In his book information and the Crisis Economy, Herbert I. Schiller contends that the current proliferation of information activities and increasing sophistication of information technology they demand are the result of efforts to control the political, economical, and cultural strains produced by a general crisis in the world market system. This is a review of chapter seven of the book ‘The prospect for democratic communication.’ Schiller opens the chapter by stating that the communication process could serve constructive motives if it could draw the attention of people to the problems they face as well as offering a channel for the presentation and discussion of genuine options. Schiller argues that democratic communication requires should strive to serve constructive ends, which demands public access to and involvement with the means of expression. He further explains that this requires popular participation in initiating and responding to messages and discussion. The author argues that this level of communication would be hard to achieve in an economy dominated and controlled by large private companies.
Schiller presents some of the barriers to democratic communication, which include technological, physical, and social barriers. The author argues that the main limiting factor to democratic communication is social. Schiller asserts that the press, television, satellite, and cable are highly concentrated, capital intensive and controlled by large media chains and conglomerates (Schiller, 114). From his assertions, Schiller believes that the dominance of the media by large private corporations is the force behind developments in communication, a belief that leads him to reject any kind of technological determinism. In Chapter 7, Schiller insists that it is the profitability factor, rather than the listener / viewer’s needs and wants that receives priority attention. In his view, the democratic communication advocated for the good of the public, is already, and for the near future will continue to be, given away to large private companies and exploited for profit with minimal concern for the interest of the public.
Another important barrier to democratic communication according to Schiller is an advanced industrial market economy. He argues that the high cost of undertaking message production and transmission is far beyond the means of to most people. The author points out that concentration of large media firms controlling American public information is a public concern. Even though the author argues that this give unfair platform for representation, there has been proliferation of other channels of communication including internet and social sites. In today’s media, people can easily practice democratic communication through online forums such as social media and blogs to communicate to the world. In this chapter, Schiller presents his ideas without visioning the potential of future media. While it is true that large corporation control the media content that reach the audience, the new improvements in information technology has enabled the audience to choose what they hear and view. The author fails to discuss whether the public can use the technologies in ensuring democratic communication.
Schiller acknowledges that fact that corporations would go to any extent to reach their target market. In order to ensure maximum publicity, corporations are investing in in-house facilities, their own messages, and bypassing intermediaries. Traditionally, such initiatives are achieved through creating cable networks, broadcasting studios, producing TV programs, and distributing films and large amount of printed media. Schiller fails to realize that new media provides platforms where companies can easily reach their target audience without using the traditional communication channels. The internet provides a platform where companies can interact directly with the audience. Contemporary media technologies have introduced new ways of communicating and reaching audience. The internet has increased democratic participation and strengthened political community.
The rise of new media and the conditions that have produced it do not threaten to kill democracy as argued by Schiller, but requires the public to begin rethinking democracy from within these conditions. It is important to understand the emergence of new technologies with particular emphasis on new communication systems, resulting from the complex interactions among technological, cultural, social, legal, political, and economic forces. Different political regimes and cultures will exploit new technologies in radical ways, as a comparison of early television in the United States, Nazi Regime, and Britain dramatically illustrates. The traditional authority vested on the private, corporate, and the government as the machinery for information creation and attitude formation has pervaded because they assume that the public are powerless to shape new media in socially beneficial ways and not able to resist pernicious effects. Even though still elusive, new media is associated with information technology or internet, and provides an interactive platform for communication. The internet can provide a political platform in which everyone engages in serious debate with the world, thus bringing closer the ideal of democratic media. It does not however eliminate commoditization because it also serves as a virtual shopping mall where people can purchase anything.
Although the major problem of the chapter is the author’s overwhelming bias, it is not the only concern in the book. The author concentrates on the need to document previous literature at the expense of new ideas. The author uses an obtuse prose, muddles with faulty grammar and incorrect punctuation. The volume is pervaded with repletion and redundancy. For example, on page 116, Schiller would have his readers pity the Cuban government for being “forced to pay out its meager foreign exchange budget relatively huge cost of buying a full-page of advertising in the New York Times.” In conclusion, I refute the author’s conclusion that transnational system and its proponents are in support of the idea of marginalizing the public from information. However, with the current changes in information technology, the future of democratic communication does not depend on the quality and the character of our technology, but on the quality of our corporate and political institution and the character of the public.
Schiller, M. I. (1986). The prospect for democratic communication. In Information and the Crisis Economy (pp. 113-125). New York: Oxford University Press.