Globalisation, the media industry and investigative journalism

The trend of people and companies getting connected on a global level is undeniable. This process of globalisation had a huge influence on our world and especially the modern media industry. Technological developments as well as economic changes in international markets opened possibilities and posed new challenges. Investigative Journalism as an important monitoring instance in democracies was not spared from the influence of this global phenomenon. A discussion on globalisation, the media industry and if investigative journalism as a genre was able to stay irrepressible and viable. 

Globalisation and its Influence on the Media Industry 

Since there is no historical reference to make, it is relatively difficult to define globalisation. However, there are certain characteristics which can be linked to the phenomenon. The intensification of connection is the base on which globalisation was able to arise (Reese, 2010). It is a global phenomenon which is hugely caused due to the technological revolution and offers the possibility of a worldwide marketplace. Competition has risen towards horizontal as well as vertical concentration of companies and institutions which were not able to overcome the challenges a global market proposes are not able to play a significant role in mentioned (Kaul, 2011). In America, only 6 companies produce 90% of the media content consumed. This number fell from 50 companies in 1983. Additionally, the new technologies, especially the internet, challenge national borders and reduce the influence and control of political powers.  

Globalisation has hugely impacted the media industry. While the trend is surely connected to the increased sharing of information, this industry is probably the main reason for the fast expansion of global interconnectedness. Globalisation itself would not be possible without the media (Kaul, 2011). However, the process of globalisation bears favours as well as risks. Concerning the media industry, the risks were especially economical nature. For a presence in the international market, large media groups were created which put the distribution of plural contents at risk. Legal barriers betweenPage Break 

countries are disappearing which is mostly due to the development of international agreements on free trade. The new media technologies are also presenting a challenge to these national limits. However, it is difficult to define when exactly media is global and what makes a Journalist a global one. The term “Global media” usually describes those institutions that have a global influence or are owned by transnational corporations (Hermann & McChesney, 2001). Global media gatekeepers influence the flow of news and information significantly (Reese, 2010) and Opinion leading news media like The New York Times, The Guardian or CNN and BBC have an even bigger influence on news distribution and framing than ever before.  

Journalism today cannot be fully understood apart from globalisation anymore (Reese, 2010). It contributes to the experience of the world as one place and is a key component in the media’s influence on social transformations. While most media in the past were defined by geography – local newspapers growing to national networks – today’s media keeps up with the interconnectedness of the world. While it took days and weeks for news to travel before trains, mail and not to mention the internet, due to today’s technology the public can be informed about an issue in a matter of seconds. But not only the time news take to reach the public shortened, the availability of information increased too. The possibilities to research about an event and to investigate an issue further have grown immensely. Additionally, the global connectedness and especially social media platforms provided the audiences with the possibility to directly contribute to the content they experience (La Porte Alfaro & Sabada, 2001). Through this, differences between content producers and consumers become blurred. 

Since the world is more and more connected by networks of international elites, social networks and more, the international awareness of national events is much higher than ever before. While audiences primarily stick to their national news and most journalists focus on national events, the process of globalisation in the media caused the formation of overlapping networks of communication (Reese, 2010). While Journalists and the frameworks of news media worked around the national values and Page Break 

expectations of the country they were reporting in, through globalisation these borders have been softened (Reese, 2010). International opinions on national events are no rarity anymore and through social networks, like Twitter, every individual has the opportunity to voice an opinion. Interests as well as values from corporations, journalists and the public all influence a debate on a topic which years ago would have been discussed on a national level. These discussions concern entertainment just as much as important topics like the environment or governments and politics. 

Investigative Journalism in the face of Globalisation 

The importance of the role of Journalism, investigative journalism in particular in democracies is undeniable. “The media should monitor the full range of state activity, and fearlessly expose abuses of official authority (Curran, 2005).” Due to this, the media has to be independent of the government. Globalisation with its global market forces seemed to be a serious threat to the watchdog perspective since the potential for corruption enormously increased with the deregulation of the media. Additionally, through advertising the free market generates information-rich media for elites while generating information-poor media for the public (Curran, 2005). It is not that the audience is missing or lack of interest in new information, but the changes in the global market led to a new orientation of many companies based on easier advertising strategies. To reach customers, advertisers today have more responsive possibilities like social networks and don’t rely on classic sources as much anymore (Harding, 2014). However, the global networks forming due to the technological advances of the last decades also gave investigative journalists new material to work with and the genre is able to act as a watchdog for democracies on a different level. As for example, the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who formerly worked for the US Intelligence Community, revealed documents on the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. These were operating outside the limits of the US Constitution and without any public oversight (von Solms & van Heerden, 2015). The information and investigation started global discussions concerning surveillance and state secret services.Page Break 

Since it is usually legally risky, time-consuming and linked to high costs, countries with a weaker economy provide a weaker position for investigative journalism (Stetka & Örnebring, 2013). Investigative Journalism only functions if it is autonomous and accompanied by well-functioning accountability institutions, which is why in countries with a more stable media landscape and stronger public service broadcasting, the development of this required journalistic autonomy was more likely. This, for example, is the case in Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic more than in Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (Stetka & Örnebring, 2013) which are all countries that are legally implemented in the “Western World” but are all post-authoritarian democracies. Also problematic in countries who, even before the globalisation, had relatively resource-weak news organizations due to the lack of advertising markets and a lack of interest in their audiences, is that the rise of global media corporations like BBC or CNN make it even more difficult to sustain investigative journalism. 

Besides the big news corporations who have salaried Journalists, being paid for their investigative work, freelancers are now able to pursue topics which are funded by projects like FIRE, formerly Project Word, who raise funding through contributions from individual donors, or through support from a variety of foundations. Even some companies known for rather feature-like Journalism or simple entertainment are investing in high-quality investigative journalism. Buzzfeed for example, a website which is usually known for clickbait titles and viral videos, built an investigative team of journalists. Articles like the report on Arlena Lindley, a mother being sent to prison for 45 years based on her failure to protect her child from her abusive boyfriend, showed Buzzfeed’s serious and successful attempts to fund high-quality investigative journalism.  

The genre was just as much influenced by new technologies and the global connectedness following the globalisation. An especially important role for Investigative reporting, however, play leaking websites like Cryptome, The Memory Hole or Wikileaks. The possibility to safely leak a secret document through an untraceable service made it easier for whistle-blower or leakers to bring their Page Break 

concerns to the public. For many investigative Journalists, the website has become a valuable source of information which would usually be inaccessible. The page Wikileaks publishes “without regard for political impact, violation of privacy or breach of copyright law (Lynch, 2010).” Problematic is, however, that Wikileaks certainly is a challenge to investigative journalistic practices. Without any editorial control, the website is under no control of the negative and maybe even dangerous impact a document can have on the public. As for example was the website critiqued for heavily violating the personal privacy of individuals with its content (Satter & Michael, 2016). Wikileaks published private medical information as well as social security and credit card numbers. The documents which the website leaks are not always information on governmental missteps, cooperation’s tax evasion or illegal spying activities by certain countries. However, the page was, for example, able to provide governments with important information on economy-damaging practices on tax saving by big companies. After the leaking of the Paradise Papers, a mass data leak of over 13 million secret electronic documents, investigative Journalists were reporting on the papers which burden companies like Apple Inc. with avoiding billions of taxes through offshore accounts. Sixteen countries were able to collect a total of €554.5 million in penalties and unpaid taxes so far (Fitzgibbon & Starkman, 2017). 


Hunter and van Wassenhove claimed that “the decline of the news industry is rooted in a vicious circle of financial leveraging leading to capacity cuts, and then to declines in quality of content, credibility, audiences and revenue streams (2010). However, investigative Journalism proves to be an important check on wrongdoings by individuals as well as governments. It has proven to decline and rise in cycles (Feldstein, 2006), which was independent of the phenomenon of globalisation. Still, globalisation hugely influenced the media and news industry. Through technological developments and the formation of global communication and information sharing networks, Journalism today cannot be understood apart from the phenomenon. Due to economic shifts in the market and media Page Break 

corporations expanding on a global level, the position of investigative journalism is slightly different today and was weakened in certain countries was weakened. Especially post-authoritarian democracies, which would be in need of high-quality investigative work as a watchdog for the democracy, suffer under the pressure of global news corporations. However, globalisation also provides investigative journalists with new possibilities and sources. Especially projects like FIRE who fund freelancing investigative Journalists guarantee the independence from governments as well as from advertising as far as possible. 

While globalisation certainly proposed a set of challenges to Investigative Journalism, the genre was able to sustain and proved itself as resilient and viable. Page Break 


Curran, J., 2005. Mediations of Democracy. s.l.:Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 

Feldstein, M., 2006. A Muckraking Model – Investigative Reporting Cycles in American History. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 1 April, pp. 105-120. 

Fitzgibbon, W. & Starkman, D., 2017. The “Paradise Papers” and the long twilight struggle against offshore secrecy. [Online]  
Available at: [Accessed 29 April 2018]. 

Harding, J., 2014. James Harding: Journalism Today. [Online]  
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[Accessed 20 January 2014]. 

Hermann, E. & McChesney, R. W., 2001. Global Media: The new missionaries of global capitalism. Foreign Policy Journal, 1 January.  

Hunter, M. L. & van Wassenhove, L. N., 2010. Disruptive News Technologies: Stakeholder Media and the Future of Watchdog Journalism Business Models. s.l.:INSEAD: Technology & Operations Management. 

Kaul, V., 2011. Globalisation and Media. Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism, 23 December.  

La Porte Alfaro, D. M. T. & Sabada, D. T., 2001. Globalisation of the media industry and possible threats to cultural diversity. s.l.:European Parliament. 

Lynch, L., 2010. “We’re going to crack the world open” – Wikileaks and the future of investigative reporting. s.l.:Taylor & Francis. 

Reese, S. D., 2010. Journalism and Globalization. Sociology Compass, 04 June, pp. 344-353. 

Satter, R. & Michael, M., 2016. Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets. [Online]  
Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2018]. 

Stetka, V. & Örnebring, H., 2013. Investigative Journalism in Central and Eastern Europe: Autonomy, Business Models, and Democratic Roles. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 29 July, Issue 18 (4), pp. 413-435. 

von Solms, S. & van Heerden, R., 2015. The Consequences of Edward Snowden NSA Related Information Disclosures. s.l., 10th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security. 

The Image is always political

When closely observing today’s news media, one will notice that images play a crucial role in news stories and from time to time cause a story on their own without providing any sustainable background information on the actual event. While some obviously convey a political message, others seem to simply serve the audiences entertainment or conveying of information. However, the message behind the image can still be political. This does not only apply to media illustrations. Many images in art, cartoons and entertainment, in general, have a political message or background which is not always obvious to the audience. Visual images play a crucial role in constructing political images and are used to influence the public’s perception of events as well as personalities. 

Information biases in News content 

As mentioned, images play a very important role in contemporary news media. Events, especially political ones, are often staged, aiming for a specific framing during coverage in the media. The frame the media uses while reporting about an issue fundamentally shapes the public’s opinion about it. Especially since the opinion maker medias such as The Guardian, The New York Times or BBC and CNN, influence the reporting of smaller institutions. 

A good example of the staging of political events and the cruciality of images is the coverage and personalization of the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Obama’s white house photographer, Pete Souza, was able to picture the president as an open-minded, hard-working especially sympathetic man, who not only loves his family dedicates his life to the country. Regardless of the fact if this created image corresponds to the truth or not, through his photographs, Pete Souza, invited the public to take the news around their president personally. Audiences are active and everyone who watches mass mediated content “interprets it on the basis of his or her temperament, education, background, and knowledge base (Berger, 2012).” This focus on a personality “encourages a passive spectator attitude amongst the public (Bennett, 1983).” In comparison, pictures of Donald Trump in news coverages are more often disadvantageous, embarrassing or of relatively low quality. Not always, of course, but more often than in the coverage of Obama’s presidency. An ongoing comparison between the former and the current president is their relationship with their wives.  

While Barack and Michelle’s relationship is portrayed harmoniously and relatively independent from political affairs, the marriage of Donald and Melania Trump seems to be a topic of discussion again and again. The news around the couple often even surmounts the coverage of the current event the president is attending. As Lanse Bennet claims, “American news have a tendency to downplay the social, economic or political picture in favour of the human trials, tragedies and triumphs that sit at the surface of events (1983).” Trump, his relationship with his wife and his personality seem to be way Page Break 

more interesting than the actual political events taking place. Still, the images used in the coverage about him serve very specific political purposes.  

While Obama’s presidency wasn’t usually questioned based on his mental health, personality or political skill, the pictures used in coverage on Trumps presidency often suggest him to be unqualified and unorganised. The media, as well as the public, takes Trump’s statements less serious based on the political messages delivered through the imagery in news coverage. While this can be contra productive concerning international affairs or inner political issues, it also prevents the public from panicking when affairs seem to escalate. As for example if Obama would have started an aggressive dialogue with Kim Jong Un, international coverage, as well as audiences, would have reacted more alerted than they did as Trump provoke the North Korean Leader. Pictures that seem to cover personal stories and affairs in news media can certainly be used to direct the public’s opinion on certain topics and events. 

As Stuart Hall claims in his encoding and decoding approach, audiences look for a meaning in an image (1973). However, they are not conscious of decoding a media product. The producers of media content, no matter if it is art, news, cartoons, series or something else, content code their products to give it a meaning. This can be done through a variety of things like camera angles, colour schemes, structure, narratives, and so on. However, audiences decode based on personal experience and values. Just because someone intended to give an image a certain message, that doesn’t mean that an individual who experiences it, decodes it in the meant way. While for example the tidy desk of Obama probably was intended to make him look like a well organised, competent politician, an individual who opposes him already could interpret the image as him not actually conquering any work, unlike Trump at his desk full of papers. The public’s opinion about a person and often about affairs in politics very much depends on the imagery it is confronted with and its decoding and interpretation. 

Images of war and war of images 

Especially important for international politics are the public’s perception of a conflict. Images of war have a huge impact on the audience’s opinion about the conflict, the participating governments and responsible individuals. “Images of war (…) are often treated as spontaneous, powerful and authentic depictions of real events and real human experience (Griffin, 2010)” and audiences want to experience emotion rather than a simple provision of information on the event and determination, pain or Page Break 

suffering of the pictured actors are what influences the viewer (Griffin, 2010). Images, especially photographs have based on their emotional nature a strong influence on the viewer. Politics and Media use imagery to influence the public’s opinion on a conflict and to justify the government’s actions in said conflicts.  

One event for example, through which the American government tried to influence the public’s opinion was the destruction of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos square in 2003. While the statue was first attacked by Iraqi civilians, catching the media’s attention, a unit of the United States Marine Corps then secured the area, contacted journalists and then toppled the statue under great media coverage. The destruction was broadcasted live in the media and appeared on the front pages all over the world. However, accusations about the event being staged arose soon. Time Brown, a Security Analyst who worked on the Public Eye project at the Federation of American Scientist, claimed: “It was not completely stage-managed from Washington, DC but it was not exactly a spontaneous Iraqi operation (2004).” Robert Fisk, however, British Columnist for the independent and Middle East correspondent, defines the destruction of the statue as “the most staged photo opportunity since Iwo Jima (2003).” The event was supposed to mark the symbolic end of the battle of Bagdad and counter a statement in April 2003 of information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf that Iraq was about to win the war and the Americans would “going to surrender or be burned in their tanks (Jones citing Saeed al-Sahhaf, 2008).” It was no coincidence that the event was covered by a lot of Journalists. 

Today, images are key weapons which can be used to gain advantages over an enemy (Swimelar, 2017). They can be used to support national interests and to reinforce actions. As mentioned, especially photographs can have emotional power. This emotional power is the key through which images are able to be used in a “way that images can support particular strategic narrative (Swimelar, 2017).” 

Political criticism in the entertainment industry 

However, images are just as much used by the public to engage in political discussion. Through art, cartoons such as the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons or movies, animations and series, the public is able to criticise and comment on current affairs. Still, the question remains if their audiences again, decode the imagery in the intended way. 

Satirical cartoons are a common way to express critique about current affairs. After the South Korean President Moon Jae-in mentioned Trump as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, people in social networks all over the world announced their opinions. Many newspapers – hard and soft copies – published cartoons which dealt with the topic. Cartoons may seem like an easy way to get the viewer to engage with the political background. However, “even for highly educated readers who are relatively well informed about political events the reading of individual newspaper cartoons poses quite a challenge (Refaie, 2009).” The language used in cartoons can be misunderstood by the viewer as it often adds additionally irony which would not be conveyed by the visual symbols alone. Most political cartoons are meant to suggest a specific opinion to the reader and need a critical discussion (Refaie, 2009). The seemingly amusing drawings certainly have political messages behind them, even if in the first moment, a viewer may only recognize the image as a simple humorous approach.Page Break 

The entertainment industry also often draws from real historical events as inspiration for series, animations and movies. While these media products can be meant to criticise these affairs, audiences often do not experience them as such. The Tv series Star Trek: The Original series, first aired on 08th September 1966. Director Gene Roddenberry implemented elements of the ongoing cold war in the futuristic series while trying to make the show “thoughtful and philosophical, rather than explicitly political (Coll, 2015).” The different parties in the series have significant parallels to the parties engaged in the cold war. Including a charismatic – though for today’s standard very sexist – captain Kirk representing America and a utopian outlook on a privileged status in the Federation of Planets in which poverty, disease and violent conflicts were mostly problems of the past and alien species representing the current enemies of the nation (Coll, 2015). The franchise is still producing new series and movies and the basic conflict between the initial parties is still the same. While audiences experienced the series mostly as an entertaining media product, the political backgrounds in the franchise sparked research and discussions. Even if the director did not intend to criticise governmental actions directly, some interpreted their own views on the series. 


As mentioned, images play a very important role in contemporary society. While not every image is intended to have a political meaning, audiences can still interpret one based on their experience and personal opinion. This certainly can lead to misunderstanding in the communication between producers of media content and the audience. Since audiences for mass media are global today (Berger, 2012), the values content producers use in their product might not be the same for all audiences and therefore lead to criticism on a political level, even if not intended by the producers.  

However, not all images that seem to not have an intended political message are simply misinterpreted by the audience. Especially in the news media and the coverage of seemingly personal details of politicians, images often have hidden political meanings. From staged events like the destruction of the Saddam Hussein statue to photographs comparing the former US President Barack Obama to the current President Donald Trump, images have a huge influence on the public’s opinion on politicians, actions and events.  

Art and cartoons offer an opportunity for the public to engage in political discussion and provoke conversation about current as well as past political events. The problem is that information about politics in our contemporary media environment only comes to those who want it (Shehata, 2013). If an individual is not interested in politics, the broad span of today’s media products gives the opportunity to avoid debates and information. Especially those who usually do not engage in politics are more easily influenced by hidden political messages based on their lack of background information on the ongoing events


Bennett, L., 1983. News: The Politics of Illusion. s.l.:University of Chicago Press. 

Berger, A. A., 2012. Media and Society: A Critical Perspective. s.l.:Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 

Coll, S., 2015. The Spectre of the Gun: Star Trek and the Cold War. s.l.:History to the Public. 

Fisk, R., 2003. Baddad: The day after. [Online]  
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Griffin, M., 2010. Media images of war. s.l.:SAGE Publications. 

Hall, S., 1973. Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. s.l.: University of Birmingham. 

Jones, H., 2008. Crucible of Power: A History of American Foreign Relations from 1897. s.l.:Rowman & Littlefield. 

Refaie, E. e., 2009. Multiliteracies: how readers interpret political cartoons. s.l.:SAGE Publications. 

Script, I.-T. W.-T., 2004. I-Team: Toppling of Saddam`s Satue Stages?. s.l.:WJLA-TV. 

Shehata, A., 2013. Active or Passive Learning from Television? Political Informatio Opportunities and Knowledge Gaps During Election Campaigns. 23:2 ed. s.l.:Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties. 

Swimelar, S., 2017. Deploying images of enemy bodies: US image warfare and strategic narratives, s.l.: SAGE Publications.