Friday, June 03, 2005

Manipulating the Fetus

New understandings on foetal suffering (7 March 2005)

Research leader Professor David Mellor says there is no doubt that babies before birth react to a range of stimuli because the sense organs of fetuses in the uterus begin to work well before birth. Ever wondered how watching TV and films have influence over the fetus? And how much of children's present behaviour is juat playing out a script that is already written

"Touch, sound and other stimuli have various effects on the body, including eliciting movements. But the evidence, accumulated over the last 25-35 years, is that this does not occur at the conscious level. There are many other examples of sensory inputs that have effects on the baby (including body movements) that do not involve consciousness. For instance babies with no cerebral cortex (the part of the brain essential for consciousness) can respond with movements and hormone release and heart rate changes.

Sensory input (resulting from stimulation of touch, sight, sound, taste and other sensory nerves) does occur in the fetus and does have effects. Although the evidence is that this is not at the conscious level, it is possible, and some evidence suggests that it is in fact likely, that such effects persist well beyond birth."

Professor Mellor says such effects will be very significant in nervous system development: "There is reason to consider that some might very well be at least benign, and perhaps even positively advantageous, depending on what they are. Playing music and speaking softly could well have beneficial effects."



Imagine for a moment the impact of TV (and films) on the fetus. Some of the behaviour of children could be just "acting out" the script that is already "wired in" at the fetal stage.
These are behaviours that contribute to a highly consumeristic and crassly materialistic society. These are behaviours that show life as one big entertainment.

Critical media education must probably start with mothers and their habit of watching TV and films.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Live Television = Dead Rugby

For many Pacific Islands (and former British Colonies) the sport of Rugby is a cultural activity (as a theologian, I am not convinced that it is a religion - yet). For developing nations it is a source of migrant employment as Pacific Islanders who are adept at oval ball skills often sign up to lucrative playing contracts in Europe, Asia and even Australia and New Zealand. Televised rugby of matches played overseas rake in big bucks for host rugby unions and broadcasters as fans (usually on pay TV) watch their heroes in action.

However for host unions in the Pacific this is sometimes detrimental to their profit (or breaking even) margin. Case in point: Fiji. This weekend the national Fiji 15-a-side rugby team takes on the New Zealand Maori side in Suva followed by the New Zealand national side (All Blacks) next weekend in Auckland. Both games were to be televised live on Fiji One (Fiji's only free to air channel). However, the financially-challenged national rugby union has blocked the live broadcast of the game to be played in Suva because of fears that it will lose out on ticket sales and much needed revenue, as most people will stay at home to watch!!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Lost in Transposition

I often wonder about the state of journalists in Fiji. We have a journalism school here at the University of the South Pacific and a large number fo media outlets. I often feel that some young cadets get carried away with the title journalist and forget to just be a reporter. For example a press release was sent out regarding the death of a prominent community worker. The deceased had, during his career, been a Superintendent Radiographer at one of Fiji's hospitals. The following day the press release appeared as an orbiturary news item with a byline including the name of the young reporter who had obivously typed out the press release word for word with one glaring exception. The deceased had now become a former Superintendent of Police!!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Fiji Islands Perspective on the Mass Media

Bula (greetings) Friends!

Sorry I accidentally delete the blog earlier as I'm still a blogger in training. Any as said earlier, this is not a blog but an attempt to understand via a term paper, the influence of the media on Fiji Islands society by a Media Practioner turned-Theologian. I am in the process of researching for a thesis titled, "A Theological Reflection on the role of the Media in the Church's call to have a Prophetic Voice in Modern-Day Fiji." Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

I do promise to attempt real (as in short) bloggs, but for now this will have to do.

Happy reading, James....

The original use of media was to inform people of important announcements, news and current events. Gradually as technology developed, the media also became a means of mass education and entertainment. In the last half century, the impetus for information and education has taken a back seat to entertainment. New types of programming or formats developed such as info-tainment and edu-tainment which places a larger value on the pleasure derived from watching, reading or listening than what messages are communicated. We will look at what determines content later. Here in Fiji the media has continued to play a large part in not only informing the public but shaping public opinion and providing entertainment to a pluralistic society, which means finding the lowest common denominator, in other words playing down to its audience rather than trying to lift the standard of literacy and critical thinking of the people. Let’s take a brief look at the three major media divisions operating in Fiji today, commonly known as the mass media because of their collective ability to reach every citizen in this country, regardless of that person’s location or socio-economic status.

The Fiji Times newspaper began publication in 1869. Today it is one of 3 daily newspapers as well as vernacular weekly news publications. The Fiji Times is owned by the transnational corporation, News Corporation, which also owns media outlets around the world, including the Fox TV Network (Fox News and Fox Sports) and motion pictures studios such as 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures. Until recently, News Corp. owned broadcast rights to all international rugby union matches played by members of the International Rugby Board as well as the Super 12 Competition, broadcast on the Fox and Sky satellite network and also broadcast here in the Pacific under Sky Pacific operated by Fiji Television Ltd. The Fiji Sun newspaper is owned by companies whose primary business is in the distribution of imported consumer products. The Daily Post newspaper, once with the Fiji Government as a major shareholder, has just been sold to an Australian company. The major revenue earned by newspapers is not sales to the public or subscriptions but advertising revenue from companies wanting to promote their goods and services to the readers. Newspapers have thus turned from informing the public on news and current events to acting as a print medium to deliver commercials for businesses. Information provided in newspapers is now designed to fit the spaces in between advertisements for shoes, clothes, cars, cosmetics, fashion, groceries and electronic goods. News is usually sensationalized to generate greater readership, a trend common in radio and television as well in an attempt to gain as large an audience as possible.

The Fiji Broadcasting Commission began radio transmission in 1954. Modeled on ruling England’s BBC, the FBC or Radio Fiji as it was known operated three public broadcasting services, Radio Fiji One in the Fijian Language, Radio Fiji Two in the Hindustani Language and Radio Fiji Three in the English Language. All three stations had matching formats of news, informational and educational programmes with music and light entertainment to fill in between. This continued until 1985 when FM96, a privately owned commercial radio station began to broadcast a format of music, news, entertainment news and gossip as well as sports. The competition for the ears of the public had begun. Faced with rising costs, Radio Fiji had to maintain listener-ship so began to change its format to compete. As government reform took place and funding for Radio Fiji decreased, the fight was on for advertising dollars. Public service broadcasting took back seat to profitability and economic viability. Today FBCL operates 2 vernacular Public Service stations and 3 commercial stations in the main languages; Communications Fiji Ltd, the owner of FM96 now operates 3 commercial stations, 1 Hindi public service station as well as a website and two radio stations in Papua New Guinea, with plans to expand into the Solomon Islands. The radio frequencies are further crammed with rebroadcasts of the BBC, Radio Australia, Radio France and four Christian stations operated by new religious movements as well as community radio stations.

Television was introduced into Fiji not because of information, but demand for entertainment, during the 1991 Rugby World Cup. Fiji Television was given an exclusive license in 1994, and despite the exclusivity being revoked, still remains the sole commercial broadcaster of television programmes in Fiji. Today television has grown to be the dominant medium in the country, surpassing even radio which has ease of accessibility and until now greater range. Fiji Television now claims to have not only 80 percent of the population as viewers, but 100 percent coverage in the Fiji group.

Fiji TV operates Fiji One as a free to air channel and three pay TV channels as SKY Fiji. This year Fiji TV began operating SKY Pacific, a regional satellite based pay television service with up to 15 channels of movies, music, sports, entertainment gossip and programmes available. Fiji One is free-to-air; Sky Fiji costs $40 per month plus installation charges of $100 and SKY Pacific set up will set you back $400 to $500. Fiji TV has 15 programmes, which it claims are, locally produced broadcast a week. These include 5 daily news programmes from half hour news bulletins to 5 minute vernacular news breaks; 3 current event programmes, 1 weekly news roundup; 1 police information programme, 2 government propaganda programmes, a children’s programme of just local presenters between cartoons, sports programme and a music programme of a local presenter between foreign music videos. In contrast it broadcasts 34 overseas-produced programmes, including re-broadcasting ABC TV from Australia between 10.30pm and 3pm and 6 religious programmes produced and paid for by new religious movements. All programmes except the children’s programme, news and government programmes are sponsored.

Embraced by business as a communications revolution, the internet, which connected Fiji to the World Wide Web, became a reality here a decade ago. Primarily used for communications, the internet is also a source of information and entertainment. As such it is also used for advertising. Pop up ads and junk mail often clogs up internet mailboxes and clutters the screen . Another issue with the internet is the unfettered access to users to all sorts of material, especially children’s accessibility to adult rated sites and the fact that on the internet you are virtually anonymous which has led to pedophiles using the net to snare young children by pretending to be young children themselves. Apart from the high start-up cost, with a government backed monopoly to only one internet service provider, the cost of accessing internet is high, limiting the number of users.

The original use of media was to inform people of important announcements, news and current events. Gradually as technology developed, the media also became a means of mass education and entertainment. In the last half century, the impetus for information and education has taken a back seat to entertainment. New types of programming or formats developed such as info-tainment and edu-tainment which places a larger value on the pleasure derived from watching, reading or listening than what messages are communicated. We will look at what determines content later. Here in Fiji the media has continued to play a large part in not only informing the public but shaping public opinion and providing entertainment to a pluralistic society, which means finding the lowest common denominator, in other words playing down to its audience rather than trying to lift the standard of literacy and critical thinking of the people. For the purpose of this presentation, I will limit my study to the media of television, primarily because of it’s dominance in the global media industry but also because of the impact of the audio-visual media on media users. Television reaches a large group of people at the same time. It is emotionally involving. It gives a false sense of intimacy and has a perceived immediacy.

Mass Media the Global Scene:
Today technology has revolutionized the media industry, news stories can travel the world in an instant by email and pictures can reach millions of people. A good example of this is the recent Rugby Sevens World Cup. The tournament was televised in approximately 300 million homes with an estimated television audience of 700million people . Although the final game ended at almost midnight Sunday night, the Fiji Times published photos of the game and celebrations as well as reports and interviews and the paper was on the news stands by five o’clock the next morning. And technology is developing. A recent report suggested that soon we will be able to watch television and movies on our mobile phones.

Another impact of technology has been in the types of programmes produced for television audiences. In Fiji’s case, at least 69% of programmes broadcast a produced overseas, satisfying Fiji TV’s policy of a minimum of 10% local content. Yet these imported programmes are produced for a different audience, within a different society and different cultural values with different symbols and rituals. As a result these programmes distort our sense of reality. These images and realities are manipulated to shape our own values, to justify certain behaviour and lifestyle. Yet they for the majority are produced not to inspire, educate, inform or entertain us – these are merely the packaging in which capitalist values are transmitted. The reason is that the majority of TV programmes are produced by major television networks and studios, which in turn are owned by multinational and transnational corporations.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns a large slice of the global media cake. Others include Disney which owns ESPN –sports network, the Disney Channel, ABC network, Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Miramax Pictures; General Electric owns the NBC network; Viacom owns CBS network and Time Warner owns CNN and Warner Brothers; Sony; Vivendi, a water company which owns Universal Studios and its subsidiaries among others. These corporations spend millions not only on making programmes and promoting them, but lobbying the US Government for concessions and favourable treatment, often using the same lobby groups as tobacco, pharmaceutical and weapons manufacturers . This reveals them not as mere television producer, interested in storytelling through an audio-visual medium but as calculating, manipulating, profit-makers. The corporations that own them also own companies that make products that we import and buy. From soft drinks, food and fashion to mobile phones and the unashamed promotion of capitalist values, transnational corporations work to generate profit, not just in selling their TV programmes but their products through these programmes.

An example of this is the Viacom-owned MTV (Music Television) Channel’s “Spring Break” coverage broadcast globally, including Fiji. The ten most frequent sponsors included Sony, Timer Warner, General Electric and Viacom with 497 commercials promoting DVDs, music CDs, films, and television programmes. Other commercials included Colgate toothpaste; Pepsi and Shwepps soft drinks; Max Factor, Old Spice, Tampax, Johnson and Johnson and Cover Girl cosmetics and toiletries; cleaning products; Hersheys and Mars sweets; Virgin mobile phone services, Burger King food chain and shoes from the Foot Locker. A survey of 171 hours of programming found that MTV featured an average of thirteen sexual scenes per hour on reality programmes and 32 instances of foul language per hour in music videos.

You may ask, why these programmes are broadcast in Fiji when they have little or no relevance to our culture, values and society and in fact are reshaping them. Again the answer is profit. All programmes on Fiji One have commercials played during their broadcast. The price of one 30-second television commercial played once during Fiji One News ranges from $300 to $400 broadcast. With 3 commercial segment within the news of 2½ minutes each, a total of 7½ minutes that is an average of 15commercials and a revenue of $4,500 for a half hour news programme – well 22½ minute news programme. Entertainment programmes may also be sponsored by companies wishing to reach a certain market.

For example let’s look at the Saturday night Coke Power Jammer music programme.
Coca Cola and its rival, Pepsi target youths around the world as their primary consumer, not surprising when research shows that the average child watches 3hours 40mins of television a day. So they sponsor programmes that have an audience that targets their market. This is a global marketing policy of a multinational corporation. The same sponsorship pattern occurs around the world and is followed by all multinational and transnational corporations. In some instances a programme sponsored by a particular product in one country, say the US, will be sponsored by the same product in Fiji because that programme is a vehicle for promoting that particular product. What is more, if these programmes are not being broadcast, then many multinational or transnational companies will actively seek to produce programmes that are designed to promote values that will assist the marketing of their products. This was the case with the Power Jammer programme. But what exactly is being promoted on Power Jammer apart from Coca Cola? What are the effects of television on unsuspecting viewers, who just switched on to be entertained? The answer is a materialistic and individualistic lifestyle, sexual promiscuity and instant gratification.

Through television and the mass media, global capitalism reduces people to consumers. By standardizing production and taste and by homogenizing cultural values to match capitalist values of individualism and materialism, there is a shift in the original value system. The effects of programmes with high contents of violence, sex or immoral scenes, negative portrayal of women and emphasis on material wellbeing as the key to happiness has resulted in the diminution of personal and corporate integrity, the acceptance of the “might is right” or justified violence philosophy, consumer acquisitiveness, the breakdown of law and order, trivialization of sex, increase prevalence of abuse and the commoditization of women, promotion of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as racism as part of the loss of human dignity.

Global symbols of consumerism or capitalism have replaced the symbols of our cultures, of Christianity. Logos and brand names are worn with pride as marks of identification with the new culture, the new society, the new religion. This reshaping of our values, faith and culture represents a shift from dealing with human questions to utilitarian questions. Today the cross, a symbol of suffering, redemption and salvation is replaced by the Nike logo, a symbol of achievement sporting achievement and style.

Looking at the Power Jammer Show as an analogy, this shift in values and impact of global consumerism can be illustrated by the move from drinking a fresh coconut, which is at the most $1.00 or free if you climb the tree and healthy for you providing not just a natural drink but nutritious flesh; to the choice to buy and drink a bottle of chemically enhanced water and syrup as Coke for $1.20 and up because of the promotion of the product and the status, symbolism and accessibility associated with it.