The News Corp Management Conference, Hayman Island, Australia, 19 July 1995
I have been asked to speak on the Media, Culture and the Emerging Technology. It appears to me that what we are addressing here is the arrival of the Infobahn. There are those who say that Mr. Murdoch might well be its epitome. However, I suspect that some of you who work for him consider yourselves riders on a roller coaster rather than travellers on a seamless highway.
It is indeed appropriate that Mr. Kristol and Mr. Gilder, two very prominent American intellectuals, are taking part in this discourse about the emerging information society, a discourse which we in Asia have been actively engaged in for the past two decades. As helpless recipients of the messages beamed out by the largely Western controlled media, we are only too aware of its power to shape cultures, change lifestyles and influence values. There were those who perceived our genuine concern about this onslaught as a hysterical demand to impose censorship on the West, rather than a cri de coeur for global diversity in the shaping of public opinion. It is therefore heartening to see that American intellectuals now share our concerns.
This call for inclusion has become all the more pressing because of the rapid advances of technology, which have brought about two overpowering forces, juxtaposed against each other, that are impacting on the media today. One is globalization,leading to the vertical integration of transnational media giants such as Time-Warner, News Corp, Bertelsman and Sony. The upshot is the homogenization of the message, manufactured according to the dictates of the media cartel. Diametrically opposed to this, but no less alarming from our point of view, is the empowerment of the individual, which confers any kook with a Mac or any pervert with a Handycam the ability to warp the minds of millions. Both forces, we believe, represent a threat to the building of an enlightened global community. For the technology that we have does indeed aid and abet the dissemination of the values, prejudices and cultural biases of whoever has his fingers on the button.
But let us acknowledge too that the same technology can also amplify the voices and legitimate grievances of those previously consigned to the margins by the powers that be. In this regard, repressive regimes everywhere have already woken up to the fact that "the times, they are a-changing." Many of us in Asia realize that there is no point in being hysterical against international cable networks or by the threat of cultural domination via the web of the new electronic superhighways. Although the threat is real enough, censorship and closing the sky is not the answer in this late 20th century. Only creativity and imagination would provide Asian societies with cultural empowerment, not only to withstand the new and more subtle forms of domination but equally to offer the world our own cultural output.
The rhetoric against Western cultural products sometimes reach a level of hysteria in our societies, often the result of our own folly, ineptness and wanting of discrimination. By pandering to philistine tastes and by becoming purveyors of the most banal and trivial output from the vast spectrum of Western cultures, one becomes an easy, and even for that matter justified, object of loathing. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we continue to patronize trash, junk programmes and B-grade movies of the West at the expense of quality works. We are already on the way to gaining control of the communication technologies to empower ourselves with the means, as it were, to mount a counter offensive. Yet that so-called empowerment would be meaningful only if we ourselves could offer cultural products that could successfully compete for the attention of a discerning universal audience. In other words, not only do we have to fortify ourselves against negative cultural bombardment, we must be able to make positive and lasting contributions to a new world civilization which is just and equitable.
We believe there is now room enough in the coming world of a thousand digitally compressed channels for not only the existing world networks but also emerging global networks, originating from say, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Oceania and other hitherto sidelined parts of the world.