GLOBALISATION in communication and the counter-force to balance

International Forum on Communication and Citizenship

Jan Haverkamp

11 September 1998

 

I have been asked to pass some thoughts on the theme of globalisation. I have been asked to do so from my background as someone working intensively with the so-called new media: computers and above all Internet.

GLOBALISATION, like sustainable development, or civic society or NGO, is a term that carries different loads for different people. For me it stands for the continuing concentration of capital and media power in large global entities - multinational corporations or world institutions like the World Bank. These entities are in financial turnover already larger than many medium-size countries and at a certain moment easily may be larger than large countries as well. Their governance can be characterised in the normal terms of commercial management. This means that the global market-economy can benefit increasingly from economics of scale (which - for instance - gives you the opportunity to buy cheap radio's and computers - YES - globalisation has also benefits!). It also means that important decisions - determining the fates of huge amounts of people - are taken by small groups - without too much feedback mechanisms on other parameters as the usual market ones: short term financial costs and benefits. Short: globalisation offers new chances to the market economy, but is highly undemocratic. The undemocratic tendencies within globalisation work against many positive developments for more social, ecological, cultural and economical justice in this world. That is unfortunate, because on this continent (Latin America), in South Africa and Central and Eastern Europe we just learned that monolithic centralised and discriminatory systems don't offer solutions for most of humanities (and individual people's) problems… It's the plurality of society which appear to be able to tackle them!

I mentioned commercial and media structures. Media globalisation is one of the more visible trends in globalisation. Just three recent examples to illustrate where capital concentration and commercial orientation of media-culture can lead to:

  1. To create an alternative sound to the pro-car advertisement in North American media, the Canadian pressure group Adbusters produced together with Greenpeace a TV-infomercial showing the other sides of the car oriented society - in order to make people think about them. They tried to have this infomercial aired on the main US TV stations and offered to pay the same prices per second as Ford or General Motors. The TV spot was refused on all major stations.
  2. Last May, environmental and anarchist activist in Prague - where i live - held the largest demonstration on social and environmental issues since the revolution in 1989 (in my part of the world we call stopping a socialist government a revolution - that may sound a bit strange to you J ). After that demonstration riots broke out and the windows of McDonald and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Prague centre were smashed. In the following days the around 25% of the Czech population that watch the state TV station CT1 could learn that this was a protest against globalisation, what globalisation stands for, why some people have problems with it, even why McDonald's is a symbol of globalisation - short: a relatively complete picture of what happened and why. However, around 75% of the Czech population watches only the commercial TV station NOVA and learned, that anarchist hooligans had caused trouble in Prague centre and that the police was not prepared for this. Notice the difference in message and the difference in amount of audience…
  3. Last year, two US American TV journalists prepared a highly critical documentary about the practices of the genetic engineering company Monsanto. Their research was flawless, but they could not produce their documentary because Monsanto was co-owner of the TV station they worked for. After refusing to rewrite their production, they were even fired.

 

These are just a few very recent examples of where the combination of globalisation and commercialisation of media leads to. We - as community and democracy oriented media - will have to develop a flexible response to these developments.

Internet offers some new possibilities to keep us flexible:

  • When frequencies get scarce or expensive: sending radio and TV over Internet - BBC is a wonderful example of how to integrate Internet and radio - CNN of TV… but also locally already: the local Amsterdam radiostation FMA in co-operation with the Digitale Stad; or radio de Vrije Keijzer - a Dutch squatters' radio, and radio Kiss in Prague - a local commercial station - send over the Internet.
  • Sales of programmes over Internet: you can download a preview of the already mentioned Adbusters TV spot from the net and order it over the net in broadcasting quality
  • The use of multimedia and archiving possibilities of Internet: oral cultures can be archived with image and tone - like video but you can get into the archive at any time without any other special equipment than the computer you already have for your word-processing….
  • Use Internet to improve contact with your target-group… BBC (including BBC World Service) now already gets most of its feedback over e-mail. Opening up to feedback over e-mail and maybe Web-sites gives extra tools for community media development.
  • Use Internet to develop training, set up alternative sales channels, motivate colleagues in isolated positions, like for instance the APC women's programme.
  • But also organising over Internet: example… ECIC 3 conference - programme preparation weeks on beforehand over e-mail and Web-sites. GILC conference last week - programme prepared over e-mail with input from different sides. Business planning workshop APC - planned on beforehand over Internet… Also the Foro programme could have been planned this way… and if you do it smartly, better than now against almost no costs!

 

One remark in between… i indicate technical possibilities that can give us more flexibility. But i want to stress here, that these techniques are only tools. The flexibility of our response to the adverse effects from globalisation depends in the first place on people. People that believe that the world is not only there to create one big homogeneous fun-machine. It depends on people that see the opportunities to do something to improve the quality of life of those that have the lowest quality right now. It depends on people that grab the chances when they meet new barriers - like the barriers that globalisation is creating for fighting poverty, crimes against human dignity and ecological destruction. Whatever techniques we have available - it is the strategic use of it by concrete people, which determines the flexibility. Internet is just another tool - a powerful one - but only powerful in hands of people like you - people that know for what they work.

At present you might not see the reason for diving into this labyrinth of new possibilities with Internet. We acknowledged already that the globalisation and accompanying commercialisation of media infrastructure could face us with problems. Internet is a tool for a flexible response. The developments go fast. We hear very often: "but there are no telephone connections available", "equipment is so expensive", "people don't have the skills". I suppose Latin Americans don't like to be compared with Ukrainians, but i think in this case it might be illustrative. Same infrastructural problems, worse economic problems. But the build-up of new telephone connections has gone so fast, that even in Crimea most NGOs now build up their full Internet access - using local Internet providers in every larger town. Nobody would have believed that only four years ago! The developments in Internet go enormously fast. They will give you more opportunities - if you are open for it.

It will not be easy to pick up these possibilities. APC - the Association for Progressive Communication - is a world-wide network of social movement computer networks. Within APC you find partners capable and willing to co-operate with you to make Internet also support your work.

APC is a space for you to develop strategic use of ICTs with your partners.

Some examples of where that can lead to:

 

And it can lead to more security for our efforts:

  • The British company Biwater threatened to push the information of the international Labour movement about this company from the net by threatening GreenNet for liable. The co-operation within APC resulted in mirroring this information in 36 countries around the world, so that Biwater had to stop trying to suppress this information.
  • At present, Slovakia is preparing for parliamentary elections. The ruling HZDS party can probably only win with fraud. ChangeNet - the Slovak APC partner - runs a Web archive of one of the major election monitoring organisations. HZDS might try to silence critical remarks by disturbing the ChangeNet computer - by physically destroying it or by hindering its access to Internet or by hacking it and destroying its data. To prevent such an event, all the ChangeNet information is mirrored elsewhere outside the country on another APC node. In case of disturbance of ChangeNet operations, the users of this information will not be able to access it for only half an hour - then they will be able to continue as if nothing had happened!

 

We are developing strategic exchange of experiences:

  • The APC programme for Strategic Use is setting up an on-line resource centre with training materials and contacts to trainers.
  • Within the APC framework training of trainers programmes are organised.

 

We can develop income generation over the Internet:

  • A growing amount of APC nodes is developing currently possibilities of income generating publication where receivers pay for the products they take from the Net.

Globalisation may put us in the alternative media world for extensive problems. Internet is an extra tool to address these problems - to maintain the free space we need!

We will not leave the world to Ruppert Murdoch, neither to Bill Gates. We'll keep the globe in local hands!

 

Contact information:

APC promotion of strategic use programme

Karin Delgdillo - Poepsel

 

ECONNECT - APC Central Europe

Jan Haverkamp