Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies
nlen300-26uk.gif (265 bytes)

Discussion on Challenges of a Media-Rich World

Participants: Madala Mphahlele, David Nostbakken, Horst Stipp and Bert Mulder. In the audience, Allister Sparks, Lourdes Arizpe and Jan Pronk, Minister for Development Cooperation and others.

panelmedia.jpg (13418 bytes)

real audio file Allister Sparks

Sparks: First of all I want to quote the report that stresses that one should not underestimate the public. Commercial channels lower the standards. Local programmes may be more popular but they are also much more expensive than commercial TV. Mr Stipp is talking in terms of a First World situation. The poorer a country is, the less easy it is to produce local TV. What you are saying about local broadcasts is valid for the North. In the South it is quite simply unaffordable, so what we get is the cultural imperialism of commercial TV.

pijltje_beneden.gif (179 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
Introduction (Madala Mphahlele)
David Nostbakken
Horst Stipp
Bert Mulder
Panel Discussion
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A new global ethics
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
General Introduction

Audience: Like the previous speaker, I come from South Africa and I have experienced how culture has been used there to repress my own culture. My own culture is called primitive, savage and barbaric. I want to point out that it is not only the politicians who have the power; it's also the rich. It is only the rich and powerful who get the chance to speak and be heard. This means that young black South Africans think that all good things come from America. But what is made in America is only good for the American market. As soon as it is exported elsewhere, it becomes cultural imperialism. Incorrectly applied, culture is destructive.

Stipp: A number of different extremely complex issues are being raised. First of all there are the problems of the South. There are no simple solutions for these. Commercial stations are in a difficult position: they contribute to the spread of information, but get accused at the same time of being imperialist. The questions voice both sides of the issue: on the one hand people want commercial stations to contribute to solving existing problems, on the other hand people are critical of what is on offer. They are not satisfied with the content of the programmes of the commercial stations, because they see them as an attack on their own culture. But one should be careful not to interfere with what I would call the law of free choice. I myself believe in the power of culture, religion and individualism. Deep-rooted values only change gradually. They're certainly not going to change as a result of watching Hollywood films. The American T-shirts the young people are wearing isn't any writing on the wall. This sort of change is only superficial.

Nostbakken: Money is a problem. The biggest group in developing countries is the youth. They are especially vulnerable because they are dependent on others. Special programmes need to be made for this group. But making your own products is expensive, which is why American programmes are bought so often. It doesn't make sense to blame the white NBC for that. It's no answer to impose controls either; that's been tried and it didn't work. We have only ourselves to blame if we don't come up with any dynamic new alternatives. Aren't NBC, the BBC and CNN enough? No? Then we have to do something else ourselves. By starting a co-production system that could support local broadcasting companies, for instance.

I do not consider global culture and cultural diversity to be mutually exclusive. Global culture is a part of, not a threat to diversity. In fact the report actually supports this view. For example, in arguing that audiences prefer homemade fare it cites MTV as adding local colour to their programming in order to improve their image: they realized that American programmes alone do not attract viewers. Local programmes achieve higher ratings than imported programmes.

Horst Stipp

Mphahlele: Six African stations from six different countries are already working together in this way. Each of them makes a film of 26 minutes about love. This means that each station gets six films for the cost of one.

Sparks: It's easier to point to problems than to come up with solutions. TV and new media like the Internet are all very well, but in Africa, that has an eighth of the world's population, almost nobody has a TV. People use the radio there - it's cheap and simple. You could imagine setting up small licenced transmitters that would broadcast something different from the endless announcements of government decisions that you usually get on African state radio. You shouldn't expect much from the international media, because its news is mainly concerned with the North. Foreign TV teams all went to South Africa in 1994. Not to report the elections but to be on the spot for the bloodbath they were sure was bound to follow. When it didn't happen they went back home again. An eighth of the population of the world lives in Africa and doesn't get any coverage on TV; effectively then it doesn't exist.

Stipp: I have to agree. I come from Germany, and I think that American reporting of the rest of the world is very superficial. American TV is extremely parochial; outside America very little gets reported.

Audience: People talk about the gap between developed and developing countries. There's also another gap - that between the generations. Between those who have been brought up with the new media and those who haven't. Old people - say, in the Philippines - have more problems with the new media than the younger generation.

Mulder: No, you're wrong there. All the technologies we've discussed are 'upwardly mobile'. That is, they become popular first of all among the 'lower' or younger part of the population and from there they move upwards. Moreover, old people usually have more time here. The installation of the Digital City - an Amsterdam citywide information network - in an old people's home proved that older people can work with this medium perfectly well.

Arizpe: At UNESCO people are gradually coming to realize the positive aspects of the Internet. How can UNESCO make a contribution to this process when this organization always reacts so slowly to situations that are subject to such rapid change?

Mulder: The Internet is a 'catalyzing invention'. This means that you can't plan the process in advance. One just has to see that an environment is created on which people can show their own products for a small amount of money. The Internet is the medium by which Africa can present itself to the world, because the costs are not excessive. One example is the Zambia Post that only appears on the Internet and which reports local news. Schools too can put something about their own country on the Internet. People can do everything themselves; all you have to do is to give them the tools.

real audio file Jan Pronk

Pronk: Bert Mulder says that the power of culture is stronger than that of money. That it will defeat the power of money and war. But is that really true? It's still the case that history is determined by money, power and by conflicts. Can culture really replace the power of money. Information, communication and news are also determined by the culture of money. After all, it is not just a question of having access to the Internet, but also the kind of information that dominates on it. Am I really interested in it? That is to a large extent determined by the powers that be who control the purse strings and who impose a particular taste and who select what information is suitable for me to have.

Stipp: That is a good point. A striking feature of the debate about the Internet is that it is always treated in a totally different way than other media. As though a quantum leap had taken place. Essentially the Internet is like a magazine that you can pick up or put to one side, but which only exists when it is read.

Nostbakken: The gravitational centre of power is shifting. Businesses are going bankrupt through takeovers by other firms, even with systems that have not yet proved their worth. In the new media a shift from information to entertainment is taking place. On the other hand the Internet, through the contact it gives you with, let's say, 47 different countries, leads to an increasing sense of being part of a larger whole. The world becomes like your own city that you love and that you feel you belong to. And that you will therefore take proper care of.

Mulder: Power structures will change because the environment is constantly changing. There is an economic need to adapt to one's surroundings. That calls for creativity. Large firms become large because they are able to make use of expensive technology. But all kinds of products are in fact becoming cheaper. The Internet is cheap. More people are gaining access to these means of production. This has led for instance to the emergence of techno music and of many successful small businesses. The problem with the Internet remains: who is interested in it? Education has a task here. Educators should teach people to learn to ask the right questions, so that they become interested.

Stipp: I share Bert Mulder's enthusiasm. You need investments, however, to promote distribution and to set up an effective infrastructure.

Challenges of a media-rich world