Distress Signals (1990)

By: Evan Frohock and Chris Zelante

“Distress Signals” was a documentary made by John Walker, but narrated by Jackie Burroughs. The documentary was made and released in 1990. The 55 minute documentary made many good points, although some were outdated. Kenneth Chisholm was asked what the documentary was about, in which he responded “this documentary discusses the growing problem of American dominance in world wide television. To be precise, developing nations, Canada and Europe finds themselves facing difficult choices as they must find ways of filling TV airtime in their broadcast systems.” This quote sums up the documentary well.

One aspect that is still relevant is how some economic factors still limit TV shows and broadcasting systems. This may not be true to the same extent as it was in 1990, but none the less it still causes issues for broadcasting systems. If a broadcasting system is broadcasting a TV show that is not popular not many people will feel the need to watch it, therefore the company will not be making money on the show. The need to be smart while using their money, and know what they will air before hand. If a company does not do this, they will not make money and eventually will go out of business because of it.

Since this documentary was aired in 1990 there are many things in it that are not still relevant today. One of these things is how much it costs to air a TV show. One example of this can be seen through ZBC, an African broadcasting network. ZBC could only produce one hour of their most popular show they have every month, because of economic factors. About 80 percent of the people who owned TV’s watched this show. This was obviously a big money maker, but it was still so expensive to air that it could only be seen once a month, for one hour. If this documentary was made in the more recent years i could add that there is more competition. Now a days, TV shows and broadcasting companies have so much competition because of the variety of broadcasting companies there are, and how many channels modern TV’s have.

In this documentary, they referenced many key terms, including:

– Globalization – “A process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of         different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology.”

– Cultural Imperialism – “The practice of promoting a more powerful culture over a least known or desirable culture”

– Global Media Flow – “The movement of cultures from one place to another brought by mobile subjects”


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