Media and Globalization

Media and Globalization

In this article, we will address the topic of the media and globalization in the international system and international relations. We will discuss the relationship between ideas of media and globalization, discuss the level of internationalization of media, the relationship between language, culture, and media, along with other issues. 

Is Media International?

One of the most pressing questions with regards to the topic of media and globalization is the question about how international media actually is. It is important to note of course that media is produced throughout the world. Individuals, groups, and news organizations are publishing news, entertainment, and other forms of media content. Many of them are also doing so on a continuous stream. Therefore, it would be wrong to think that only one society, or only a few, are the only ones producing media content. 

However, a question related to this that might be much more complex in its answer is whether all media has the same level of reach internationally, or if that is even the intention of the s/he who is creating or publicizing said content. Scholars have argued that we are becoming more connected, whether this is on social issues, economic issues, or cultural issues. Media is no exception. The question then usually revolves not whether media is produced locally, but rather, how much of a select few media outlets are shaping the media content and production throughout the rest of the world? Is local media borrowing or deriving their production from international outlets (from the United States, Britain, Japan, etc…), or are their programs distinct in origin (Jan, 2009).

The role of Language and Culture in Media and Globalization

Scholars argue that in order to understand how media is becoming more and more globalized (and thus, is influencing domestic programing and media creation), it is imperative to examine the role of language. While other factors like geography can and do alter the relationship between domestic and international media outlets, it has been argued that language is much more of a driving force for the globalization of media. Programming, music, etc… tends to spread to various areas, but some scholars suggest that there seems to be a greater demand when it is of the same language, or has cultural similarities.

Let’s take the two separately. Media that has a common language for those who are accepting media may be much more comfortable in this media, compared to television, music that is not in their language, since “[l]anguage provides a strong natural barrier to media imports” (Jan, 2009). Individuals are much less likely to accept media if they do not understand that language that it is produced in. Now, of course this is not always the case. There are many examples of music, film, or other media that has an audience in a country that might not understand the language. However, in many cases, it is much more likely that language is a barrier, and thus, people may prefer programs in their own tongue. For example, “Most of what little imported television and film Americans watch comes from Great Britain, New Zealand, or Australia, culturally similar English-speaking countries. Likewise, while British pop music is widely accepted, other musicians such as Icelander Bjork have to sing in English to break into the U.S. market” (Jan, 2009: 68).

In addition to language, having a similar culture might also make certain media better received than other media. Some content in a television program, for example, might not be understood in another culture the same way that it is understood in the country of origin. The nuanced cultural references might hard for some to understand. Things such as “jokes, slang, historical and political references, gossip about stars, and remarks about current people and events are often culture-and even nation-specific. Such cues, where they are shared across borders, can help build cross-national markets” (Jan, 2009: 68). Therefore, while there are certain types of themes that might have more of a universal theme (Jan, 2009), scholars believe that specific cultural references might not be received the same way.

The Globalization of Media Production

There are more media outlets than there has ever been in the history of the world, particularly when we count individual media such as websites, blogs, and other avenues for online content sharing such as YouTube, Facebook, etc… However, when we look at the landscape of international media, what we find is that there still do exist large media entities that have a larger marketshare of international media today. For example, writing in 2009, Jan point out that “A handful of firms dominate the globalize part of the media system. The six largest are AOL, Time Warner (U.S.), Disney (U.S.), Vivendi-Universal (French), Bertelsmann (German), Viacom (U.S.), and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (Australian). The other four main global firms are AT&T (U.S.), Microsoft (U.S.), and two media groups that are part of much large industrial corporations: General Electric/NBC (U.S.) and Sony/Columbia/ TriStar (Japanese) (Variety, 2002). Of the top 10 global media firms, then, six are American (counting News Corporations as Australian), mostly produce, distribute, and regulate almost all media outlets. These types of companies were growing and globalizing quickly. Time Warner and Disney generated around 15 percent of their income outside of the United States in 1900, a figure that rose to 30-35 percent by 2002: (69). In addition to these companies, there are many other media corporations that have their own percent of the marketshare–groups like BBC, Comcast, Hachette, EMI, NHK, TVB, Fuji,, TV Globo, Televisa, among others) (Jan, 2009) also have large audiences.

In addition, the rise of cable and satellite programming allows people from around the world more access to international media. And the media producers, recognizing this, are meeting demand for translating their programing into foreign languages, and also providing foreign-based content (whether it is sports, news, fashion, etc…).

The question with the rise of these sorts of media options is whether there is a bias in the favor of media from the west, for example, and if so, why. 

Many scholars argue that it seems that there is an uneven amount of content that is dominated by western companies. Thus, there has been a debate about whether this amounts to a form of cultural imperialism. It has been argued that “

This unbalanced flow bothers many nations on several levels. First, it is seen as a cause of cultural erosion and change. So many media products and cultural influences flow into some countries from the United States that traditionalists fear American ideas, images, and values will replace their own. Some of the fears seem trivial to U.S. observers, as when French authorities fought to keep American words such as “drugstore” and “weekend” from creeping into common use by French people. However, some consequences of media flow can be deadly serious. Some poor countries in Africa epidemics of infant diarrhea and death when mothers gave up breast-feeding for bottle-feeding, which they had seen in European and American television programs and advertising ((Wood, 1998; Straubhaar & LaRose, 2004)” (Jan, 2009: 71). Again, this question about whether a form of cultural imperialism is highly contested, particularly since some argue the shift in local media is continuing has been on the rise in a number of cases. 

Along with this, others have argued there there is a form of economic imperialism that may be happening. In this media, western companies may be advertising Western products. Not only will this affect potential cultural conditions, but there also exists a belief that the advertising in this media “offers the proper countries little and may alienate those in the population who are frustrated by exposure to goods they cannot have” (Jan, 2009: 71).


Jan, M. (2009). Globalization of Media: Key Issues and Dimensions. European Journal of Scientific Research, Vol. 29, No. 1, pages 66-75

Straubhaar,J., & LaRose, R (2004). Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. Thomson: Wadsworth: pp. 480-498.

Wood, J.T. (1998). Communication Mosaics: A New Introduction to the Field of Communication. CA: Wadsworth.

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