Democratization and the Mass Media in Europe and Asia, Vol. 8 - 2001, No. 4
Studies of the relationship of the mass media and democracy either rely very heavily on American and European experience, or they are focused studies of national cases. There are relatively few attempts to generalise from the rich diversity of the last thirty years. This article is an initial attempt to compare the experiences of the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe with the various dictatorships of East and South East Asia. It is argued that, despite the fact that there are important differences between communist and capitalist dictatorships, it is nevertheless theoretically possible to compare the two categories. An outline the-ory of the relationship between media and social power in both is introduced. In comparing Europe and Asia, it is argued that oppositions between .Western. and .Asian. values are not at all useful, despite their considerable popular currency at the time of writing (September 2001). In both cases, key democratic values like reason and media freedom have a contradictory status that defies continental generalisations. The article continues with an examination of the decay of the undemocratic regimes in the two continents and points to their differences and similarities. In particular, it is noted that there are surprising similarities of outcome in the media democratisation process despite the differences in starting point. The absence of radical democratic movements in Europe is contrasted with their apparently greater prominence in some parts of Asia. It is speculated that the future in China will involve political crises that will provide further opportunities for radical democratic movements.
The essay examines a decade of changes in the media after the collapse of the socialist system in East-Central Europe. A unique transformation from socialism to capitalism makes traditional middle-range evolutionary theories of modernisation and (post)modern detraditionalisation - inadequate to grasp the substance of the inordinate changes in the (former) Second World. Instead, an attempt is made to apply Gabriel Tarde's theory of imitation based on the triad consisting of innovation, imitation, and opposition. Tarde's theory of imitation as a general law of development seems to offer a valid explanation of these (r)evolutionary changes because it transcends the division between dependency and diffusionist modernisation theories, and identifies communication (technology) as particularly important on both accounts. Several oppositional tendencies in the ECE countries are identified which are, in different degrees, spread throughout the region and reflect the imitative nature of the new systems. The imitative tendencies are clustered in two broader groups: (1) those imitating external environment, primarily Western Europe and the USA, which comprise denationalisation and privatisation, commercialisation, inter- or transnationalisation, and cross-fertilisation; and (2) those imitating the past, i.e. the former system of state socialism: renationalisation, and nationalistic and religious exclusivism.
This article reviews the transformation in society and the media in the former communist countries of central and eastern Europe. Adopting a `path dependence approach', the different countries of the region are analysed and allocated to two general categories, depending upon the nature and extent of the changes that have taken place in society and the media. The first group of countries (called here `Type A') have advanced relatively far along the road to transformation. Examples would be Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia. The second group (called here `Type B') retain much more of the old order. Examples would be Russia and some of the other republics that have issued from the collapse of the old Soviet Union. A range of theories of media change are reviewed, and their prognoses for the development of the media after the fall of communism are tested against the subsequent developments. It is argued that the media in both Type A and Type B countries remain highly politicised, particularly in the case of broadcasting, and with limited independence from the political elite. Journalism, too, remains paternal and didactic, partly as a result of the historical position of intellectuals in the region. While there are important differences between Type A and Type B countries, neither represents a stable and finished model of transformation. In neither case, are the media the passive victims of social forces. On the contrary, their shortcomings help to reproduce the limits of the overall transformation process.
Based on the evidence from Greater China, this essay proposes two theoretical propositions regarding the media's democratic potential. First, the liberal-pluralist approach to political economy, with its focus on the critique of the state, may be useful in analysing the authoritarian media in Third World countries and former Communist countries; in contrast, the radical-Marxist approach, with its focus on the critique of the capital, may be used to analyse the liberal-capitalist media. Specifically, the liberal approach goes a long way toward explaining the increased degree of "negative freedom" for the marketised authoritarian media in China, the martial-law media in Taiwan, the Hong Kong media in the shadow of an authoritarian sovereign. Secondly, in all of the three transitional systems, in fact, both of these approaches may intertwine and coexist uneasily and paradoxically. In the PRC, the state still maintains tight reins on news media, but it must negotiate with the market forces. The relative triumph of representative democracy in Taiwan has made the liberal perspective less (albeit still enormously) relevant, while ushering in the radical approach to account for the impact of media conglomeration on limiting the range of expression. On the other hand, as Hong Kong's liberal media order and mature capitalism are being threatened, concern for media professionalism and freedom has come to the fore. Four more unresolved theoretical issues are also briefly outlined.
The differences within and between Western and Eastern democracies are so significant that the concept of multiple democracies is proposed. To most of the developing world, democratisation is transculturation - a process by which Western democracy is transformed for self-aggrandisement. In the age of globalisation, the media are potentially important sources of international and domestic referencing. Media and democratisation are mutually reinforcing, one being constituted by the other. The roles of the media in a society are very much defined by its mode of media control, which varies mainly with its power structure. With concentrated power, the media tend to demote democracy; the opposite is true when equity reigns. Based on a mixed use of inducements and constraints in media control, four modes of state-press relationships are identified: laissez faire, repression, incorporation and co-optation. Each ideal type entails certain media roles that have important implications for democratisation. Media can perform both positive and negative functions in regard to democracy, depending on the prevailing mode of power distribution and specific social and organisational contexts. Each mode of media control and the corresponding media roles may shift as power is restructured. Media usually assume a more emancipatory role as the power structure becomes more decentralised or divisive.