The informal flows of media provide a better view of where cultural production and news is being consumed. The informal flows of media most often provide cultural materials that might not be available in certain areas and their conventional, or formal, channels. When we see the media being increasing privatized, we see trade liberalization abroad and that causes an agenda setting control on what is being distributed. Informal flows are moving away from only Western dominant media flows and reducing inequalities in media access.
One perspective of piracy and informal networks is that they are a criminal offense as a copyright violation. We’ve been led to believe that it’s a bad thing by multinational corporations, when developing countries get a majority of their media pirated because they have no other outlets available. The global media system is indeed more complicated than import and export trade laws. Citizens from anywhere around the planet should have the same access as anyone else to cultural and media products, and pirated informal circuits are sometimes the only way to gain such access.
One idea that Mattelart (2009) touches on is the idea that these informal flows have more consequences for regional and national productions of media. The widespread distribution of Western cultural content, through formal or informal circuits, has had a major effect on what is being produced from the national cultural industries in the developing countries.
The video below is a perfect example of a Nollywood movie – notice that it can be found on Youtube. The movie is in English, with a very melodramatic, soap opera feel – it is hard not to see the Western cultural influences in it! The producers of informal networks such as Nollywood do not make near as much money as Western producers from MNCs. There are informal and unofficial circuits that mark the global trade of Nollywood. These circuits establish themselves out of interest in cultural productions that are not offered, or unaffordable, to the local communities. “The informal economy, by providing easier access to international and cultural productions, it does more than entertain people cheaply, it helps distract them from difficulties of their daily lives,” Mattelart (2009).
The producers of informal networks such as Nollywood are providing a cultural service to their viewers, who otherwise would have very low options in the media they consume. The irony of informal networks is that they have reinforced a Western dominance by circulating Hollywood films, which creates more of a demand for these kind of products. I believe that is what we see happening in this video below. Nollywood, although seen as a informal or “contra-flow” has huge influences from Western media culture. One can also see the limitations of production quality compared to MNCs, yet Nollywood is still gaining a place in the global media system.
Again, the global media system is more complicated than import and export trade laws. We have to think about these alternative networks and how they are being built and maintained. Is it right for Nollywood to make millions of dollars less than Hollywood films? Is human desire for cultural media allowed to be under the domain of trade? Are copyright and piracy laws a culturally held standards by the Western MNCs to suppress media productions in the developing world? Why can’t informal media flows combat the inequalities of media access? Letting these scenarios play out is perhaps the only way to figure out an ideal system. Seeing the influence people have on these informal networks and how they grow and adapt to the current global media system is perhaps the only way to figure out an ideal ‘flow’ of culture.