The Myth of Information Revolution

By Ahaduzzaman M. Ali

The western media have given wide publicity to the ‘Information Revolution’ which refers to massive production and distribution of information that brings about great changes in our life. Information here is used in the sense of news and entertainment. The pattern of media ownership, distribution of information, distortion of information, agenda-setting, uninterrupted flow of superficial media entertainment, however, negate the claims made by the Western media in respect of the free flow of information. The information revolution is actually a myth. In contradiction to the revolutionary changes one notes the control and manipulation of societies and peoples through information. This article highlights the information order in global and Bangladesh contexts.

Pattern of media ownership

The new media corporations get their products to the largest number of people. They aim at constructing very wide audio-visual spaces and markets and annihilate old boundaries of nationalities. Audio-visual geographies are detached from symbolic spaces of national culture. An international consumer culture grows by making onslaughts on indigenous cultures. In the existing media situation television without frontiers is the ideal and based on this ideal global corporations acquire power and reinforce along with other economic, political and cultural forces the process of globalisation which is to all intents and purposes a process of reinforcing inequality and imbalance.

In the process of globalisation the media moguls regard national frontiers as a remnant of antiquity. National identity matters little to the media corporations. The reality in media world is the market opportunity. What happens in the name of free flow of information is transnational corporate cultural domination The media corporations like Sony, Time Warner, Matsushita, Walt Dysney company and Rupert Murdoch's News are creating a media world in which they are the dominant and set rules. Powerful commercial channels like CNN, and Cartoon network have emerged. Generic channels are growing rapidly. The growing super-highways will take us into the age of personalised media. However the individual choice is limited by what is available. In the mid-eighties we heard about global cultural convergence which was deemed favourable for the acceptance of a single product across a wide range of geography. Dallas, Star Wars indicate the growing homogenisation and standardisation of the market. In the nineties American movies like the Flintstones are reinforcing the same pattern. Satellite and cable channels are making standardisation a global process. CNN, which is symbolic of American cultural dominance, achieved spectacular success through worldwide circulation of a single news service. Star TV is integrating global ambitions with local dynamics. Global corporations are taking local credibility seriously in order to maintain hegemony, but local, it may be said, amounts to a multi-national region. The logic of globalisation lies in the creation of a few media giants.

Cultural domination

The global dissemination of TV entertainment and flow of news is interlaced with the idea of cultural imperialism. Herbert Schiller regarded communications imperialism as a planned attempt by US military-communication conglomerates. L.R. Beltran identified nine forms of U.S. cultural influence, such as, international news agencies, international advertising agencies, international public opinion, marketing and public relations firms, transnational business corporations acting as advertisers, exporters of printed and audio-visual programming materials, exporters of communication equipment and technologies, international telecommunication companies, the official propaganda agency and the official security agency.

The multinational corporations are the ideological apparatus of imperialism. The globalisation of production means the globalisation of cultural merchandise. Mass culture becomes universal culture which makes possible the enslavement of each country’s national consciousness. The economic profitability of such a process is greatly enhanced by its ideological profitability. National culture in this era of globalisation has to guarantee the reproduction of the dependence of the upper classes on the USA at the same time as that of their own domination as the ruling class in a particular nation. The modern media enter the developing countries before the other potential for production reaches anywhere near the level in developed countries. Television, for example, is used by these countries when they are not capable of producing adequate programmes. Cultural imperialism may be viewed as an absence of co-ordination between hardware and software growth of media. Several dimensions of media imperialism may be distinguished, viz., foreign ownership and control of media outlets, transfer of the metropolitan broadcasting norms and institutionalisation of media commercialism at the expense of the ‘public interest’.

Gross racism of the early periods of American culture has diminished recently, but vestiges of it persist in the images of the Viet Cong and recently in the portrayal of Arabs and Islam. The expansion of global media has been a strong factor in the perpetuation of racism. The more insidious projection of Anglo norms on the world has been viewed by Dorfman and Mattelart. The underdeveloped countries exist only as a backdrop for the adventures and exotic vacations of the Whites. The global obsession with sports has been used by ruling elite as support for militaristic nationalism and capitalistic aggression. Organised sports in the underdeveloped countries reinforce class, racial and sexual lines and divert class conflict into infantile opposition between localities and between nations. Viewers of American entertainment see a masculine world in which an individualistic ideology holds sway. The events on TV screen take place in a very affluent atmosphere of the upper class. And the affluence shown on the screen is inconceivable to most of the viewers in the third world.

Bangladesh Context

Bangladesh as a peripheral country receives some of the benefits of the ‘Information Revolution’ that trickle down to it. But in accordance with the backwash and spread effects theory it remains backward. Against the backdrop of backwardness and other concomitant socio-cultural problems the media that may be taken into account are the press, for the electronic media are controlled. The newspaper owners are now much more conscious of the commercial aspects of the industry. Profit making is prioritised and newspapers are increasingly turning into commodities. Once the profit motive takes precedence over other issues, responsibility may be pushed into the background. It is true that in a society based on a competitive economy, the profit issue cannot be ignored. But there should be an integration between profit and public service.

Coverage of News

With the establishment of democracy the media audience’s expectations about more information on society, politics, economy, culture began to rise rapidly. But much of the important information remains unknown. It cannot be said that the newspapers, not to speak of the broadcast media, are doing the surveillance of the environment properly. Most of the newspapers have a tendency to highlight politics in a narrow sense. The concept of news no doubt lays emphasis on prominence as one of the important factors of news value. But undue importance given to names may mar the quality of news. The front page is frequently filled with political speeches and statements that have little consequence. Findings of newspaper content analysis indicate an imbalance in the flow of information. The imbalance is particularly evident in the coverage of urban and rural news. Even in covering urban news the newspapers seem to rely on stereotypes. There are more important, interesting and useful information in the urban areas that are ignored by the reporters. The elements of news are found not only in the core, but also in the periphery. Prominence may acquire new meanings in the marginalized areas of society.

Politics is certainly a very important element of news, but the way it is treated in the press must be altered. Politics is not mere mud slinging and political harangue; it is a comprehensive term that connotes overall human development, based on fair distribution of socio-economic benefits, popular participation in political and socio-economic processes and integration between tradition and modernity. Newspapers may play an important part in reflecting politics in this sense. At this stage when the nation is undergoing the process of democratisation, the newspapers by covering news from the nooks and crannies of the country, all areas of life may widen the horizon of the people.

Objectivity in news

The need to present news as matter-of-fact, free of prejudice, impartial and true to reality is ever more felt in view of the tendency of some newspapers to deliberately distort news. Many of the newspapers doing biased reporting. Partisan politics is to some extent responsible for this.

With the mushroom growth of newspapers in the county, there is an evident tendency to ignore the fundamental norms and practices. There is exaggeration and distortion. The prime responsibility of a newspaper should be to report news and not make news. Exaggeration of minor incidents is making news. Rumour stories are also manufactured news. The newspapers should concentrate on reporting the truth. They should not conceal what should be offered to the public. But at the same time the press should not unjustly damage an individual's character for the sake of a story. They should play fair with an individual against whom derogatory charges are made. Many of the newspapers do not stay within the bounds of decency. They intrude upon the individual's privacy. They hardly play fair with persons quoted in their columns. They seem to forget that news is read by young boys and girls, the mentally unstable and the old people. Stories, pictures and advertisements published in our press often leave adverse effects on the readers. The newspapers tend to play up the negative aspects of life.

Developing a democratic culture

The press may play a significant role in developing political culture through proper presentation of news and views. Even among the literate segments of the society there seems to be an absence of 'politeracy' to a considerable degree. Politeracy or political literacy is political knowledge, skills and attitudes, needed to make a person informed about politics, able to participate in public life and to recognise and tolerate diversities of political and social values. A strong democracy is largely dependent on a truly politically literate middle class and there the press may be helpful by informing and positively influencing the people. The press in Bangladesh are yet to play such a role.

There is an absence of proper communication and co-ordination between different segments of the society, such as, the government and the opposition, the bureaucracy and the party-in-power, the different departments of the government, the central and the local administration, the generalists and the technocrats. This absence of co-ordination affects the socio-political and economic stability of the country. The press which may through continuous flow of objective information and interpretation help bridge the gap between segments of the society is hardly playing its part.

One may point to the danger to which the journalists are vulnerable and that is the inclination to let those items become news which correspond to their prejudgements and predisposition, and make no difference between news and opinion. In the process of instrumental actualisation they tend to report those aspects of controversies which correspond with their views. There are signs that the growing ubiquity of the media and the changing nature of media ownership in Bangladesh may lead to a situation when the press and other media will create the sense of importance of news in the mind of the audience rather than the real importance of events induce the writing of news.

Erosion of culture

Media culture reflects a sharp decline in the quality of content and form. There is an abundance of light and superficial content. Satellite culture has become a matter of grave concern. The mindless media programmes consumed by the audience regularly pose a threat to national culture. The infantalization of culture and eclipse of reason are becoming dominant characteristics of our culture due to the the invasion of satellite culture.


It seems that mere technology cannot bring about real changes in society unless there is an effective social technology that ensures the proper use of technology and other resources for the greater good of human society. The unprecedented growth of technology cannot provide us cornucopia. The development of human values is dwarfed by the contradictions in the socio-economic order. It is time we thought about fair distribution of opportunities and socio-economic benefits.

The author is Professor of Mass Communication, University of Dhaka