Wednesday, March 07, 2007

the diffusion of culture

Zapping through the TV channels in Singapore, I happen to catch a lot of the 'international' channels programming, state-owned TV channels such as Germany's DW-World, Japan's NHK, France's TV5 Monde, and China's CCTV, and I couldn't help but noticing how differently they approach their job.
While they all state their goals as promoting their respective country's culture, through news and entertainment, as well as to provide a more 'balanced' view of the world, the commonalities stop there.
France's TV5 Monde is a channel almost exclusively dedicated to French speakers. The only exceptions are some late night movies sub-titled in English (which are pretty cool by the way). This approach however, definitely limits the number of people they can reach, which makes me think they're not really that interested in promoting their culture as much as they are in promoting their language (sort of, "if you really want to know more about us, learn French first, monsieur").
Japan's NHK does have a few shows for non-Japanese speakers. There's one news program dubbed in English (with a Japanese-speaking anchor and an English-speaking commentator's voice-over), and other newscasts and variety shows in English (with a mix of native and non-native English-speaking anchors). Despite being a little more accessible than TV5, I really would like to see more English-spoken or English-subtitled shows, especially their documentaries and movies. My favorite NHK show is "Cool Japan" (about which I blogged here), and which incidentally is spoken mainly in Japanese (only the guests speak English but it's enough to give a general understanding about the context of the show). See the video below about the Japanese influence on the Paris fashion scene (spoken in Japanese and French, on YouTube here).In contrast with the two channels above, China's CCTV takes a bolder, more ambitious approach, albeit a more expensive one. Instead of mixing their programming grid with Chinese and English-spoken shows, they set up two different channels altogether, CCTV-4, spoken in Chinese, and CCTV-9, spoken mainly in English (there are only a few shows spoken in Chinese, but always with English dubbing or sub-titles). Take a look, for example, at the video below, a show in Beijing last year, celebrating Deng Li Jun, a.k.a. Teresa Teng (on YouTube here).
And finally, Germany's DW-World stands somewhere in the middle, airing some newscasts and variety shows in English (my favorite is Euromaxx, a variety show about interesting things in Europe. You can view a short segment on Danish designer Arne Jacobsen on YouTube here).These differences in strategy show two things: (a) some state-owned channels compromise the diffusion of their country's culture by trying to be too "pure" (dangerous word, but in the lack of a better one), sticking to their own language; (b) the Chinese government is willing to make high investments to promote their culture, trying to leverage their newly acquired economic status. Keep an eye for Chinese brands to follow.
One final note: to be fair, this analysis is based mainly on the nightly programming, so while they reach a prime-time audience, I can't say for sure they represent the entire programming (though I'm almost certain they do).
I do hope these channels take on a more accessible approach to non-speakers of their countries' languages. After all, where else could we have better access to news about Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka, Houston's Yao Ming, or the latest Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie?

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