In chapter 14 of Journalism Theory in Practice, titled “Journalism in the Global Village”, Dr Rhonda Breit makes the case that “media globalisation is threatening society’s two most important watchdogs – the judiciary and journalism”, and advocates that judiciaries should “internationalise their response” to pressure trans-national corporations to “introduce work practices and ethical guidelines that reflect high journalistic standards”.
Dr Breit attempts to bring together a number of loosely-linked threads to support her conclusion, of which the main points include:
- The concentration of media ownership
- The effect of commercial pressures on journalistic values
- The Hollwoodisation of news and the move towards infotainment
- The misuse of copyright legislation to serve commercial interests
- The global reach of media corporations “threatening legal systems that regulate the media and balance basic human rights”
While no doubt well meaning, the ground that Dr Breit attempts to cover is far too broad and, more often than not, she ends up contradicting herself. For example, on page 222 Dr Breit writes that “when publishing material globally, the media must comply with the publication laws of each jurisdiction in which they publish”, but contradicts herself in the very next paragraph by arguing that domestic laws are being undermined by the global “footprint” of the modern media. If the media complies with the laws of each jurisdiction that they publish in, then how are they eroding said domestic laws?
Dr Breit also fails to discuss the underlying assumptions she has made in the course of her arguments. One of her assumptions is that there is a single, globally accepted view of what makes for high journalistic standards; in fact, Dr Breit’s assumes that the journalism should assume a “fourth estate” watchdog role, a view valid in western liberal democratic societies but perhaps not so applicable in Asian societies, where it has been argued that a form of “development journalism” (discussed in week 3’s blog post) is the more accepted and prevalent form. Therein lies yet another assumption, that the watchdog role is the “ideal” form of journalism; we’ve already seen from week 3’s readings that it is precisely that ideal of appearing independent and objective that has rendered much of what journalism produces irrelevant and confusing to the publics that they supposedly serve.
Furthermore, Dr Breit is perhaps naive in advocating for the judiciaries of multiple nations to work together to pressure trans-national corporations. History has shown that nations are more interested in defending their sovereign rights, one of which is the right to set their own laws and legal agendas; nations will never willingly subjugate themselves to or even give the appearance of acquiescence to a foreign nation’s judiciary. It is hard to imagine, for example, that Australia or the United States might want to subject their own citizens to the comparatively harsh defamation laws of Singapore should they defame Singapore or Singaporean interests on Australian or USA soil!
Perhaps a more nuanced view is that while a few transnational corporations have achieved a global reach with their media properties, they only reflect the views, attitudes and values of a select few nations, like the United States and the United Kingdom. As these views, attitudes and values start to influence the way in which populations of other nations think and act, their national culture changes as well. And because the law is almost always a reflection of cultural values and norms, the law will have to eventually change along with the population as well. While admittedly still over-simplifying the issue, this view of how the globalisation of media eventually affects the independence of judiciaries around the world offers a far more nuanced reflection of how subtle (and sometimes insidious) media effects can be. Further research should no doubt be conducted along these lines.