone line (Wilson Quarterly 1994). CNN's gripping coverage from Baghdad in 1990 from this lone link to the outside world was enough to put its ratings "twenty times above normal...eleven and a half million homes" in the U.S. alone (Rosenstiel 1994, 27).
In the last decade, CNN has dominated the global news market. Ted Turner's only rival has been Rupert Murdoch and his answer to CNN, BBC World. After debating whether to match the service provided by the BBC shortwave radio international services, Murdoch launched BBC World satellite news in the late 1980s (Fisher 1998). Because of the widespread reach of BBC radio, BBC World has more local bureaus in foreign countries than CNN (Fisher 1998). For most countries (outside the U.S.), the BBC is the people's most complete source of uncensored news available about their own country.
BBC and China
In 1989, the global media spotlight turned to China's political unrest. At first, both CNN and the BBC were in Beijing, along with countless print journalists, to cover a student protest. When riots broke out in Tiananmen Square and an estimated thousand or more students were massacred by Chinese soldiers, the Chinese government ordered all western media to cease coverage. They were successful in "persuading the Rupert Murdoch controlled Star television corporation to abandon the practice of transmitting BBC News" into the region (Stevenson 1997, 47). The BBC World News signal was halted at the borders of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, "apparently in response to Chinese government sensitivities about television news from the west delivered by satellite" (Snoddy 1994, 1). This lapse in transmission lasted for more than two years, and had a negative impact on the BBC's later rivalry with CNNI.
CNN vs. BBC
"While Murdoch wants to dominate the world, Turner says he aims to unite it" (Carter 1997, 2). The differences between the two competing networks goes deeper than this distinction though. According to Henry, BBC officials claim that they offer "more analysis, more authoritative opinion and a broader world view" than CNN. To counter this, CNN officials argue that although they also have a global outlook, "world audiences are keenly interested in the U.S., in every aspect from politics to popular culture" (Henry 1992, 24). Fisher ranks the BBC's credibility over CNN's because the BBC has a history of being "less respectful of those in power than its American competitor, which is often willing to give a dictator air time in return for visas and privileged access" (Fisher 1998, 15).
The Future of Global News
Who's responsible for producing world news? CNN International and BBC World stand out as the only major competitors in the global news business. EuroNews, a network subsidized by the French government and the European Union, was an attempt to break into the market, as an alternative to English-language global news services (Foley 1997). Language barriers between the countries in Europe make locally produced news difficult to export even to neighboring countries.
Chris Cramer, head of CNN International, says "the way ahead for services such as CNN is regionalisation. CNN has launched regional channels for Europe, Asia, Africa and South America (Foley 1997, 20). Joe Foote predicts that CNN and the BBC could surpass their domestic revenues in the international market, just as the entertainment industry has done. He offers suggestions for their continued success: offer more non-English programing, expand newsgathering into the most remote countries, and establish partnerships with local newsmakers both print and broadcast (1995).
Effects on Local Programing
While some critics are concerned about negative global media effects on local cultures, perhaps the biggest effect of global satellite technology can be seen in the local broadcasting market. The increase in overall news appetite and decrease in transmission costs have both given a boost to local news markets. According to Joe Foote, "the most tangible by-product of global news networks thus far has been an increase in the appetite for news, especially indigenously produced programming" (1995, 130). Richard Parker predicts "unprecedented growth in local broadcasting" as a result of the success of global television (1994, 46). Borrowing the term glocalize' from the international world of business, Armand Mattelart describes the need in the mass communication market for a news network to be both international and local at the same time (1995).
Effects on Journalism
Around the same time that global news emerged as a viable concept, so did continuous news (Foote 1995). Twenty-four hours of news, around the clock, with updates every half hour, and breaking news as it is happening. This changes many traditional journalistic practices. News is virtually broadcast the moment it is recorded, and as Jim Willis notes, "accuracy and speed mix about as well as oil with water" (1995, 18). There is also an increased capacity for news. While this extra air time can be used for analysis and in-depth coverage of bigger issues, often it is filled with entertainment, sports, and sensational news.
In a discussion concerning the vast amounts of news available today, Neil Postman distinguishes between information, knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is organized information that helps receivers decide how information is relevant, and wisdom is knowing what knowledge is relevant to solving problems (Walker 1998). Postman warns that there is an excess of information and an absence of any knowledge in today's "information environment." He argues that today's news broadcasters are in the information business, offering no context for knowledge. "We live now in a world of too much information--confusing, specialized knowledge--and too little wisdom" (Walker 1998, 1).
Less Newsgatherers Worldwide
Despite the upsurge in demand for news programming, there are fewer people actually gathering the news. This trend of diminishing points of view, as Foote indicates, "runs the obvious risk of distorting events and providing a less diverse view of the world" (1995, 129).
Breaking News and Sensationalism
Tom Rosenstiel blames CNN and its breaking news coverage for the loss of control that other news organizations have over the content they include in their broadcasts. The other networks are constantly playing catch-up' and resort to interpretation of CNN's chosen stories. Often sensationalism is used by these journalists to give them an edge over the competition. "[CNN] has bred a rush to sensationalism and an emphasis on punditry and interpretation at the expense of old-fashion reporting" (Rosenstiel 1994, 27).
Willis coined the term turbonews' to describe what he calls "the vast masses of news and information that can now reach us at the speed of light" (1995, 18). He argues that communication satellites will have an even greater impact on journalism than television did (Willis 1995). Turbonews' also indicates the speed at which journalists at the end of the 20th century must gather, analyze, package, report, and update news. Added to the practice of continuous news, turbonews' is part of the endless and competitive journalistic cycle.
Another aspect of the global news market dominated by CNN is the live broadcast. As CNN's live coverage of the Gulf war showed, there is a huge market for real-time reporting of major events. Richard Parker argues that the presence of live camera crews at world happenings, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the student protests in Tiananmen Square, and more recently the Crisis in Kosovo, has the potential to change the ultimate course of events. The world is watching' phenomenon affects all facets of global news: the news producers, its television audience and the live participants. Parker states, "We as an audience were in some sense changed, tooaware (as were the event's participants) that what we saw was being seen simultaneously in more than a hundred countries around the world" (Parker 1994, 39).
Criticisms of Global News
William Henry states that the majority of criticism of global news is rooted in the rest of the world's "general resentment of U.S. power and influence" (1992, 24). Distribution of world news, especially by CNN, according to Henry, is often labeled as "U.S. imperialism" (1992, 24). Ted Turner, the often outspoken owner of CNN, refutes claims that his network is exporting American culture and values, noting that 90% of the programming aired on CNN International is made just for the world news arena, and not for domestic CNN (Ong 1998). Turner adds, "The dilemma for us is that a lot of people fondly remember the CNN of the 1980s when it was Headline News, being exported internationally. We have changed." (Ong 1998, 18).
Joe Foote states that there is widespread concern that world news networks originating in the western hemisphere may overwhelm local cultures of developing countries and present news which is biased toward western culture (1995). Christine Ockrent, a senior correspondent for a French worldwide network, accuses CNN of being a U.S. channel operating in the global market. According to Ockrent, "[CNN] sees the world through an American prism" (Parker 1994, 45). Fisher criticizes both CNN International and BBC World for covering stories concerning their own leaders and countries too often. "In doing so, CNN often makes it look as if only the opinion of the United States matters. And the BBC often makes it look as if Britain is far more influential than it really is" (Fisher 1998, 15).
Does Globalization Equal Americanization?
Daniel Bougnoux questions the effects of American influence on world media: "How can we be sure that globalization, or the global village' of which we have heard so much, will not amount to Americanization?" (1995, 10). Karl Quinn argues that the two words are interchangeable. "It is hard to refute the convention that the visual media of the English-speaking world are heavily influenced, if not exactly overrun, by American interests, techniques and values" (Quinn 1996, 14). Conversely, it is argued that although globalization and Americanization were once synonymous, "the media business, and especially television, are becoming increasingly multinational" (Economist 1997, 71).
Transmission of Valuesespecially democracy
Some say that western nations inherently transmit, along with news and entertainment programing, their cultural and societal values. Stevenson argues that satellite television assumes that humans have the right to information availability. "The restriction of global flows of information is widely perceived as a violation of cultural citizenship and human rights" (Stevenson 1997, 47).
Specifically, values of democracy are said to be promoted through mass media communication as a necessary partner for the free transmission of information and ideas.
What is carried by the airwaves, of course, are the values of the society that produces them. Democracy is one of those values. The noble paradox inherent in transnational flows that are hegemonistic by nature is that they subliminally transmit, albeit through an ideological filter, the message of freedom and human rights. (Guemriche 1997, 25)
Bogart sees democracy and the free flow of information as a critical, reciprocal process. "The worldwide diffusion of ideals would seem to be a necessary byproduct of mass communications...Representative democracy is inconceivable without forms of mass communication" (Bogart 1995, 1).
Homogeneity of Culture
There is a danger that worldwide transmission of ideas, and the shared experiences gained by viewing the same events simultaneously threatens the distinctions of national cultures throughout the world. Nick Stevenson states that information flowing from CNN and the BBC global news networks is a positive attempt to "link the world through a seemingly homogenous cultural space" (1997, 42). Some fear that this "homogenisation of distinctive national and regional taste" could destroy the defining features of a nation's cultural identity (Economist 1997, 76).
EnglishThe Global Language?
English is widely spoken in international business and scientific fields, but should it be assumed as the global language for news media? Problems arise with the slow translation process and the availability of multi-lingual journalists. The widespread acceptance of English as the "global tongue" is attributed by some to the "combination of British colonialisation and American commercialisation" (Economist 1997, 74). Others cite the contributions of worldwide radio services, such as the BBC and Voice of America, for establishing English as the lingua franca' for global television news (Foote 1995, 127). Tom Moore notes the incongruity of the slow translation process and the fast pace of news in the satellite era (Moore 1994). If too much time is taken to translate carefully, the news will be history before it is even aired. Rushing the translation process adds to the probability of errors and the spread of misinformation.
Threats to Local Cultures
Joe Foote identifies the potential for "cultural invasion" in global broadcasting (1995, 129). Do Bushmen in the Kalahari really need to know who shot J.R.? How are the accusations of an American president's infidelity accepted in Middle Eastern countries? International ABC News president Norm Leaper notes that many nations are thrust "in a single generationfrom pre-industrial societies to 20th century nations, with radio and now satellite-delivered television becoming more common than paved roads" (Moore 1994, 9). This abrupt change in technology can have adverse effects on a local community.
Neil Postman addresses the effects of electronically distributed information on oral cultures in his article, "The Information Environment." He states, "when a medium of communication has the power to disembody words, to split them away from their original source, the psychological and social effects of language are forever changed" (1979, 234). Salah Guemriche argues that members of traditionally oral cultures perceive television differently than those in industrialized societies. "The basic effect of television is to trivialize...viewers who are heirs to an oral tradition will be unsatisfied rather than fascinated by the TV image...the televised image dispossesses the spoken word of its descriptive powers" (Guemriche 1997, 24).
Others take a more positive view of the so-called "cultural invasion" and the cosmic technological changes taking place. In fact, they argue that the same technology that beams American programing around the globe will "help to reinforce local culture," by allowing minor programming from the farthest reaches of the world to be broadcast to the same global audience (Economist 1997, 73).
Cultural Identity and the Search for Community
Just as the physical environment determines what the source of food and exertions of labor shall be, the information environment gives specific direction to the kinds of ideas, social attitudes, definitions of knowledge, and intellectual capacities that will emerge (Postman 1979, 234).
News media not only provide information and create common experiences for mass audiences, they also give populations a sense of contact with their leaders and offer a "constant reminder of national identity" (Bogart 1995, 6). Stevenson suggests that in today's global society, it would be overly nostalgic to discuss cultural identity in the "placeless culture" of the electronic age (1997, 41). Is there a base culture to which all humans belong? Parker argues that the whole idea of global news "implies the foundations of a common universal culture" shared by all the Earth's inhabitants (1994, 39).
Hamid Mowlana sees globalization from a different angle. Not only does satellite television reduce isolation of many developing nations, it also helps to "increase the cultural awareness of minorities by allowing them to see the distinctions between themselves and other groups" (Mowlana 1995, 44). In this way, satellite television could strengthen an individual's cultural identity.
Search for Community
The more we connect, the more we seek to control the connection. The more we detach from our immediate surroundings, the more we rely on surveillance of that environment. The more communication choices offered, the less we trust the information we receive. The more information and data available, the more we need. The more individuality we achieve, the more communities we seek (Gumpert and Drucker 1998, 425).
As societies become more technologically advanced, and communication takes place primarily through electronic channels, individuals may find themselves seeking out a sense of community. With the availability of direct satellite communication, and access to the Internet, communities of similar individuals can be formed, unrestricted by geographic distances or borders.
McLuhan's Global Village
In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan predicted that as television and satellite communication became more prevalent, the inhabitants of the world would be connected in a new way. He called this concept the "global village." Early communication consisted only of the spoken word in a local village community setting. McLuhan theorized that as satellite television expanded and encircled the globe, and other electronic media extend into the furthest reaches of the world, communication could return to the village level. Raymond Gozzi notes the oxymoronic quality of McLuhan's "global village" metaphor. He states, "Global' implies a planet-wide network, encompassing thousands of miles and billions of people. Village' implies small, face-to-face communities" (Gozzi 1996, 66).
According to Raymond Gozzi, "the metaphor of a global village speaks to the deep need in alienated industrial-urban societies. It addresses a longing for connectedness and community" (1996, 65). Modern societies could be linked electronically, enabling communities that are on opposite sides of the globe to interact as if they were geographically closer. A shared consciousness could develop in such a universal mass society.
Barriers to Overcome
Richard Worringham argues that although the technology is becoming available for such a connectedness to occur, there are still obstacles to overcome. He concludes:
Since the seventies, the telecommunications industries have taken advantage of the development of satellite communication, providing the potential for world community...Since that time, economical, technological and informational gaps' between developed and developing countries, have been growing at an alarming rate, creating the potential for world anomy...Mc Luhan's notion of the global village is yet but a vision (1990, 194).
The Future of Global Communication
Alternatives to Satellites
There are several alternatives to satellite television emerging in the global news arena. One such product that has yet to gain popularity is the NewsCatcher.' This pyramid-shaped receiver hooks into a personal computer and relays news headlines, sports scores and entertainment reports from news wires and online sources anytime. The unit receives information via radio transmissions and does not require a modem (Croal 1996).
Another alternative to satellite television news is the increasingly available Internet. This news medium is interactive and personalized. The points of view available, while not always trustworthy, are virtually unlimited. More and more news networks are chiming in to the global voice of the World Wide Web with 24 hour news sites. MSNBC (www.msnbc.com), ABC (www.abcnews.com), CNBC (www.cnbc.com), CNN Interactive (www.cnn.com), and BBC News Online (news.bbc.co.uk) are a few of the names in the emerging news-on-demand market (Foley 1997).
As Internet access continues to connect the world, these western-based networks will have to begin catering to the expanding audiences in developing countries. Alvin Toffler, futurist and author of The Third Wave, believes the future of news broadcasting, what he calls individeo,' belongs in this "high-tech world of interactivity...a world where the individual viewer would be the producer" (Parker 1994, 43).
Arthur's C. Clarke's Peacesats'
In his recent book, How the World was One: Beyond the Global Village (1992), Arthur C. Clarke proposes an international use of satellite technology that would have a greater impact on the world than global television news. He calls these satellites Peacesats.' Clarke claims that total surveillance of border, intra-national activity, and verification of arms agreements through satellite imagery could result in world peace. By allowing everyone to view the satellite output, wars and disagreements based on false assumptions could be avoided. "Most forms of military secrecy could be scrutinized by the whole world. And although there would be many clandestine activities that the Peacesat could not detect, its psychological impact would be enormous" (Clarke 1992, 256).
Improvements in satellite technology continue in leaps and bounds. Costs for basic reception are falling and more nations than ever before have access to satellite television. As the audience grows, so does its insatiable appetite for news. Success of networks in the global news market, such as CNNI and BBC World, are causing growth and competition in local broadcasting as well. At the moment there is still too much news programing rooted in western culture, and not enough production from developing nations. In order for news to become truly global, producers of the news will have to come from places other than the U.S. and Britain. Until this occurs, global news producers need to take responsibility for their broadcasts, acknowledge the multi-cultural make-up of the world audience, and adjust their agendas accordingly. News-on-demand services via the Internet appear to be the next explosion waiting to dominate the global electronic culture.
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Rebecca L. Ash