Bhamini Lakshminarayan (M2015MC013)
Media Studies
Professor Sunitha Chitrapu
16th July, 2015

Imperialism and the Media, and Media Imperialism

“Our countries are exporters of raw materials and importers of superstructural and cultural goods.”
– Dorfmann and Mattelart, How to Read Donald Duck (1971)

I am a product of media imperialism. I grew up listening to The Beatles, not Kishore Kumar; I watched Mind Your Language instead of the Ramayan; I read Mallory Towers and not Malgudi Days. In this paper, Fejes argues that this occurs due to the system of relations through which communication media is produced, distributed, and consumed in an internaltional market – a system of media imperialism. The ownership of the means of production, he argues, belongs to the post-War economic and political dominant powers. Consequently, the developing countries on the periphery consume and recreate the superstructure within their own sociopolitical contexts. In a layered argument in which he critiques the prevailing theories of media at the time, he expands on his model of media imperialism and prescribes methodological frameworks through which studies of it can be enhanced.

The role of media communication in a developmental paradigm is presented in two conflicting arguments in this paper. In an approach that draws on the assumption of mass society theory, that the media can influence our social and cultural interpretation of reality, Fejes discusses the modernization and dependency models of development. The modernization approach, Fejes argues, viewed the media as a “tool” through which a country’s population could be educated into a progressive mindset. However, he goes on to argue that this approach failed to take in the international and internal structural inequalities, because of which the media can be viewed as an “obstacle to meaningful and well balanced socio-economic progress.” These inequalities are the roots of the dependency model of development.

The dependency model of development draws on the methodological frameworks of Leninist-Marxist theory – though Lenin’s Imperialism explains dominant expansionism, and dependency theory explains underdevelopment. It situates the newly independent colonies and developing (“third world,” as Fejes repeatedly refers to them) countries in a subordinate position in the hierarchy of the new world order. The relationship between the dominant, developed countries and the still developing countries, is one of continual exploitation – developing countries are, he argues, at the mercy of international economic and political policies that are not mutually beneficial, but rather, benefit developed countries and inflict violence upon the developing.

Fejes particularly points out that the dependency model, unlike prior models, takes into account the internal structures that operate in developing countries – those of class, gender, and in India, caste – which also act as barriers to development. These internal structures reinforce and, in fact, replicate the system of exploitation wherein a dominant-subordinate divide forms – here, he characterises it as an urban elite identifying with and being sympathetic to the imperialist cause, with the rural population marginalised and excluded from discourse.

In this model, there can be no organic and self-sustained growth and long-term development of a country – wherein “development” would ideally be characterised as “liberation from dependency,” and the dependency comes in various combinations of economic, social, political, and cultural forms. Fejes points out that this kind of liberation and the routes to it cannot be universalised, but must be siutated within a country’s historical context such that the dialectical interaction between internal and external structural exploitation is not ignored.

In the Indian context, this reading is highly relevant because of the approach we took in our economics and governance post-independence. In the economic era of Nehruvian socialism, we stressed on a minimum dependence on imports, and propagated an Important Substituting Industrialisation model of development. Politically, we stressed on non-alignment so as to not get drawn back into a network of dependency.

With respect to the media, throughout the independence struggle, the media was used to bolster the movement. Post independence, it was used to stress on dominant paradigms of what it meant to be an Indian citizen. Now, the penetration of the internationally dominant media discourse has had a greater spread and impact in the wake of the 1991 market shift. The American Dream has been sold to us, occassionally repackaged as an Indian Dream – in which an IIT replaces MIT. There is no denying the significance of Fejes’ argument. In all of these forms of the media, the system of communications that were and are being used were imported from the colonial powers. Today, the information being disseminated is also that of an internationally imperialist paradigm.

Thus, I argue that a point that Fejes does not clearly elucidate upon is the distinction between media imperialism and imperialism using the media. In the Emergency era in India, any information that was not of benefit to the dominant political discourse was not allowed to be distributed – this is clearly a form of political imperialism which is supported by the media establishment. However, the media imperialism at work here would seem to be the structure of the Indian media in itself – one that is answerable to the government – which was imported from the imperialist, colonial powers. The difference between the two forms of imperialism through and by the media require further assessment.

However, it is of note to me that the argument did not anticipate the advent of the Internet. While accessibility to the internet is still a problem that is loaded with socio-economic restrictions, theoretically, it is a space in which there cannot be dominant imperialist paradigms. The relationships between the producer and consumer in most internet spaces is transactionless. There is no compulsion to subsribe to a particular market paradigm in certain spaces on the internet. Although there are admitted aesthetic paradigms that are rooted in a dominant cultural paradigm, one can produce and distribute free and open source software and content, without feeding into the dominant imperialist discourse, if one is not intent on generating high hit counts.

In all, the Fejes argument seems to have marked an inflection point in the studies of media communication. From its economic, political, and cultural standpoints, it creates a strong structure for an introspective analysis of the state of the media we consume today. However, in the light of the changing modes of media communication, further investigation into the avenues of media imperialism on the internet would be relevant and academically desirable, as well as a more distinct differenciation between the relationship between the media and imperialism, and media imperialism.

Fejes, F. Media Imperialism: an assessment. Media, Culture & Society, 3. 1981. 281-289. Sage Publications. Print.

Dorfmann and Mattelart. How to Read Donald Duck. 1971. Ediciones Universitarias de Valparaiso. Print.


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