Monday, October 5, 2009

You Say Global, I Say Glocal

When we received our syllabus, Prof Hayden made mention of the fact that while our textbook was literally being printed this fall, it would swiftly become out of date. While the theory and history of Thussu and others remain relevant, reading our articles from even as recently as 2007 makes me wonder what has happened since their publication. Have the big three media giants changed? Are the predicted countries continuing to show promise? I looked up current news stories on this week’s topics and discovered that, in short, the predictions of our readings have played out. From India and China continuing to experience incredible growth – even admit infrastructure issues and censorship debates – to Murdoch’s empire continuing to grow – these articles provided an accurate framework for understanding today’s updates.

The Economist had a cover story feature on the telecom industry in emerging markets last week, focusing on a range of topics from mobile phones being used for paying bills in Africa to the challenges and victories of infrastructure in India. Fox announced just last week that it is investing in its first Chinese film. (An interesting development considering Murdoch’s murky past with China, as discussed by McChesney.) Murdoch’s team has been busy in other areas as well, having announced this week that News Corp. is creating its own “internal wire service”. As an example of “glocalization”, this service will not be responsible for original content, but will “rejigger copy from the company’s far-flung news outlets so it is suitable for local audiences”. Other changes are afoot as well. Similarly, Murdoch announced today that it will begin charging for select content within its websites for The Times and The Sunday Times. “We are moving away from the traditional model of volume in favour of developing more direct relationships with our customers based on their interests and passions."

While our readings focused on globalization, what they demonstrated (which was reinforced in these news stories) is that globalization has never achieved an equal flow (thank you, Castells) between nations. As Rai and Cottle point out, while it’s great that India is watching CNN, how many of us have ever seen ZEE TV? At best, we’re experiencing “glocalization”, typically in one direction, and even that has limited reach (and questionable effectiveness).

Further, McChesney’s article proposes that globalization may encourage media, especially films, to move away from displaying controversial messages such as negative portrayals of ethnic groups because their products may be seen and challenged by an international audience. We’re also seeing this work in reverse, however. In an attempt to “glocalize” their products, multinational companies such as L’Oreal and Pond’s are using their extensive advertising budgets to tailor campaigns – and hoping their controversial messages won’t be found out. While in India this summer, I repeatedly saw advertisements that strongly insinuated that love could be found after using skin lightening creams. This article raises the question of the ethical responsibility of multi-national corporations and points out that “multinationals are falling over themselves trying to "think globally and act locally". Here is a case where acting locally has been manipulated into a calculated double standard.”


  1. Great points, Liz. I was especially intrigued by the current updates on the media giants that you found. I love that Murdoch is trying to pass off the new premium services as building better relationships with customers - or maybe better relationships with their wallets. With his new internal wire service - I wonder what he means by "rejigger"? I'm not sure manipulating news is suitable for any audiences, let alone local ones.

    As for the article about L'Oreal, I agree that multi-national corporations do need to hold themselves and their branding accountable to higher levels of ethical responsibility. However, lighter skin is considered more desirable in some Asian societies just as a healthy tan glow is desirable here. Our store shelves are stocked with bronzers and L'Oreal is using a similar marketing technique to play off Asian women's vanity. While we do need to be mindful of corporate branding ethics, I think it is also important not to get carried away and overly analyze the innuendos of a product that 'whitens'.

  2. Liz, I really enjoyed reading your post. I have not seen ZEE T.V. and I bet a small percentage of Americans actually have seen it. I think subaltern flows of media are very important in providing an alternative source of information. Unfortunately, according to Thussu, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the American hegemony of global media cultures. Sadly, I think that many Americans are content without seeing the perspective of the rest of the world, and quite frankly, they can live without never knowing how other nations feel about us. Since it is not in the media’s best interest to provide information from alternative sources, global media flow will remain one-directional.