The Absence of Americanization?

When Europeans concerned with developments in the media talk about “Americanization”–as Lord Puttnam in this old story from the Guardian–they are usually lamenting some development or other.

Tomorrow, I’ll be presenting a paper at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff arguing that, when it comes to market structures and media regulation (rather than, say, professional norms or forms and formats of content), these fears are overblown, and that we have, in fact, not seen convergence on an American-style media model over the last ten years.This is not to suggest that there is nothing to worry about, only that the notion (or rhetorical trope) of “Americanization” is of little use in terms of understanding our predicament.

The abstract is below–comments and feedback welcome, this is work in progress.

The Absence of Americanisation—media systems development in six developed democracies, 2000-2009

By Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (University of Oxford)

“Americanisation” is one of the most frequently used and mis-used terms in discussions of international media developments, a supposed trend much feared by Europeans who are (sometimes justifiably) proud of the distinct qualities of their media systems. In this paper, I present a comparative institutional analysis drawing on media and communications studies (Hallin/Mancini 2004), political science (Hall/Soskice 2001) and sociology (Campbell/Pedersen 2001) and based on data on developments in media markets, media use, and media regulation in six developed democracies (the US, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Finland) from 2000 to 2009. I argue that, despite frequent predictions of progressive “system convergence” (Humphreys 1996; Hallin/Mancini 2004; Hardy 2008), the last decade has been characterized by an “absence of Americanisation” of the news institutions in the five European countries considered. National institutional differences have remained persistent in a time of otherwise profound change. This finding is of considerable importance for understanding journalism and its role in democracy, since a growing body of research suggests that “liberal” (market-dominated) media systems like the American one increase the information gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged, have lower electoral turnout, and may lead large parts of the population to tune out of public life. The finding also has theoretical implications, since the supposed drivers of system convergence—commercialisation and technological innovation—have played a very prominent role during the period studied, suggesting we need to rethink the role of economic and technological factors (and their interplay with other variables) in media system developments.

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