Oct. 30, 2003
digital and satellite technologies are transforming the world's
experience of television. News and information channels such
as CNN and al-Jazeera reach audiences across national and regional
boundaries. These developments are complicated and fortified
by entertainment formats, movies and forms of popular music
in particular, that also aim for global audiences. This Forum
will address these and related questions bearing on the past
and future impact of television in local, national and global
Katz is Trustee Professor of Communication at the Annenberg
School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is professor emeritus
of sociology and communication at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Among his numerous publications is an influential book (co-written
with Daniel Dayan), Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of
History (1992), which examines television's handling of
ceremonial or public rituals that reach global audiences.
Carey is CBS Professor of International Journalism at the
School of Journalism and the former Dean of the College of Communications,
University of Illinois. His books include Television and
the Press (1988) and Communication as Culture (1989).
During the fall 2003 academic term, Carey is a fellow in the
Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy
at Harvard University.
Uricchio is acting director and Professor of Comparative
Media Studies at MIT. A specialist in media history, his books
include Reframing Culture (1993 ) and a forthcoming study
of silent film culture. He is currently head of the media and
identity research team in the Changing Media/Changing Europe
project of the European Science Foundation.
KATZ's thesis, intended as a provocation, was that "television
is dead." According to Katz, there are at least four central
ways in which we talk about media: in terms of technology, content,
ownership, and "the situation of contact." This last
idea, the situation in which we make contact with a medium,
is what Katz focused on.
examples of the situation of contact in other media, such as
the experience of cinema in a darkened movie theatre; or the
way newspapers used to be read in cafes, but are now primarily
read at home and alone. Although the medium of television privileges
the home, it is not limited to the home. For instance, in Germany
during the Nazi era television was envisioned as a public technology,
in which single massive screens would deliver messages to large
audience in open spaces or massive auditoriums. Today, much
of India still receives television in village public spaces.
Our idea that television should be in the home is so taken for
granted that we often forget the situation of contact, and its
says that television is dead, he means television of the broadcast
era when a monopoly system dominated by three major networks,
or a government sponsored "public interest" channel
delivered programs to viewers in their living rooms. With the
multiplication of channels, the shared experience that was once
a part of national television is over. The shared experience
within the home has also diminished. In the past, television
was the altar of the living room; now there are multiple sets
within the home. Today, viewing times are also fragmented and
movable. Appointed times for viewing are displaced by recording
systems and all-day news channels. All these factors have undermined
what used to be a national experience.
that have had monopoly one-channel television systems present
an ideal scenario for the situation of contact. Having one channel
is an ideal not only because it guarantees a level of shared
experience, but also a shared agenda. Katz argued that one-channel
television is more functional for a democracy than a hundred
channels, despite the appearance of contradiction. Provided
that the channel is independent of government and commerce,
and truly professional in its organization, viewers would see
every aspect of society reflected on that channel. Katz's "ideal"
might be the BBC before the commercialization of British TV
or Israeli television in the years before globalized television
channels. With multiple channels, people tend to select the
ones that reflect their own views. As a result, the role of
television as an agenda-setter for a society is lost.
the example of television in Israel, where there was one channel
for twenty years, from 1970 through 1990. When a second channel
was introduced, the combined number of people watching the news
on both channels was fewer than that total number of viewers
before. Paradoxically, having more channels attracted fewer
people. Katz believes part of the explanation is that with multiple
channels, viewers could no longer assume that others shared
the same agenda.
argued that not only is this form of national or consensus television
dead, but that it has no obvious successor. In the history of
mass media's role in the integration of national states, newspapers
were displaced by radio, which were in turn replaced by television.
Now that television is fragmented, there is no clear successor
(especially not the Internet) that will become a medium of national
effect of fragmentation is the disappearance of "media
events," the great events broadcast on television that
were watched by whole societies. Media events such as coronations,
royal weddings, or presidential debates were live broadcasts
of history that riveted entire nations. Celebratory events that
marked the end of conflict, or proposed a shared way of looking
at a problem, are no longer as gripping as they used to be.
Instead, coverage of war or terror such as the events of September
11th, have taken their place.
reason for the decline of media events is a growing cynicism.
For example, audiences used to be impressed with summitry, when
world leaders came together to sign peace treaties. Now, there
is a greater cynicism that such treaties will not last. Secondly,
these events were once "performative" -- events not
only reflected or displayed by television, but also in part
created or enabled by the medium. With the fragmentation of
television, the feeling that "the whole world is watching"
of viewing television used to be comparable to a holiday like
Passover or Christmas, when groups gathered to focus on a shared
symbol or myth, made ritual conversation, and knew that others
in the society were doing the same. The situation of contact
created a unified awareness of society, and made for social
cohesion. Today, this is a role that television seems to be
CAREY pointed out that the title of the next scheduled forum,
"Covering Iraq: American Media Versus the World,"
implies that our national television system is not obsolete.
This is the idea that Carey wanted to follow.
no doubt that over the last 25 years what we have thought of
as national television has changed in the ways Katz mentioned.
However, to say that these systems are obsolete may be inaccurate
or at least premature.
It is true
that news and information channels such as CNN and al-Jazeera
reach audiences across national boundaries. Al-Jazeera is a
television service for the Arab world that was started by refugees
from the BBC, many of whom trained in the west. Their object
was to modernize Arab societies by creating a system of free
and open expression. At this level, al-Jazeera does not sound
much different from American channels.
purpose of al-Jazeera was not to de-Arabize Arab societies,
but to make them both free and more Arab. In fact, as
al-Jazeera added more staff to the original BBC contingent,
it reflected all the modern ideologies of the Middle East, including
Islamic fundamentalism, pan-Arabism, and powerful nationalisms
at the same time. In fact, if al-Jazeera is successful at leading
the establishment of a modern television system in the Middle
East, it is possible that the nationalist tendencies will override
the pan-Arab ones. As a result, the people from Saudi Arabia
working for al-Jazeera will go back to working for Saudi Arabia.
But it is still an open question as to what will happen.
al-Jazeera is much like CNN. As a television service, it reaches
35 million out of a population of 280 million. Viewers still
turn to more established national news services, particularly
in moments of crisis. Al-Jazeera makes a lot of money, but mostly
through selling tapes to western broadcasters.
highly successful when it had no competition. It followed a
transnational policy, localizing certain specific content for
particular national audiences. Its audience has never been large
relative to the commercial networks, except in moments of crises
when ratings might double from 2.5 to 5 percent of the viewing
audience. However, it may be that FOX News has found the formula,
not CNN. FOX seeks to be a global economic enterprise through
its position as a powerfully conservative and U.S. nationalist
It is also
true and significant that entertainment formats are aiming for
global audiences. But it appears that the more frequent case
is that countries are borrowing formats from each other. An
Australian television producer once told Carey how he got his
ideas for work: for two weeks, he rented a hotel room in Los
Angeles and watched everything he could on cable, and brought
back ideas to produce as Australian programming. This is a kind
of "indigenization" that is different from globalization.
that in fact, the overwhelming tendency is for people to prefer
news and entertainment that is national; that is addressed in
tones of the national culture, and which appeals to and explores
national myths. Indeed it may be that a program produced in
one country will be of interest to audiences elsewhere. But
there are surely limits to this sort of appeal. For example,
Carey wonders what foreign audiences think of a show like The
Sopranos, so deeply embedded in the texture of not only
American, but also New Jersey life.
television" means television of the network era, when a
country was dominated by "single channels" (or three
corporations, as was the case in the United States), then many
aspects of such monopoly arrangements are finished. The era
of high ratings, when one single program could attract up to
80 percent of the television audience, is over. The celebratory
"media events" that Katz described have been replaced
by transcendent or degenerate versions. America is no longer
"One nation under television."
is not to say that television may not morph into something else
beyond the network era that is remains deeply national, altogether
different from what we have experienced. To say that national
television is obsolete could imply something very controversial:
that nations are obsolete, or that nationalism is a waning form
of ideological bonding.
are under powerful pressures from above; for example, transnational
television companies aim to take sovereignty upward. Nations
are also facing pressures from below, at danger of losing sovereignty
to constituent groups. Such is the case in Spain, where the
Catalan people wish to be a separate nation within the European
Union. Whether the transnational or sub-national forces in the
world will be successful is an open question. The politics of
modern life will ultimately determine what happens to television
in our highly contingent global environment.
URICCHIO began by complicating Katz's idealized notion of
a single broadcaster unifying a nation. This may be a utopian
ideal, but it was also an idea of media use deployed in Nazi
Germany, where radio and television broadcasting was explicitly
seen as constructing a "Volkskorper," or "body
of the public." As this historical reality makes clear,
the crucial question is who has access to the media system;
who controls it. A single-channel broadcast system is not inherently
an even earlier idea of television, which may be reappearing
today -- a highly atomized notion that television is something
akin to the telephone, a privatized medium of point-to-point
communication; and thus an extension of the self. The proliferation
of channels and choices, and especially the advent of new systems
for recording, archiving and replaying material may be returning
us to the sense that television is a personalized and atomized
broadcasting may be under siege, but it is not at all obsolete;
it is extremely vital. Like the nation, it is in a state of
redefinition. We are now seeing populations shifting beyond
the bounds of the territorial nation-state, and television systems
are speaking outside those boundaries as well. The results are
complex and contradictory.
here are issues like popular memory and national narratives.
The press played a key role in the emergence of European nationalism
in the late 18th to19th century. As we enter the 21st century,
the role of television is vital. We may have a de-territorialized
nation-state and broadcasting system, but that is not to say
that TV is denationalized.
gave the example of Turkish populations in Europe. Turkish groups
in countries like Germany and the Netherlands have been using
cable and satellite television to stay attuned to events in
Turkey. They are maintaining their links with their motherland
through television. If we think in de-territorialized terms,
this is a kind of national television.
reaches across national boundaries to many audiences, is another
interesting model of how this kind of national television might
work. Its market share is often minute, but extraordinarily
powerful. For example, in Amsterdam where cable broadcasters
attempted to drop CNN from their menu of channels, the two percent
of the market that watched CNN were the bankers, stockbrokers,
and cultural elite. They were powerful enough to get CNN back
on the air.
twenty percent of the content on American and European versions
of CNN are the same, which shows how a global extension of a
nation can be highly attuned to local markets. CNN seems to
be organizing itself in ways that can address both an American
audience and a global audience of expatriates and others who
are less interested in being enveloped by a narrowly national
It is also
important to notice that in the European market, every nation
chose its own technological standard for television. For example,
British TV viewers cannot pick up French television. This was
unlike radio, where a listener could receive broadcasts from
other countries. This reminds us of how technology itself may
be nationalized, a strategy at which the French have been adept.
in general the tension between national and transnational broadcast
flows has been complicated. If we look closely at what people
actually did with technologically nationalized broadcasting
systems, we see a several interesting things.
were a lot of low-level technological innovations. In the 1950s
and 60s, people living in border areas, or small countries like
Belgium, modified their televisions so that they could receive
multiple national broadcasts. People themselves actively modified
the technology to ensure transnational flow.
polarized areas like Berlin, awash with messages from the British,
French, Americans, Soviets, and East and West Germans, became
extraordinary broadcast spaces. Berliners were acutely aware
of the subjective nature of the news, and were forced to think
about the nation as a constructor of different worldviews. There
were multinational flows, but national understandings.
today there are media markets like the one in the Netherlands,
which has a 30-channel cable system that includes Belgian, German,
and Turkish channels among others. It is an environment that
contains a plurality of national voices within a territorial
European media there is a powerful debate or struggle between
commercial elements favoring an unregulated market for TV and
groups who support some form of governmental or public interest
protection of minority and non-commercial voices. It is the
old divide between the marketplace and the "public sphere."
The public-sphere notion of broadcasting is central to a thriving
democracy, and it is under siege today from many directions,
including what might be called the market-driven, jingoistic
culture of FOX News.
of public broadcasting in Europe is instructive in this debate.
In the Dutch market, 97 of the top 100 most watched programs
are from public broadcasters. But of those shows, 80% are sports
programs. Twenty programs are about royal events, while only
five deal with national news. Although the public broadcasters
hold much power, the power lies in sports and media events,
which are both highly contested by commercial broadcasters.
Commercial forces argue that the state can preserve their public
forums, but sports and media events should be the domain of
the commercial sector, along with entertainment.
Uricchio reminded the audience that reality television shows
are often used as evidence of globalization. But the actual
evidence is complicated. Although the formats are globalized,
each individual program has a regional identity, and its national
character is often profoundly specific. For example, the Basques
fought to get their own television service, and ended up doing
versions of Wheel of Fortune and Big Brother in
the Basque language. From one angle, this might suggest that
a culture with such an interesting history was wasting its resources
on such programming. However, the ways in which Basque TV reworked
the formats to fit their own culture may indicated that some
of these programs are functioning in the same way older literary
forms and genres did.
BOWIE, senior fellow and adjunct lecturer in public policy,
JFK School of Government: When I read the title of tonight's
Forum, I saw three questions instead of one: What are "national
television systems"? Which nations in particular? And obsolete
for what purpose? For example, in developing countries, television
is still seen as a tool for development, propaganda, or maintaining
the government. This is very different from the U.S. business
model, where the national government allocates licenses, decides
who has access, and how the airwaves will be used. For example,
six megahertz of channel space can be used to allocate thirty
FM channels or 600 AM channels. It is a decision of government
that helps define scarcity.
If you look at the U.S. market, the decision to favor VHF over
UHF speaks to the way technology and culture can be fundamentally
intertwined. The decision was made at the behest of one particular
broadcasting company, and we have been forced to live with it
Your idea is based on the assumption that multiplicity, or what
I would call fragmentation, is desirable. I agree that we should
give access to anybody who has something to say. But the only
difference between us - and this has big legal and technological
implications - is that I want there to be someone in the audience
I am aware
of the potential dangers of one-channel television. But if the
ideal is some sort of participatory democracy, there must be
an arena or shared forum where one person listens to everybody
else. I see the ideal society as having such a shared space,
and how that can be achieved is my whole point.
I also believe that much entertainment content is being made
for an international audience. It is significant that half the
profit of entertainment programming is made in the U.S., and
the other half is made elsewhere.
There is an increasing international traffic in television programming.
When I watch television from all over the world, most of what
I see is constructed from a national point of view. When you
look at British programming, there are aspects of it, such as
its pacing and rhythm, which make it uniquely British. Programming
made in one place can certainly be of interest somewhere else,
but its original conception is within the framework of a national
understanding. Even if there is great international traffic,
the national origins are powerfully important.
I think the real danger is in the issue of flow, or the ways
in which certain corporations dominate distribution. A lot of
American programming flows into Europe, but very little programming
flows back to this market. There is a problem with the filter
that allows the flow of transnational programming to go one
way, but not the other.
MEMBER: I tend to believe that we are developing a larger
community. When I saw The Sopranos for the first time
in England, people there were talking about it as though it
reflected the London equivalent of the New Jersey mobsters.
And today I spoke to my children, who live in other parts of
the country, over telephone about The West Wing. We are
a self-proclaimed group of people watching together, even though
we are thousands of miles apart. The fact that we can communicate
so freely over the phone makes a big difference in how big the
theatre and living room become. We may be forming a larger community
in our imperfect ways.
Is there something akin to public access in other parts of the
world, and is the presence of public access in America the polar
opposite of the powerful national networks?
Public access has been tried in many other places, but as far
as I know it doesn't really succeed because nobody watches.
We have better systems than public access to reach wider audiences,
such as the Internet. I believe that the division of labor among
the media will become clearer as television changes its role.
HUNTER, MIT undergraduate: You mentioned how there is no
clear successor to television as a mass communications medium.
With the presence of devices like TiVo and DVD recorders, which
take elements of television culture and redistribute them in
various fashions, to what degree do such devices influence television?
Does that decentralized nature of distribution prohibit the
ability to create a new centralized media form?
Such devices have definitely affected the broadcasting industry.
There is a huge effort by the FCC to make sure such a scenario
will not come to pass. One way is by embedding tags in content,
which disables any attempt at repurposing. This is just one
of many measures.
I want to say something that cuts across a couple of the comments.
It is important to ask: how and where is sovereignty migrating,
and under what circumstances? You can certainly have a nation
without having a television system, where a national identity
is organized on a federal basis through different institutions.
After all, there was plenty of shared culture in the 19th century.
With the emergence of radio and television, sovereignty gravitated
upward into national institutions from localized ones. The power
of the federal government was asserted. Sovereignty is not located
in international institutions now, though it may be at some
point. It's a process of which the end point is unclear.
LIEBERSON, Harvard sociologist: What kind of data exists
to support some of these speculations on media? For example,
has there been some evidence of the possibility that news coverage
was more balanced when there were fewer channels? Also, we should
be careful in suggesting that sports coverage is different from
news. Sports are news for some people, and it's not for us to
say that it isn't.
Of course, there is lots of data on the media. We've just reached
the moment where the audience for all of cable exceeds the audience
for all the broadcast networks. There definitely seems to be
fragmentation going on. There was a study done by a group at
the University of Maryland that found that people who tend to
believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or believe
there is a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, also watch
FOX News. Though the causality is unclear, and the sample may
be self-selective, there still seems to be a problem.
I believe that Americans still get their information from television
more than any other medium in communications. What is the appropriate
role of government regarding television systems and individual
broadcasters? Moreover, what is the obligation of broadcast
licensees as public trustees?
of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 was to promote national
defense, make the best use of radio, and to "serve the
public interest and necessity," which government has defined
over the years. It has mainly been used to promote localism,
which is why broadcasters operate with limited power in their
license to local communities. It also promotes diversity of
viewpoints. It regulates by providing subsidies and structural
regulations. But all of this is breaking down because of the
multiplicity of channels. Government is abdicating its responsibility,
while still giving away very valuable public properties. Some
have estimated that the current value of the digital spectrum,
which was given away in 1996, is up to 771 billion dollars.
And there has been no giving back to the public, except for
the rule providing three hours of children's programming a week.
I agree with the implications of what you're saying. For
those reasons I have opposed deregulation in many of its forms.
The language that you're using, which is embedded in the Federal
Communications Act, is a language of the public interest that
has been destroyed in our discourse. The dominant discourse
now enshrines individual choice. To say that you serve the public
interest by widening the number of choices available is what
the cultural transformation of American politics has been about.
The language of individual choice is now the central political
language of the culture. And therefore it has eaten away at
the language of the public interest, which was embedded in the
JONES, director, Shorenstein Center, Harvard: I disagree
with some of the fundamentals stated here. In particular, I
disagree with the idea that television is dead. I think television
has never been more alive. It is by far the most important medium,
and it continues to be vastly powerful in shaping opinion in
this country and around the world. When you look at the most
important political issues of our time, such as civil rights,
gay rights, and women's rights - these issues are being debated
across the globe, not necessarily in news broadcasting, but
in popular broadcasting. If you look at the incredibly rapid
acceptance of gay rights in this country over the last decade,
you have to say that television made it happen.
is a medium that is fragmented in the ways you describe, but
the programming offers a wide range of embedded messages, even
in the commercials. I don't think news programming is the right
place to look. Also, I believe that the debate about what "truth"
is in the media is something that is both spurred and encouraged
by the cultural diversity created by television.
My position is officially one of provocation, and I'm glad for
that comment. However, most of your examples are from a certain
age of television that I argue to be over. Secondly, you're
doing content analysis, or analyzing the diversity of opinion
that's on the screen. I agree that there is a lot of diversity
on television. But with content analysis, you're looking at
output. I am more concerned with looking at intake, or the way
the content is received. From this point of view, segmentation
seems to be unhealthy for participatory democracy.
I do see
a huge diversity that has merit. However, groups that have their
own medium of expression are not coming together to share anything.
Any society needs a shared arena in which people listen to each
other. A channel can achieve this. People tend to make the mistake
of thinking that a television channel is one editorial entity.
A television channel can have five news programs, all of which
differ. But the idea is that people should be exposed to each
other. Otherwise, diversity is an illusion.
by Lilly Kam
--Photographs by Walter Holland