Informal Flows of Media Reducing Inequalities of Access

One thought on “Informal Flows of Media Reducing Inequalities of Access”

  1. Dear ef9576a,

    I appreciated your analysis of informal media flows and their implications regarding access to media content. I was especially intrigued by the Nollywood video you posted. While I had never seen one before, I couldn’t help but compare it to some of my favorite telenovelas.

    I’d like to respond to your post by commenting on various points that you make:

    1. You argue that informal flows can be beneficial, in that they increase access to media content for those with limited resources.

    While I would certainly agree, I would take it one step further and say that these informal systems are working to offer an alternative voice to the dominant Western system. Hubs that create ‘contra’ content (such as Nollywood) exist outside of the dominant system, and by not being subject to its rules and regulations, actively fight against the preeminence and agenda setting powers of the West. While Nollywood films may exhibit Western cultural influences, they do so within a Nigerian context, thereby creating a distinctly Nigerian cultural product.

    2. You argue that copyright infringement due to piracy shouldn’t be a criminal offense because it offers access.

    Yes, pirated movies offer access to those that cannot afford or do not have access to the original movies (or a cheap option for Westerners traveling abroad). However, the multinational corporations that own much of the media sphere are businesses. Piracy means loss of revenue, so it makes sense that laws would be put in place to prevent this loss. And yet, it’s ironic that MNCs are more than happy to state how much is lost due to copyright infringement, while at the same time refusing to state total revenues. The way I see it, MNCs are privy to corporate tax loopholes and overseas bank accounts. How much is the US government losing because of that? If MNCs can find loopholes, they should appreciate when others (read: pirates of their content) manage to do the same.

    3. You argue that piracy ultimately has a more negative effect on developing national economies than on MNCs.

    It’s true – media conglomerates are so large, much of media in dominant cultural flows is represented by very few companies with lots of money and influence. If they do lose money due to piracy, at the very least, they may benefit from potential future markets with populations that are familiar with their products. MNCs have the capital to bounce back from the many ‘losses’ due to piracy; they can innovate and benefit from new platforms to get their media out into the world. And so, national media industries are like the mom and pop shop next to the Walmart. Walmart giving out free doughnuts gets people coming back to Walmart and ignoring mom and pop all together. What can mom and pop do, if anything, to win back those customers?

    4. You argue that Nollywood represents an important cultural flow despite being ‘contra.’

    Yes – Nollywood represents and important cultural space, adding a new voice to the conglomerate dominated media circus. While it is a shame that Nollywood creators don’t get paid as much as those in Hollywood, it shows that those that commit to creating Nollywood films are incredibly dedicated indeed.

    Perhaps MNCs and Nollywood could both benefit from working together. While MNCs are losing money to piracy, Nollywood generates low revenues due to the informal system in which it exists and lack of resources. If MNCs were to establish a film school in Nollywood, they could train future filmmakers, offer updated equipment, and encourage distribution via formal/legal flows. In return, MNCs would be subject to a cut of all future films created by students. This is an overly simplified idea at the moment, but at least it would offer a way for MNCs to get in on this emerging market in a legal way, while at the same time fostering improved Nollywood movies with more global attention.

    5. You pose some questions in your final paragraph. Here is my attempt to respond to them:

    Is it right for Nollywood to make millions of dollars less than Hollywood films?

    Unfortunately, this isn’t a question of right and wrong. Hollywood is a bigger business with more capital and more of a means to hold on to that capital (via copyright infringement and piracy laws).

    Is human desire for cultural media allowed to be under the domain of trade?

    Isn’t everything (except maybe air) under the domain of trade? Just because it is beneficial to a society doesn’t mean that it is free. Food is essential for life and yet that too is under the domain of trade. Creating copyright laws, while generally excessive in my view, is a means for MNCs to assure profits off their products. How is that any different from outlawing theft?

    Are copyright and piracy laws culturally held standards by the Western MNCs to suppress media productions in the developing world?

    I would argue that copyright and piracy laws are primarily to ensure that original content isn’t stolen or reproduced by anyone that didn’t have a hand in making it. The effect of media production in the developing world is an unintended, albeit welcome to MNCs, implication of these laws.

    Nevertheless, while these laws may exist, they continue to be broken. Improved technology improves media content by MNCs while simultaneously facilitating the process of stealing/reproducing it. It’s a continuous cycle!

    Why can’t informal media flows combat the inequalities of media access?

    Informal media flows are already combatting inequalities of media access, they just haven’t been 100% successful yet. The fact that they exist, that media content is being produced and circulated outside of the dominant system, means that those with limited access are ultimately finding it and creating new pathways for others to find it as well. The true question here is whether or not there will ever be equality with regard to media access. How might formal and informal systems work together to foster such a world where this is possible?




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