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Woodier, Jonathan. The Media and Political Change in Southeast Asia: Karaoke Culture and the Evolution of Personality Politics.

Woodier, Jonathan. The Media and Political Change in Southeast Asia: Karaoke Culture and the Evolution of Personality Politics. Cheltenham, UK and Northhampton, MA: Edward Edgar Publishing, Inc., 2008. Pp.384. ISBN 978-1-84844-178-1 (cloth) online price 85.50 [pounds sterling]; 978-1-84844-619-9 (ebook) $40.00.

Political communication combines communication study and politics and this book is indeed a contribution to this ever developing area. Media control by the state is an important subject and not many books have been written in the context of Asia. Hence this book is worth being a textbook in universities. In the context of democratization of communication and the role of the media in the electoral ballot today, this book provides a ringside view of what happens in Southeast Asia.

South eastern countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and so on have seen the power of the media in political upheavals very much. The role of media in the democratization process is outlined within the pages of this book. Hence it is indeed a welcome study that can surely enrich the domains of political communication. The book focuses on Southeastern countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and even some cases of mainland China. The author cites the role of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and 2001 September 11 attack on the twin towers in the U.S. in controlling information flow. The author also suggests that even new technologies like the Internet and a money hungry public relations industry are used more to control the participation and access of the people to media and information. The growth of an authoritarian state like China and how it succeeds faced with globalization and international relations is an interesting case in point.

The sociologist Anthony Giddens has argued that events happening far away can have a deep impact on our surroundings and hence it is natural that important events happening in the U.S. or Europe can have political repercussions in Southeast Asia. The book also looks at the role of global media in controlling political activities in Asia. At another level it looks at the role of PR consultants in determining authoritarian regimes and media controlled states.

Examining a number of case studies of media and political change in Southeast Asia between 1996 and 2006, the author tactfully shows that the media in Southeast Asia has not become globalized, nor have the local political elites proved defenseless in the face of the powerful international players. Rather they have manufactured ways to continue their control policies with interesting political repercussions domestically. Here Woodier helps the reader understand the role of the globalized and local media in the policies of the developing world.

Everyone will agree the communication media are agents of globalization and decolonization. There has been an explosion of news and entertainment products from the U.S. and Europe bursting across national borders with political and economic implications for the governments in Southeast Asia. These can pose a challenge to established elites. The author sees these media invasions like a modern day Robin Hood as it seems like an enemy to the monopolized dictatorships and friend to the ordinary consumers encouraging social change as a forum for grass roots expressions.

The book shows that media provide a public space to which powerful actors in society can secure access by complex negotiations. The traditional elites have taken to PR in a big way in the region to create public opinion in their favor. The dictatorial states are thus combating the onslaught of the media with some success. The author suggests that this is a misuse of PR, in fact PR put to wrong uses, for pursuing commercial and dictatorial interests.

In the early chapters, Woodier, following the Frankfurt school's analysis of media effects theories, shows that the media and entertainment industry are at the centre of new modes of image production and cultural hegemony, and the political struggles of various groups are determined as per the capitalist dictum.

Following Rupert Murdoch's 1993 declaration to a London audience that "satellite television constituted an ambiguous threat to totalitarian governments everywhere," the book traces several case studies in Southeast Asia and shows the power of the media in unseating dictatorial and military regimes and making people power and the public sphere of Haberamas where market economies have swelled, a forum for public debate on the state of the government. At one point the book delves into how the media have played a major role in the development of each nation focusing more on the modernization theories.

Towards the end of the book there is an attempt to chart the efforts of alternate voices heard in the new media space, subverting communication technologies for the ends of pluralism, terror, or just commercial gain, offering a new challenge to the illiberal regimes of Southeast Asia, even forcing a reaction from the likes of Singapore's surveillance state and the projection of control into virtual spaces.

Though from the U.S., the author points to a kind of media development that can be more useful to the democratic growth of the developing nations.

The final chapter examines the nature of a Southeast Asian model of media development in the close embrace of local elites who feel keenly the threat, perceived or real, of a media that is growing in importance in information-sensitive, young states: the voice of nationalism, independence, and development.

The media have been heralded as the watch-dog for long, but often one sees them being treated as a lap dog by power elites: business groups and politicians. Often in their grip, the media tend to follow the way of the powerful and lose their independent identity. This book is a guideline for media houses on how the media can play a powerful alternative role in the development of nations. South East Asian countries provide the perfect foil to such an attempt.

--Jacob Srampickal S.J.

Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome
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Author:Srampickal, Jacob
Publication:Communication Research Trends
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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