Even after they formally become independent, many developing countries still depend on the industrialized world for many resources, including technology, financing, models, and even media content, such as films or television programs. This is a structural legacy of imperialism, with which many countries with former colonies have struggled. Only a few countries have completely overcome it.
For a long time, these post-independence issues were analyzed in terms of world systems theory and dependency theory. In world systems theory, a core of industrial nations controls the essential dynamics of the world capitalist system. A large number of nations, i.e., most of the developing world, are peripheral or essentially dependent, and a smaller number of nations, which Wallerstein (1979) calls “semiperipheral,” achieve some growth and development. Semiperipheral states include the partially industrialized states of the third world and eastern Europe, and, at least before World War I, also included Russia. In all of these cases, the world economy, still controlled by the core nations, expands and penetrates new states to draw in new raw materials, cheap labor for manufacturing, and potential markets for goods. The peripheral or developing countries depend on the industrialized world for capital, technology, and most manufactured goods, while tending to export low-cost primary products or cheap manufactured goods that add little benefit to the local economy.
Basic Assumptions of Dependency Theory
Dependency theory makes a similar analysis, but more from the point of view of developing countries, which even after obtaining political independence, often saw themselves entangled in a series of dependent relations with either their former colonial rulers or with competing international powers, such as the US or Great Britain. These lines of dependence tended to center on the following dimensions.
Finance: many countries depended on outside powers for either investments or foreign aid; trade: many countries remained locked in unfavorable trade relations with dominant countries, selling their raw materials cheaply and buying manufactured goods for high prices; politics: countries often had to accept subordinate political alliances to obtain foreign aid or other benefits; culture: countries often imported television, films, and news from either their former colonial ruler or the US; education: national elites often spoke the languages of either former colonial rulers such as France or of emerging global powers such as the US.
Dependency varied greatly in regions of the world. The term itself was created by Latin American theorists, e.g., Cardoso (1970), to describe the experience of Latin American countries after becoming independent in the 1820s, then forming powerful new relationships of dependency on Britain, France, and the US. Most other developing countries became independent of colonialism much later, after the 1940s. However, the Latin American experience provided a useful set of prototypes and precedents for understanding dependency among other newly independent countries in other regions. However, regional experiences differed, and dependency developed and transformed in different ways around the world.
The reach of the industrialized nations continued to expand after World War II and to draw the newly independent nations into dependency. Even though the US had been a literal colonial ruler in only a few countries, for example, Cuba and the Philippines, it now became a logical economic partner for developing country elites around the world. Both the US and the USSR actively pursued alliances with elites in developing countries as part of the Cold War, so political and military concerns often overlapped or even opposed economic interests of the elites in both industrialized and developing countries.
Almost all national elites, whether in the economy, politics, or cultural industry, were seen as strongly linked to the economic interests of the core countries. These elites had been educated by the colonial rulers, had learned the colonial languages, had often worked in or been trained by their companies, and often saw their economic fortunes as linked to the corporations and governments of the major core countries, even after independence. So as these elites created political systems, economic groups, and cultural industries, they often saw profit and stability in continuing ties to the core countries. A key example is the television broadcasting personnel in various countries, who were trained in how to produce television and, implicitly, what television is or should be, by the BBC or other dominant media groups. Cultural industry elites, in television or elsewhere, were particularly interested in creating and guiding markets both in their economic role and in their ideological role in reproducing the systems of culture and information.
Many saw the ideological role of television under dependency as making third world residents content with their lot as lower-paid consumers of first world products. The core nations saw advertising and the subsequent consumerism it promotes as key vehicles of both economic and ideological expansion. However, some elites in politics, economics, and media were interested in increasing their own national power and reducing dependency. So a great deal of policymaking came to focus on reducing dependency by addressing issues such as enabling countries to produce more of their own media content and reducing imbalances of cultural imports, as in UNESCO’s MacBride Report in 1980.
The continuing results of conditions of dependency, such as low income resources, lack of industrial infrastructure, lack of support by weak governments, inappropriate models for production, and lack of trained personnel, have kept a number of poorer countries from developing much local or national production, even if their audiences might prefer more national programs. This is particularly true for the smallest and poorest of nations, such as those in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Over time, however, even as postcolonial dependencies in developed world countries sorted out and shifted, an asymmetrical replication persisted of core capitalist country structures, especially those of the US. Although some countries originally modeled British or French colonial systems, many moved increasingly toward the US model because it reflected an increasingly dominant, essentially capitalist, economic model. This took place in part because of direct economic dependency on the US and US firms. The US model spread well beyond its area of direct primary influence in Latin America, however, because as more countries shifted toward greater integration with the world capitalist economy, both policymakers and would-be media owners saw the US model as a highly functional and commercially successful way of organizing television. That view was powerfully reinforced by both foreign and domestic advertisers, who wanted to see television become an advertising vehicle open to them (Fox 1975).
When related to cultural dependency, particularly in television, most observers add advertising to the foreign economic influences observed by the dependent development paradigm in the general economy. Fejes (1980) emphasized the influence of multinational advertising on television industries throughout Latin America, both currently and historically. He noted that “it was the demands of advertising, particularly the advertising of multinational corporations, that shaped the commercial development of television in Latin America” (1980, 25). Others observed that the television industry still depends on foreign financing in the form of advertising revenues from multinational corporations and advertising agencies.
Dependency and Ownership
Direct foreign investment in media ownership first followed lines of colonialism and then dependency. For example, the logic of regional proximity led US companies to become involved in Latin America from the nineteenth century on, first with resource extraction and trade, later with direct investment for manufacturing. So radio and television developed in Latin America in the context of a region that had already moved from mercantilist capitalism under Spain and Portugal to a capitalism dependent on trade, capital, investment, and corporate models from the US and Europe. American advertisers and advertising agencies promoted commercial radio and television elsewhere because they wanted to have commercial media with which to work.
The US, Britain, and France also made a considerable direct investment in colonial and other third world newspapers in the 1920s, in movies in the 1920s and 1930s, in radio in the 1930s and 1940s, and in television in the 1960s and 1970s. Early in the twentieth century, as today, many local elites have found it convenient to grow their national industries through cooperative links with global corporations. For example, Brazil’s TV Globo is now one of the largest media corporations in the world outside the core industrial countries. But when Robert Marinho started it in Brazil in 1962, he was unsure of his own capabilities in a new medium. In classic industrial strategy, he sought to minimize his risk with an alliance for technology, capital, and management advice with Time-Life, which invested in TV Globo and advised him until 1970, when it was forced out by the government pressure and by its own frustration with lack of profit.
There was one initial wave of investment in foreign television companies in the 1960s, particularly by the US in Latin America. However, most countries enacted laws that prohibited or limited direct foreign investment in television, even if it meant forcing out some of the investments made in the 1960s. “With a few minor exceptions, nationalism would prompt foreign governments to deny outsiders control of the sensitive and powerful medium of television” (Duarte 2001, 21).
Local families, often those already involved with print media, started most radio and television operations in Latin America, but they took these initiatives within a context of a capitalism that might be characterized as dependent. These cultural industries were also hybrid. They blended national characteristics, such as family ownership and strong ties to the state, together with typically US characteristics such as commercialization, professionalization of network management, production, and the development of truly national advertising markets with strong ties to national and global advertising agencies. Of the influences exerted on Brazil’s TV Globo by Time-Life, for example, the most lasting were the reorganization of its production system, its network/affiliate management, and its relations with advertisers and ratings firms. In contrast, Time-Life’s programming advice was almost immediately rejected as useless within the Brazilian cultural market context, and program decisions were made by a combination of Brazilian advertising executives who knew the national market and program producers hired from other networks who knew which genres worked in that market (Straubhaar 1984).
- Cardoso, F. H. (1970). Dependência e Desenvolvimento na America Latina. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores.
- Duarte, L. G. (2001). Due south: American television ventures into Latin America. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Michigan State University.
- Fejes, F. (1980). The growth of multinational advertising agencies in Latin America. Journal of Communication, 30(4), 36 – 49.
- Fox, E. (1975). Multinational television. Journal of Communication, 25(2), 122 –127.
- MacBride, S., et al. [The MacBride Commission] (1980). Many voices, one world: Towards a new, more just, and more efficient world information and communication order. Paris: UNESCO.
- Straubhaar, J. (1984). The decline of American influence on Brazilian television. Communication Research, 11(2), 221–240.
- Wallerstein, I. (1979). The Capitalist World Economy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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