By Richard Parker
A paper by Richard Parker, spring 1993 fellow, explores the potential opportunities and challenges for a new era of “global television.” After seeing TV coverage of Tiananmen Square and the Gulf War broadcast live around the world, it’s hard to doubt that some sort of transformation is going on, writes Parker. But in the future, what role is economics going to play? As government regulation of national broadcasting wanes, and satellite-based broadcasters sweep across national borders, how will it shape the emergence of global television, and in particular, development of television news? Will competition and privatization of television open up new and diverse sources of information? Will direct access by satellite erode authoritarian regimes, similar to shortwave radio’s role during the Second World War and Cold War? Will a handful of corporate owners emerge to dominate the new world? Will the average citizen in rural Africa or Asia find herself as able to be informed about the events and issues of the day as a government official or stockbroker in Washington, Tokyo, or London? None of these questions offers simple answers. Although competitive market economics has a crucial new role to play, the tradition of government involvement in broadcasting is by no means disappearing, argues Parker. Moreover, the technological innovations on which “global” TV has so far been built are already acting to strengthen traditional national broadcasters. This paper will show some of the patterns that global television will likely follow over the next several decades, including both the innovations technological change will bring, and the inherent limits—especially those around economics—that will intrude.