While media industries across geo-political entities have similarities, no two media organization operates in the same environment. To this extent one cannot draw sweeping generalizations with respect to ascertaining the independence or the lack of it in the media industry. Not only is the difference induced by realities of individual nation-states, but they are also demarcated by political transformation from within. A case in point is Eastern Europe, whose constituent nations previously belonged to the Communist bloc of the Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union had provided the fledgling democracies of the bloc to form a new media culture. But, as is the usually the case, orthodox media establishments proved difficult to budge even as Eastern European countries are now “the scene of the gradual disentanglement of the media from structures of the state, a process that, in many other countries, took place already a long time ago” (Jakubowicz, 1995, p.128).
Even today, authoritarian regimes do exist and they exert strict control over news media establishments. In fact, under these regimes, media is just another agency of the government, as opposed to a neutral one. The classic examples of this model of information dissemination were first witnessed during the Stalinist years post Second World War. In contemporary times, China adopts a similar approach. So do Islamist nations of the Middle East. In the case of the former, “The Communist Party state sought to achieve unity of power and ownership, that is, absolute power subordinating political, economic, military, ideological, police, and judiciary powers and, of course, the media to a centralized command system of government it controlled”. Although this system is being challenged by a growing number of citizen activists, it is still a far cry from the standards of press freedom seen here in Britain. The erstwhile Communist states “must retrace the process that began with the original battle for liberty of the press in 17thcentury England” (Jakubowicz, 1995, p.127).
Furthermore, the functioning of media under the Communist system sought complete subservience of the media, and, as a consequence, instituted the centralized command media system, whose defining characteristics were
“state monopoly of the media (or a ban on opposition media), financial control, administrative control (of appointments, goals, allocation of frequencies and newsprint, monopoly of press distribution), prepublication political censorship (leading to self-censorship), laws banning critical (“subversive,” “seditious”) journalism, and barriers to international information flows (jamming of foreign radio stations, bans on imports and distribution of foreign newspapers, periodicals, books, etc.). The media fulfilled for the state the hegemonic functions of dominance, ideological homogenization of the audience, and reproduction of the existing social order.” (Jakubowicz, 1995, p.125)
While the media-state relations might not be so intertwined in modern capitalist democracies, here too the government-media nexus exists, but from a subtler government-business community of interests. This is particularly true in capitalist societies, whereas it is less blatant in nations with a socialist tradition. Even in Britain, whose public representatives believe that they are at the forefront of democratic principles, the mutual dependency between government and business enterprises is quite obvious. Since mainstream media is only one manifestation of the larger corporate world, it is established by deduction that the government and media are dependent upon one another. To cite a popular example, the radio series Absolute Power, starring Stephen Fry and Mark Tavener, which featured in BBC Radio4 during the Blair years, is a humorous expose on the media’s ulterior motive. The lead characters in the series – Charles Prentice and Martin McCabe – play the role of partners and directors of the company Prentice-McCabe, which specializes in ‘Government-Media’ relations. The reality is not much different from this humorous take on the media. Across the Atlantic, for example, a thorough investigation of news and public affairs programming by the media watchdog group FAIR revealed that “the voice of business on television was much louder than all others even on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). More than one-third of all on-camera sources were representatives of corporate America or Wall Street. Corporate influence pervades nearly every aspect of society – from simple things, like our daily diet and the clothes we wear, to matters of larger scale, like the way we communicate with each other” (Gerbner, 2001, p.186).