Is globalization driving changes in media and communications, or does the media drive globalization?

| February 14, 2020

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Introduction. 2

Effects of media on globalization. 4

Effects of globalization on media and communications. 8

Cultural pluralism.. 10

Cultural imperialism.. 11

Conclusion. 11

References. 13


Today, people from all corners of the world can access media information very quickly owing to developments in information and communications technology. Today’s electronic media systems such as the internet make it easy for people who are in the opposite ends of the world to exchange information at high speeds. This is a manifestation of how media has contributed to the process of globalization. On the other hand, certain processes of bringing about changes in media and communication systems have been necessitated by the other aspects of globalization such as international trade. This paper is a discussion of the ways in which media drives globalization as well as how globalization has been driving changes in media and communications.


Studies on globalization, according to Rantanen, (2005 p. 4), studies on globalization emerged for the first time during the early 1990s. The debate on globalization began with a focus on Geography and sociology. Robertson 1990 (cited in Rantanen, 2005) notes that by the time social scientists started to talk about globalization, they noted that something was missing; it was the role of media and communications in globalization. Today notes Rantanen, (2005 p. 6), there cannot be globalization that cannot exist without media and communications.

Although the role that the media plays in globalization is often appreciated, it is sometimes not easy to discern any evidence on discussions relating to the dynamics of media and communications in many theories of globalization. This is the main reason why the role that the media plays remain unclear and somewhat vague. Additionally, scholars in media studies have not contributed enough to the globalization debate. Despite globalization being majorly driven by media and communications, very few discussions regarding this drive exist today.

Rantanen, (2005) discerns three main phases of globalization from the current debate: the first phase of the debate was on whether or not globalization really existed; the second phase was on what its consequences were. The third, which also seems to be the current one, seems to be about ways of dealing with the negative effects of globalization.

Spybey (1996, p. 160) says that the theories of globalization can be divided into three categories: economic, political and cultural globalization. However, when this approach is taken, scholars in media studies are forced to marginalize some aspects of media and communications at the expense of delving deep into economic, political or cultural issues. Giddens 1990 (Cited in Rantanen (2005 p. 5) argues that if a media scholar was to discuss issues of cultural globalization only, he would have to sideline many issues that are of importance to a proper understanding of media and communications.

The most striking thing about definitions of globalization is that they do now draw a clear-cut difference between the phenomenon known as “globalization” and its consequences. Albrow, (1995 p. 45) defines globalization as “all those processes through which people all over the world become incorporated into a single world society” for Albrow, the emphasis is on homogenization, an idea that theorists who propose aspects of heterogeneity strongly contest. in this regard, media and communication scholars are interested in knowing whether media contributes to heterogeneity or homogeneity.

Heterogeneity theorists, according to (Lull 2000, P. 35) claim that by being heterogeneous, different social entities are able to define their succinct identity and discover their position in an increasingly globalized world. With the framework of homogeneity of society, theorists concentrate on the role that the media plays in defining and advocating a major shift from local cultures to a unified global cultural framework.

It appears that the role that the media is thought to play is determined by the approach that a particular scholar takes. For instance, a scholar who supports the homogenous nature of globalization will cite the cases of international TV, radio and print media and the role they play in setting the international cultural agenda. (McQuail, & Golding 2005, p. 274) argues that those who support the development of a heterogeneous network of interrelated global societies would point out the proliferation of many media institutions at the local level, something that is made possible by developments in information and communications technology. 

Effects of media on globalization

The media drives changes in globalization by bringing about changes in the nature of social interactions. Rantanen (2005, p.11) observes that the media facilitates the change from close, intimate relationships to those that are mass-mediated. The mass-mediated media experience targets large, global audiences and is therefore not dialogical. The main role of today’s media is to connect people. However, such a simplistic conception of the media is very wrong since the media does more than merely connecting people. It does more than merely make information available to the global population. Schmidt& Hersh (2000, p 192) add that apart from the information transfer function, media has a cultural function which it extends into the global arena, bringing about homogeneity.

The introduction of computer networks and communication satellites in the early 1990s heralded a new era in communication. These communication systems had the ability to transcend both national and geographical barriers in order to bring about connectivity to all people wherever they were in the world. These developments brought about changes in the way the communications industries were operating. Wang, Goonasekera & Servaes (2000, p. 1) observe that in the wave of communications policy deregulation, the widely held belief was that a global media had come into existence. By extension, the concept of “global” communications became very pronounced.

Globalization remains a highly viable competitive strategy in international media business environments. Owners of international media houses benefit by perpetuating the idea of a global society which, for them, translates into a global audience. However, the idea of a global society is not as simplistic as it sounds. To provide validity to this claim, Wang, Goonasekera & Servaes (2000, p. 1) points out to transnationalization of different television media, with local appeal acting as the launching pad for international success. The more the world becomes globalized, the more international media players recognize the need for heterogeneity of cultural backgrounds.

A shift in communication systems towards the capacity for global coverage has also been taking place very fast since the early 1990s. The changes have affected all spheres of life, just like culture does. For this reason, the future of globalization depends on the extent to which this shift will create opportunities for the creation of a global culture system. Communication, in this case, refers to both non-mediated and mediated forms. In mediated forms of communication, technology provides the interface through which people from different parts of the world can exchange information as well as interact.

Whether one considers a monoculturalism or a multiculturalist view of globalization, the media and communication are at the heart of each approach. The only contention that exists is which one between a monocultural and a multiculturalist view best describes the current globalization trend. The monoculturalism approach entails the unification of different cultures into a single, homogenous system that everyone in the world readily identifies with. Media and communications provide the best platform for such a culture to be nurtured.

In the context of globalization, Robertson (1992, p. 76) comments that one feels like he is part of the larger global society. This feeling arises out of a sense of a common interest in problems that other people in different parts of the world face. The international media is always in the forefront in nurturing this sense of interest, either directly or indirectly. This is done through reporting of news, analyses, and commentaries. These analyses are often done in a way that the global population can understand the manner in which they affect inter-state relations.

Today, the concept of globalization arises because of shared opportunities as well as shared challenges. Since the proliferation of nuclear weapons that heralded the nuclear age, people all over the world have come to appreciate that some problems, though of immediate local significance to some states and not others, transcend national boundaries. Such events include climate change, the spread of HIV/AIDS, natural disasters, epidemics, terrorism, space exploration, international trade among many others. The international media, by focusing on these problems as well as their analyses, bring policymakers together on an international platform where the unity of purpose in solving them reigns.

Wang, Goonasekera, & Servaes. 2000 talk of the role of media in bring about changes in the process of globalization through “compression of time and space”. They give the example where a busy city resident, who is always either bus at a far-off working place or at home watching TV, ends up becoming acquainted more with the U.S. president rather than the next-door neighbor. This is a classic example of how media brings distant events into the doorsteps of people’s homes and into their minds.

However, the extent to which the media brings about globalization is not as easy as it appears. There are many other factors that complement media roles. The most important factor is communications. The ability by people to interact dialogically creates a sense of local attachment to news and events taking place thousands of miles away from one’s home. For instance, people who are used to communicating with their friends and relatives who are overseas using mobile phones are likely to find more relevance in events that take place in the respective geographical areas than people who do not engage in such communications. 

Media contributes to globalization by shifting people’s attention to certain events. In other words, it sets the agenda and gets people thinking and talking. By so doing, it contributes to localism as well as cosmopolitanism. Localism is a sense of belonging in a certain geographical area. Cosmopolitanism is the sense of belonging within the larger global setting. The media presents us with a familiarity of the world while communication enables us live through the experience of exploring whatever we perceive to be familiar

In order to promote the idea of media as bringing about a monocultural conception of globalization, Featherstone (1995 p. 6) suggests that globalization should be considered to be a unique form of space that is made possible through improvement in means of communication whereby different cultural entities meet and interact. Therefore, a unified means of communication is needed for a stage for global differences to exist (Featherstone. 1995)

Effects of globalization on media and communications

The establishment of a global community has created a demand for increased connectivity. Connectivity, in this case, refers to communication as it does to media. For this demand to be met, the existing technology has had to be improved in a competitive environment as more and more localized societies seek to identify with the global community by buying into technological gadgets that make this possible. Such gadgets include television sets, computer and computer networks, internet connectivity, among others.

Wang, Goonasekera, & Servaes (2000, p. 12) think that globalization has resulted into cultural and media imperialism. The western (particularly American) media has permeated every corner of the world. For this reason, imperialism theorists think that globalization may be taken to mean Americanization of the whole world(Skinner & Kai, 2007). In this case, they consider media and communications as tools of imposing the American culture on the rest of the global population.


The international media does not operate in a vacuum. This media keeps shifting focus depending on the prevailing events which it does not create. By overemphasizing these events, the media creates the impression that it was responsible for creating them in the first place, which is not the case. Conversely, development in dialogical communications may be said to do exactly the reverse. People can engage in activities that keep the wheels of globalization rolling without ever getting an opportunity to set any globalization agenda. When people interact at the international level using the latest mobile communications technology, they are able to do business internationally. The media has no influence in this change of events until it highlights these “latest developments” in the world of e-commerce. Once the media has done this, more people see the need for conducting business using modern communications technology.

The main question here is on which one between media and communications technology precedes the other. The media industry is largely dependent on the communications technology that makes it easy for mass audiences to be accessed. Mass-appeal communications technology is responsible for the popularization of the TV in the 1980s. However, it was not until in the early 90s that the internet was introduced, making it easy for people to engage in mediated, dialogical communications akin to those that the mass media sets out to reach.

According to Wang, Goonasekera, & Servaes (2000 p. 7), the globalization debate prevented local and national television programs from hitting the limelight. Their place was taken by imported American programs. Political and economic factors proved inadequate yardsticks of assessing globalization trends when demand for local and national programs started to soar in the mid-1990s. By this time, people had gotten past the phase of discussion that entails a denial of the existence of globalization. Now, they were discussing what its consequences were (Rantanen, 2005).  For this reason, says Rantanen, drastic changes were made on existing media strategies, policy frameworks and other crucial dimensions of globalization.

One of the consequences of globalization is homogenization. Park & Curran (2000, p. 23) talk about three main areas whereby the homogenization process manifested itself. They include cultural imperialism, cultural pluralism, and communications and development. In all these three aspects, the mainstream international media had to reposition itself in terms of strategies in order to meet the increasingly changing realities occasioned by globalization.

Cultural pluralism

In terms of cultural pluralism, the media had to focus on creating opportunities for new cultural identities to be created (Appadurai,1996). In order for all segments of the global population to understand media content, efforts were made, and continue to be made, towards increased electronic mediation. Rantanen (2005, p. 34) observes that today, this trend has continued, and it has even become very difficult for people to draw a clear line between mediated electronic communication and mass media communication. The main reason for the difficulty in figuring out the difference between the two, observes Rantanen (2005, p. 35), is media segmentation, whereby corporate entities are establishing media department that appeals to their target clientele, by, for instance, launching a television station.

Appadurai(1996, p. 45) notes that another effect of globalization on media regards the shift towards popular consumption patterns (Terhi & Boyd-Barrett, 1998). Additionally, Appadurai believes that globalization is responsible for a renewal of the frames of references used by people who discuss issues like multicultural identities and ethnic violence. In general terms, one may consider globalization as bringing about a revolution in the way the global community popular culture, images of lifestyles, and self-representation.

Murphy & Kraidy (2003, p. 254) observes that in order for the needs of a culturally pluralistic audience, the media industry has had to elaborate contents in order to make them relevant to the entire population to the detriment of individual tastes and preferences, thereby putting more emphasis on commercial success at the expense of quality of products. The availability of many multimedia tools presents international media with the challenge of updating the information every time new events overshadow current ones. Such updates are made possible through the digitization of this multimedia content.

Cultural imperialism

America has played a key role in the process of globalization by pioneering satellite and computer communication networks that facilitate cable TV and radio broadcasting. More recently, internet communications gained popularity first and foremost in America before spreading into other countries. For this reason, American cultural overtones contained in imported television programs have been popularized on the international scene, where they are made to appear to be the norm. When it is only one actor who dominates in all-dominating areas of globalization, the result is cultural imperialism. The domination is normally in the form of concentration of ownership and management of new communication technologies.

Communications and development               

            Rantanen (2005, p. 74) says that the communications and development paradigm emerged in the 1960s. During this time, there was unwavering optimism that the media had the power to transform societies, making them more modernized. For this reason, media streamlining mechanisms that were thought to be necessary were undertaken. The communications and development paradigm bring into the limelight the changes that continue to be made today in order to make it a better tool of setting the development agenda on the global scene.


The media has been at the center of the globalization process by acting as a platform where agendas of global relevance were conceived and broadcast to the global audience. On the other hand, the media has undergone changes that have been occasioned by the multifaceted nature of the globalization process. Political, economic and cultural pressures have driven changes in the global media industry within three paradigms: cultural imperialism, cultural pluralism, and communications and development.


Albrow, M. 1990. Globalization, Knowledge, and Society: Readings from International Sociology, Sage Publications Ltd., London.

Appadurai, A.1996. Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis Pp229

Lull, J, 2000. Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach, Routledge, New York.

McQuail, D, & Golding, P, 2005. Communication Theory and Research, Sage Publications Ltd., London.

Murphy, P, & Kraidy, M, 2003. Global Media Studies: Ethnographic Perspectives. Routledge, New York.

Park, M, & Curran, J, 2000. De-Westernizing Media Studies, Routledge, New York.

Rantanen, T, 2005 The Media and Globalization. Sage Publications Ltd, London.            

Rantanen, T, 2005. Wang, G, Goonasekera, A, & Servaes. J, 2000. The New Communications Landscape: Demystifying Media Globalization. Routledge, London.

Robertson, R, 1992. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. Sage Publications Ltd., London.

Schmidt, J, & Hersh,J.2000. Globalization and Social Change, Routledge, London.

Skinner, A, & Kai, H, 2007. The Myth of Media Globalization, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Spybey, T, 1996. Globalization and World Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Terhi, R, & Boyd-Barrett, O, 1998. The Globalization of News,Sage Publications Ltd., London.

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