Media imperialism is a theory that suggests that smaller countries are losing their identity due to the dominance of media from larger nations. It can be equated to small community shops closing down due to large superstores moving in, taking over, and having a monopoly. As the larger media corporations begin to take over, smaller media companies are either being forced out or swallowed up. When the majority of media available in one country is that produced by a different, more dominant nation, it is suggested that the culture of that larger nation, along with its interests, displace that of the home country.
Many critics argue that there is too much media coverage of the events in a limited number of large nations as opposed to the rest of the world. This coverage may be affected by the dominance of media companies in these larger countries, which have the ability to control the content and amount of coverage on a particular issue. Critics suggest that this dominance has led to important events getting little attention, and biased information and inaccuracy within news stories.
Media imperialism is not just seen internationally. When a small number of companies are responsible for large amounts of media output, this too may be considered imperialism. Countries including Canada and Italy are often accused of having imperialist media, since a large amount of the media in these two countries is controlled by just one company in each.
The problem with just one company or owner controlling the media is that media output can be biased. The owner can decide on what information is shown, as well as what to censor. This can sometimes come down to an influence from the country's government, which may have the power to shut down the company if it does not follow the government's wishes. Other times, powerful corporate interests can influence the media, either through their influence with the government or their role as advertisers.
Advertisers use media companies to promote their goods, but in some cases can also lay down stipulations on the content produced. If a media organization earns a significant part of its revenue through advertising channels, these advertisers can have an undue influence on what is shown. In such cases, the content of the broadcasting is down to its profits; if programming does not bring in profits, it is unlikely to survive for long.
In the United Kingdom, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) operates its own form of media imperialism. The BBC has an annual television license that all television owners must purchase, regardless of whether those owners watch the BBC or not. The company was created by Royal Charter, but operates independently from the government.
The BBC's television license fee has caused much controversy over the years, and failure to pay for a license can result in a fine. There are a number of channels available to watch on British television, but only the BBC has the right to charge for theirs. It is not strictly thought of as imperialism, as the content of the BBC is mainly British, though some may argue that it may not represent the multiculturalism present in the country.
Especially as new technology allows more people from around the world to make their voices heard, there are an increasing number of critics who argue that media imperialism is not the threat it once might have been. Access to social media tools has allowed groups who might have been censored in the past to make their stories more widely known. Even older technologies, such as radio, can be very effective tools to allow a greater diversity of voices in the media landscape. Some critics even argue that, rather than passively accepting the cultural values that foreign media might impose on a smaller nation, people in those nations often pick and choose the aspects of that media that reenforces local values.