1996 Book Reviews


MEDIA AND POLITICS IN LATIN AMERICA: THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY

Elizabeth Fox (ed). Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, 1988. pp.188. ISBN 0-8039-8164-3 (hard cover), ISBN 0-8039-8165-1 (paperback).

Today in Latin America, a process of regional integration is taking place in many spheres of life. As media researchers, we have been particularly impressed by the emergence and proliferation of regional media, in both electronic and print form. However, we must not forget that regional media are not moving into a total vacuum. Rather, there exist many national media of different strengths and tendencies.

In each country, the national media have evolved along its own unique path subject to other historical and structural constraints. In most countries, the growth of media has been inextricably interwined with political developments. This book is a collection of articles on the relationship between media and politics in a number of countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay. The articles are written by different authors, so that there is a lack of uniformity in the style and approach, although this may be dictated by the different conditions across nations.

A number of different issues are covered in this book: state control of media contents, commercialization of media, privatization of state-owned media, media and election coverage, relationship between media and dictatorships, media during democratic transitions, national communications policies, alternative media, media monopolies/oligopolies, fairness of media coverage, government censorship, media biases, copyright infringement, and so on.

We should remember that the power of media can never be underestimated. These articles show that media have a tremendous impact on society. Our favorite anecdote from the book is from Bolivia:- in 1986, the Ministry of Information found that over 50% of young people surveyed in the city of Copacabana (which could only received Peruvian television signals) thought that Alan García, President of Peru, was the President of their own country!

(reviewed on 11/25/96)


CONVERGENCE: Integrating Media, Information & Communication.

By Thomas F. Baldwin, D. Stevers McVoy and C. Steinfield. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA. Hardcover ISBN 0-8039-5904-4; paperback ISBN 0-8039-5905-2.

This is the best book that we have seen on the convergence of broadcasting, cable and telecommunications services. Previously, the theory and practice of this subject matter have been scattered in many places: newspaper articles, magazine articles, speeches, press releases, proprietary research studies, and so on. In this 430-page book, these authors have clearly spent a great deal of effort in assembling these materials in one place. But what impresses us most of all is the logical, coherent and disciplined organization and presentation of the materials.

The contents of the book are too broad and complex to be summarized in this short review. Here are some keywords: asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL), asynchonous transfer mode (ATM), broadband services, cable modem, full-service network, high-definition television (HDTV), home banking, home shopping, interactive television, Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), MPEG, Personal Communication Systems (PCS), Pay Per View (PPV), piracy, privacy, public packet switched networks, V-chip, video conferencing, video dialtone, Video On Demand (VOD), … If you are not familiar with these terms, then this book is a good starting point for you.

What is the relevance for Latin America? Plenty. Even though these ideas seem remote for a region that is nascent in cable television and underdeveloped in telephony, convergence may occur very quickly, perhaps even sooner than many cities in the USA and Europe. This is because an underdeveloped country may be able to bypass immediate growth stages and proceed immediately to the advanced stage. Whereas many first-world cities are saddled with old infrastructure based upon copper-wiring, many Latin American countries can start with the new digital technology based upon fiber-optics. This new technology allows the provider to offer both advanced television and telephone services.

Latin America has attracted the attention of multinational telephone and cable television companies. Companies such as AT&T, Capital Cities/ABC, Continenal Cablevision, Falcon Cable, GTE, Hearst, MCI, SBC, Stet (Italy), TCI International, Telefonica de España, Time-Warner, UIH, US West all have major presences in Latin America through investments and joint ventures in cable and/or telephone companies.

Most of this book covers developments in the United States. Chapter 12 of this book is contributed by Joseph D. Straubhaar and Joonho Do, and the title is "Multinational Full Service Network". Professor Straubhaar is well known to us as the author of a number of journal articles on Latin America (see, for example, J. D. Straubhaar (1991) "Class, Genre and the Regionalization of the Television Market in Latin America". Journal of Communication, 3(1), 53-69). This chapter is interesting in its treatment of the international operating environment: the regulatory barriers, the need of massive investment, the fear and reality of cultural imperialism and so on.

(reviewed on August 4, 1996)


CHANGING PATTERNS: LATIN AMERICA'S VITAL MEDIA. A Report of The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, New York City, New York, USA

By Jon Vanden Heuvel and Everette E. Dennis

This is the best book on the history and practice of media journalism in the Latin American region. Actually, the books covers only eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela). For each country, the authors covered the historical antecedents and discussed the contemporary situation with respect to political, legal and economic conditions, and their relationship to the practice of journalism. There are some important differences among these countries, which have moved along somewhat divergent historical trajectories.

This book would be extremely important for organizations (such as magazines and television news channels) that are interested in news gathering and reporting in the region. The book does not contain any hard quantitative data, but it is a treasure trove of anecdotal information, much of which appears to be first-hand.

(reviewed on July 25, 1996)


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