Global Media GovernanceGlobal Media Governance
A Beginner's Guide
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

By Seán Ó Siochrú and Bruce Girard with Amy Mahan

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This book is about media governance at a global level and the key influencing forces and elements. Governance encompasses regulation, and questions addressed here include: Why do we to regulate the various media at all? What currently are the major forms of global regulation, and how do they work? Who participates in, and who benefits from, media regulatory and governance structures? And what are the trends?

People interested in the media and their progressively rising influence over so many dimensions of society will sooner or later find themselves confronted with these questions. This book is intended as an aid to such an interested reader. It does not pretend to answer all the questions, but it does at least raise most of the key ones and points in directions where more complete answers can be found.


Our perception and understanding of "globalization" at the beginning of this new millennium depends on who we are and where we are looking from. For much of the world, the tip of the globalization iceberg has not yet appeared on the horizon—either explicitly wreaking havoc or bestowing benefits. Yet just because most of the world’s population has never made a phone call, accessed information via the Internet, or flown in an airplane does not mean that it has not been touched by globalization? It may well be that globalization subtly entrenches marginalization without being directly perceived, its role in local price fluctuations concealed and its impact on employment, on services, and other areas obscured behind layers of mediating factors. Or perhaps not.

Globalization, depending on your information and worldview, could be the great equalizer, a bleak exacerbator of inequalities, or just the latest hype soon to be replaced. The term as used embodies various combinations of all three. Recent work groups theories of globalization into three broad theses: (1) Hyperglobalist, which describes a world increasingly dominated by a single global market, and characterized by the irrelevance of the nation-state and the emergence of a single world order, government, and global mass media. (2) The skeptics claim that the current globalization controversy is much ado about nothing. Globalization is understood as distinct from internationalization in that it invariably evolves from the breaches of control of nation-states. The skeptical thesis implies that internationalization is in fact the current trend since economic policies and regulation emanate from nation-states and their respective regional trading blocs, rather than through top-down global coordination of a single world economy. Finally, (3) transformationalists argue the case that, for good or evil, a fundamentally more interconnected world is now emerging, in which "globalisation is a central driving force behind the rapid social, political and economic changes that are reshaping modern societies and world order."* The local and distant, the periphery and center, do not exist in isolation of one another, as the reality of one is inextricably intertwined with, for example, the poverty, the environment, and indeed the media of the other.

This book does not venture into the theoretical terrain of globalization theories. But it does situate itself loosely within the transformationalist thesis. Historically distinct technologies are now interchangeable means of delivering media products on a global scale; historically separate cultures now have Disney and CNN in common, but also have opportunities to produce indigenous cultural products locally and disseminate them globally; and organizations previously uninvolved with media regulation are now finding cause and interest to become so. Viewed from within this thesis, the media could play a critical role in the eventual impact of globalization on people everywhere and on how different interest groups fare. Thus, the regulation and governance of media is an important issue, since this in turn will circumscribe the thrust and nature of media influence on globalization as a whole.

Media Governance

The main current issues for media governance can be simplified into a set of questions, for which answers must be forthcoming. Some relate to economic issues, others to human rights and social issues. Some issues are stable, with no serious debate or contention, but they may not remain so indefinitely. Others are central to the agenda. Others still are emerging for the first time.

At the national level, limits are placed on the concentration of ownership within and between media in order both to prevent excessive industry control and to ensure a plurality and diversity of media sources for social, cultural, and political development. At the global level, should media concentration be the subject of specific measures to regulate media corporations (combining transnational and national holdings) that have significant control of a market? Are more complex regulatory needs emerging, such as regulation to ensure fair access to "gateways" and "filters" between different layers of media, where excessive control exists internationally? Is there a need for regulation to support a global public service media to counterbalance the private-sector control of transnational media, as midwife to a global public sphere and to ensure greater diversity in the media?

Questions also arise in relation to telecommunications and content access. Is there an economic and/or equity case for a redistribution of a fraction of the international telecommunications revenues to develop the networks, services, and content in less industrialized countries and regions?

Copyright bestows ownership of intellectual work for a period, and the media are a primary means to disseminate such work and derive an economic income from it. Yet the rights of different parties, the creators, owners, and users of information must be balanced. Should the creators of ideas retain moral rights to creations, including control of editorial changes and the right to retain authorship? How can the rights of owners of intellectual property be balanced against the rights of communities to protect and sustain their cultural heritage? To what extent is it justified to make exceptions for the use of intellectual output for educational, cultural, research, or other socially beneficial activities?

The media uses global public resources that are in limited supply, such as radio frequency and orbital slots. As public resources, governments are under an obligation to use them optimally in the interests of the public. Should certain frequencies be reserved for use to develop a global public sphere, such as for public service media? Should part of the profits derived from the use of such public property by private interests be diverted for public use?

There is also little doubt that the means to tackle these questions, in terms of regulation and appropriate and effective form of governance, are going through a period of rapid and fundamental change.

Media regulation has historically been applied quite separately to the different modes of media transmission: radio and television were covered by broadcasting policies; telecommunications had its own regulatory instruments; and newspapers and print were protected by free speech doctrines and libel laws. The state has always played a significant role in creating and overseeing media regulation, and likewise, there is an understandable reluctance to excessively delegate these functions to the market. The ideological foundations of a nation-state—including ideals such as access to information, freedom of speech, the nation-state’s own promotion of national identity, and so forth—are strongly connected with independent media. In this regard, it is natural that the state has maintained an interest in promoting and ensuring the functioning of media. Convergence of media has led to new questions for and new demands on the role of the state. Yet convergence also heightens and highlights the need for the continued role of the nation-state in media governance.

A key question here is whether the institutional structures and regulations emerging will operate genuinely, impartially, transparently, and democratically to the benefits of all, or whether they will succumb to powerful sectoral interests, becoming yet another means to support the interests of the powerful over those of the majority.

Overview of the Book

This book is divided into three parts. Part 1 explores the overarching issues of governance and globalization in the context of media industry and media convergence. Its three chapters set the scene for the rest of the book in three areas: media regulation and the forms it takes at national level; governance in general and how it has emerged at an international level; and the main trends and dynamics driving the media themselves.

Part II provides an overview, in five successive chapters, of key institutions of media global governance. It is primarily descriptive rather than judgmental, and reviews their history, describes their functions and structures, and analyzes their central dynamics as they relate to media

Part III synthesises, summarizes, and looks to the future. In three chapters, it provides an overview from several perspectives of current global regulatory mechanisms that impact on the media; it looks at the governance of these instruments, focusing especially on their adequacy in terms of democratic principles; and it describes two realistic but contrasting scenarios for the future.

* D.held et al., Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture (Cambridge: Polity, 1999), 7. 

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Global Media Governance is published in co-operation with the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), an autonomous agency engaging in multidisciplinary research on the social dimensions of contemporary problems affecting development.