International Communication Theory in Transition: Parameters of the New Global Public Sphere
by Ingrid Volkmer

The terms 'international,' 'transnational' and 'global' communication not only stand for different definitions of an expanding communication space but also reflect the history of worldwide communication as well as its diversity. Global communication gives us an eyewitness view of events in remotest locations, we participate in political discourses of global, regional or even local relevance. These global processes, in which knowledge, values and ethics, aesthetics, lifestyles are exchanged , is becoming autonomous, a 'third culture', a 'generative frame of unity within which diversity can take place (Featherstone, 1990:2).
Such a 'global world culture' is shaped by - communication.

However, international communication has its own history. News have already been 'inter-nationalized' in the fifteenth century: the wheat traders of Venice, the silver traders of Antwerp, the merchants of Nuremberg and their trading partners shared economic newsletters and created common values and beliefs in the rights of capital (Stephens, 1988:77). The commercialization of mass print media (due to steam engine technology) has led to internationally operating news agencies (Reuters, Associated Press, AFP) in the nineteenth century. World wire and cable systems allowed international communication between France, Germany and Great Britain to their colonies in Africa and Asia. Transnational media organisations such as Intelsat, Eurovision, founded in the middle of the 20th century were the starting point for a new idea of international communication. It was the establishment of internationally operating media systems, such as CNN and MTV by indivdual companies which have finally inaugurated a new age of global communication by distributing the same program "around the world in thirty minutes" (as a CNN slogan states) - across nations and cultures.

It can be argued, that fantasies and 'ideas' of 'the world' as a somehow common place have existed since Plato desribed in his Timaeus the history of the world by the affiliation of the four elements to each other, since Aristotle defined the 'world state', since Francis Bacon distinguished between different world concepts 'globus terrestris,' and 'globus intellectualis'. It was idea of a 'world society' as a universe of nature and reasoning, a global arena for public debate during the Enlightenment which has inaugurated modernity. Postmodern thinkers replaced 'reasoning' by 'simulation' and Hegel's term of 'World Spirit' (Weltgeist) by an idea of 'instant' truth, created by the media and conveying the image of a shrinking world (Virilio, 1989). The moon landing, broadcast 'live' worldwide, was indeed a large step for mankind: simply because for the first time Planet Earth was seen as a common habitat, without borders, a blue planet of landmasses and oceans. The idea of the 'world' seemed to have switched from a metaphysical concept into a material reality a new relativity within a global whole and triggered, in conjunction with new international political and economical alliances, a debate about the macro-structuralisation of "Globalization."

Despite debates about modern and postmodern globalization processes, debates about democratic achivements, economical market expansion and political risks, the - in view of communication theory - interesting paradigm change is the assumed dualism of globalism/localism. It is the issue of a diversified modern, postmodern or late modern globalization process, in which world citizenry exist in parallel with strong 'tribal' collectivities. It is in Barber's (1984) terms the parallelism of "McWorld" and "Jihad." This parallelsim has implications on nation-state communication spheres (i.e. cultural protectionism) and for extra-societal worldwide communities. It can be argued that the public (and its opinion) is no longer a substantial element of the political system of a society but has turned into a more or less autonomous global public sphere which can be considered not as a space between the 'public' and the state but between the state and an extra-societal global community. It is a new global dialectic not in Hegel's terms between private and public spheres, which gave shape to democracy concepts of the emerging middle classes in Europe in the 19th century, but between the societal and extrasocietal communication sphere, giving shape to the concept of 'Being in the World' of a world citizenship or - in its totality of a 'global civil society'.

It was the advancement and diversification of satellite technology, from the 'Early Bird' to DBS and unlimited bandwidth capacities provided the architecture for a new programming strategies, targeting not inter-national but trans-national audience - along special interest channels. This development had a tremendous influence in a variety of world regions on the national/statist public sphere by extending political news and information beyond national borders. The influence of CNN which has internationally role of a global authority has been widely underestimated! The Internet, as an icon of a globalized media world, with around 200 million people globally 'being online' (whatever this means) seems to finally speed up this development. In my viewpoint, it is the push- pull (Internet) technology - the paradigm change from (mass- or narrow-) distribution to network technology, which finally shifts the dialectics of global/local dualism (Robertson, 1992) to the one of universalism/particularism, without reference to local authenticity (demonstration against destruction of rain forest) and has formatted a new global public sphere.

Whereas the modern public sphere spaces (see Habermas, 1992) required citizens, forming 'rational' political opinions, the global public sphere is a multi-discursive political space, a sphere of mediation (not imperialism), this new type has no center, nor periphery, the agenda setting, con-texts are shaped - mediated - by autonomously operating media systems, not only by big news authorities, such as CNN, but also by, yahoo, chatrooms and 'authentic' reports.

In such an environment, 'the international information order' conventional patterns of international communication (of North/South, developing and developed, central and peripheral nations) are becoming obsolete. International communication theory, modeled in the age of modernization (mainly around push technologies) reveals the imbalance in global media images and portrayals, analyses media imperialism of global conglomerates, investigates cultural effects of 'main-streaming' through internationally transmitted media productions, analyses the varying role played by news media in times of international crisis. Only a few, very recent approaches in cultural studies and sociology, interpret global media flow by a new globalized perspective which interprets arising new communication segments within the global context of inter-relating communication structures and options, highlighting a new relativistic 'intertextuality' with effects on a diversified global culture.

The strategy of international communication theory, should be to develop a methodology for the understanding of 'particular' interpretations, meanings, relevances of the global public sphere, to detect the specifics of this communication space for different world regions - in times of peace and times of crisis.

I would like to give two examples of such an approach for our further discussion:

Illustration 1: CNN World Report - Particular/Universal Issues in a Global Program Environment

CNN's World Report was launched in 1987 and is a globally unique news programme: It is made up of reports produced from broadcasting companies around the world. CNN broadcasts all sent-in programs unedited and 'uncensored.' The program's idea was to develop a news programme in which many voices from around the world could be heard. "World Report" is an interesting open global platform, a microcosm of the global 'public' sphere initated by the push medium TV. For developing nations, the programme offers the chance to present their points of view on international political and social issues or present topics which are not on the gate keeped agenda of the big news agencies. In my content analysis of 397 reports (in 1993), I found that this program is used in crisis regions (Cyprus) not only as a global newscast but also as a communication platform in order to communicate bilaterally with the opposing party (such as Antenna TV Greece and TRT Turkey). "World Report" is also used as a propaganda forum for totalitaristic nations, bringing press conferences of national affairs to a global audience (Cuba, China). It is used as a marketing medium, to delete stereotypes and a communication tool between expatriates and their home countries. My study also revealed, that national, regional, international, public, state-owned, commercial and private broadcasters use CNNWR as a carrierprogram to deliver their reports to 'the world' from all world regions. The majority of topics cover political, economic or military issues, followed by International Aid, Human Rights, liberation, agriculture/environment, culture and education.

World Report also reveals new international journalism: interactive journalism, type which reacts to another news report on the same issue, clearly biased, not objective, reciprocal journalism, reports are transmitted back into countries of origin and avoid censorship by airing a topic via CNNWR than via own broadcasting station, showcase journalism, presentation and marketing of regional cultures.

Players in this microcosm of CCNWR are: news organizations of global political organizations (UN; UNESCO TV), of regional and continental politcal organizations, of partisan political organizations (then PLO TV, Afghan Media Center, South Africa Now), publicly funded national broadcasters, political and private broadcasters, sucha s TGRT, a Turkish television channel that is owned by Türkye, a Turkish right-wing fundamentalist newspaper, news organizations that operate on the agency level, local broadcasters.

Illustration 2: Internet: Particular Issues in a universally accessible Public Sphere

Whereas the CNN World Report Model might serve as an illustration for one example of the global public sphere in a (mass) distribution satellite age of the late eigthies, the Internet opens the view for new developments. The western view of a universal global sphere and of the Interenet as a globalized medium is therefore a myth. For this reason, a closer analysis of the different world regions in their Internet use (and their idea of a global public sphee) is important. A global analysis of the global diversity of the relevance of the Internet in different media cultures is another example of attempting to understand the specific use of the global public sphere in various world regions. The determination of a specifc profile helps to understand different attitudes and perceptions of this global sphere and the medium of the Internet. I propose to characterize these environments in light of overall media structures in order to determine specific Internet profiles within the overall media setting. Based on this model, five environments can be identified:

* Spillover Environment: this environment can be identified by a low level of technical infrastructure. It is located within or on the border of relay satellite footprints of major media environments. The term "spillover" relates to this relay function of major satellite, to 'footprint' a center and a spillover zone. Spillover zones are many African regions (spillover from European footprints), Asian and South American territories, also Yukon Territory in Alaska.

* State-regulated limited access: countries where governments practice censorship over domestic news media, but minimal control over international (commercial) programming (Star TV case in India).

* Post communist transition: Push-mass media (TV) are in these societies undergoing the transition from communism toward democracy. This environment can be characterized by an ill-defined legal situation, a still vivid history of socialist media policy and a commercial market in which international and domestic broadcasters exist alongside various unlicensed local and regional stations (Russia and former USSR states).

* Pluralist Environment: Characterization of this environment are basic media regulation. Furthermore, media are regarded as commercial enterprises (USA).

* Dualist Environment: This environment can be identified by a parallelism of public service and internationally operating commercial channels, a parallelism of media as cultural and commercial enterprises, where international channels are 'localized' by domestic programs (CNN and NTV, MTV and VIVA). Media and telecommunication are state regulated, expensive and therefore Internet development is slow.

Spillover Environment

The profile of Internet use in spillover environments can be defined as community and professional communication. The Internet can be used in remote regions to facilitate community-wide communication that would be impossible otherwise. Of the 46 African countries, around 40 have Internet access and of these only a minority has full Internet connectivity. The Internet has the potential to bridge gaps within shortcomings of communication systems (telecommunication: long distance calls). There are various levels of community-wide communication via the Internet in Africa. Africa Online, the major ISP, founded by former African MIT students, has a strong regional emphasis which is evident in topics such as "Government", "Health," "Agriculture", "Women" and "Education" and regional headlines, defined links to information related to Africa, located in other parts of the world (such as African Studies Site of University of Pennsylvania). Dateabase oriented sites provide information about the region for tourists and entrepreneurs. The Internet also impoves the communication infrastructure for journalists, MISANET, an Internet project for journalists improves the flow of information among newspapers in the region, where international news used to come almost exclusively from Reuters, the South African Press Agency and Associated Press.

State-regulated, limited international communication environment

Within this environment, an important issue is reciprocal communication. In such a restricted context, where access to communication infrastructure is extremely limited and closely monitored, web sites that allow true interactivity and information exchange have been set up outside the region. Because the Internet's program flow is global, websites dealing with domestic Chinese issues (in Tibet) are located anywhere (mainly in the pluralist environment US). One of these sites, the Digital Freedom Network, publishes the writings of Chinese political prisoners and monitors human rights abuse not only in China but also in Burma and Bangladesh. Another type of reciprocal communication is the use of the Internt by political minorities or opposition groups within a restricted media environment (Singapore, Malaysia).

The meaning of globalization and of global communication is not homogenous, but different in various world regions. As system theorists assert, growing density and complexity of communication are the sign of a growing 'world community.' To understand the new global sphere, its autonomy, independency and ist 'mediation' will support the transition into a world community in the 21st century.

Bibliographical References

Barber, Benjamin R. (1994) 'Zwischen Dschihad und McWorld,' Die Zeit, Nr. 42, (14.Oktober), p. 64

Featherstone, Mike (1990) 'Global Culture: An Introduction,' in: Featherstone, Mike (ed.) Global Culture. Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity, London, Newbury Park, New Delhi: Sage.

Habermas, Jürgen (1992) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Cambridge, Ma, London, England: MIT Press

Robertson, Roland (1992) Globalization. Social Theory and Global Culture. London, Newbury Park, New Delhi: Sage.

Stephens, Mitchell (1988) History of News. From the Drum to the Satellite. New York: Viking.

Virilio, Paul (1989) Der negative Horzizont: Bewegung-Geschwindigkeit-Beschleunigung. München.