Electronic Colonialism


Let’s say for a minute you’re Bangladesh.

Like anyone else, you’ve got your good points, but you’ve also got your problems. (Look, who doesn’t?).

Your biggest problem, however, is that the only time you get on TV is when CNN decides to come around. And CNN only decides to come around when there is a flood, or a Civil War or maybe an outbreak of a plague. Other than that, you can’t find ’em.

The reason, of course, that CNN only rolls into town for disasters is that it costs CNN a fortune to get their reporters and producers and camera crews to Bangladesh. As a result, they’re only coming when, as they might say in Atlanta, the story warrants it.

So, despite the fact that CNN and The BBC and MSNBC and a dozen other news outlets around the world had yawning, massive newsholes to fill every day (like 24-hours), poor Bangladesh only gets on TV when something terrible happens.

Well, what happens to Bangladesh’s image in the global media footprint?

It looks like crap!


Close your eyes and think Bangladesh. What do you see? Flooding. Starving people in straw huts with water up to their ….. You bet you do. And you’re an educated person.

And its not Bangladesh’s fault!

The global image of Bangladesh, seared into everyone’s brain is one that was cast by a handful of people in Atlanta; the majority of whom have surely never been to Bangla Desh, and most of whom probably could not even find it on a map. That is electronic colonialism

And does this cost Bangladesh?

Well, lemme ask you, do you wanna go there on a vacation? Do you wanna invest there? It costs them a fortune!

And it’s not just Bangladesh.

Look at the Palestinians.

When they strap explosives on themsleves and walk into Israeli cafes to blow themsevles and anyone in a 30 foot radius to Kingdom Come, do you think they’re doing it to protest Israeli coffee cakes? They’re doing it so the cameras from CNN will come to Gaza. It’s to focus the world’s attention, if only for 1:20. What a crazy world, but you gotta do what you gotta do. It’s a media circus out there.

The reason that Electronic Colonialism exists is because there is an inherent imballance of power. All the cameras are in the hands of CNN (or The BBC or Deutsche Welle – pick your colonial power). The cameras are not in the hands of Bangladesh or Hamas or the Tamil Tigers…. but they could be!

They could also be in the hands of every kid in Harlem who is also a victim of electronic colonialism.

If Bangladesh suffers because CNN only deigns to come when there is a flood or famine, Harlem suffers the same fate, but on local news. The local news crew only deigns to come uptown for fires (no floods), and shootings. The kid growing up in Harlem, watching TV News gets a pretty warped view of what his or her community is like; and so do the neighbors downtown.

Several years ago, I worked with an organization called Harlem Live www.harlemlive.org, and we gave cameras and editing software to kids in Harlem, and taught them to shoot and edit, and sent them out into their own communities. They did a lot of interesting work, but most of it had nothing to do with crime stories.

What do you think the world would seem like if everyone in Hamas or Iraq or Bangladesh had a video camera? What would they show us?


3 responses to “Electronic Colonialism

  1. The Michael Rosenblum Experience in blog form? I’m surprised I needed Jeff Jarvis to tell me about this. RSS’d!

  2. I believe that you are confusing Electronic Colonialism (McPhail) with World-Systems Theory (Wallerstein).

  3. Pingback: repositorium » Electronic Colonialism

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