Globalisation Aggravates Media Imperialism

Globalisation has reinforced media imperialism instead of putting an end to it. Researcher and educationist Farooq Sulehria argues that the western domination in media has increased manifold with the emergence of new TV channels and media houses, instead of ending it.

arooq Sulehria is an Assistant Professor at the Beaconhouse National University (BNU) Lahore. Before joining BNU in 2018, he was a Senior Teaching Fellow at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he also did his MA (Global Media and Postnational Communication) and PhD (Development Studies). He divides his time between Pakistan and Sweden where he is settled since 2001. 

Before joining academia, he was working as a journalist and continues to contribute columns nationally and internationally. He is also the author of critically acclaimed book, ‘Media Imperialism in India and Pakistan’ (Routledge: 2018). In an interview with Academia Magazine, he discusses his book and higher education in Pakistan. 

 

Tell us about your book and the thesis it foregrounds?

Derived from my PhD dissertation, my book ‘Media Imperialism in India and Pakistan’ was a product of irritation (laughs), an irritation with mainstream media scholarship. Informed by postmodern and post-colonial perspectives, the mainstream media scholars had arrived at a consensus already by the early-1990s, that globalisation has delivered the end of media imperialism. This theme dominated the discourse imposed on the students even at SOAS, otherwise known for its criticality, when I enrolled as an MA student.  Being a practicing journalist, I found these end-of-media-imperialism discourses an insult to my daily experiences. However, it was not merely an irritation with these discourses that motivated my research. The claim that media imperialism was ended by globalisation has huge cultural, economic and political consequences. Being an activist, I thought it was also a moral responsibility to challenge the mainstream discourse which serves global capitalism and imperialism in general.  What I have established is: globalisation has compounded media imperialism instead of putting an end to media imperialism. 

 

What is the basis of your claim?

Well, my argument can be understood in the context of media imperialism debate. Informed by dependency perspective, the media imperialism debate was initiated by American media scholar, Herbert Schiller in the late 1960s. He pointed out that the spread of information and communication industries implies that the third world countries have to depend on the West for technology, on the one hand, and the third world imports Western culture along with the technology, on the other. By the 1970s, there was a near consensus that the West dominated the media systems in the global South by way of technology as well as the cultural content communicated by the communication technologies. Take for instance the case of PTV launched in 1964. 

Not merely to this day, high-tech and expensive TV equipment was imported from Japan and Germany initially, a large chunk of the content shown on PTV was also imported from the UK and the USA. For people in my age, ‘Mind Your Language’, ‘Chips’ or ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ remain a cherished childhood memory. In the event, critical media scholars, notably Oliver Boyd-Barrett, pointed out the western domination of the third world in the realm of media. However, by the late 1980s, such critical notions had been cast aside. It was, among other theories, pointed out that the emergence of global channels such as Al-Jazeera or Zee, western domination has ended. 

What I have shown is the fallacy of such claims. For the first, domination has increased manifold. For instance, in the case of India, of the top four media houses, three (STAR, Viacom and Sony) are imperial conglomerates. Even the third, Zee, is in tie-ups with western giants. Until very recently, these Hindi channels owned by imperial media houses would command largest audiences even in Pakistan. Recent Pakistani sanctions (anti-globalisation) against ‘Indian’ channels have secured the airspace for Pakistani channels. Hence, globalisation has increased domination. My second premises is that technological dependence has increased manifold. Arithmetic is simple. Before the so-called globalisation of media, the West had only PTV as its client. Now there are over 100 clients in Pakistan. The mainstream media scholarship is blind to these huge transformations which benefit the West economically, politically and culturally. 

 

Let us move to another topic. How would you compare the western higher education with the higher education in Pakistani?

This is a familiar and predictable question to anyone who has studied or taught in the metropolitan campuses. Hope my answer proves unfamiliar and unpredictable. In my humble view, any analogy or comparison between western and Pakistani higher education is not merely misplaced and unjust but also counter-productive. In fact, for economic and historical reasons, let us not draw analogies between the western university and higher education in any periphery country. Not only we in Pakistan are no match for the metropolitan tertiary education, we should avoid devising a tertiary education system based on western lines. Our higher education, both in sciences and humanities, should be directed to our needs. 

Unfortunately, our universities mimic the West which leads to dependency. I have, in fact, explored the question of higher education in the case of media studies. I am not claiming that my findings will by default apply to every field of higher education. But my effort offers interesting orientation for future research on the topic. I have shown that media studies both in India and Pakistan is a case of educational dependency. This educational dependency is bred by a dependent media system. Both reinforce each other. Another lesson we can draw from this conclusion is: insofar we have a dependent economic and political system, our higher education will remain a dependent education system alienated from our cultural, educational, political and developmental urgencies. In this regard, I think, we need to learn from countries such as Cuba.

 

But do you see any positive changes in higher education? 

Yes, no doubt the standards have improved since the 1990s at least in the case of social sciences. I am not sure about sciences. Critics such as Prof Pervez Hoodbhoy continue pointing out the poor standards of scientific research and education. However, the fact that over two thousand academics have returned to Pakistan after their HEC-sponsored PhDs in the western campuses in the last two decades, has introduced a qualitatively new element. Likewise, new standards for teaching and research have been imposed by the HEC since the turn of new century. No doubt, there is a lot to be debated about it all. But these are important transformations. Therefore, there is a ground for optimism.  What I find most discouraging is the commercial turn. Higher education should be democratised. Let me also emphasize lack of academic freedoms as a negative in our higher education.