The world of international communication has changed rapidly in recent years. Following World War II, global communication was dominated by the tensions arising from the Cold War, pitting the old Soviet Union against the United States and its allies. Much of the rhetoric, news space, face time, and concern dealt with some aspect of government control of mass communication, or the impact of governments and other entities on free speech, or the free flow of information or data across international borders. Likewise, much of the international coverage on both sides of the Atlantic had an East/West tone, reflecting a communism versus democracy wedge. With the demise of the former Soviet Union and communism as a major global force, the factors underpinning international communication shifted dramatically. No longer did crises around the globe create major confrontations between two superpowers. What’s more, the end of communism spelled the demise of the Soviets as enemies of the free press and the free flow of information. In many editors’ and producers’ opinions, it also spelled the end, ignoring, or at least downgrading, the importance of foreign news coverage. That clearly changed for a while after September 11, 2001.
Today, the United States stands alone as the world’s only superpower. While other economic entities, such as the European Union and parts of Asia, compete daily with the United States in the global marketplace, there is no large‐scale foreign military threat to the United States. But today there are new enemies and threats out there. The Taliban, al‐Qaeda, the Islamic jihad, suicide bombers, extremists, and a vast array of terrorist cells around the world have taken up new weapons to confront the Western nations. The new weapons are primarily low‐tech: smartphones, netbooks, the Internet, social networking sites, video cameras, Twitter, Facebook, and other means. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have replaced the nuclear bomb scare of the Cold War era. This widespread terrorist phenomenon has again seen a modest editorial shift to greater coverage of international affairs. The “good guys versus bad guys” mentality has returned. Terrorists of many stripes are replacing communism as the evil force. The Middle East and other nations harboring and training extremists are the new Evil Empire.
Why is international news important? Essentially we are experiencing an expanding global economy where events in foreign lands impact us on a daily basis. Examples are everywhere. A volcano in a Nordic country spreads choking ash over most of Europe; a revolution in the Middle East impacts the price of gas around the globe; a banking disaster in the United States or Greece shakes the stock markets around the world.
Yet the problem is that though we know the global economy is expanding, the amount of international news coverage overall, particularly in the United States, is declining. Consider that the United States still exerts substantial influence around the world via both hard and soft power. This in turn should translate into a citizenry that is well informed about both foreign events and foreign policy decisions.
This decline is significant when viewed through the prism of how the media contributes to the promotion and expansion of the democratic process both here and abroad. Given this metric the overall decline seems to be accompanied by a parallel decline in support for both foreign aid as well as the promotion of transparent and open democracies around the globe. For example, the Nordic countries have a more internationally focused press and give the highest amount of foreign aid while the United States now ranks eighteenth in terms of per capita giving. Foreign aid for humanitarian efforts is not a major policy issue for the average American, and with decreasing foreign news coverage this downward trend is likely to continue.
Looking back, the golden age of international news coverage lasted from the 1940s to the end of the 1980s. A major boost during this era was the introduction of satellite broadcasting. The three main reasons for the decline are: first, the end of the Cold War and the implosion of the old Soviet Union (editors lost their “good guys versus bad guys” frame); second, the decline of newspaper circulation and revenues (part of this was the result of alternative Internet‐based information sources of all types, and the expensive costs of running foreign bureaus); and, third, the global economic crisis of the last decade. Collectively they forced almost all for‐profit media outlets to lose enthusiasm for foreign stories, and foreign bureaus were reduced.
Yet despite all of the compelling reasons for more, not less, international news, this coverage continues to decline: the reality is that the proportion of international news across the media is at an all‐time low, down from 30% 30 or 40 years ago to about 14% today. It is as if the global interconnectivity has been cut in half, when in reality it has doubled. The interconnectivity has been driven by factors such as the expansion of the global economy and the spread of cable and satellites, along with growing access to the Internet.
A paper presented at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication by Katherine Bradshaw, James Foust, Joseph Bernt, and Brian Krol titled “Domestic, International, and Foreign News Content on ABC, CBS, and NBC Network News from 1971 to 2007” makes the point that “viewers saw far fewer stories about the rest of the world in the three most recent years sampled 1995, 2001, 2007.”1
All three years are in the post‐Cold War era. But in their study, which included 1989 (the last year of the Cold War), there were 342 foreign stories on the three major networks in 1989 compared to only 68 in 2007.2
Clearly editors and producers across the media spectrum are showing less interest in foreign news. They see foreign news as
expensive in an era of cutbacks. In a lecture, Alisa Miller, head of Public Radio International, explained how in today’s media environment, international stories and news have declined: “From a decrease in foreign news bureaus to the prevalence of recycled stories, the news map of our current landscape is both dangerously one‐sided and scandalously negligent in its management of the global village.”3
Miller documents the startling statistics about the state of international news coverage in the United States, and the same is true in several other places.
Part of the larger problem is the turmoil and uncertainty created by the online phenomena and opportunity for others to provide information, formally or informally. Consider a report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism:
In the 1990s, Time magazine, the New York Times, and network newscasts had been replacing their foreign bureaus and international coverage with a parochial domestic agenda. Terrorism and its followers have put international news back in prime time. In addition to the various government investigations into issues like weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the 9/11 Commission, the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prison scandals, war crimes, and public safety have led to a new global agenda and media focus.
International communication refers to the cultural, economic, political, social, and technical analysis of communication and media patterns and effects across and between nation‐states. International communication focuses more on global aspects of media and communication systems and technologies and, as a result, less on local or even national aspects or issues. Since the 1990s, this global focus or prism through which interactions are viewed or analyzed has been altered substantially by two related events. The first is the end of the Cold War and the sweeping changes this has brought; this includes political realignments across Europe. The second is increasing global interdependence, which is a fixture of the expanding global economy. The global economic recession demonstrated the interdependence of economies big (like the United States), and small (like Iceland). But this interdependence has more than an economic orientation; it also has a cultural dimension. This cultural dimension, in turn, has three important traits:
- How much foreign content is contained, absorbed, or assimilated within the cultural domain?
- How is this foreign content being transmitted (e.g., by books, movies, music, DVDs, television, commercials, mobile appliances, or the Internet)?
- How are domestic or indigenous cultures, including language, being impacted by this foreign content?
These aspects, issues, and questions are what this book is about. Global Communication
highlights an international or global approach to the broad range of components that collectively make up the discipline of international communication. Because “we live in an era of new cultural conditions that are characterized by faster adoption and assimilation of foreign cultural products than ever before,”5
this book investigates in some detail who and where these cultural products are coming from and why, and addresses issues and concerns about their impact in foreign lands and in foreign minds.
Historically, the US government has orchestrated international communication policy and the many activities relating to transborder communication activities. During the 1950s and 1960s, the US State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Council, and the Pentagon played central roles within international organizations to promote policies to suit Cold War agendas and objectives. This behavior was evident at a number of international conferences, but it was particularly clear in the US position regarding the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). Ultimately, the hostile rhetoric became so intense that the United States (under President Reagan) withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the 1980s. The United States remained outside UNESCO until 2004 and left again in 2019. The United Kingdom withdrew as well and has since returned.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, the counterpoint to much of the US rhetoric and foreign policy, whether overt or covert, disappeared. The old rationales – Cold War rhetoric, concern about communism, and fear of nuclear destruction – became less prominent in the new environment of openness and cooperation with formerly Eastern European countries. Foreign trade replaced concern about foreign media initiatives.