The Balkans And The Media-Information Trends

Article

In the second half of the 80s and in the 90s, the Balkan states were faced with serious economic and political challenges whose impact altered the logic of social living. These changes were simultaneous with some other crucial changes taking place at the world level. While the so-called Eastern Block was faced with radical social changes,...

In the second half of the 80s and in the 90s, the Balkan states were faced with serious economic and political challenges whose impact altered the logic of social living. These changes were simultaneous with some other crucial changes taking place at the world level. While the so-called Eastern Block was faced with radical social changes, the global changes that the world faced were, above all, of a technical and technological nature, the repercussions of which had their great impact in the area of communications. The development of remarkably fast communication systems in the 1990s introduced a different quality of information and of mutual understanding, in addition to a greater world-wide interdependence which in turn led to a swift globalization (eco­nomic, political and cultural).

After World War II, the Balkan countries, with the exception of Greece, lived in what was commonly known as the communist block. During this peri­od the majority of the Balkan countries underwent a process of fast emanci­pation that increased the literacy rates of the population to a significant level compared to the European average. Hence the Balkan countries had a very specific historic experience that differed from the experience of the other European countries. The Cold War division of the world into two blocks con­tinued until the end of the 1980's. This fact traced the path of development and of specific perception of the rest of the world. The historical experience of the Balkan states, the collective memory and life under the specific political sys­tem (that produced extensive closure) resulted in formation of stereotypes and prejudices in the perception and understanding of the world. The mobility of people was very low, and in some countries, such as Albania, it was almost impossible. People received information about the latest world developments through the media owned by the state. In other words, the state had a complete monopoly over the diffused information. The media were often viewed as a means for disseminating socialist culture and values.

This already established perception of the world, as well as the dominant social psychology in the Balkans, began to change as a result of the changes in the socio- political system, but also under the influence of the new means of information which was made possible by the new media: the satellite and cable TV, the Internet, the video and videotext as well as the computerization.

These technical and technological changes have contributed to new types of communication flows, bringing about changes in the social relations. The theory (it is also partially confirmed by research), points out the social power of media as well as the significant role played by the media in the distribution of information, the creation of public opinion and the global power of sugges­tion. The sociologists refer to the contemporary society as information socie­ty in which the information and its diffusion have a central meaning. The term information society associates mostly with the new media (product of the tech­nological revolution) and the new means of transmission. When we talk about information societies we think of the societies in the developed countries where the computer and telecommunication technologies are widely accessi­ble, a great number of people are employed in the information sector, the aver­age spending on information products is remarkably high and the number of analysts of the information tendencies is growing. How many of the Balkan states participate in these tendencies?

The events that happened in the Balkans at the end of the 1980's and the beginning of the 1990's give us a rare opportunity to observe the role of media in the contemporary socio- political developments. The media were the key promoters of national identity, national consciousness and cultural identity. The political changes that happened in the media sector were expected to pro­vide freedom of information and competition by means of pluralism. One of the first tasks was to transform the centralized media and their monopoly role. In the Balkan countries and most of Eastern Europe the state- owned media took over the role of national media. That was the case with the Republic of Macedonia as well.

The analysts of the media sector in the Balkans noticed two parallel processes: first, the creation of national media and second, the transnationali­sation due to the simultaneous presence of the processes of technological change and convergence. One of the common characteristics of the Balkan countries and Eastern Europe appears to be the lack of legal regulation in the media sector.

The new media (video, videotext, Internet, cable and satellite TV) share some new characteristics that facilitate the development of a new way of communication deprived of the old features such as unilaterality, simultaneous dis­tribution to the mass audience and the absence of interactivity.

In this respect, most of the communist Balkan countries, including Macedonia, are still challenged by the construction of a new media system, both in terms of technical modernization and in terms of legal definition of its media system. Hence, here arise the problems of media monopolization, cul­tural protection, human resources, etc. The legal regulation of media repre­sents a problem at global level as well. The legal regulation is hindered by cer­tain economic factors and the fast technological innovations. One of the major problems regarding the media regulation is the monopolization of media. It worries the theoreticians of democracy because it threatens the competition and the quality of political communication. These are the two main guarantees of a democratic system. Some of the possible solutions to the problem of monopolization suggest recognizing the domination of only few media corpo­rations and preventing the creation of new monopolies as well as establishing a stable and attractive public sector which would be the key factor in prevent­ing the creation of new media corporations.

The media manipulation and its emancipatory role are the two main fac­tors that impose the need of establishing a high quality legal framework in the media sector. Manipulation is an extremely harmful tool because it distorts reality by omitting the relevant facts that are necessary for having a complete understanding of the issue or by misinterpreting the present facts. The objec­tive is to mislead the audience in order to achieve certain political or econom­ic goals. According to Rainer Geissler there are two types of manipulation: in the first case certain élites or a class of people occupies the mass media, in the second case a mass political culture is being produced by means of the mar­ket- economic mechanisms (maximizing the recipients).

The emancipatory role of media is crucial for the contemporary world. In the contemporary societies the number of young people who expand their knowledge via Internet is constantly growing. Books begin to loose their pop­ularity. In the future the media will continue to have the most important role in education. "With its ideologically death subjects as well as difficult and bor­ing courses schools can not compete with the mass culture and its shining idols. But when they understand that and they try to imitate the mass culture and its way of presentation the schools only trivialize their subjects without making it less boring" (Mils, 1951). Yet, many sociologists warn that mass media direct their attention towards attractive and interesting issues from our lives neglecting those that are less attractive but nevertheless very important.

The developed European countries have already taken into consideration the great influence of media while preparing their teaching programs. They include subjects whose main objective is to develop the student's capacity and responsibility for critical understanding of the messages delivered by the media. Unlike the developed European countries where there is a long tradi­tion in scientific and academic following of up to date media and information trends, it should be highlighted that the first departments in Macedonia were opened after the year 2000, mainly at newly established private universities. Thus there is a great need in literature, staff as well as in research projects, exchange of students, etc.

A good media system and a thoroughly organized media policy is crucial for the integration processes in the Balkan societies. The introduction of cable and satellite TV imposed the issue of the diasporic or transnational audiences within the sector of the international public opinion. The diasporic audiences are composed of members of national minorities or communities that live in one country (ex: the Indian community in Great Britain, the Turkish commu­nity in Germany, the Moroccan community in Spain, the Albanian communi­ty in Italy, the Hungarian minority in Romania, the Macedonian minority in Greece and Bulgaria, etc..) Researches hitherto conducted in the Republic of Macedonia (Panova, 2000, 52-53) demonstrate that ethnic communities in Macedonia primarily follow satellite programs of their kin countries, followed by their interest in privately owned TV stations on ethnic grounds. The third in popularity are the commercial Macedonian TV stations, and the last is the Macedonian National Television. When it comes to diasporic audiences the same occurs in the countries of Western Europe, an example of which is the Turkish community in Germany. Such technological revolutions (satellite TV) in the area of communications (the possibility of diasporic communities to fol­low programs of their country of origin) seriously influences their attitudes as a political subject and a participant in the current politics of the country in which they live. In the Balkan region, where the use of cable and satellite TV is widely spread, the video and audiocassettes are not as important as in Iran, where vast part of the population lives in media isolation.

When we talk about new media the latest novelty is the multimediality. Multimediality represents an intersection of computers, telecommunications and media. "Four technological trends have contributed to these develop­ments: first, the constant improvement in the capabilities of computers, togeth­er with declining costs; second, digitization of data, making possible the inte­gration of computer and telecommunications technologies; third, satellite communications development; and fourth, fibre optics, which allow many dif­ferent messages to travel down a single small cable. The dramatic communi­cations explosion of recent years shows no signs of slowing down" (Giddens 2006, 594). In this domain, the digitalization (the transfer of electronic signals by transforming them into binary signals) is one of the greatest technological achievements after the discovery of cable and satellite TV. The main charac­teristics of multimediality are: interactive use, integration of different types of media and digital technology. According to the way the personal computer is being used the multimediality can be classified into two forms: open and closed. When the user is connected to a telecommunications network through infrastructural network we have open multimediality, referred to as Internet. "The Internet originated during the Cold War period that preceded 1989. The "Net" developed out of a system used in the Pentagon, the headquarters of the American military, from 1969.This system was first of all named the ARPA net, after the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency. The aim was limited. The ARPA sought to allow scientists working on military contracts in different parts of America to pool their resources and to share the expensive equipment they were using" (Giddens 2006, 594). The web was first discov­ered in 1990 by a software engineer who worked at a Swiss physics lab and it was popularized by an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois.

The discovery of Internet was a real boom in the information sector and it led to great social transformations. This sophisticated communication net­work is owned by nobody and it is available to everyone. The greatest advan­tage of Internet is its capacity to develop a dynamic interactive communica­tion. People from different parts of the world communicate with each other via this network1. This communication develops in accordance with the personal needs, interests and affinity. The possibilities offered by this revolutionary dis­covery are various: information diffusion, education, self- promotion and shopping. In addition the Internet absorbs the conventional forms of commu­nication such as: conferences, congresses, round tables and other types of debates. It is feared that the Internet could wipe out the other media in their original form. However, it is still difficult to predict what the impact of Internet would be. For example, the discovery of radio and TV, which was considered a great advancement compared to the press, did not cause the dis­appearance of the last.

The theoreticians consider the Internet the basis of the new global order that appeared during the last years of the 20th century. The Internet is spread rapidly and spontaneously. The diffusion and use of Internet depends on money. Therefore, according to available data, the Internet is still, more or less, a privilege of the developed countries. One of the main conditions for the expansion of the Internet is the number of personal computers in use. Whether a family will own a computer and an Internet connection depends on its finan­cial status. This correlation between the standard of living and the quality of information reveals that Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina are among the countries in Europe with the least use of the Internet2. In most of the Balkan countries the old media (such as newspapers, radio and TV) are still holding a dominant position in the information process. The change of the socio- political system led to a free information flow and media pluralism, though with a disputable quality.

In this context the Balkan people know very little about the socioeco­nomic and political circumstances in their neighboring countries which have negative implications on the economic cooperation. The lack of information and true understanding of the other leads to the creation of stereotypes and prejudices which affects negatively the cultural cooperation not only in the Balkans but in the entire world as well. To a great extent it is the result of the development of the so called agency journalism (journalism that depends on news agencies). Very few of the Balkan media have a developed correspon­dent network; therefore most of them depend on the news distributed by the large global news agencies. These gigantic transnational corporations dictate the quantity and quality of information as well as the structure of the news sys­tem in the world. "The big four western news agencies, Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Reuters and Agency France Press (AFP) are the heart of the world's news systems, pumping basic information from their headquarters to newsrooms throughout the world, whether English speaking or not" (Herbert 2001, 13).

It is estimated that internationally there are approximately 200 top jour­nalists who enjoy the confidence of the establishment. They hold the monop­oly over the information regarding the international diplomatic relations and they regularly attend all international events as reporters. As a result of their professionalism very often these journalists are given the role of advisors.

Due to high costs it is financially impossible for one media (radio, TV or newspaper) to have its own correspondent network that will cover the whole international arena. The national agencies perform the key role in the distri­bution of news in each country and they are followed by the four transnation­al agencies. The national agencies serve as a filter which prevents the infor­mation aggression imposed by these gigantic world agencies.

When it comes to media and the dominant social opinions the issue of media and cultural imperialism or globalization can not be omitted. A global media order has already been established. If we scan the real situation we will notice a network of corporations in which the different media aspects (press, film, TV, publishing activity, music) are combined in order to form global communication corporations that possess the greatest part of the global flow of images and information. Some of the theoreticians criticize the current sit­uation and talk about cultural imperialism. This refers above all to the inva­sion of Western culture, meaning the American cultural domination.

Regarding media and entertainment, the social psychologists talk about the narcotizing dysfunction of media. This refers to the loss of critical con­sciousness as well as the decrease in productive social engagement of people under the influence of media. This is achieved by giving too much space and time to cheap entertainment. Via the process of commercialization media become a means for moving people away from real life problems such as: economy, politics, social responsibility, etc...

The globalization of youth culture happens at vary fast speed. The key role in this process is performed by the TV station MTV which is specialized in music television. This TV station appeared in 1981 in the US and it begun working in Europe in 1987.

In 1980's the European countries begun implementing quota (for non-European media contents) in order to protect themselves from the American influence. The sociologist McQuail (McQuail 1994) believes that there should not be any concern regarding the influence of the transnational media, espe­cially in the case of Europe, because the cultural influence comes from a cul­ture which is historically fond of Europe. In the Balkans this type of protec­tion is still not discussed in debates and it is completely absent in the audiovi­sual politics.

Conclusion

At the second half of the 1980's and 1990's of the last century states from the Balkans were faced by essential economic and political changes that pro­voke an overall change of the logic of social living. Those changes were beside the other changes on global level. The global changes that world had faced were from technical and technological nature on the first place, regard­ing the most in the field of communication. The development of an extremely fast planetary communication in the 1990's has brought another quality of informing and mutual acknowledgment at the end a rapid globalization (eco­nomic, political, cultural, of values, etc).

After the World War II, the countries on the Balkans, with exception of Greece, were living in so called communist block. Thus lead to certain path of development and specific perceptive of the rest of the world. The historic experiences of the Balkan countries, collective memory and living under cer­tain political system (that produced extensive proximity) impacted forming of stereotypes and prejudices regarding denote of the world. This already formed vision as well as dominant social psychology has been subject of change due to social changes (changing of socio-political system) as well as under the influence of one new way of informing provided by the new media: satellite and cable TV, Internet, video.

Technical and Technological basis are more impacting the communica­tion paths pertaining to certain changes in social relationships. In theory (thus confirmed in partial researches as well) there is aggressively tribute to media in informing, creation of opinion, global suggesting power, and social strength of the media. Regarding the subject there is necessity of pointing out two key roles of the media: emancipate and manipulate.

Notlar

1 According to some researches the number of Internet users is approximately 35 mil­lion people. It is

estimated that the annual Internet traffic growth rates in the period 1985- 1998 were close to 200%.

2 Journalism in Macedonia can not be yet called an established profession. Namely, in Macedonia, as opposed to the U.S. for instance, anyone can be a journalist, regardless of his or her education. There are interdisciplinary studies in journalism at the Law Faculty in Skopje, which have been existing for the last 30 years, but for which there is relatively little interest.

Bibliography

McQuail, D. 1994. Mass Communication Theory. London. Sage Herbert, John. 2001. Journalism in the Digital Agge, Focal Press Giddens, Anthony. 2006. Sociology (Fifth Edition). Cambridge: Polity Mils, Rajt. 1951. Beli Ovratnik. Beograd

Kolar Panova, Dona. 2000. Media and Cultural Identity, Kulturen Zivot (magazine for culture, arts and social issues), Skopje

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