The era of colonialism is over, or rather it has transformed: We now live in an age of neo-colonialism. This new system of colonialism substitutes hard power (military and political control) with something much more transient and much more subversive. These days the weapon of choice for those in power is mass media. When did this change occur?
We can see the media and telecommunications industries’ rise to power as early as after the Cold War ,with the rapid decolonization that marked the period. New states began developing in Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. The West and European powers saw these new territories as the perfect markets in which to introduce capitalist systems. The western superpowers used globalizing telecommunications systems and television pop culture to spread western values, like instant gratification and consumption. As Lechner and Boli pointed out in their introduction to Part VII, “the expanded mass media fit neatly with the spread of global capitalism.”
Once the 80s rolled around, simulated imagery really took off. More countries began producing their own media outlets, from film to new and TV, though some are undoubtedly still modeled after western media (consider telenovelas and Bollywood). Now we cannot imagine a world without TV, the internet, and our cellphones.
In his article “Media and Sovereignty”, Monroe E. Price seeks to explain the dialectic attitude of the West towards media and geographic borders (the basis for most state power). He wrote: “It is vital to examine the complexities and contradictions in Western attitudes toward unmediated distribution of information, the historic problem of oscillating between demand for freedom and concern over content…at the same time that the function of the state and its capacity to describe and enforce law is brought into doubt, law-making and invocation of the need and power to control imagery increase”(307).
I can think of no better example than WikiLeaks, and the highly controversial acts of information dissemination that positioned them right in the cross hairs of the US government. It was intriguing to see how the US dealt with this situation. After all, we are always calling for transparency in government. What we ended up seeing was a paradox. As reporting on the controversy developed, we saw how US government tried everything it could to shut WikiLeaks down.
WikiLeaks released information detailing US involvement with assassination attempts condoned and planned by foreign governments on public officials, energy scandals, financial scandals, war crimes, and diplomatic cables. (US officials want desperately to criminally prosecute WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange for theft of government property, to say the least, but he has so far evaded prosecution.) That is not to say the government did not find a target. The US government is currently holding US Army soldier Bradley Manning, accused of first leaking documents to Assange, at the military base Quantico in conditions allegedly akin to torture. What little news the public has of him is that he is required to stand for hours at a time and barely given clothing or food. He has been there since March 2010 and ‘official’ accounts of his are condition are sparse.
Price also wrote of the “market for loyalties” to describe state control and power, where “large scale-competitors for power…use the regulation of communications to organize a cartel of imagery and identity among themselves”(307). Another case I found to relate to this was the birther controversy stirred by Trump over investigating President Obama’s birth certificate. I believe big businesses, political lobbyists, and political enemies of the President definitely pressured mass media outlets to report heavily on this birther controversy. In that way the TNCC was able to steer the attention of the public to a falsity and propagate this attention for its own benefit.
The WikiLeaks fiasco reminds me of Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers scandal. I’m sure when the Pentagon Papers scandal broke that it was just as highly contested as the WikiLeaks issue is right now. Looking back many journalists are grateful to Ellsberg for the role he played and what it meant for journalists and First Amendment rights. Only time can tell what will happen to WikiLeaks.