Chalaby, Jean K. (Ed.). Transnational Television Worldwide: Toward a New Media Order. London: I.B. Tauris, 2005. 264 pages. Paperback. ISBN 1-85043-548-0. $24.95.
Reviewed by Ralph D. Berenger
When legendary American broadcast news pioneer Edward R. Murrow first saw a demonstration of television in the 1940’s as an extension of radio, he commented, “this instrument can teach.” Later, when the technology overtook programmers’ ability to experiment with content, a former member of the Federal Communications Committee uttered the oft-repeated line in the 1960’s that television entertainment was “a vast wasteland.” While both have kernels of truth in their assessment of television, both have served to provide parameters for transnational broadcasters. Is transnational media primarily a teaching tool or is it an entertainment desert? Those questions and more are pondered in Jean Chalaby’s Transnational Television Worldwide, one of the first serious efforts to assess the worldwide phenomenon of cross-border television.
From its inception until the advent of satellites, television was an earthbound, nation-specific medium, and that aspect is covered in this book since many terrestrial systems broadcast across borders. Not until the late 1970’s, barely a generation ago, were broadcasters able to extend their reach globally by satellite, and the effects are both ongoing and dramatic.
Chalaby points out the dizzying variety of broadcast media systems on four continents in his anthology of 10 meaty chapters by himself and 13 contributors, who provide a different way of thinking about international broadcasting to reach dispersed audiences around the world.
His compendium includes assessments of television in the Middle East (written by Naomi Sakr, a board member of TBS, whose Satellite Realms (2001) continues to be the seminal work in the field See TBS 9), Turkish Cyprus (by Kevin Robbins and Asu Aksoy, who examine the “experience” of Turkish migrants’ “knowledge” of their “identity); Africa (by Graham Mytton, Ruth Teer-Tomaselli and Andre-Jean Tudesq, who tackle the seemingly impossible task of assessing systems that broadcast in European, Arabic and African tongues across the vastness of the great continent); South Asia (by David Page and William Crawley, who assess the uses of television across the Pakistan-India divide for both culture, development and, yes, propaganda); India (by Daya Thussu, who ponders the globalization/localization issue and finds the lines between the two have blurred in many cases to become glocalized); China (by Joseph Man Chan, who writes about the complexities of a country going through a media evolution, but also includes considerable material on the media frenzy taking place in Taiwan, which has banned some mainland TV channels until PRC policies are as liberalized as Teipei’s); Latin America (by John Sinclair who suggests cultural imperialism might be reversing given the breadth of Spanish being spoken around the world), and Europe, addressed by the editor, who writes about the continuing “deterritorialization” that’s taking place. The concluding chapter, by Joseph Staubhaar and Luiz Guilherme Duarte, suggests that local and not global television programming is what viewers worldwide tend to tune in.
The lesson of the latter chapter is clear – and reinforced by other authors, many of whom are questioning the increasingly downgraded notion of cultural imperialism from “core” countries – that the more “localized” or “regionalized” a broadcaster makes the product, the more viewers’ are receptive to it. Implications, not stressed in the book, are profound for emerging media market economies and advertising-based broadcasters.
Though Chalaby’s collection is recommended reading for international broadcasting classes as a reader, it suffers from the malady afflicting many of the same types of investigations of transnational broadcasting. It delivers only a glancing reference to international laws, regulations and political cultures that impact international broadcasting at all levels. While satellites bounce programming from space to disparate audiences around the globe, those programs are still created on terra firma, and subject to the laws of the countries in which they are created. Another area that would have been fruitful to study in this volume of transnational broadcasting systems is the entire area of advertising; its impact on programming, audiences and regional economies.
But these are minor deficiencies when stacked against the worthiness of this volume for students of international satellite communication systems.
Chalaby is senior lecturer in sociology at City University in London.