26 Mar 2007

Reframing the ‘global’, the ‘digital’ and the ‘local’


by Chua Siew Keng

Introduction (8:2) Reframing the ‘global’, the ‘digital’ and the ‘local’ — communication theories and Asian perspectives Chua Siew Keng.

In the last decade of the last century/millennium there has been an explosion of the ‘global’ and the ‘digital’ communications within the geopolity of the Asian region. From a universalised discourse, ‘globalisation’ has become increasingly contested in relation to both economic and communications development. Linked to the ‘digital’, the term ‘global’, from the perspectives of communication scholars in the Asia and the Australasian region, is in need of being reframed, if not redefined. This reframed globalisation may articulate a politics of communication that critiques and reshapes the old theme of cultural imperialism but it does not render the latter entirely obsolete. The ‘international development’ era of communications has morphed into the ‘global’ era with continuities and change. Whereas the international era had projected communications from the top down within the modernisation project of progress and development, in the reframed global era there needs to be ‘careful consideration of the democratic potential of the new communications media ... along with limits placed by global markets’. There can be ‘globalisation from below’ (see Sosale’s article), contextualising the global within the history of the local. ‘Asia’ as a region, too, has been subjected to contestable boundaries. As a designation for a geopolitical terrain, it has expanded during the past two decades to include the countries of Australasia, comprising Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific nations, from the perspectives of the scholars within the region.

Indeed one Indonesian scholar-journalist has made out a strong case for considering Australia as the ‘white tribe of Asia’ (Hardjono 1993). New Zealand scholars have increasingly aligned their perspectives more with Asia than with the ‘West’. This turn against the West in communication theories within the region has been active in contesting globalisation as applied to Asian and non-western media studies. From another angle, the technologising capability of the ‘new’ digital communications has also contributed to the rhetoric of globalisation to link it with ‘modernisation’ and ‘development’. Scholars in the Asian region have also begun to demystify the new digital communications technologies and have called into question what may be regarded as new. In Japan, the most economically developed nation in Asia and the most technologically advanced country in relation to communications development, the rhetoric of the digital can be critiqued. Jungbong Choi discusses the limits of such a rhetoric about new communications, such as digital television, in the Japanese situation. His article ‘Embedding digital television in an IT economy: The case of Japan’ explores the tension between public service broadcasting and the commercial consumption of the digital potential of the medium. He locates the economic discourse of the new communications within its social and cultural contexts. Choi attempts to ‘situate Japan’s launch of digital TV within the larger campaign to reshape economic structures and sociocultural domains in correspondence with the fast-changing configurations of information capitalism’. Goode and Little explore the tension between the political economy of digital television and cultural issues through the investigation of the term ‘local’ as it applies to content production.

They argue that the issue of local content ‘may be more under threat’ as a result of digital television. They question the accepted contours of local culture as ‘national’ culture in relation to global imports, and suggest that in effect what may emerge is a ‘localisation’ which is hybrid in nature, comprising an amalgam of imported features and everyday local realities.

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