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Challenging dominant discourses in a new world order

The three chapters in the opening section of the book reflect upon the emerging contours of a new global order in which BRICS can play a vital part. Chapters in this part demonstrate that counter-narratives are emerging, based on different readings of global geopolitics, communication paradigms and media structures and systems. The chapters thus contribute to encouraging researchers to recognize the pressing need for an innovative, inclusive and cosmopolitan research dialogue, one that cuts across disciplinary and intellectual boundaries to address the emerging landscape of global communication in a polycentric world.

In the opening chapter of this section, Marko Juutinen and Jyrki Kakônen, Finnish scholars in International Relations at Tampere University, set the geopolitical stage for the role of BRICS nations in framing a different kind of world order.They point out that, while many commentators view BRICS as an indication of the emergence of a new world order, others do not consider the grouping to be a viable and coherent international organization, as they have little collective diplomatic or political strength. This ‘BRICS paradox’ is at the heart of their analysis, based on a review of BRICS summit documents and other material. They investigate the potential of using alternative concepts arising from BRICS’ own cultures, including tianxia theory, with its roots in ancient China, as well as mandala theory, originally formulated in India in the third century BC.

The second chapter that challenges dominant communication discourses is by Muniz Sodré and Raquel Paiva, two of Brazil’s leading scholars, based at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, along with Kaarle Nordenstreng and Leonardo Custodio, who closely worked with them on the BRICS project. The chapter reminds us about the ongoing shifts in the current paradigms of media and communications studies and provides an example of a distinctive approach articulated in Sodré’s new book The Science of the Commons (2019).

In his chapter Savyasaachi Jain from Cardiff University in the UK and a former award-winning documentary-maker in India, critiques media system theories and their conceptual and empirical limitations. He argues that the currently-dominant framework developed by Hallin and Mancini, while providing the basis for some illuminating studies, suffers from many limitations: the existing typologies of media systems are not very applicable to the BRICS countries, as the underlying assumptions, approaches,reference points and analytical variables draw upon experience of a restricted geographical spread of media systems. Jain, currently finishing a book on media systems, suggests three broad approaches to study BRICS media systems: to move beyond the focus on political and economic systems; to deepen the inquiry past the normative and structural levels and, to undertake grounded studies of media systems.

Media and communication structures and systems

Chapters in this part of the book provide an overview of media and communication systems in the five BRICS nations. Following on our initial investigation of media systems in the BRICS nations (Nordenstreng and Thussu, 2015), in this volume the attempt is to provide a more comprehensive overview of communication structures. Though each chapter is distinct and covers a particular BRICS country, one underlining theme that emerges from these chapters is the need to broaden the variables to include indigenous cultures, local histories and experiences to understand media and communication structures and systems.

In their chapter on Brazil, Fernando Paulino and Liziane Guazina.both based at the University of Brasilia in the Brazilian capital, focus on the impact of the turbulent political environment since 2013 on the media system and on how information is disseminated to and shared by the public, with increasing use of social media and the Internet. Identifying the complexities of a communication system in a vast and diverse country, Elena Vartanova, Dean of School ofjournalism at Lomonosov Moscow State University, writes in her chapter that the unprecedented growth of digital communication has transformed the Russian media system, traditionally dominated by state-run media institutions and structures. The trend towards centralization of media and communication power and its impact on policy making is also highlighted, as is the primacy of television, despite the huge uptake of digital media.

A more historical approach is adopted by B. P. Sanjay in his contribution on the Indian media and communication system. Sanjay, a veteran of communication studies in India, delineates the development of media industries in one of the largest communication spaces on the planet, tracing it from colonial times to the era of print and broadcast media and the challenges it faces in the age of digital communication. Questions of media ownership and the trend towards entertainment-driven content are also raised in the chapter, arguing that they contribute to the shrinking of the public sphere in the world’s largest democracy.

A different approach is adopted by Zhengrong Hu, Deqiang Ji, Peixi Xu and Kriti Bhuju - based at the Communication University of China in Beijing, where Professor Hu was formerly the President - in their chapter on the Chinese media.The chapter argues that it is important to avoid‘static and one-dimensional assumptions that may detract from understanding the ongoing dynamic processes by which the media in China have been re-defined, re-invented, re-organized, and re-located in an increasingly connected, massively digitized, datafied and globalized Chinese society’. Given the globalization of Chinese media and communication, such a formulation is an important antidote to the conventional framing of China’s media and communication system purely within a censorship/state control model.

The main theme of the chapter on South African media by viola milton and Winston Mano is the role of public-service broadcasting in post-Apartheid society and how it has been challenged in recent years. Milton, based at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, and Mano, Director of the Africa Media Centre at the University of Westminster in London, have both written extensively on the need to develop African communication paradigms to decolonize the discourse and encourage democratic participation within ‘local histories, practices and contexts’, thus helping to create an ‘Afrokology’ of communication.

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