Europe Speaks to Europe: International Information Flows Between Eastern and Western Europe

Jorg Becker

Tamas Szecsko

This book contains over 30 papers that examine the state of communication and information technology in a changing Europe. Specifically, the book addresses growing East-West media linkages that are themselves contributing to the transformation of this region. The papers collected here were originally presented at a conference chaired by the editors in 1988.

The papers span a wide range of areas starting with a largely theoretical section on the relationship among politics, science and culture in the new Europe and proceeding to sections on television and data exchange, concluding with chapters on the regional and international legal and regulatory framework for such exchanges. The list of contributors is quite impressive, including Willy Brandt, Dallas Smythe, Cees Hamelink, Karol Jakubowicz, and Wolfgang Kleinwachter.

The papers are quite rich and well-balanced, with each section offering a genuine dialogue across the East-West divide. At the risk of oversimplifying a diverse collection, three points are particularly important. First, telematics, the integration of computer communication systems, will be central to the future of Europe, because decisions made about the structure of electronic systems for the production, distribution, and reception of information and entertainment will set the parameters for communication across national, ethnic, and ideological borders. This volume is unique because it recognizes that the new Europe will be forged in part from a transformed electronic services industry that brings together television, telecommunications, and information processing.

Having established the centrality of telematics, the book recognizes the ambivalence about whether electronic systems will help to unify or further divide Europe. Though technological planning plays a central role here in determining how well these systems will integrate or divide, the problem goes well beyond the technology. Whatever the shape of, for example, a continent-wide broadband, digital network, the economics of production, distribution, and reception will play a substantial part in determining whether the East-West divide in manufactured goods will be replicated in the information services sector. The Berlin Wall can be replaced by an electronic information barrier that separates the Western "haves" from the information poor in the East. The irony here, as Becker & Szecsko note, is that a political revolution can be outdone by an economic transformation:

Here it is not political but rather economic guiding-forces which are revolutionizing the whole media and information landscape. Information as a public good, the social-state idea of public broadcasting, in short: the whole democratic achievement of a concept of Offentlichkeit is being threatened with demolition in the face of the principle of economisation of all information as a commodity.

The third major point is that the only way to control this seemingly overwhelming economic transformation is through political co-operation and planning. The final two sections of the book examine the state of regional and international structures and policies on information flows and access. I particularly recommend Kleinwachter's piece on the data flow issue because he manages to situate what is typically a narrow, technical concern into the wider theoretical context of the right to communicate and how the international legal regime has responded to this right. He offers a useful anchor of normative political philosophy to help us think about ways to strengthen a public sphere before it is entirely undermined by the economic forces of privatization and commodification.

The chief difficulty with the book is the difficulty that most of us have with the pace of change in Europe. It is moving so quickly that our research cannot keep up with it. Thus, a book published in 1989, even one so forward looking as this, still reflects some of the "old Europe." This is particularly the case for the German contributors who are identified as representing the FRG or the GDR. Nevertheless, Europe Speaks to Europe is a very valuable contribution to the literature on flows of information and communication technology because it reflects the complexities in both analysis and policy prescription. What Jacubowicz concludes about the case of Polish television may well serve as a summary point of the book as a whole. He finds a situation that is extraordinarily difficult to capture in our major paradigms. It is "a tangled, complex and contradictory situation--which should serve as a warning to those who like their research paradigms neat and tidy." Europe Speaks to Europe provides much of value for those open to comprehending such challenges to our "neat and tidy" points of view.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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