Is global media creating a set of shared values, or detroying local customs?
Author, peace-keeper, refugee worker, human rights activist and now political candidate for the Indian Parliament, Shashi Tharoor straddles several worlds of experience.
Chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Shashi Tharoor was the official candidate of India for the succession to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, and came a close second out of seven contenders in the race. His career began in 1978, when he joined the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and included key responsibilities in peace-keeping after the Cold War and as a senior adviser to the Secretary-General, as well as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.
Dr. Tharoor is also the award-winning author of nine books, as well as hundreds of articles, op-eds and book reviews in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek and The Times of India. He has served for two years as a Contributing Editor and occasional columnist for Newsweek International. Since April 2001 he has authored a fortnightly column in The Hindu and since January 2007 in The Times of India.
Born in London in 1956, Dr. Tharoor was educated in India and the United States, completing a Ph. D. in 1978 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he received the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Best Student. At Fletcher, Shashi Tharoor helped found and was the first Editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs, a journal now in its 31st year. A compelling and effective speaker, he is fluent in English and French.
In January 1998, Dr. Tharoor was named a "Global Leader of Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is the recipient of several awards, including a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was named to India’s highest honour for Overseas Indians, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, in 2004. He serves on the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the board of trustees of the Aspen Institute India, and the Advisory Boards of the World Policy Journal, the Virtue Foundation and the human rights organization Breakthrough. He is also a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities.
Question: Is global media creating a set of shared values, or destroying local customs?
Shashi Tharoor: I mean to some degree the fact that global media has the reach that it does means that there is certainly a view of the world emerging from the producers of global media – which are basically rich western countries – that is prevalent far more. I mean anybody sitting in the Fiji Islands or in Mauritius can see Baywatch and . . . and . . . and . . . and see people eating burgers and wearing blue jeans. And that . . . that is certainly something for which . . . which there is no equivalent in reverse. You’re not gonna find, on the average American television screen, people wearing jelabias or lungis and eating masala dosas or . . . or . . . or for that matter monkey brains. The fact is that traffic is largely one way from the global media. And it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s therefore spreading one set of ideas and lifestyles to the rest of the world. Having said which, however, I still think that we exaggerate the power of those things to transform the world. Yes, western clothing is certainly pushing our traditional clothing in many parts of the world. But I still think that in those countries, the daily reality of life that I’ve seen, for example, in India means that people will never entirely lose their connection to their clothings, their food stuffs, their habits in life, their languages and so on partially because global media isn’t the only media there is. There is also local media. There’s also local means of transmitting culture and information – folks songs, dances, whatever. And those cannot simply be wiped off . . . wiped out quite that easily. Art is media. Destroying other people’s values? Well if people are sufficiently influenced by the media to destroy the things that they’ve grown up holding dear, then they are to blame and not the media it seems to me. But on the other hand, we can all do things in our own societies to preserve alternative forms of expression, to permit diversity. I’ve often argued that the 20th century was supposed to be the century in which we made the world safe for democracy. Maybe in the 21st century, as we know more about each other, we have the resources, the technology, the media to see, and depict, and portray each other, we can make the world safe for diversity.
Recorded on: 9/18/07
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