Sunday, December 6, 2009

E-E campaigns: Ulteriror motives

In this last week’s readings I found Mohan Dutta’s, “Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique”, the most interesting. He explains how the entertainment education (E-E) programs ideally contribute to the social change in developing countries by directing it in a way. Entertainment education is when educational content is incorporated to entertainment programs through radio, television, records, video and theatre. Dutta mentions that many E-E campaigns have been used for healthcare purposes, to promote family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and control, and gender equity.

Dutta’s main point is that these programs are not successful because they are not implemented to help the marginalized population of developing countries, in the end they contribute to maintaining the status quo and the power of the elites. For example, agencies like the USAID that has funded many E-E programs, have ulterior motives in doing so and do not have a clear transparent reason to actually help these countries. The way these programs are developed and implemented it only reaches the elite population of underdeveloped countries and not the people that actually have the need. This is why Dutta proposes a subaltern view to E-E programs, for as to let the grassroots population have an active participation and say in the programs that should be implemented and what needs it should fulfill.

Most of the current entertainment education campaigns do not meet the needs and basic necessities needed by the marginalized populations, the agencies who fund the programs just have their own goal in mind. This situation is sad, because they are not helping the development of these countries. The peripheral countries continue to be in the periphery while the core countries continue to exert their control.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Problem definition, definitely a problem

Professor Hayden definitely "saved the best for last" as this week’s readings were perhaps the most interesting of the entire semester. Dutta’s article, “Theoretical Approaches to E-E Campaigns,” focused on USAID’s E-E campaigns in developing countries and gave us a look at them from the critical lens of the subaltern perspective. While several of his arguments caused me to have an Oprah “Ah-Ha” moment, one point in particular stimulated my interest. Dutta states that the top-down flow of communication during project definition allows Western cultural values to dominate the campaign and fails to incorporate the subaltern perspective. Dutta makes us realize that when conducting an analysis of E-E campaigns, “communicative practices built into discursive space of E-E campaigns celebrate and privilege the dominant power structure,” which effectively marginalizes the subaltern perspective.

Dutta convinces us that we need to define the problem from a value-based perspective. While I agree with Dutta’s argument completely, the lingering question remains; if we do allow the subaltern view to define the problem, will sponsors be willing to fund these projects that may not coincide with their definition of the problem? Funding is always major issue in development and the pessimist in me wonders if agencies will continue to support projects they feel do not address the problems in a way that is pleasing to them. Dutta makes some attempt to address this by stating that the discussion of “agency in the Third World actor should be a starting point for interrogating E-E campaigns, locating such campaigns under the broader strategic goals of funding agencies.” I agree that this would be ideal, but Dutta leaves me wondering what it would take to shift the perspective of agencies to adopt this alternative way of defining the problem.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Entertainment Education and Soft Power

The last time I tuned into my favorite TV show or watched a movie, the farthest thing from my mind was the type of education I was receiving. I'm also making the assumption that when most Americans settle down on the couch for their favorite night on television; they aren't thinking "boy, what do these TV shows do to "disseminate ideas to bring about behavioral and social change"? As entertainment education is further studied and considered as a medium to spread messages to developing populations, I couldn't help but wonder...are we using TV shows as a new form of soft power?

In the readings about strategic communication, one point became very clear. If the United States wants to increase its credibility, maybe we should focus on our own faults - allowing critique from outside sources, being open to criticisms, and changing our communication style to accept these new ideas. Entertainment Education would certainly allow us to improve these attributes. Our society has become more open to change and diversity and this can be seen in the TV shows that consume our lives. One example is the new ABC sitcom, Modern Family. This popular show is one of the first to display the new version of the the family: "Modern Family is the first primetime sitcom that has embraced American society as a true melting pot. Homosexual and interracial couples, are now practically as common as traditional couples and the show is all about living and coinciding together" Perhaps shows like Modern Family are increasing our soft power so that populations that view the United States’ culture as unfavorable are now seeing through our entertainment style, us in a positive light.
Maybe, if we found a way to export the comedian Jeff Dunham (complete with his terrorist puppet, Achmed), The Daily Show, Modern Family, Family Guy, and a whole multitude of others….we could use soft power in a way never used before.

E-E, the dependency paradigm, and population control: The perfect storm?

I found this week's group of readings about communication in development very, very interesting. I especially liked Dutta's article, "Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique." Considering that I had never heard the term "subaltern," I had a lot to learn, but I quickly came to realize through my reading that national elites and governments should be treating these under-served, silenced communities with a greater degree of sensitivity than they are. The way to improve their treatment, Dutta argues, is not through the current modus operandi of entertainment education (E-E) campaigns.

Dutta's central criticism of E-E ventures today is that they are of a top-down nature: governments and elites, and the developed nations, disseminate their views on less-developed populations and nations under the assumption that what worked for one population will work for another. As he explains, "...E-E campaigns operate in an uneven field with information and communication flowing from the core nations to the periphery nations, often imposing the worldview of the core nations on the actors in the periphery." This statement echoes perfectly Amin and Cardoso's dependency paradigm that we discussed in Professor Levinson's class early this semester. According to the paradigm, exploitative processes (in this case ignoring the opinions of subaltern populations, thus taking advantage of their lack of power) originate in the core and then impact the periphery.

In Dutta's view, E-E programs, under the guise of reducing poverty and bringing about social change, actually aim to use subaltern populations for the core nation's hegemonic, transnational commercial interests: "...E-E becomes the machinery for oppression of the poor in the Third World by pushing transnational capitalism." He cites USAID as his main example in this view. I am not an international development expert by any stretch of the imagination, so I knew next to nothing about their E-E programs and their influence on developing economies and populations. While I would want to read more about its policies before forming a conclusive opinion, I do think that these programs need to shift to a more bottom-up model in order to be more successful and to truly bring about social and economic change.

I do, though, have to take issue with one point of Dutta's. His section on population control as an objective of USAID's E-E campaigns argues that "population control programs embody other ideological biases that underlie their conceptualization" of being a means toward economic growth in developing countries. These ideological biases are against subaltern groups as E-E message receivers, argues Dutta, and focusing on population control as a solution only perpetuates the idea of the subaltern as undesirable, at the bottom of the class system heap. While his arguments in this context are valid, he then seems to dismiss population control entirely as a solution to anything. He doesn't acknowledge its merits in any context. To me this felt somewhat irresponsible. Okay, so in the context of his argument against current E-E campaigns, population control doesn't work. But I think he should have at least provided an example of a context in which population control does work. It's common knowledge that in many developing countries, women are more likely to have large families, which can lead to more poverty (more mouths to feed and as a result less money to do it with) and health problems, even premature death, for the mother. Population control in and of itself is not a bad thing. It can lead to better family planning and maternal health education and help stop the vicious cycle of too many children and not enough food. It's just the context of it in this case that is bad. Dutta just seemed too quick to entirely dismiss it for me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Old Wine in a New Bottle

Melkote’s article takes us deep into a serious analysis of development theories – somewhat drowning in academic, intellectual terms. His to-the-point punchline, however, was saved until the conclusion. Here, Melkote concludes that “it is usually futile and may be unethical for communication and human service professionals to help solve minor and/or immediate problems while ignoring the systemic barriers erected by societies that permit or perpetuate inequalities among citizens.” He goes on to say the work of many in the development world can be chalked up as “ineffective” and “superficial” when not taking this into account. Melkote seems to be taking the “give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever” line a step further by removing the option of even giving the fish.

The question still remains, however, that we don’t agree on how to solve these systemic barriers. (Also, Melkote makes it clear that to even assume we should be the one’s solving others problems is part of the problem itself.) Yikes. So many problems, and no straight-forward solutions. This makes IC seem a lot less scary than ID.

Fisher’s descriptions of Raymond’s concept of the Cathedral and the Bazaar resonated with me. Raymond’s frank assertion that the open-sourced, Bazaar approach is “anarchic, messy, rude, and vastly more powerful than the doomed bullshit that conventionally passes for wisdom.” This is very true – and exactly what makes it so scary. As part of a large volunteer chorus, we are often called upon to help promote our concerts. With the advent of online networks, this has markedly changed the tools with which we can promote our work. When our administrative office sends out a concert image, a special offer, or new information on a performance, a quick stream of choristers add the information to their Facebook pages – with their own thoughts tacked on. This is the risk organizations take: by allowing (and encouraging) promotion by their extended communities, they remove their (often perceived) control of the spin. The net result, however, can be more effective than any slick, controlled message they would distribute on their own. Fisher further confirms this example by noting that charitable and volunteer organizations are smart to use enthusiasts to promote them, as their efforts are based on interests rather than financial reward. This, too, has been evidenced by my chorus. When asked to promote concerts that we haven’t been particularly excited about, our status updates remain blank, our images static. When we are inspired, though, our interest is evident in our promotion.

Finally, Corman’s article on the success and failures of media systems provided some interesting insight. By assuming that communication is the transfer of meanings from person to person, communicators are neglecting the fact that message received is the one that counts – not the one that was sent. In his description of Karen Hughes’ “listening tour” of the Middle East it is clear that she neglected this fact. Perhaps she should have focused a little bit more on the “listening” part of the tour?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Public Diplomacy

This weeks readings proved to be quite interesting and I particularly enjoyed Joseph Nye’s article entitled, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power.” There are two points in particular that I found to be quite interesting.

First, I found Nye’s discussion of the “paradox of plenty” to be interesting. “Paradox of plenty” means that “when people are overwhelmed with the volume of information confronting them, it is hard for them to know what to focus on.” He then states that those who can distinguish what is valuable from the massive amount of information will gain power. This reminds me of a previous discussion we had in class about teaching people media literacy. In order to develop informed opinions, people should learn how to critically analyze the information they receive. Similarly, I believe that having “plenty” of information is not necessarily the issue, but rather, educating the public on how to extract what is relevant is.

Secondly, Nye makes the argument that a dimension of public diplomacy should include the “development of lasting relationships.” In particular, he uses the example of exchange programs to highlight his point. As an alumna of the Japanese exchange program to which he refers, I can personally attest to the benefits of these programs. While incorporating these programs into a country’s public diplomacy efforts is important, the key to their success lies in having an alumni association, or some way for participants to keep in touch after they complete the program. Without this type of connection, a government will not be able to harness the goodwill that was experienced during the program into something that is beneficial for them in the long-term. Additionally, I think that more exchange programs should require the participants to educate their home community upon returning. These community education programs should focus on building a greater cross-culture appreciation, which is currently lacking in our nation. While some programs do this, unfortunately, many of them do not. Only when the citizens of the “sending country” are educated about other cultures can the mutual understanding process that is crucial for the success of public diplomacy begin to take place.

Public Diplomacy vs. Placido Domingo

I had a bit of an identity crisis when taking notes on these readings. In creating my own shorthand for the repeating IC terms in these essays, I turned “public diplomacy” into “PD” – and realized that since I’ve lived in DC, this was an abbreviation I’ve always used for Placido Domingo. When I first moved here it was to work at Washington National Opera; we all had arts backgrounds and we shuffled back and forth between our office in the Watergate and performances in the Kennedy Center. We didn’t talk much about politics and considered Placido Domingo more of a celebrity than any politician we encountered. In changing my field to work in international communication/education, I’ve worried about neglecting this part of my background. Reading Joseph Nye and others talk about the various forms of soft power, however, I was happily reminded that there is room for a meaningful coexistence of these interests. In reading about cultural exchanges, I even remembered that while I worked at the Opera our artists spent weeks performing as part of the “Great American Voices Military Base Tour”. While I didn’t think much of it at the time (besides wondering how entertaining these performances would be for our troops), it is interesting to note this unique collaboration between state and non-state actors – between the Department of Defense and OPERA America with funding from Boeing.

Glassman’s speech provided a number of concrete examples of State Department efforts in public diplomacy. While impressed with the modern use of technology, it was refreshing to hear him clarify that “Public Diplomacy 2.0 is a new approach, not a new technology”. I clearly favor what Nye describes as the “slow media of cultural diplomacy” – found through arts, books, and exchanges and resulting in a “trickle-down effect”, while much of what we learn about relates to the “fast information media”, promising “more immediate and visible bang for bucks.” Technology certainly provides the means, but it doesn’t replace the need for effective communication.

I really got into the Powers and Gilboa article on Al-Jazeera. I was largely unfamiliar with Al-Jazeera until I befriended a number of Yemenese students in a language class. During every class break, they would gather round the shared computers to catch up on the news. They explained the approach of the station to me, which was re-iterated in this article. There was an honesty in the approach of the “opinion and the other opinion” reporting that I could appreciate. While the article highlights many of the criticisms of their methods and their negative outcomes, I was struck by the Al-Jazeera reporter’s quote that he “is adamantly against the notion of neutrality. There is no such thing as a neutral journalist or a neutral media for that matter.” By providing two opposing opinions, this seemingly makes an attempt to balance out two non-neutral opinions and leave the viewer faced with choosing what is correct. (Problems arise, of course, when one “opinion” is not just an opinion – it is a factual representation of something that is happening. Or if there happen to be more than two viable opinions on an issue.)

The article closes by intimating that Al-Jazeera is providing a communications strategy that reflects the new public diplomacy, one that “blurs traditional distinctions between…public and traditional diplomacy, and between cultural diplomacy, marketing and news management.” The authors tip their hats to Nye’s concept of soft power, and close with a mention of our favorite concept: glocalization. (And speaking of Nye, it was great to finally read his Soft Power article after seeing so many references to it.) Finally, Price’s article provided a number of surprises: among them the first academic citation of a Washington Times article that I’ve ever seen, but also a number of welcome Midwest shout-outs, including an extended description of the Dayton Peace Accords and a re-cap of Sen. Carl Levin’s Bosnian efforts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"The Opinion and the Other Opinion"

Of all of this week's readings, I found "The Public Diplomacy of Al Jazeera" especially interesting. I freely admit that prior to this course, I knew next to nothing about Al Jazeera, save for the fact that they broadcast messages from bin Laden after 9/11. I feel like we've been building up to a more in-depth discussion of the news network all semester, and this piece by Shawn Powers and Eytan Gilboa brought up many relevant points and got me thinking about the role of news media in the Arab world, especially in comparison to news media in Western society.

I appreciated the authors' brief history of Al Jazeera--its inception in 1996 with (very) generous funding from an emir in Qatar, its debut on the world stage in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox, and its promotion to lead player in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, when it was the only transnational news organization with a bureau in Kabul. They also identify the internal and external focuses of Al Jazeera: internally pushing the envelope by spotlighting on controversial subjects like sex, corruption and politics, and externally focusing on regional and world events from the Arab and Muslim perspectives. Both of these have of course caused various uproars in the Middle East and in the rest of the world, particularly the West. Government leaders in the former (Saudi Arabia for example) have blocked Al Jazeera in some cases because of its dynamic internal content, seeing it as a threat to their authority. In the West, meanwhile, especially in the United States, the network's internal programming is supported, since it's viewed as supporting the ideals of democracy and free speech. But its external programming--the bin Laden broadcasts, and showing the negative human effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts--has caused much consternation and outrage.

Powers' and Gilboa's outlining of Al Jazeera's dual focus segues nicely into their next point, which was for me the most important and most vital to comprehending the network: Al Jazeera has a definite political agenda. There are a couple of reasons for this, according to the authors. First, the national media systems in the Middle East leave much to be desired. They are marred by corruption, as they are controlled by government regimes and do not even attempt to present a balanced account of domestic and regional events. Al Jazeera looks to fill this void by providing a counterpoint, and in doing so takes a stand against the corrupt political establishment. It also challenges the notion of the nation-state "as the primary actor in international affairs," which we've discussed at length earlier in the semester. This is somewhat ironic considering that the Qatari government still pours money into Al Jazeera, but I think it proves the network's mission of presenting an independent voice and acting as an advocate for Arabs, no matter the monetary or political cost.

Powers and Gilboa aptly contrast Al Jazeera with its Western counterpart, CNN. They speak of the now-familiar "CNN effect" and address the natural next question: is there also an "Al Jazeera effect?" I think after reading the piece that comparing the two would be ultimately futile because they operate in such different environments. In Al Jazeera's case, as the authors point out, it is not just there to report events objectively but also, in view of the political climate in the Middle East, " take over the tasks that are usually fulfilled by political parties." It is not just a news network--to say so would be quite an understatement. Al Jazeera is there also to effect change in the region through its programming and above all to be "an agent for democratic governance." This piece certainly gave me a greater understanding of this media organization and also made me realize the degree to which it's misunderstood in the United States. I'm not saying I'm going to replace my cable news network of choice with Al Jazeera English, but I will no longer dismiss it as irrelevant either.

Soft power, public diplomacy and technology...what next?

I liked this week’s readings because I found that for the first time actually understand what soft power is and the role it plays in the field of public diplomacy. Joseph Nye defines soft power as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion and payment”. He goes on to say, “A country’s soft power rests on its resources of culture, values, and policies”. In essence soft power is the attempt to promote a country’s culture and values to the public in foreign countries, and hopefully create a positive image and understanding, so foreigners will be more willing to help and support that country’s policies.

Joseph Nye in his reading, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power”, mentions how the United States had a very good handle on the use of soft power during the cold war, but after it, its soft power initiatives began to decline because of the thought for its lack of importance. Many people thought soft power was merely a war tactic, and after the war well we had no use for it, so many cuts were made in programs, such as educational exchanges. The author also points out that the efforts for soft power after 9/11 have not been the best or the most successful.

Public diplomacy helps disseminate soft power efforts through broadcasting, subsidizing cultural exports, and arranging exchanges. Soft power is divulged through many types of mediums, such as: television, internet, radio, and actual face-to-face interaction. The export of television shows and Hollywood movies has a great impact on how foreigners view American culture, but it is a one way flow of information as are too the radio and usually the internet. Although the internet is capable of providing feedback, it can’t really substitute a face-to-face interaction. The mutual understanding of each other’s culture gives way to a stronger relationship and provides know-how on how to promote one’s culture elsewhere considering different values and customs.

In talking about the internet and face-to-face interaction, it is important to mention the Public Diplomacy 2.0 (PD 2.0) approach which James Glassman describes in his speech, “Public Diplomacy 2.0”. He first emphasizes that PD 2.0 is not a new technology; it is an approach to public diplomacy which uses social networking technologies to its advantage and in keeping up with the changing information age. The Internet today is based on interactivity and conversation; it is a democratic virtual world. There are so many sources of information if you don’t trust one go to another source, or read through many sources and then make your own informed decisions. PD 2.0 initiatives include the use of blogs, websites, webchats, social networking sites, virtual worlds, etc. I found an example Glassman gives particularly interesting, that in Columbia a young man started a facebook group called, One Million Voices Against the FARC, which is a terrorist group, and got 400,000 members and the group got 12 million people around the world to participate in an activity where they all took to the streets. I remember in one of my classes someone had pointed out how influential can becoming a member of a facebook group actually be? This example shows exactly how influential it can be and how it can make a difference. Finally, the integration of new technologies into public diplomacy and soft power efforts can be very beneficial, especially in our constantly changing world. Initiatives must keep up with the changes, for them to be effective.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Democracy Is..." Winners

In case you were curious about the winners of the "Democracy Is..." video contest mentioned in the James Glassman article, check them out here. Who knew Democracy was like a smoothie?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The United States war on Al Jazeera

I found The Public Diplomacy of Al Jazeera by Shawn Powers and Eytan Gilboa as well as Public Diplomacy and Soft Power by Joseph Nye especially enlightening this week as we have continued to discuss both concepts frequently in class. What I discovered in these readings just served to enhance what I already knew; The United States does not have it's act together when it comes to approaching public diplomacy, soft power, and the rising political power of Al Jazeera in the Middle East.

Al Jazeera is viewed positively by its target audience - Arabs and Muslims throughout the region of the Middle East, most likely because the network attempts to create a feeling of "Pan Arab" citizenry across borders that has never been achieved. Regardless of pressures by surrounding regimes, who criticize the news outlet for inciting violence, encouraging dissent, and reporting on "taboo" topics; the relatively new media source was recognized as the fifth most popular "brand" in the world. Obviously, Al Jazeera is doing something right to achieve this status. As the network continues to be attacked by governments in the Middle East, this only serves to increase its credibility and popularity. One would think the United States would have learned this lesson in watching its Arab counterparts attempt to shut the network down, to no avail. Led by the Bush Administration as well as various agencies and departments, Al Jazeera was labeled "Osama's mouthpiece", accused of inciting terrorists activities, and inaccurately protraying the war in Iraq. These criticisms have only served to increase the popularity of the network and lessen the amount of influence the US may hope to have in the region through soft power and public diplomacy efforts.

Joseph Nye defines soft power as " the ability to shape the preferences of others" and public diplomacy as the instruments governments use to spread soft power. Soft power is dependent upon three objectives: culture, political values, and foreign policies. The US attempts to "win the hearts and minds" of people in the Middle East through these tactics. What the US fails to notice is that actions speak louder than words when it comes to soft power. Nye discusses how in the new information age, everyone has access to so much information that people are experiencing information overload and need to decide for themselves what is going to receive their attention. No matter how much the US talks and talks or continues to criticize Al Jazzera, this only serves to decrease our own credibility and increase that of the only network many in the Middle East view as a legitimate and independent source of news. With websites, such as that label Al Jazeera to be a form of terror television and a new form of hate America media, the US government is doing exactly what its counterparts in the Middle East regimes do - attempt to prohibit an outside, independent source from reporting the news. This branding of the station as anti-American has increased due to the broadcasting of Al Jazeera English.

Al Jazeera's English website describes its goals: "Al Jazeera English is destined to be the English-language channel of reference for Middle Eastern events, balancing the current typical information flow by reporting from the developing world back to the West and from the southern to the northern hemisphere...the channel aims to give voice to untold stories, promote debate, and challenge established perceptions". If the United States wanted to effectively use its soft power and increase its relevancy through public diplomacy, it would smartly use this media source as a chance to counteract the negative reporting against the United States and its foreign policy actions, particularly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nye believes that in order for public diplomacy to be successful, the US needs to know its target audience. The consumers of Al Jazeera English are the exact audience that we need to be targeting. As Nye further states, "It is sometimes domestically difficult for the government to support presentation of views that are critical of its own policies. Yet such criticism is often the most effective way of establishing credibility...When the government instruments avoid such criticism, they not only diminish their own credibility but also fail to capitalize on an important source of attraction".

While I am in no way defending Al Jazeera's actions (I actually find fault with them for claiming to "set the agenda" as well as their statements that they are not always a neutral source of information), I recognize the power they have as a brand, a news source, and as a political actor. They have managed to do significant damage to the United States goals abroad, but this could have been mediated by the United States own involvement on the network to counteract their charges. Further, CNN and Fox News, as well as other domestic sources that provide our information make use of stories and video released by Al Jazeera. Also, the videos shown (especially those released by Bin Laden) allow government officials to analyze the true dates the videos were released and the location of where they formed. If used effectively, I believe the US could actually use Al Jazeera, specifically Al Jazeera English, to rebuild our soft power in the region and even use them as a potential source in fighting the war on terror.


Monday, November 9, 2009

September 12, 2001

This week we have another interesting set of readings that focus on the role of media during conflict and peace. Specifically, the readings detail the role media and technology play in influencing political leaders and setting the foreign policy agenda. Robin Brown’s article, “Spinning the War,” focuses on the presentation of international events, in particular, ‘The War Against Terror.’ In the article, Brown discusses “the difficulty in trying to craft and communicate a message in an increasingly complex and competitive trans national media environment.”

This immediately reminded me of a great exhibit at the Newseum in D.C. called the 9/11 Gallery. The Gallery features front pages from newspapers around the globe on September 12, 2001. In Brown’s article, she describes how in the wake of 11 September 2001, the US could have portrayed the 9/11 attacks as either a “criminal or terrorist action,” or “it could [have used] the language of war.” However, without a definitive approach from the Administration in how to frame the attacks in President Bush’s evening speech on September 11th, each newspaper had the liberty to frame the events of September 11th in any manner they liked.

Being a former member of my collegiate newspaper, I’m sure newspapers carefully considered how they would word their headlines for their September 12th editions. As you can see from the Newseum exhibit, some of the papers chose to key in on specific war language from President Bush’s speech. The use of phrases such as “act of war,” perpetuated the portrayal of the attacks as war as opposed to criminal or terrorist attacks. However, ultimately due to the Bush Administration leaving the portrayal of the attacks open to interpretation, the media was able to frame the war in its early stages.

“War on Terrorism”, more like Scare the people!

Through the media politicians, policymakers, organizations, and governments in general shape the perception of the audience in terms of a specific event or situation, usually to their own benefit. In this week’s reading by Robin Brown, he explains the importance of presenting international events and how the flow of information is utilized. To do this, he uses the example of the “War on Terrorism” that took place after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The author mentions that the United States has used three different paradigms in communicating the war on terrorism. These are: the Information Operations (IO) doctrine, which is “any effort to attack or defend the information necessary for the conduct of operations”; public diplomacy, which joins international broadcasting, cultural diplomacy, educational exchanges, and overseas information activities; and lastly, political news management, or otherwise known as the ‘spin’, which tries to persuade the public that one side of the truth is actually the reality of it. Brown then goes on to describe the flaws of each paradigm that leads to each one’s loss of effectiveness and credibility. For example, the influence of the IO doctrine in the situation with the Office of Strategic Influence at the Department of Defense (DoD) and its closure, because of the fear the DoD and the presidential communication staff felt of the possible lack of credibility.

Brown tells us that the framing of the war began just after the attacks of 9/11 when President Bush first used the phrase “winning the war against terrorism”, his choice of words eliminated other possible perceptions and considered the attacks the beginning of a war. A war entails a conflict between two parties and the continuous attacks between them until one wins. For me personally, Bush’s words of the war on terrorism were just a way to scare people into supporting a counterattack. At first it was a pretty abstract enemy, just terrorists in general, until suddenly the enemy had a name Al-Qaeda, and a face, Osama Bin Laden. Now it was more personal. Bin Laden on his part worked his media by framing the war not as a counterattack on terrorism, but that it was a war against Islam, a holy war. In this way he gained Muslim supporters. The US countered by saying, “Islam is peace”. This was a way to protect American Muslims, which were being attacked for no reason other than their religious affiliations and to challenge Al-Qaeda’s expressions.

The “War on Terror” manipulated the population in such a way, that people were truly scared of another attack and this made them support an actual war against the “enemy”, but it also made people obsessed to a point where any Arab looking person was attacked and accused of being a terrorist. Obviously, all this fanaticism has died down and now people are much less supportive of the war in Iraq, it’s pointless to continue being there; this supposed ‘war on terrorism’ ended years ago. And I’ll leave it at that, because I could probably go on and on for pages!

Ich bin ein Berliner

Having just returned from a year in Germany, I became especially intrigued when Hafez began sprinkling his article on International Reporting with references to German media coverage. (I was curious about his bio and discovered he is a professor in both Germany and the UK, hence his coverage of both systems of media.)

Hafez uses the example of the Olympics to show how media coverage tends to be nationalistic. While in Berlin, my first exposure to German television was watching the 2008 Olympics and we primarily watched coverage from the European channel Eurosport. Eurosport’s coverage focused on all European teams, thus it spent much more time covering a broad range of events and participants. In addition to using these events as an opportunity to learn my German numbers (score-keeping in German took on a whole new charm), it was intriguing to experience this “global” event from a non-American perspective.

Americans can’t be completely to blame for our focus on national events, however. In comparing coverage of international events by US, UK, and Germany outlets, the US was criticized for having the lowest percentage of coverage of international news. (While I do agree that international coverage in the US should be increased, the article failed to acknowledge that in terms of proximity, Germany calling many types of news “international” is in some ways like Michigan reporting on Ohio news.) Given the existence and growing prominence of the EU, much of this international news is incredibly relevant to Germans as well. And one has to start questioning to what extent German coverage of legislative developments in Brussels is really international anymore. The similarities to news reports, for example, in Kansas about federal decisions in Washington, DC are strong and increasing.

The Germans I came to know well were intensely proud of their familiarity with foreign news. Beyond being well-versed in foreign affairs, many Germans travel extensively and gain real exposure to cultures that are different from their own. One hesitates to belabor the point that part of this capacity to learn about other countries – and to travel to them – is the close proximity (and now close political integration) of many different countries, cultures, and languages.

It is important to note that patriotism is not something that is frequently found in Germany – at least not in the way common in the US. Even my peers in their mid-30s were extremely hesitant to exhibit any behavior that indicated a nationalistic attitude. This, perhaps, is key to how they approach the issues of other nations. In a constant effort to not re-live their past, they are committed (strongly, and vocally) to the pursuit of peace – and that requires knowing about what is happening in other places. Rallying around the flag? Trusting a leader unconditionally, especially when it comes to decisions of involvement in wars? Not in today’s Germany. In reading the discussions of Americans’ responses to 9/11 and the media’s call to “support our president unconditionally,” I could anticipate the virulent reaction my German friends would have had if exposed to such pleas.

War of Words in the "War on Terror"

As a student who is very interested in Middle Eastern Studies as well as terrorism, this week's readings seem especially relevant to not only what we have been discussing in class, but to current events. Each reading seemed to discuss the "framing" of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (even if Brown and Hanson's articles seemed...very similar) and the importance of language in assessing the debate.

Robin Brown expresses the role the media played in stringing together the words "war on terror". Various forms of the phrase, including "acts of war", "winning the war against terrorism", and "a new kind of war" had already been used by President Bush, and thus it became easy (if not necessary) for the Bush Administration to not only use the phrase, but market the brand to the American public. Hanson describes how the administration decided to use the word "liberation" over "occupation", leading Americans to feel as though the war was good thing and many more people would be able to experience freedom. There have been multiple studies and opinion polls taken regarding this phrase. It is often argued that Republicans use words better than Democrats in invoking certain emotions from the population. Linguistics professor George Lakoff of UC Berkley answers the question: "You've said that progressives should never use the phrase "war on terror" - why?" He summarizes -

" Terror is a general state, and it's internal to a person. Terror is not the person we're fighting, the "terrorist." The word terror activates your fear, and fear activates the strict father model, which is what conservatives want. The "war on terror" is not about stopping you from being afraid, it's about making you afraid. How many terrorists are there - hundreds? Sure. Thousands? Maybe. Tens of thousands? Probably not. The point is, terrorists are actual people, and relatively small numbers of individuals, considering the size of our country and other countries. It's not a nation-state problem. War is a nation-state problem".

While I obviously disagree with his analysis (mostly because terrorism is an act of terrifying a group of people, which is what terrorists do, and major global actors are not confined to the concept of a 'nation state' therefore a war can be waged against non-state actors) it is interesting to note the immediate reversal of words once Obama took office.

"The War on Terror" became "Overseas Contingency Operation" and the Obama administration did whatever it could in whatever speech the President gave to spin the wars in a different light, attempting to characterize them as anything but an actual war against actual terrorists. Interestingly enough, this was noticed heavily in the media and Obama (as well as Robert Gibbs) lapsed and reverted to using 'war on terror' soon afterwards. It is obvious that we are still engaged in a war against terrorists, no matter what terminology or phrase you personally decide to use to describe it. But, I'm sure the war over what words should be used to describe it will be just as long as the actual war itself.


Patriotism in the Media: Not Always a Bad Thing

This week's readings were for me some of the most dynamic and thought-provoking of the semester, especially given their relevance to the conference on cultural diplomacy many of us attended last Thursday. Kai Hafez's piece, "International Reporting," was especially stimulating for me. He argues that the world is still a long way from seeing widespread transnational media sources despite the forces of globalization--the media has yet to "catch up" in his view, as evidenced by his point that the vast majority of most of it is still national or local in nature. CNN and its ilk are the exceptions. I agreed with Hafez's views for most of the article, but I had to take issue with his treatment of US media in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

He states that "following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, many observers expressed disappointment at what they saw as the strong tendency towards patriotism in US media coverage." First I had to ask, "Who are these observers?" He doesn't name them or state their nationalities or institutions with which they are affiliated, which would have made the statement more credible. Further, September 11, 2001 was a day fraught with sadness, fear, anger, and other very strong emotions, not just for Americans but for many other nations around the world that lost citizens in the attacks and/or that felt solidarity with Americans' grief. A "more cautious...balanced" media response was not what Americans needed that day and in the days immediately following the attacks. They--oh, okay, we, which I feel self-conscious about typing, thanks to Hafez's observation that the use of "we" and "our" dominated in this patriotic-themed media response--we were hurting and wanted to feel united with our fellow citizens. The media, as we've noted earlier this semester, is a key way to do so. I feel that in this case, a patriotic media response, as imperfect as it may be objectively, was not the faux-pas that Hafez suggests.

At age 15 on 9/11, I was still quite young but more than old enough to comprehend the magnitude of the attacks, especially since I was in the DC area at the time. Watching TV that afternoon, evening, and all through the next day (school was cancelled) made me feel less isolated, less numb about the attacks, and when the Big Three newscasters (Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings) suggested that viewers should rally behind the president unconditionally, I believed it. So did my parents and everyone else I knew. We were in a time of great national crisis and grief--giving the president full support is what we should do, regardless of political persuasion, and the media, through its more patriotic coverage, helped us to do so. Hafez seems to suggest that there is something wrong with this, that the American media should have been more diverse in its coverage: "Every stirring, no matter how small, of a social dialogue on fundamental issues of war and peace was nipped in the bud." I didn't appreciate this. Maybe there was a time for those dialogues, but it was not in the immediate months following the attacks. People did not want dialogues about war and peace. They wanted to cry and yell and try to believe that there was some good left in the world despite immediate evidence to the contrary. The patriotic media coverage was how they did it.

To talk about dialogues and disappointment at patriotic media coverage is to me unrealistic, and fails to recognize the unique American context. The United States is known worldwide as a country that demonstrates its patriotism, so I don't understand why he expected a radical departure from that in the media after such a horrific chain of events. Further, Hafez doesn't account for the fact that reporters' own emotions might have come into play in 9/11 coverage more so than in other coverage, given the extraordinary magnitude of the attacks. They were American too. Being totally balanced in their reporting was simply not possible in my view.

Hafez's examination of US media coverage on and after 9/11 illustrates the continued relevance of the nation-state in media and communication. American culture and national values definitely set the tone for the more patriotic 9/11 coverage in the United States. I'd venture that 9/11 media coverage in the UK, for example, was a bit more reserved and measured, but showed solidarity toward America, which reflects Britain's own national culture and values. How is this a bad thing? After reading Hafez's take on it, I felt like I had to apologize. Of course there are times and places for us to apologize when we've done something wrong. Doing so for patriotic media coverage in the wake of the worst attack on American soil in history is not one of them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Network of Trust

This week’s readings provide an interesting look at the role new media has played in political movements. I found these readings to be quite fascinating and really enjoyed how the authors gave specific examples of how social media influenced specific activist movements around the world.

In particular, I found Castells argument about the horizontal diffusion of political messaging to be quite interesting. Castells states that the network effect, which involves “ person-to-person, horizontal, mass communication,” resonates more with individuals than top-down messaging. To highlight this point, Castells gives the example of Prime Minister Berlusconi during the 2004 elections. People were “indignant at seeing their personal and political privacy invaded by the prime minister for electoral gain," causing Berlusconi to lose the election by a larger margin than what was originally anticipated. Think about it, if you received an unsolicited message from the government canvassing for your vote or advocating for a specific policy, you too would probably be angry or annoyed. (I know I would be.)

Why are we so resistant to receiving messages from the government, and more willing to be influenced politically by messaging we receive from people in our network? To some extent, I think it is because there is a belief by many people that any messaging coming from the government to something as personal and private as our mobile phones is not only an invasion of privacy, but is loaded with propaganda. When receiving a message from our friends, although we know that they are clearly trying to influence our opinion, we often think that they have our best interest at heart by informing us about a cause or encouraging us to vote for a specific candidate. Their motives for sending the messaging are perceived as being more transparent and honest. In contrast, when receiving a message from the government, we tend to believe that the purpose of their message is solely to influence our opinion in order to carry out a political agenda that best suites their needs. There is no assumption that they are truly concerned about our well-being.

Since new media is proving to be an effective way to mobilize people politically, it is in the government’s best interest to find a way to build trust with its citizens through mobile technology. Who knows, maybe in the not too distant future, the government will pay people in our network to send us messages on their behalf…or maybe they already are...

Mobs, Wars, and Armies: Now Online!

This week’s readings provided a fascinating addition to our studies of nation-states and global governance. Hanson started out by reminding us of the current role of nation-states, and then she (along with the others) went on to highlight case studies of global activist groups that have essentially created their own system of global governance. Whether it be through promoting awareness of human rights abuses, highlighting misbehavior on the part of a politician, or revealing corporate missteps, this “global third sector” is playing an increasingly important role in solving issues with the help of ICTs.

While there are obvious limitations within these groups (more than one author reminded us of the digital divide – and honestly, who had a cell phone in 1999? Only the cutting-edge types could have been involved in the Battle of Seattle) - it cannot be denied that their presence is encouraging active participation among groups that may have previously only been observers.

Perhaps this is what is so exciting about these tools: voters can now play a role in the election well before election day, consumers can force change from the corporations producing the products they use, and issues that political parties wouldn’t touch are being addressed by other means. Further, these groups are appealing because by reducing hierarchies (or at least the obvious signs of their existence), participants become more aware of their role in the success of a mission. By answering the call to forward an e-mail, show up at a protest, write a letter, or call a congressperson, they are actively participating in the movement. This is markedly different than the “membership” models mentioned in Bennett’s article. (You pay us a membership fee, we will work to save the X from extinction, or remove Y from office.)

Further, these examples have highlighted the energy and youth that is behind many of these projects. Even the language of this type of activism is different. The slickness and youth is reflected by the re-appropriated use of words like “armies”, “mobs”, “wars, “jamming”, “swarming” in explaining how online actors are orchestrating their efforts.

In many ways, though, these actions can be described as reactive, not reflective. Many of the examples given have not necessarily intrinsically changed anything, but rather have solved short-term problems. Perhaps, though, this is what exactly why they work. Understanding that they can’t solve everything, it is appealing for ordinary citizens to be involved in solving something. Further, Bennett quotes Redden in acknowledging that these new ITCs “allow individuals and communication group to reduce the influence gap between themselves and wealthier organizations.” Through relying on information from their trusted networks, citizens feel more actively involved. Bennett also notes that internet networks are contributing to audience building that is “reaching people that frequently extend beyond activist circles.” While they might not become as radical as “members” of the White Overalls, they can feel as though they’ve played a meaningful role in enacting change.

Castells says that this is a sign of the power of each user to become his/her own broadcasting station. Bennett agrees: he notes that “people who have been on the receiving end of one-way mass communication are now increasingly likely to become producers and transmitters.”

All the examples reminded us that physical spaces do still matter. Even if messages were coordinated online, they were usually asking citizens to take action by participating in something occurring in a physical space – be it attending a protest, going to vote, etc. The internet is seen in most of these readings as providing a solid foundation for communication, but not a way of replacing person-to-person contacts. Bennett concludes that “internet use has complemented and facilitated face-to-face coordination and interaction, rather than replacing them.” (Indeed, the case studies given where users ignored the importance of personalization were the least successful.) Overall, these new networks serve an incredible purpose: encouraging participation in new groups, connecting people beyond typical lines of distinction, and enacting change on a global scale.

Hanson re-caps semester topics

This week’s Elizabeth C. Hanson reading, “Global Communication and the Nation-State”, is a recap of all the topics we have discussed during this semester. Some of the topics Hanson discusses are the nation-state and how its control has been affected by the new ICTs that have emerged and quite possibly have minimized its centrality and power. She also mentions the importance non-state actors have acquired in world politics, such as transnational corporations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or civil society. She explains the debate of the power shift from being only nation-state to including transnational corporations and considering the expertise and points of view of NGOs. ICTs have helped NGOs expand and grow by facilitating the diffusion of information across boundaries, so they can reach their common goals. Salamon calls civil society, the “global third sector”, which each day has an increasing larger influence and participation in Unites Nations World Conferences.

A very important point that Hanson makes is the challenges ICTs bring in terms of nation-states governing their population, and that autocratic governments have more of a challenge by creating ways to censor and limit the exposure to communication technologies like the Internet. The author gives the example of the Chinese government and all the laws, policies and restrictions they have put into place so they can control the information citizens receive and avoid negative comments of the government. But the Communist Party also uses the Internet to its advantage to develop and expand its reach to global markets.

Hanson states the importance of identity and the role information and communication technologies have had on the changes of cultural globalization and national identity. The phenomenon of immigration to other countries creates a great variety of diasporic communities, which thanks to ICTs, can now keep very close contact with what is happening in their home countries. In terms of cultural globalization, we can also mention once again, the crucial role Hollywood films and television has had since its earliest days. The exportation of media products, especially American programmes and films have a great dominance worldwide. Although, we have already learned that people prefer to watch local more culturally relevant television shows and news, which has given way to the process of “hybridization”. “Hybridization” unites many cultural aspects to make a T.V. show or film more widely accepted and relevant to a larger audience.

In essence, information and communication technologies have bought innovations and challenges with them. They are responsible for many changes in cultural globalization, diasporic communities, the growth of civil society, and the way of governing a nation-state and decentralizing its power and authority. There are positive and negative implications to every new innovation, we just have to learn to deal with them and be flexible enough to face whatever the unexpected results it might have.

Hold on to your hats...I'm about to praise the Democrats

In reading Castells Mobile Civil Society this week, I was struck most by the phrase "So far, the use of wireless communication has not had any significant effect on political events in the United States". Immediately, my thoughts flew to the Obama campaign's success due in large part to their use of wireless technology (and then I checked the date the article was written - 2007). While I of course was an ardent supporter of the McCain/Palin ticket and am a fierce critic of the Obama administration, I can recognize a well run campaign when I see one, hence my about to be overflowing praise of the Obama campaign.

When a communication strategy is effectively employed, it can lead to very drastic change. As Castells asserted, "We have observed a growing tendency for people, in different contexts, to use wireless communication to voice their discontent with the powers that be". In essence, the Obama campaign was exactly that - people, many of whom had never been involved in politics, expressing their discontent with the Bush administration. These people took to the internet to express their support for Obama, and the Obama campaign successfully developed a campaign strategy the likes of which had never been seen in the United States.

An article on lays out the tools in Obama's communication toolkit. These tools consisted of: website, email,, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, online databases, and cell phones. led the charge. This site encouraged visitors to set up their own social networks in support of the candidate; the site also distributed videos, talking points, and connected to online bloggers in support of Obama. Email was the main tool used to connect the campaign and enabled supporters to further connect to friends and family, some of which may not have been on popular social networking sites., an arm of, was an organizing genius. It allowed volunteers to organize their own events, and the campaign would often supply staff to come in. I witnessed this myself as an undergrad who was finding it difficult to get in touch with the McCain/Palin campaign. While I was trying to communicate with the campaign to get resources and offer our support and volunteer efforts, the local Democrats organized their own events and it seemed that campaign staff just magically appeared when needed.

The tools that led to the large surge in youth voter turnout were the social media tools: Facebook, Myspace, Youtube, and cell phones. says, "the campaign eventually maintained official profiles on some 15 different online social networks (accumulating five million “friends” in total)". Over 1800 clips were posted to Youtube. It was easy for college students to become a fan of the candidate and invite their friends to become fans, further mobilizing the youth vote. It made it easy for students to get involved, since they already were on these sites. The website further analyzes the use of cell phones, summarizing "Campaign staff also relied on cell phones to reach segments of the population less likely to be on a computer regularly, such as young people, minorities and the poor". Text messaging was used to get voters to the polls, as well as release important campaign information. I am sure we all remember the buildup to the Vice Presidential nomination that was to be announced via cell phone. This announcement was to assure that supporters would find out directly from the campaign and not from some other media source. Further, applications were released on the Iphone just for the Obama campaign supporters.

The Obama administration continues to use wireless communication technology to stay in touch with supporters - maintaining their Youtube Channel, Facebook page, and encouraging people to sign up to receive email and text messaging alerts directly from Obama himself. The Obama campaign was in many forms a revolution, and it will be very interesting to see how further campaigns for both the sides of aisle use these technologies...and it will also be interesting to see how Castells updates his article to include an in depth analysis of the Obama campaign.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 21st-Century Style: Politics and Mobile Communication

When I saw that one of this week's readings was from Castells' book Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective, I knew it sounded familiar. I had in fact just read the book in its entirety a few weeks before for my podcast in Professor Levinson's class. That Chapter 7, "The Mobile Civil Society: Social Movements, Political Power, and Communication Networks," was in the lineup for this week made me happy because it was one of my favorite chapters while reading the book. After reading a lot of theoretical examples in earlier chapters, including one on mobile youth culture, I liked the real-world feel of this one.

Castells explores several political and social events that have been affected by the presence of mobile technology, such as when President Estrada of the Philippines was pushed out of office with the help of SMS and the Internet in mobilizing demonstrators, and when the conservative Partido Popular (PP) was defeated in Spain after the Madrid train bombings in 2004. (Would-be voters expressed rage and indignation via their mobile phones that the PP was trying to blame a Basque terrorist group for the bombings--a group the PP had cracked down on regularly--instead of an al-Qaeda-linked, mostly Moroccan group. That rage that the PP was trying to use the attacks for political gain translated into votes, and a win, for the Socialist Party in Spain.) In both of these cases, people were able to relay information to each other quickly through mobile communication networks and ultimately effected change in their national political structures.

Worth noting as well in the Spain example is the fact that people quickly came to distrust the major TV networks, whom they viewed as hesitant to report the true facts about the bombings. They were more likely to get information from SER, the main private radio network, which they then relayed to each other via text message and regular phone calls. Interestingly, the PP tried to spread its Basque terrorist theory via text message, but it didn't work, both because people were already mistrusting the government's stance on the attacks and because it came directly from the party, a very top-down approach that did not work. What did work was the spontaneous protest by citizens with access to mobile technology, who connected horizontally and informally to influence the outcome of the election. Castells states, "Armed with their cell phones, and able to connect to the world wide web, individuals and grassroots activists are able to set up powerful, broad, personalized, instant networks of communication." The indignation expressed by a majority of Spanish citizens through that technology gave the Socialist Party a leg up toward victory.

If Castells provides the real-world examples, Bennett offers us the theoretical nuts and bolts needed to understand how mobile communication affects civil society. Although his essay deals specifically with how the Internet is utilized in the area of social justice, it has implications for society in general and can certainly be applied to Castells' examples. Bennett asks a good question early in his essay: What enables activists to use "new media" to communicate their unique messages across the boundaries of geography and traditional media?
In short, they can do so through networks that are able to "spill outside the control of established organizations." This creates a more open forum--or dare I say public sphere--for discourse and for planning. These activist networks, according to Bennett, are decentralized, often leaderless, and their members are able to communicate with each other quickly and easily. Sound familiar? While reading, I thought immediately of the Spain as well as the Philippines and South Korea examples. In all of these instances, the people created, almost subconsciously, an informal, horizontal network with the purpose of protesting their current political situation. It worked because it was horizontal and decentralized--because the government and the political party were not involved, people were quicker to trust each other and mobilize for their cause. By contrast, the SMS campaign started by the PP in Spain did not work because it came directly from the party, and for obvious reasons people wanted nothing to do with it.

Castells' examples and Bennett's analysis provide a clear snapshot of the evolving role of mobile communication technologies and their impact on civil society. Since those events took place--the Madrid bombings happened in March 2004--mobile communication has become even more advanced, and time will tell how that advancement will affect political mobilization both within nations and worldwide.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Republicans, Democrats, and Special Sauces

These chapters provided an understandable explanation of the modern use of communication theory that we’ve discussed, gave recent updates on the big debates, and took a relatively unbiased stab at explaining the goals of different groups (including within the US, through an extended discussion of the goals of the major US political parties). Their writings helped give answers to questions we’ve come up with throughout the semester, such as why pricing for cell phones and internet is so different between the US and the EU. Overall, it was a current and realistic review of how, through a political framework, the US is handling major issues such as net neutrality. After spending weeks dissecting global governance, these readings reminded me that many issues are still hashed out nationally: and when it comes to crafting national policy regarding international issues, things get dicey. The readings acknowledge that “since the US system is stacked against ambitious legislation on hotly contested issues, legislative deadlock on telecom issues remains likely.” Moreover, they indicate that given our political system, even our best efforts are merely compromises: “A recurring propensity of US political economy is to create compromises built around encouraging new technologies and entrants.”

Content is an incredible factor, as was highlighted here and in our class discussions. Who owns what, and who should have to pay for what? Attempting to develop legislation regarding internet copyright law requires policy makers to both predict and account for all of the rapidly developing platforms through which content is being viewed and distributed. Not an enviable task. In the meantime, it is easy to see how content users can become distanced from the source of their content and resentful of the need to pay for it. As the book reminder us, however: “Nothing is really free.” (As a music major who has also worked in the world of non-profit arts, however, I am familiar with the negative results of consumers who were not interested in paying for content.)

Online advertising and privacy were addressed as well. Just as we unabashedly stroll through the internet viewing content, however, so do others as they view OUR content. These readings also touched on the rising importance of online advertising, much of which is cleverly (and somewhat dangerously) linked to what many view as private user data. It will be interesting to see how successfully the Obama administration can address these and other communication issues.

Nothin' But Net...Neutrality

This week’s reading, “The Political Economy of the Inflection Point” by Cowhey and Aronson discusses how political economy policy is changing within the U.S. In particular, I found the discussion of net neutrality to be quite interesting.

The authors state that net neutrality is based on two key issues; the first being that flat-rate pricing should guarantee that both high-volume and low-volume users are all being charged the same rate at any specific network speed. The second issue states that networks should not block, nor delay access to websites.

It is no surprise that many proponents of net neutrality include consumer advocates as well as companies such as Google and Yahoo which thrive on consumers having uninhibited access to their websites and applications. Opponents of net neutrality largely include cable and telecommunication companies that claim that they can only achieve innovation, and provide high-quality services to consumers through tiered services.

Net neutrality is essential because a free and open internet allows for democratic discourse on issues of importance. If the internet did not allow the open discussion of ideas, our democratic freedoms would be stifled and we would not be at liberty to easily express our opinions. Think about it, if a companies such as Verizon or Comcast were legally entitled to govern the speed of certain websites, how can we be sure that this control would not be used to serve their own agendas. This is similar to previous class discussions on the role of MNCs in international media distribution, where MNCs fail to provide consumers with truly objective information. Network owners could potentially block competitor’s websites, which would lead to a handful of powerful companies controlling the content to which we are exposed. Just as a functioning public sphere is essential to democracy, the technology that supports the public sphere must be open and free from influence. Therefore, net neutrality is essential to democracy and must be protected.

Network Neutrality...What?

As I read Peter Cowhey and Jonathon Aronson's excerpts from Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political Economy of Innovation, I could not help but be slightly confused by the jumble of economic terms and concepts that are foreign to me, a student whose expertise are no where near up to par when it comes to economics. The concept I did understand and am interested in is network neutrality. However, even this term can be confusing and I was led to outside sources for a clearer definition.

Of course, for simple definitions I went to where everyone heads to begin research, Wikipeda (I did of course verify the sources!). Net neutrality is simply the effort that the Internet be free of any form of restrictions on content, platforms, or access. According to the Federal Communications Commission, net neutrality is the principle that "consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement, connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network, and competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers".

There are two sides to every story. Proponents of network neutrality argue that the users will finally be in control, not the companies who work for profits and often attempt to block internet usage. Net neutrality would prevent providers from backing up, slowing down, or dismantling certain services to consumers, regardless of who "controls" the content. Opponents of network neutrality maintain that such laws would prohibit further innovation and improvement of services. Companies will have no desire to increase technology or services if they will not be able to make a profit from charging users different amounts of fees.

Network Neutrality has recently received much coverage due to efforts by the Bush and Obama administration. The Obama administration stands firmly committed to curbing the profits of internet companies who charge different prices for services provided, and often block internet access. The administration advocates a "level playing field" for all firms and consumers to have the same ability to access content at equal prices. Members of his own party remain on the fence, as some believe the legislation would prevent further growth and innovation, joining in with many Republicans with the same view of opposing increased web regulation. Net neutrality will continue to remain a hot topic throughout the year.

Politics and ICT Policy

This week's readings, chapters from Cowhey and Aronson's book Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political Economy of Innovation, offered a unique perspective on the roles of public policy and global market governance in the diffusion of ICTs, especially in developing countries. I appreciated the historical context ventured in the first chapter, "The Next Revolution in Global Information and Communication Markets." The authors state the essentiality of politics and policy in communications infrastructure--as we know from previous readings and discussion, national governments used to play a prominent part in that infrastructure. But thanks to the ascent of a more global, and more civil-based, society, communications infrastructure has been partially transferred to the private sector. However, governments do not want to be forgotten in this trend toward privatization and still have a hand in affecting ICT policy. As the authors state, "Some economists decry most government regulation, but the politicians' romance with intervention is (to borrow a phrase from Cole Porter) here to stay."

The authors provide some possible explanations for politicians' views on that intervention in Chapter 5, "The Political Economy of the Inflection Point." The main reason is that the United States has been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, "the pivot of this inflection point," and truly drives the agenda in the global ICT market. In 2000, when the Republicans captured the White House as well as both houses of Congress, they were well aware of this fact and of the rise of broadband services worldwide--and of the American lag in said broadband services. They took steps to pressure the FCC to adopt a leadership that would be more conservative (read: laissez-faire) on ICT economic intervention. Republicans argued that this policy plus others, such as scaling back regulation of the Bells' broadband networks, would promote market growth and investment. Of course, this hands-off approach also matched the GOP's national platform, as part of politicians' efforts to please their constituencies and attract revenue to the ICT market.

When the Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, they pursued their own version of "the long-standing propensity in the US for policies favoring easier market entry." They just went about it in a different way, of course--one that matched their own national brand of more government regulation, in the form of net neutrality. According to the authors, net neutrality imposes price controls on broadband access and services and is "a government program to promote modularity." When AT&T sought to merge with BellSouth in 2006, the Democrats on the FCC made sure net neutrality figured into the negotiations in a big way: they made AT&T promise to maintain it by providing fixed-rate broadband service for 30 consecutive months after the merger. The authors express curiosity at what could happen after the 2008 elections; while ICT policy has not been a huge priority of the Obama administration so far, it will be interesting to see how net neutrality and FCC policy changes affect the landscape of broadband and other technology in the US. Whatever their policies, both sides of the political divide understand that in the world we live in, power on a global scale is to be found in the ICT market, and they all want a piece of the pie.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Transformations...US in the center of it?

This week in Cowhey and Aronson's book, "Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The political economy of innovation", they discuss the transformations to come at the global level, especially in the telecommunications (telecom) industry. They mention that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have not only accelerated information economies in prosperous countries like the United States, Japan, and Europe, but for developing countries as well, such as, India and China. This reminded me of a case I studied in another class, it was called E-Choupal and it described the way an innovative system for selling farmers’ products was implemented in a specific community, and how it helped all the people involved in the project. E-Choupal is an example of the growth effects ICTs have on developing countries.

The authors also make it very clear that they think the US is a great influence on the global policy agenda and they discuss the arguments against this, such as: China is now becoming the leader and that the US’s declination is due to its spending in major ICT market segment.Cowhey and Aronson, dispute these arguments by saying that the US has a large lead in its deployed ICT stock; US has the largest investment base and flows in the critical areas for innovation; US will remain the leader for the foreseeable future in software, networked digital applications, high-value-added commercial content, and high end IT computing systems and solutions; US will continue to be among the top three global markets across the full range of ICT markets; and US is the leading producer of high value-added content. For these reasons the authors think the US will remain in the center of the inflection point at least through 2020.

The authors mention various times how the United States is a pivotal part of at the global level in communications policies, because of the influence they have right now and that they will posses in the near future. Implementing innovative ideas that revolve around Information and Communications Technologies into developing countries can help them prosper and grow their information economy. ICTs come with many changes and that is what these countries need, a change towards the future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Go ahead, take on FOX!

Manuel Castells, author of Communication, Power, and Counter-power in the Network Society provided interesting analysis of how the concept of 'power' is relevant to the media. Castells summarizes, "the media have become the social space where power is decided...the fundamental battle being fought in society is the battle over the minds of the people". Where before, one directional communication served the interest of those transmitting the news, now horizontal communication is a force to be reckoned with - mostly by politicians. Politicians cannot control blogs, or even journalist on various TV stations. This is especially evident in some of the pitfalls the Obama White House is facing in recent weeks.

Recently, the Obama administration has ran into a few problems with a media outlet known as Fox News. Unfortunately, Obama and his aides are used to, as his own communication director acknowledges, "controlling the media". While this may work for networks such as NBC, CBS, and ABC it does not work with Fox News. Fox News admits to being very critical of the Obama presidency, but is not anymore critical than their coverage of the Bush presidency (if you remember correctly, Beck and ORiley could not say enough bad things about Bush). I think that Obama and his advisers are so used to "controlling the media" and having many media outlets (such as MSNBC and The New York Times) promote their agenda that they don't quite know how to handle an organization that refuses to play a part in that. Now, say what you want (and I know we are all very opinionated!) but there is no excuse for The New York Times not covering the Van Jones story until after he was forced to resign, when Fox News had been the instigator of spreading the story. Simply put, Obama doesn't know what to do when Fox News and their watchers have the power.

But, they seem to have figured it out. Attacking Fox for being a mouthpiece of the Republican Party is one way to go. The other is of course, refusing to allow administration officials (including Obama who in his most recent media blitz could just not grant an interview to Fox News) to ignore the organization. Now they have successfully brought the struggle into the spotlight, encouraging other media outlets to "ignore" Fox News, criticizing it as not reporting the news, but just opinions. I do not think this was the wisest decision for an administration skidding on thin ice with the American people to make. Side comments like these, from Annita Dunn and Robert Gibbs, only further play into the argument that Fox News is making about the short comings of this administration. As they keep attacking the organization, the cable news station ratings only keep rising. Perhaps, instead of wasting all this time critiquing it, they should appear on it, to set the record straight or correct where Fox has misstepped. Many of the hosts are inviting this, as Beck has installed a telephone line that only the White House has the number too - encouraging them to correct his reporting so that the American people can be more informed.

But go ahead, Obama administration. You have successfully given your power to Fox News, who in turn has given it to the American people. If you want to get the ball back in your own court, maybe you better start playing the media and power game a little bit better.


The Emergence of Noopolitik

In the article “The Promise of Noopolitik,” the authors discuss the emergence of noopolitik and its reliance on soft power. They make the case that diplomacy will be carried out increasingly by non-state actors as they are growing in strength and influence. This will lead to an increase in transnational NGOs that will focus on representing the needs of civil society. Non-state actors are more apt to carry out noopolitik because they “often serve as sources of ethical impulses.” They will be able to disseminate information through the nodes in their network and can assist in preventing and resolving conflict.

States that are able to work with this new generation of non-state actors will become strong and powerful regardless of their size. States must realize the importance in coordinating with these actors and must act using a network approach, rather than a state-centered approach. The noosphere, which includes both cyberspace and the infosphere, is essential in this process as it can incorporate ideals, values and norms rather than just information.

During his first few weeks of being in office, President Obama announced that the U.S. international relations strategy would focus more on utilizing development, diplomacy, and defense as tools to engage other nations. This strategy lends credence to noopolitik, especially if the government utilizes non-state actors to assist with the process of development and diplomacy. So, perhaps in the next few years, the U.S. will take on a greater role in championing the use of noopolitik.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Manuel Castells, Creigh Deeds, and Bob McDonnell walk into a bar...

Okay, not really. But in reading Castells' article, "Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society," especially his discussion of media and politics, I kept coming back to the showdown that is currently playing out on our local TV stations. The state of Virginia will elect a new governor on November 3rd; will it be Democrat Deeds, a state legislator from the rural southwest corner of the state, or Republican McDonnell, a lawyer who grew up in northern Virginia and who now lives in Virginia Beach? At this writing, McDonnell is leading Deeds by 14 points. However, there are still two weeks left before the election, and anyone who's watched a political race unfold lately knows that a lot can change in the final stretch. And the media inarguably ignites the spark that can lead to that change.

As Castells states, "In our society, politics is primarily media politics." We learn from the media, be it print, television or Internet, everything about a candidate, from where they stand on abortion, foreign policy, or healthcare, to how they take their coffee. In this race it has been little different: we are deluged daily with TV ads from both candidates and read about them in the newspaper and online. Castells reminds us that the vast majority of voters do not actually read candidates' platforms--they make their decision based on how they present themselves to citizens, who in this case become media consumers. The media's power lies not in its inherent characteristics, but in how they are used by others: "the media are not the holders of power, but they constitute by and large the space where power is decided."

Why is this? Politicians try to build up an atmosphere of trust through the media--vote for me! I know what I'm doing! Plus, I'm just more likable than the other guy! Personality becomes extremely important in elections--can voters relate to the candidate as a person? They wouldn't be able to decide without campaign ads, televised debates, and editorials in the paper. Without the media, how would anybody get elected?

The media has shaped the course of this upcoming election in Virginia, not always to the benefit of the candidates. In one ad, Deeds is seen on camera changing his position on tax increases, a subject he'd been asked about--and answered differently--just a few minutes before. In McDonnell's case, the Deeds campaign has focused closely on the master's thesis he wrote in 1989, which stated that working women were "detrimental" to the family. These negative tactics are emphasized through media, which again conveys its political sway. Will the negative ads work in this case? Currently, Deeds is considered to be running a more negative campaign than McDonnell, which could be contributing to his lag in the polls: people often respond more favorably to ads that focus on the candidate and his values, rather than those that attack his opposition. As Castells says, "... character, as portrayed in media, becomes essential; ... politicians are the faces of politics."

How this will translate on Election Day remains to be seen. I'll definitely be watching, neutrally, from the other side of the river in Maryland. Our governor's race is next year.

State and Non-state actors collaborating in a Network-centric World

David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla bring an interesting concept in their reading, “The emergence of noopolitik”. Noopolitik as they describe is an approach to statecraft “that emphasizes the role of informational soft power in expressing ideas, values, norms, and ethics through all manner of media”. It focuses on the collaboration of state and non-state actors working together, neither having more power than the other instead working to create a network-centric world.

The authors mention that in the Noopolitik approach does not concentrate on power, instead it focuses on the sharing of knowledge. They mention the importance NGOs or civil society actors are to the approach, how these types of organizations are already building transnational networks and coalitions, and that governments should learn how to work with them. Ronfeldt and Arquilla tell us that to be able to apply an effective Noopolitik approach we have to create a noosphere and that this sphere would include: “openness, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, humane behavior, respect for human rights, a preference for peaceful conflict resolution, etc”.

This article sounded very similar to a book I finished reading this past weekend for another class, it was called “Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business and Non-Profits can tackle today’s Global Challenges Together” by: Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly. The authors of the book describe an cross-sector approach called megacommunity, which is a public sphere in which government, business and civil society work together on issues of mutual importance (e.g. climate change, natural disasters, health care, and conservation issues) to achieve results. Their central focus is that problems as big as climate change or natural disasters, are issues that cannot be resolved by an organization alone. Although it is difficult for the three sectors to work together, in the end the result is a solution that could not have been reached with the collaboration of all the participating organizations.

Both approaches, the megacommunity and noopolitik, are similar in many ways, such as: the collaboration the idea that everyone should have a voice (state and non-state actors) and the importance of networks, creating and maintaining them. The difference is that the noopolitik is a statecraft approach and the megacommunity is an approach to tackle big problems that might be affecting a country, region, or even an issue that has a global effect.

I think we can see how the future will be centered on collaborations, alliances, and networks. Both of these readings focus on just that, government and non-government actors working together to achieve mutual goals, because in the end the decisions made by both affect the population in some way, some more than others. Also the idea that eventually power will not be the main focus that instead the sharing of knowledge will become the focal point is a very interesting statement and I hope to see at work in the nearby future.