Concepts of International Broadcasting: no mere Locomotion of Ideas?

Jonathan Marks, producer and presenter of Radio NetherlandsMedia Network program until October 2000, apparently wrote an unverified comment on an online article by Dr. Kim Andrew Elliot for the Public Diplomacy Council – both the article and the comment were written in May this year.

All Ears for Messages in Space

All Ears for Messages in Space

I referred to Elliot’s article last month, in a post about the Voice of America‘s (VoA)  Mandarin service and the budget cuts it seemed to be facing. Elliot’s message was clear enough, and I had no great difficulty in grasping his twelve points of advice, concerning restructuring of U.S. international broadcasting to China either. Jonathan Marks’ (unverified, again) comment was a different story:

VOA, RFE, RFA have always been driven by a distribution strategy [my emphasis – JR] without working out how they will compete with local media for peoples’ attention. This will need a different strategy per region. For the moment, the Chinese haven’t realised this either.

A distribution strategy? What did the commenter mean?

In part, a dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Maryland in 2006 by Brecken Chinn Swartz may provide an answer. It’s 256 pages long, and I may not have worked my way through it during the remaining two weeks of the summer vacations, but I will try to. What really got me is this paragraph:

Dominant in the traditional American view of communication is the concept of communication as transportation, as in the locomotion of goods or ideas from one place to another. This view underpins classic American media theories such as the linear models suggested by Lasswell (1948) and Shannon and Weaver (1964), with their focus on reducing “noise” and maximizing communicated information, and it is still popular in mainstream American communication textbooks today (Gamble & Gamble, 2005). The foundation of this model rests upon notions of moral order in which ideas and authority transcend space to spread the boundaries of political units and ideologies through space and time, as in today’s concept of “battles for the hearts and minds” of people around the world. Carey (1989) notes that this view has deep roots in European and American colonization, in that “democratic migration in space was above all an attempt to trade an old world for a new and represented the profound belief that movement in space could be in itself a redemptive act. It is a belief that Americans have never quite escaped” (Carey, 1989, p. 15). Ironically, however, this linear transmission view of communication also shares a similar footing with notions that are deeply rooted in Chinese civilization.
The Chinese word for traffic or transportation, jiaotong, is frequently used to refer to communication, and Confucian notions of society usually situate communications within linear, hierarchical relationships —ruler and subject, teacher and student, husband and wife, older brother and younger brother, and friend and friend. This conception of communication for the purpose of transmitting, imparting, and distributing correct views is not solely found in the West, but in fact has existed wherever a dominant society has sought
to spread its world view among others. (pp. 23 – 24)

As usual when I’m reading something unfamiliar, what Swartz wrote, too, seems to open just another can of new questions, while it seems to answer my initial question about what a distribution strategy would amount to in international broadcasting. And so far, I have my reservations about the idea that – even when it comes to mass media -,

communication may be conceptualized, not merely as the extension of messages in space, but as the maintenance of society in time. Thus, communicating is viewed not as the act of imparting information, but as a distillation of shared beliefs and experiences. (p. 25)

The idea quoted by Swartz didn’t necessarily relate to international broadcasting anyway, but it appears in the dissertation in the context of identifying and considering the values of mass communicators in a systematic, grounded, meaningful way (p. 26).

Swartz based her dissertation on interviews with fifty American, British, and Chinese international feature reporters, at the VoA, the BBC World Service, CCTV, China Radio International (CRI), and Xinhua News Agency. That was some five years ago, but may not have lost its relevance yet.

Start reading on your own, or stay tuned.

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Related Tags:

» Deutsche Welle (most, but not all posts, are communications-related)
» public diplomacy
» Radio Taiwan International (most, but not all…)
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Related

» Three Educationals: Truthfulness is Everything, April 8, 2011
» World Media Summit: Be More Xinhua, October 10, 2009

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