Smaller World

In His New Book, Michael Keith Says Global Communication Is Evolving Almost Too Rapidly To Write About

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Lect. Michael Keith (Communication) is not suggesting that all current research in his field be given an expiration date. But writing about the evolution of telecommunications systems in this day and age does pose a challenge.

"Things are changing so fast: new technologies, new players, new trends," Keith explained, "that what you read about now may well be obsolete by this time next year."

Lect. Michael Keith (Communication)-
"There have been books on global trends, but few which have examined each region, each country. We felt that we could establish a point of reference, a benchmark of some kind, and it could be useful in the classroom and also as reference material." (Photo by Mark Morelli)

Nevertheless, Keith feels that his latest book, Global Broadcasting Systems - written with Emerson College faculty member Robert Hilliard - is a worthwhile venture. The book is the first comprehensive look at broadcasting throughout the world in more than a decade, a period of considerable growth in the communications field. Their intent, he said, is to offer a snapshot, no matter how temporary, of international radio, television and other electronic communications.

"It is tough to set something down when the market is so volatile," Keith said. "Still, we found [no existing research] out there on this scale that was relevant to these times. There have been books on global trends, but few which have examined each region, each country. We felt that we could establish a point of reference, a benchmark of some kind, and it could be useful in the classroom and also as reference material."

The book's potential application in the classroom was a major influence in his doing the project, Keith notes.

"The change in broadcasting systems is a concern for anyone who teaches in the area of communications or media," he explained. "We cannot train our students for the old, conventional broadcast media. We have to become familiar with these emerging trends and technologies and the way they are, or could be used."

Global Broadcasting Systems first examines what Keith and Hilliard term "the world telecommunications revolution," pointing to the increasing use of satellite transmissions and the popularity of CNN as indicators of the much-discussed electronic "global village." It also briefly covers broad political and social implications of world telecommunications, the obstacles to electronic media and issues raised by the availability of global telecommunications.

Keith and Hilliard then take a region-by-region approach to describe specific aspects of global broadcasting. They provide an overview of countries' broadcast facilities and resources, how these are controlled, regulated and financed. The authors also look at the types and trends of broadcast programming and external radio and TV services from countries and private organizations.

Two of the most significant recent developments in global broadcasting, Keith feels, are the rapid growth of satellite and cable systems and the great socio-political changes in the former Soviet Union and East Bloc nations. Technology is making it easier to transmit and receive broadcasting over great distances, he said, and reach countries and cultures previously isolated from most popular media. Meanwhile, countries with broadcast resources and facilities that had been largely government controlled are emerging as new players in the global market.

These trends have raised concerns, however, about the dominance of Western media - which tend to have the upper hand in facilities and resources - and their pervasive impact on regions and countries elsewhere in the world.

"When you see FM radio stations popping up in Moscow that sound like any popular one you'd hear in Boston," said Keith, "or you go to a country like Tanzania and see people there listening to a Michael Jackson tape or tuning into soap operas, you know there is an extraordinary amount of influence coming from media elsewhere in the world."

The debates over these and other issues are not likely to end, Keith said, as broadcast technology continues to evolve and the Internet, pay-per-view TV, radio and other media exert more of a presence. While there certainly will be inequities among and within countries, he said, the importance people attach to information may blur some of the divisions between the haves and have-nots.

"As technology evolves, there are worries about its exclusivity, but people find a way to sacrifice," said Keith, noting how in previous research he encountered Native Americans in poor rural areas who had computers and Internet access.

"People have always embraced the new technology, whether it is radio, TV or home computer, because it is emblematic of citizenship and power."

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