Global Media, Neoliberalism, and Imperialism -1
Robert W. McChesney
In conventional parlance, the current era in history is generally characterized as one of globalization, technological revolution, and democratization. In all three of these areas media and communication play a central, perhaps even a defining, role. Economic and cultural globalization arguably would be impossible without a global commercial media system to promote global markets and to encourage consumer values. The very essence of the technological revolution is the radical development in digital communication and computing. The argument that the bad old days of police states and authoritarian regimes are unlikely to return is premised on the claims that new communication technologies along with global markets undermine, even eliminate, the capacity for “maximum leaders” to rule with impunity.
For capitalism’s cheerleaders, like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, all this suggests that the human race is entering a new Golden Age. All people need to do is sit back, shut up and shop, and let markets and technologies work their magical wonders. For socialists and those committed to radical social change these claims should be regarded with the utmost skepticism. In my view, the notion of globalization as it is commonly used to describe some natural and inexorable force, the telos of capitalism as it were, is misleading and ideologically loaded. A superior term would be neoliberalism; this refers to the set of national and international policies that call for business domination of all social affairs with minimal countervailing force. Governments are to remain large so as to better serve the corporate interests, while minimizing any activities that might undermine the rule of business and the wealthy. Neoliberalism is almost always intertwined with a deep belief in the ability of markets to use new technologies to solve social problems far better than any alternative course. The centerpiece of neoliberal policies is invariably a call for commercial media and communication markets to be deregulated. What this means in practice is that they are “re-regulated” to serve corporate interests.
Understood as one of neoliberalism rather than simply globalization, the current era seems less the result of uncontrollable natural forces and more as the newest stage of class struggle under capitalism. The anti-democratic implications, rather than being swept under the rug as they are in conventional parlance, move to the front and center. Here, I should like to sketch out the main developments and contours of the emerging global media system and their political-economic implications. I believe that when one takes a close look at the political economy of the contemporary global media and communication industries, we can cut through much of the mythology and hype surrounding our era, and have the basis for a much more accurate understanding of what is taking place, and what socialists must do to organize effectively for social justice and democratic values.