Editorial

Wayne Hope, Auckland University of Technology
Peter Thompson, Victoria University of Wellington
Martin Hirst, Deakin University, Melbourne

The current issue features four articles which consider the relationships between corporate media interests and state or civil actors. To what extent are these relationships structured by global media capital?

In this regard, Ben Birkinbine’s article examines the increasingly complex relationship between free/open-source software developers and software corporations which favour the creation of private, proprietary software. The ideological tension between proponents of software as public goods in the digital commons and those interested in its development for monetary exchange value will be readily apparent to political economists. However, Birkinbine’s analysis complicates this dichotomy by identifying points of commonality as well as conflict between these different interests. He focuses on Oracle’s takeover of Sun Microsystems and the consequent disruption of their relationship with the free (libre) and open source software (FLOSS) community. When Oracle began to extend its proprietary claims over Sun Microsystem’s software, FLOSS developers were able to defend their relationship with Sun through ‘forking’, which enabled the continued development of substitutable software still subject to open source licensing. Birkinbine’s piece highlights contestation over the very construction of the digital commons which merits closer scrutiny by political economy of communication scholars. This is underscored by the fact that the paper upon which this article is based won IAMCR’s 2014 Dallas Smythe Award.

Alfio Leotta covers more familiar political economic territory in regard to the relationship between global media capital and state/civic actors. He explains how two smaller ‘satellite’ film hubs—New Zealand and The United Arab Emirates, have engaged with Global Hollywood. The movie production sector in New Zealand has gained extensive recognition, especially following the The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The UAE has also made significant efforts to attract international movie investment through its state-backed production entity, Image Nation; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Star Wars VII are among the Hollywood-backed features recently hosted. Leotta provides examples of how these two countries have engaged with the globalised film production industry. This analysis suggests that satellite film production hubs may benefit from hosting feature film production, in terms of capital investment and the development of domestic production, talent and infrastructures. However, such benefits depend on specific institutional and policy arrangements which are in turn often contingent upon highly politicised negotiations with media corporations over tax incentives and domestic labour laws. 

Geoff Ostrove’s contribution continues the theme of Hollywood influence with his analysis of Disney Corporation’s impact on the development of Anaheim, California where Disneyland is located. In so doing, he reaffirms the salience of a neo-Marxist critique of cultural commodification and fetishism. Ostrove shows how in the 1990s, ‘Disney synergy’ saw the establishment of an actual ice-hockey team named after the fictional team in a Disney movie, The Mighty Ducks. Apart from the cross-promotional benefits for the movie franchise, the creation and promotion of a professional National Hockey League team was intended to enhance the appeal of Anaheim and Disneyland as a tourist destination. Although Disney’s economic presence in Anaheim provides significant employment, Ostrove argues that synergystic extension of the commodity fetishism underpinning Disney’s brand has come to pervade work time, leisure time and urban planning.

The theme of how media corporations pursue their interests in different contexts is further developed in Elsa Costa e Silva’s article concerning Portuguese media groups. Two important but institutionally distinct influences on the Portuguese media system are highlighted. These are the financialization of media companies in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and the introduction of a new regulatory body, the Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicacao Social (ERC). Elsa Costa e Silva argues that the financial crisis has been invoked by Portuguese media groups to legitimate redundancies and shows how they manipulate ERC regulatory processes to protect their respective commercial interests at the expense of media plurality and diversity.

Martin Hirst’s commentary reflects upon the differences between freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press in light of three recent events. These are the Sony file server break-in and the controversy surrounding The Interview, the murder of journalists, editors and cartoonists at the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and the election of left-wing anti-austerity party Syrzia in Greece.

We welcome further commentaries on these matters for the next issue of this journal.