The Nation-State and Journalism
- Shakuntala RaoShakuntala RaoDepartment of Communication Studies, State University of New York, Plattsburgh
The concept of nation-state has historically been defined as peoples having some manner of territorial and political self-determination; cultural, linguistic, or religious affinity; and economic independence. Recent forces of globalization have made the nation-state increasingly vulnerable to and dependent on capital, corporations, and/or more powerful states. Such integration of the nation-state in the global world has also led political actors to reverse course and seek ethno-nationalist agendas where differences in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, caste, and other identity markers are used to inflame fears or defend against economic, cultural, and environmental dislocation among a nation’s citizens. Journalists face critical challenges as the nation-state gets reconfigured. These challenges include the rise of new media technology as a force of division and the rise of ethno-nationalism. Research shows that new media platforms expanded not only the definition of who can create content but also the range of topics covered. Positive opportunities, alternately, are undermined by the reality that non-media factors—historical, political, economic, and social divisions—continue to determine not only the diffusion and adoption of new media but also its influence; each nation has its own cultural equations and socio-historical footprints on which new media gets imposed. Journalists, as part of national media systems, increasingly find themselves operating in an environment where they are competing with non-regulated technologies and supra-national information landscape. A core belief propagated by new ethno-nationalists is an anti-media bias, where all news is perceived to be left leaning or “liberal” in nature and content, and therefore open to criticism and censorship. The reprieve from such narratives of ethno-nationalism is the model of global journalism, which makes possible transnational information sharing.
Introduction: Birth of the Nation-State
By the time of World War I, imperial powers occupied or by various means controlled nine-tenths of the surface territory of the globe; the largest of them, Britain, governed one-fifth of the area of the world and a quarter of its population. With no space left for territorial expansion, the insatiable empires turned inward and attempted to devour each other. After World War I, the two contiguous empires of Austria-Hungary and Turkey were broken up, and Germany was deprived of its overseas colonies. An outcome was that Germany attempted to turn Europe itself into its colonial empire in an enormous act of “migrationist colonialism” where “fascism became a form of colonialism brought home to Europe” (Young, 2001, p. 58). For the colonial powers, the cost of victory over Germany was the gradual dismemberment of their own colonial empires and ambitions. The list of decolonized territories was formidable; aside from the colonies of the fascist regimes of Spain and Portugal, the apartheid state of South Africa, the expanded empire of the Soviet Union, and the United States, decolonization by the seven colonial powers (Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Australia, and New Zealand) took place rather quickly after 1945. India’s independence in August 1947 began the process of European decolonization, which then precipitated the rapid decolonization of parts of Africa, South America, and the Pacific Islands. The years after World War II fell into two distinct periods, for which the break-up of the USSR in 1991 acts as the hinge just as the Russian Revolution in 1917 acted as the fulcrum for the development of global anti-colonial struggles. The first period was that of the Cold War, when states could align themselves with one or the other competing sides, or with the non-aligned movement initiated at the Bandung Conference of 1955 by India and Egypt. In the second period, the conditions were determined by the end of Soviet imperialism and the three-world structure and the embracing of free-market, demand-led capitalist principles by almost every country in the world, including Russia and the former nations of the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet block and the conversion of China to a form of controlled capitalist economy, there is today effectively a single world economic system, and almost all states have been obliged to make some structural adjustment toward it (Young, 2001, p. 59).
The process of decolonization reinvigorated the idea of the sovereign nation-state that would be tailored in the way that European modern states had started to take shape as early as the 15th century, whether signified by the peace of Westphalia (1648), the American Revolution (1776), or the French revolution (1789). This concept of nation-state has historically been defined as peoples having some manner of territorial and political self-determination; cultural, linguistic, or religious affinity; and economic independence (Chibber & Verma, 2018). After World War II, we witnessed the formation of multiple nation-states. This process was not only complicated but fraught with countless pitfalls. If one were to study the decolonization of the Indian subcontinent, for instance, one would get a quick lesson as to how difficult it would be to map—geographically, culturally, politically, and linguistically—a nation-state. The continent couldn’t be peacefully decolonized; it had to be broken into two separate nations (India and Pakistan) and subsequently left to deal with the remarkable situation of the substate of Kashmir, which still today remains an intractable problem. Governance of the two “new” nation-states was at best a laborious process and at worst an impossible task given the cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity the map entailed. For Pakistan, it took three governor generals, four prime ministers, two constituent assemblies, and nine years of writing to produce the first constitution in 1956 (Jaffrelot, 2004). It was immediately rejected by all the minority parties and was never implemented. The political instability that followed led to the imposition of the first martial law in 1958. The current constitution, enacted by the third constituent assembly in 1973, was again imposed by a military dictum and eventually became more Islamic and less democratic (Newberg, 1995). Pakistan’s neighbor, India, was more successful in writing and adopting a constitution in 1950, but this constitution, which is still in force, has been amended over 90 times, making it one of the most frequently amended constitutions in the world (Dev, 2015). The point remains that decolonization and establishment of postcolonial and post-imperial nation-states have been contentious and difficult, even if these nations adopted, as did India, Western modes of governance, notions of secularism, pluralism, and fundamental democratic principles.
Over the course of the past decade or so—and for very obvious geopolitical reasons—there has been somewhat of an obsessive return to the subject of nationalism and nation-state in the Western-based cultural historical and social scientific scholarship. This subject was already important to European thought in the second half of the late 19th century, but somehow in the 1970s and 1980s, scholars turned away from the nation toward the analysis and championing of other forms of political communities. But contemporary developments—in Western Europe, South Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the United States—have had the effect of reversing this trajectory and directing attention once again to the “national question.” The dominant conception of nation has been, as generally accepted by the most important theorists, that it is an irreducibly modern phenomenon. Documentation in the works of Amin (1989), Anderson (1983), Balibar (2012), Breuilly (1994), Gellner (2009), Spivak (1999), and Wallerstein (2011), to name a few of the more broadly influential writers on the subject, attests to the general belief that nation-states are an outcome of the modernist project, whether signified by rapid industrialization, decolonization, growth of secularism, or acceptance of broad democratic rights for citizens. Lazarus (1999, p. 55) writes that nationalism is not to be misunderstood as an “awakening of old latent dormant forces,” but is the consequence of a new form of social organization within the nation-state. He writes of two kinds of nationalism that seem to have emerged from the formation of the modern nation-states: the anti-imperialist nationalism and the imperialist nationalism. He argues that it is important to distinguish between these two types of nationalisms: one driven by a domineering state (imperialist nationalism) and the other by those resisting oppression (anti-imperialist nationalism). The former seems to be a purely appropriative enterprise in which oppression of minorities/others is rampant, and the latter is about reclaiming community from within boundaries defined by the very power whose presence denied such community identity. Skeptical contemporary theorists, however, have suggested that the anti-imperial liberation movements never were what they were (and thus were not radically different from the imperialist nationalism)—that is, that they were always more concerned with the consolidation of elite power than with the empowering of the powerless and with the extension of privilege rather than with its overthrow (Guha, 1998; Parry, 2004). It is important to invoke Fanon’s alternative nationalist standpoint here because, for Fanon (1968), anti-imperial nationalism could only succeed if it created an internationalism; if the state emerges from a colony to be a nation, Fanon wrote, it can either extend decolonization in a merely technical sense by repurposing the core and periphery dynamics of capitalist modernity, or it has to engage in a fundamental transformation of the prevailing social order. Such transformation would entail, for Fanon, both an epistemological recognition of the richness and sophistication of precolonial societies and transnational connection between varied decolonized peoples.
Unlike Fanon’s more radical approach to nation and nationalism, Anderson approached nationalism as a process that arises in different parts of the world from different combinations of various objective factors; it then becomes easier to recognize that the only factor common to all nationalisms is that, in one way or the other, people come to think of themselves as an imaginary community, as collectively belonging to the same nation, though that nation might be territorially distant from those imagining it. For Vanaik (2016, p. 93), it is the “culture of nationalism” that underlies all such imaginations. Nationalism, writes Vanaik, is a process of constructing a common culture—it could be through traditions, food, clothing, language, or religious rituals. The problem arises when nationalism as culture is interpreted and presented merely as in the past; is spoken of in the past tense—what he refers to as “cultural traditions inherited”; and is one that comes to signify a national identity (p. 94). This, according to Vanaik, can be contested; the question then becomes “Who is the proper inheritor?” (p. 99). Instead, he argues that nationalism should be spoken of in the future tense and as if imagining a future collective community (what a nation, for instance, might become), even though it is the language of the past that has come to dominate almost all discourses of modern-day nationalism. Similarly, Dasgupta (2018) warns us of nostalgia in nationalism at this current moment. He writes:
A strange brand of apocalyptic nationalism is so widely in vogue. But the current appeal of machismo as political style, the wall-building and xenophobia, the mythology and race theory, the fantastical promises of national restoration—these are not cures, but symptoms of what is slowly revealing itself to all: nation states everywhere are in an advanced state of political and moral decay from which they cannot individually extricate themselves.
Like Vanaik, Dasgupta encourages readers to stop feeling nostalgic for that golden age of the nation-state, which often distorts political debates. The significant structure of postwar states itself, Dasgupta writes, which possessed unique levels of control over the domestic economy, have “all but disappeared” capital could not flow unchecked across borders, and foreign currency speculation was negligible compared to today. Because capital was captive to the national government, it could then impose historic rates of taxation, allowing states to channel unprecedented energies into national development. But such conditions no longer exist, and it feels like, in Dasgupta’s words, a “terrifying return to primitive vulnerability” The refuge, he warns, whether by design or accident, becomes transnational tribal identities: “white supremacists and radical Islamists alike who take up arms against contamination” by immigrants and other outsiders. The “new” ethno-nationalism builds its identity centrally upon the return to a primordial territorial and cultural autonomy, and group or tribe specific rights, that are to be bestowed to the “insiders” who fit the (cultural, linguistic, religious, ethnic, racial, or caste) parameters of the said nation. Some of the common characteristics of the new ethno-nationalist movements have been the rejection of some, but not all, forms of financial globalization; the reassertion of majority ethnic, racial, and religious privilege; anti-environment and anti-intellectual rhetoric and policies; and the revocation of minority and civil rights.
The Nation-State in a Globalized World
Authors like Vanaik and Dasgupta want readers to critically reflect on the contemporary moment of postcolonial globalization, where rapid movements of peoples, capital, and culture have destabilized pre-existing and modern notions of nations and nationalism. In place of the older forms of nationalisms have emerged new forms of ethno-nationalisms that are less about decolonization and more about globalization. With its emphasis on transnational processes as the motive force of economic development, on the corresponding irrelevance of nation-statist policies, and on the inscrutability of the market (as some transcendental signifier which many citizens do not understand), the globalization hypothesis, since defined, has been recited evangelically and built on the image of the “supercharged free enterprise zone likely to benefit all” (Milanovic, 2016, p. 98). For Dasgupta, the response to postcolonial globalization lies in some form of national capital regulation; for him, the great engines of wealth creation have eluded national taxation systems, a system that is diminishing all nation-states materially and symbolically.
For others, globalization is hinged not only in the spatio-temporal-financial compression of the world but also in a rise in global nationalist populism (Cox, 2017; Kriesi et al., 2006). This no doubt has affected national societies and negated cultural boundaries. “Globalization is unequivocally a lofty idea/project,” writes Amin (1997, p. 38), “conceived with diseased feet.” Although colonialism was a frontal, more militant system of conquest and overthrow, globalization is a subtle, more nihilistic conquest of all peripheral cultures in favor of the metropolitan. Amin’s (1997, p. 67) argument is that globalization is not something you can be “for” or “against”; it is a “fact of modern history.” But whereas the ideologists of capitalism proclaim globalization as an inevitable fait accompli existent reality, Amin insists upon both the attenuated nature of what has in fact been realized and the categorical unrealizability of globalization via the market. He writes, “Capitalism is unable to overcome the growing contradictions between its economic management in an increasingly globalized space and its political and social management which remains organized among nationalist spaces” (Amin, 1997, p. 39). The real challenge of globalization remains unresolved, which is the problem of how to balance the simultaneous opening of markets, capital, and migration of workers. “Neoliberal discourse cannot respond to [the] real challenge of globalization,” he writes, “unless, according to its principles, it anticipates the simultaneous opening up of all frontiers, to commerce, to capital and to the migration of workers” (Amin, 1997, p. 39). But since no actually existing state has of yet put itself in a position to accommodate the last of these openings, the discourse remains truncated, suggesting “the opening of frontiers to capital but their closure to human beings” (1997, p. 41). Amin foresaw the current ethno-nationalist moment as a reaction to such a neo-liberal order and what he called the move toward “global barbarism,” where citizens of nation-states would take up arms—and commit cultural genocide—to counter these openings (1997, p. 101). Whichever theory of contemporary nationalism and globalization one advocates for, it is clear that theorists agree on one account: postcolonial nation-states are in some form of existential crisis.
The Nation-State and Journalism
In recent years, there have been a number of cross-nation studies of professional journalism practices which have comparatively and critically analyzed global journalism practices as transnational and cross-cultural (Allan, 2011; Deuze, 2007; Hanitzsch, Hanusch, Ramaprasad, & de Beer, 2019; Schiffirin, 2014; Sparks & Tulloch, 2000; Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2009; Weaver & Willnat, 2012). Hanitzsch, Hanusch, Ramaprasad, and de Beer, for example, compared journalism practices in 67 countries to conclude how journalism differs across the world in a range of political, social, and economic contexts, and how journalists experience their profession in very different ways, even as they retain a commitment to some shared professional norms and practices. Historically journalism, as a profession, has been bound to national histories. All nations have historical antecedents, whether tribes, city-states, or kingdoms—and these historically earlier societies are important components in the formation of modern nations. For example, the English nation emerged out of the historically earlier societies of the Saxons, Anglos, and Normans. These historical antecedents are never merely just facts, because key to the existence of the nation are memories that are shared among each of its many individual members about their nation’s past, including those about the earlier societies (Olick, 1998). It has been the purview of modern journalism to participate in such memory production (Conboy, 2004; Zelizer & Tenenboim-Weinblatt, 2014). It is not surprising, for example, when scholars suggest that the making of a new nation of America, out of a largely uninhabited continent, fell to the printers or the first journalists. “Journalism is central to the very idea of America,” writes Daly (2012, p. 14). “The ready access to information, the robust discussion about the characters and conducts of the rulers and the road of partisan debate created a national public sphere.” Journalism creates memories, and these memories form a part of the conception that one has of oneself and of one’s community, which gives us a collective consciousness. If the nation is a social relation of collective consciousness formed around shared traditions, its literary basis came from journalism. Writing about how journalism created a sense of “United States as a nation,” Daly notes: “Filled with rootless and restless people who made up a nation as they went along, with little to hold it together, it is a place where information could be of great value. . . . Newspapers served to strengthen slave trade, then helped to end it. Newspapers conducted some of the earliest examples of the expose and forced ugly truths into the open, leading to reforms of such evils as tainted meat, child labor, lynching and public corruption” (p. 3). Essentially, the press became both the voice and memoir of a new nation and its multiple varieties of nationalism.
Another reason why studies about journalism have remained nation-bound is because nations provide territorial and spatial comfort as well as the best shortcuts to scholarly analysis (Hellmueller, 2016). The territorial community of a nation provides cultural and linguistic familiarity; territorial nations also provide a safety net in the form of sovereignty, customs, and laws. Territorial integrity does not imply cultural uniformity, but journalism, as a source of knowledge production, gives audiences (and, therefore, nation’s inhabitants) the story line for the uneven processes of territorial integration and/or disintegration. Nation-states in the form of territorial, bureaucratic, and centralized entities govern virtually every aspect of social relations within their borders and have done so for the past 350 years (Banai, 2013). Although studies of globalization have identified the porousness and problematics of such borders, there is also a realization that territorial borders continue to be strong and that journalism must cater to the communities within those borders (Alfer, 2016; Grieves, 2012).
Challenges for Journalists as Members of the Nation-State
The phrase “media globalization” has, for the past decade, inundated the literature in journalism studies, though, in reality, most journalists continue to live and work as citizens and members of specific nation-states with specific professional and nationally bound practices, laws, norms, and ethics (Lule, 2017; Rantenan, 2004; Slater, 2013). However, studies of media globalization have identified the significance of the nation-state when studying journalism. Hallin and Mancini (2004) argued that one cannot understand how global news media functions in any nation unless one understands the nature of the state, its social and political culture, its moral values, its history, and its people. Hence, national identity is an important concept to explore when examining global journalism practices. Media globalization has been understood as the activities and power of (Western) media conglomerates and their global distribution of information goods (Thussu, 2006), as well as counter processes (Park & Curran, 2005); others understand media technology as a central part of globalization, especially in terms of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the rise of a global network society (Castells, 1996); some argue that media globalization has come to represent local realities like never before (Williams, 2011). Within these varied strands of research rests the uneasy figure of the journalist as a citizen of a nation. If postcolonial globalization has shown us that modern nation-states are in some disarray, there are significant challenges for journalists to practice within the confined boundaries of a nation. Described further in this article are two challenges discussed by scholars.
Rise of New Media Environment
One challenge has been, in Waisbord’s (2013, p. 175) terms, the growing “boundless news environment,” where everyone is a journalist and everyone has the capacity to generate some sort of news, including individuals, organizations, and even “bots.” Traditional media outlets—television, radio, newspapers, and news magazines—now face similar problems in many countries. Commercial media is confronted with declining advertising revenues, and government media faces the withdrawal or reduction of subsidies; both are dealing with an aging and dwindling audience population; concerns have increased about concentration of ownership, declining professional standards, sensationalism, and indirect commercial and state pressures. To exacerbate the situation, the quasi-monopolistic position that journalism had historically enjoyed in the field of knowledge production and news making has been seriously shaken up by the proliferation of digital platforms, which has expanded opportunities for news production and dissemination, and splintered the media in a multitude of niche news-delivering platforms (Kalyango & Mould, 2014). This redrawing of the boundaries of news systems, making them more elastic, has challenged old notions of nation-based journalism. For instance, nation-based journalism has been most critically challenged by transnational protest and activist movements (such as those around issues of climate change and gender rights) and by the rise of neo-fascist and pan-Islamic terrorist movements, as these movements are often framed by journalists using exclusively a national lens despite the fact that they coalesce around global concerns and/or conflicts.
Research shows that there are significant differences as to how journalism is being impacted in different nations by the proliferation of new media technologies and platforms, the only consensus being that younger people have turned away from traditional media in just about every country (Livingstone & Bovill, 1999). There is a general understanding that new media platforms not only have expanded the definition of who can create content, but also the range of topics covered; internet and social media can be credited with breaking stories ignored in the mainstream news media, covering taboo topics, and moving issues up (and down) the public agenda (Kalyango & Mould, 2014). In this model of vertical rather than exclusively horizontal news production, there are multiple opportunities to report on mass mobilization, alternative platforms for harnessing sources, development of new platforms for publishing and disseminating journalists’ work, and new ways of monetizing news. Such opportunities are, alternately, undermined by the reality that non-media factors—historical, political, economic, and social—continue to determine not only the diffusion and adoption of new media but also its influence. Each nation has its own cultural equations and socio-historical footprints on which new media gets imposed (Kalogeropoulos, Negredo, Picone, & Neilsen, 2017). For example, no one predicted the phenomenal success of WhatsApp as a micro-messaging platform in developing countries like India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, where the proliferation of mobile phones, with solar-powered batteries, has allowed for this platform to be enormously successful. However, such growth has come with the explosion of manipulated information that has, as in the case of India, led to public lynchings. These mob attacks, killing 37 people in 2018 alone, were incited by rumors on WhatsApp warning of strangers, often from minority and marginalized communities (Perera, 2018). Often people who are visiting a village are targeted and lynched based on false information circulated on WhatsApp. One can argue that these lynchings are a direct effect of the spread of disinformation on this platform, but critics say that vigilante violence stems not so much as a result of micro-messaging platforms, but rather from a variety of problems with the police and the judiciary that don’t allow for quick or efficient justice, and from preexisting historical and cultural animosities. The history of postcolonial nationalism in India, for example, has recently been marked by the rise of Islamophobia and caste discrimination and a gradual but steady turn away from liberal democratic principles. New media technologies, within individual nations, may not create but seem to percolate, amplify, and help disseminate fears of historical others.
Countering such a culture of disinformation that ensues has been challenging for journalists in every nation. Disinformation, spin, lies, and deceit have been around forever, but the new media landscape has led to a unique marriage between social media algorithms, advertising systems, people prepared to monetize disinformation, competitive political cultures, and historical discriminations that underline postcolonial national identity. Along with all this has come a relentless attack on traditional news media by various state and non-state actors, including political leaders, who call traditional news media “fake news” as they use new media platforms to make such accusations (Kalsnes, 2018). The clear separations between disinformation, spin, conspiracy theories, mistakes, and reporting that people just don’t like has been blurred. For journalists, these assertions can be challenging, especially as research shows that disinformation is very difficult to correct and may have lasting effects even after it is discredited. “False information may continue to influence beliefs and attitudes even after being debunked if it is not replaced by an alternate causal explanation,” write Nyhan and Reifler (2015, p. 82).
A significant aspect of online disinformation has been the transnational nature of such information; for example, some of the most prolific and effective social media disinformation campaigns during the 2015 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, the American presidential elections in 2016, and 2019 Indian elections were generated offshore (Beavers & Thomsen, 2018; Noack, 2018; Poonam & Bansal, 2019). The “robotization of trolling” has allowed for people to be dispersed geographically but still be able to generate hyper-partisan news from anywhere via bots (Abeshouse, 2018). National media systems that had exited as self-contained purveyors of information have been upended by a global information ecosphere that could be geographically dispersed. The global social media platforms, for example, function supra-nationally where journalists—and the nation-states within which most journalists live and practice—no longer have control over the flow of information. Many of these platforms, which produce and disseminate a large amount of information on a daily basis escape the socio-ethical, political, or legal scrutiny of any nation-state or national regulatory framework. Critics are clear that social media platforms have not been treated like traditional publishers, expected to vet every post, comment, and image before they reach the public, and tech executives have escaped the kind of scrutiny that traditional media owners often face (where you could, in many countries, be jailed for failing to censor hate and violence). At one end of the spectrum is China, where the world’s most sophisticated system of internet censorship stifles almost all political debate, along with hate speech and pornography, and on the other end are democracies such as India, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States, where social media have been shielded from any liability for the content they host.
Further, the new breed of ethno-nationalist leaders such as Modi in India, Duterte in Philippines, Trump in the United States, Erdogen in Turkey, Duda in Poland, and Orban in Hungary are known to encourage their citizens to distrust their own national media by attacking the credibility of individual journalists and media organizations. Some of these leaders have often chosen, instead, to speak to citizens directly via social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. For example, Modi, during his tenure as prime minister of India, beginning in 2014 until now, has not held a single press conference, but is known to tweet at an average of six to seven times a day (Rao, 2018). Although one cannot directly correlate the rise of ethno-nationalism solely to the evolving digital ecosphere, there is evidence that the rhetoric of this nationalism and politics is hardened and inflamed online, especially without any clear regulatory safeguard (Hmielowski, Hutchens, & Ciccihirillo, 2014).
Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Ethno-Nationalism
Post–World War II signified an era of de-escalation of the global rhetoric of “imperialist nationalism” (Lazarus, p. 55). Patriotism had been recognized up until the current moment as a positive aspect of nationalism. After all, as Grosby (2005) writes, the love for someone who belongs to one’s nation signifies attachment and loyalty to a community, a love that transcends one’s love for self to a selfless love toward the imagined community to which one belongs. Grosby (p. 15) writes that such patriotism need not take the form of a “prejudice against or hatred of those who are not members of one’s nation.” Patriotism need not deny varying and different pursuits by the members of the nation; it need not reject differing conceptions of the nation held by its members. Indeed, insofar as patriotism implies a commitment to the well-being of one’s nation, it provides the basis for working out the differences, involving reasonable compromises between individual members of the nation. The concern for the well-being of the nation that includes the “willingness to compromise is central to the civility between members of the nation and one that makes politics possible” (Grosby, 2005, p. 16). With the end of World War II came the realization that ethno-nationalism and its most virulent form, fascism, didn’t serve Europe well and that a more internationalist, liberal, and inclusive approach to a nation might be necessary in order to maintain future global peace. With the establishment of organizations such as the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the International Court of Justice, there was a prevailing belief in a global order where such nationalism needs to be contained and checked.
For the past decade, we have not only seen the weakening of such international organizations but the re-emergence of ethno-nationalism as a political and cultural force that has successfully trumped the traditional perception of patriotism as a virtue. In places as distinct and disparate as India, Turkey, South Africa, Germany, Sweden, the United States, Poland, Philippines, Austria, Italy, and Brazil, the rise of ethno-nationalism has been steady. Why is the rise in ethno-nationalism a challenge for journalists as members of a nation-state? A core belief of this nationalism is an anti-media bias where all news is perceived to be left leaning or “liberal” in nature and content, and therefore open to criticism and censorship. Many political leaders who advocate for a nationalist agenda have given speeches where they label journalists, sometimes for just stating facts, as “anti-national,” “terrorists,” and an “enemy of the people” (“Leaders Who Publicly Threaten Journalists,” 2017). The rhetoric of leaders advocating for this form of nationalism does not include a commitment toward or belief in a free and independent press or assurances of safety for journalists. There has been an alarming rise in global assassinations of journalists, and threats have dramatically increased. For example, according to Chisholm, Southwood, and Ellerbeck (2018), 2017 was the most dangerous year for journalists—ever. “The threats are extensive,” writes Rezaian (2018), “extrajudicial executions, hostage taking by both government and non-state actors, state-sanctioned surveillance, prosecution under obscure laws, public smear campaigns and more. Reporters around the world have been accused of terrorism, targeted as enemies of the people, and subjected to opaque and sometimes-secret legal proceedings.
Unlike patriotism, the “uncivil” ideology (Grosby, 2005, p. 57) of ethno-nationalism makes no compromises and seeks to sweep aside the many complications that are part of life as a narrow view of the world. Such a view will no doubt clash with the professional practice of journalism. As those who are purveyors of truth, who hold the powerful accountable, who give voice to the powerless, and who highlight social needs, journalists are naturally put at risk by such nationalist rhetoric. As witnessed in places like Mexico, Afghanistan, and Myanmar, whenever journalists shine a critical light on the society’s vulnerable, they themselves become targets of nationalist governments, oppressive regimes, and/or criminal non-state actors who are shielded by corrupt governments. Even in democratic societies with established norms of free speech and freedom of press, such as Western Europe and the United States, journalists face intimidation, vilification, and attacks.
If we are to accept Anderson’s notion of the imagined community as “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) as imagined’ (1983, p. 18), we must accept some sort of virtuality is a normal aspect of community life, regardless of the nature of the medium on which it relies. Anderson argues that communities are to be distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined. Media, for Anderson, play a central role in determining the different styles in which communities have been imagined throughout history. The great sacred communities of the past (Christendom, the Islamic Ummah, the Mughal dynasty, among others) were imagined through the medium of a sacred language and script. The birth of the imagined community of European nations involved two “new” media, the novel and the newspaper, which flowered in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries (Anderson, 1983, p. 38). Most recently, web and social media have exploded with their own versions of imagined communities that are based on the swift interactive exchange of information. At first, these communities were perceived by scholars (Negroponte, 1996; Turkle, 1997) to be productive virtual communities—akin to Anderson’s upbeat view of imagined communities built on horizontal brotherhood and solidarity—and these virtual communities were seen as democratic and interactive sites for ordinary non-elite users who were willing to overthrow the centralization of information (especially of the broadcast media model). These virtual communities arose from the margins of the media and were understood to be able to address a wider range of human needs and potentials (Freenberg & Bakardjieva, 2004). The rise of ethno-nationalists and their use of social media platforms suggest that Anderson’s view of imagined community (or Grosby’s version of patriotism) are increasingly being contested where the ethno-nationalists have been able to sell their online version of imagined communities that in almost all cases rest on some kind of demonization of the historic other and rejection of any internationalism.
Conclusion: Global Journalism in Times of Global Crises
The rise of ethno-nationalism and the reconfiguration of the nation-state comes at a time of tremendous anxiety over one global crisis: climate change. The last few years have been extraordinary in terms of weather. The extreme has become commonplace, and it did not matter much where you lived on the planet. The authors of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018) say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to keep down the rising global temperatures. Calling it the crisis of the “existence of our species” (p. 33), the report outlines the possible planetary changes if the world continues to experience the kind of global warming witnessed in the past 25 years. Sea-level rise would affect 20 million or more within the next decade as the polar ice cap melts. Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity and lower levels of oxygen as a result of climate change, which would have a “catastrophic” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018, p. 31) impact on marine life and coral reefs. Global poverty and hunger would increase as an effect of water scarcity, frequent droughts, forest fires, and deforestation (p. 33). In the realm of climate science, there is a gap between public understanding and what most mainstream climate scientists believe has long been documented (Painter, 2013). Various opinion polls suggest that the public in many countries are confused about climate change, even where there is broad consensus amongst scientists on aspects of climate science (e.g., connecting warming trends and human influence). In the United States, one widely respected survey (“Climate Change in the American Mind,” 2018) found that although 58% of Americans believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities, only 1 in 7 understand that nearly all climate scientists (95% plus) think it is. Researchers reviewed 127 segments on the global heat wave that aired on three American television broadcast news networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—during the summer of 2017 and found that only one mentioned the connection between climate change and extreme heat (Macdonald, 2018). In a follow-up study of broadcast coverage, they found that “during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes” (Macdonald, 2018). This knowledge gap and lack of public understanding has ripple effects: limited efforts on societal and individual levels to reduce carbon footprint, less investment in renewable energy, and a lack of political will.
If all modern nations are under threat from risks of climate change, it is at the present moment subsumed by the politics and language of a nationalism based on blood, language, ethnic, and cultural kinship. Spencer and Wollman (2002, p. 162) call it the moment of “nationalism after modernity” where, they argue, counter-narratives can and will emerge from the margins to unsettle and contest both the narrative of the nation-states and its boundaries; after all, it is the marginalized who are and will be first and most impacted by climate change and other such crises. Feminists suggest that nationalism after modernity will be vocally challenged by women, who often are expected to bear the burden of symbolic representation of the nation (Fraser, 1987; Hansen, 1994; Kaplan, Alarcon, & Moallem, 1999). Others argue that counter-narratives would come from farmers, who are most acutely being impacted by climate change (Sainath, 2018).
Within this ideological landscape, the need for informed global journalism is greater than ever. For audiences, writes Berglez (2013, p. 57), “Global journalism is relevant as it connects us to an important social material reality which would otherwise be absent in news: globalization.” Much has been written about global journalism practices in the past decade, and such research is immensely valuable in contemporary times. Global journalism often enables us to transform the abstract and invisible nature of the global into news discourses, on the one hand, and connect the global to the politics of the local, on the other hand. Instead of “news in the global village,” Berglez advocates for a model of “news for the global village,” where the news of retreat toward the ethno-nation can be most vocally and categorically challenged (p. 59). The national news models, which have been a fixture for audiences for the past 50 years, need to be changed in order to move toward any collective information sharing and action against a global crisis like climate change. Berglez does not advocate for an end to national news media, but rather the inclusion of global news within the configuration of a nation’s domestic “newsphere.” For instance, the coverage of hurricanes in the United States should not be overemphasized, and cyclones and tsunamis in Bangladesh and Philippines should not be underemphasized. It is the same ocean water warming that creates the same weather patterns, and global news within individual nations must cultivate those connections for audiences. Whereas the recent political rhetoric of the nation-state becomes “we or the world,” the global journalism model, according to Berglez, must shift discursively toward “we and the world” or “we in relation to the world” (Berglez, 2013, p. 60).
This article has discussed research showing that journalism and nation-states are inherently and irreversibly connected. Forces of globalization, which not only include financial/economic but also social, cultural, political, environmental, and media-technological cross-continental processes, has made the nation-state increasingly vulnerable to and dependent on external forces that might emanate from the long history of decolonization and the rise of complex transitional corporations and/or more powerful states such as the United States and China. Such deep involvement of the nation-state in the global world has also led to recent efforts by political actors to reverse course, but not to advocate for some transnational citizenship or cosmopolitan global order, but rather one based on an ethno-nationalist agenda where differences in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, caste, and other identity markers are used to inflame fears or defend against economic and environmental dislocation. Although the world faces a truly global challenge—climate change—which is likely to impact all nations, these political actors encourage the public toward an ostrich-like syndrome in which people are expected to stick their heads in the sand rather than confront difficult realities. The reprieve from such narratives of nationalism is suggested to be the model of global journalism that makes possible transnational information sharing and transnational connections between audiences.
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