Monday, August 31, 2009

The Media: Its Beginnings, Purposes and Evolution

In this weeks' reading from The Information Revolution and World Politics, I learned how the different means of communication began and evolved through time. The evolution of media types, such as: the telegraph, the printing press, the radio, the telephone, and the television were impulsed by the necessity of providing a larger number of people with information and the popularity each of these mediums achieved.

Some types of media communication evolved faster than others and had a larger audience than others. For example, the telegraph and radio were immediate hits, compared to the rest and how long it took people to support the new media types. Furthermore, these two medias reached a greater number of people than inventions before them. The telegraph’s reach progressed to over international waters, making the flow of information between countries very quick. On the other hand the radio managed to enter most peoples’ homes, even into the poorest communities. As we can see from the above examples, the audience of each type of mass communication focused on a different kind of person, but still reached a lot.

The recount of events that most impacted me was the history that led to the evolution of the radio and how its use had many distinct objectives. Objectives like, its use for national security, intercepting enemy broadcasts during the war, commercial, educational, and informative broadcasting. With this last one, countries began to use it in their favor and influence how other nations and their own people perceived the country. Examples of this are: Radio Ghana, which impulsed “nationalism and anticolonialism, and religious stations sponsored by Protestant groups who had the objective of spreading their beliefs to others."

The influencing of peoples’ opinions by the different broadcasting at radio stations could work positively or negatively. In my opinion this can largely relate to the topic we spoke of in the last class of framing. Other than just informing the news, it is possible to give a country a negative spin because of an action or offense committed by a person from that country. Important examples of this were the attacks committed on 9/11, as all Arabs in the United States suffered through discrimination and hate crimes because one person from the same race performed a horrible violent act. As we have seen, the types of mass communication have evolved uniquely and their purposes evolve with them.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The United States: Once unique, but no longer?

As I read the assigned texts for this week, I noticed a central theme that separated the development of communication networks in the United States versus those developed in Europe - the difference between state controlled enterprises and private, commercial entities. No where is this more prevalent than in the development of the radio and use of airwaves worldwide as a means of informing the population about current events. In the United States, there was minimal regulatory attempts to control this form of media. However, in Britain, the government placed all broadcasting under a public corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Especially evident throughout the years of the Cold War, any attempt made by US officials to regulate any form of the communication industry was seen as a path to state controlled broadcasting. As the medium of communication has changed from radio, to television, to Internet this theme can still be seen. China exercises complete control over the Internet, often prohibiting access to social media networks such as Facebook, whereas the United States appears to remain more lax. Is this however reversing as the United States moves toward policies of communication regulation?

A point can be made for more control over media in this country, specifically for national security purposes. But has the previous and current administration gone to far in this effort? The Patriot Act gave the FBI and CIA telephone wiretapping capabilities without a warrant, leading to outrage of the government "spying" on private conversations, only before seen across the oceans from our European and Asian counterparts. Now, President Obama has introduced a bill that would allow him to take complete control of the Internet for "security purposes". This comes on the heels of the White House asking for emails from people discussing information that may appear "fishy" or untrue regarding the President's health care agenda. These actions, occasionally seen from the Bush administration but now more hurried from the Obama administration, appear to be taking the United States away from the idea of private owned media in a move to exerting more "state control" over the mediums of communication in this country. My concern with these actions is the silence that is greeting these attempts by the administrations. When much uproar was made regarding any attempt of the government to take control of the radio during the 1900's, not much is being made now. While some of these actions may be deemed necessary in terms of national security, is the government perhaps overstepping its bounds and changing the free communication medium in the United States into a controlled enterprise as seen in Europe and Asia?

Friday, August 28, 2009

An Historical Spin on International Communication

Daya Thussu's "The Historical Context of International Communication," chapter one of the book International Communication: Continuity and Change, offers a solid, comprehensive view of the field's evolution over time, especially to those of us just starting to study it. He makes several compelling points to show the essentiality of communication across different cultures. One which I found particularly interesting was the idea that in ancient times, the size of an empire could indicate the strength of its communications network. Thussu states that "Communications networks and technologies were key to the mechanics of distributed government, military campaigns and trade." In other words, the more organized and advanced an empire's communication tools, the further it could spread. He also mentions the emergence of the world's first newswriters in ancient India, a fact which was news to me--I didn't think they appeared on the scene until much later.
The role of the telegraph in international communication was a prominent one in the 19th century, especially for Great Britain. Thussu's emphasis on the telegram's role in commerce and information gathering is strong, and for good reason--it truly connected the world at what was then an amazing speed. Thussu conveys its communicative power when he names cities on opposite sides of the world from each other--for example Lisbon and Recife in Brazil--that before the telegraph would have had to wait at least a month to communicate with each other via ship. Also important to note is the forming of the International Telegraph Union in 1865, which was the "first international institution of the modern era," albeit an almost totally Eurocentric one (all 22 founding member countries, except Persia, were in the Old World.) The United States was also a major player, however, second only to Britain in the miles of cable and the share of the market it owned.
Thussu's discussion of news agencies was also very thorough. I especially liked his treatment of the role that the three major agencies of the late 19th century--Havas (the predecessor to Agence France-Presse), Wolff in Germany, and Reuters in Britain--played in imperialism. I studied French imperialism as an undergrad, but I had never considered the role of news agencies in its execution. Thussu's statement at the beginning of the chapter about communication networks and ancient empires rings just as true for the colonial empires of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In order to stay on top of everything going on in the British Empire, for example, constant communication links via Reuters were essential and were viewed as a sign of strength and success by the colonizers. The news agencies also proved important in forming and maintaining links with the people on the ground--the colonial and foreign administrations. Of course, the agencies also promoted the aims and values of the colonizers--for instance, Thussu notes that "Reuters was for the most part the unofficial voice of the Empire, giving prominence to British views."
After World War I, the radio revolutionized international communication all over again, according to Thussu. During the Second World War, radio evolved into a propaganda tool, as both sides broadcast in a huge variety of languages to try to influence public opinion. I appreciated Thussu's exploration of Voice of America and its cousins, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty--I hadn't known the magnitude of the competition between VOA and Radio Moscow during the Cold War.
One final point that I thought especially worth mentioning was Thussu's contrasting VOA and the BBC on a cultural basis. He states that the BBC provided a "mature, balanced view, winning by argument, rather than hammering home a point, in the best tradition of British understatement." I at first thought this was a little biased, as it made VOA sound brash, lacking in restraint, and in-your-face. However, when I went back and reread Thussu's descriptions of VOA broadcasts, I had to admit he had a point. The difference in styles between VOA and the BBC is just one example of how cultural differences can affect the way news and other information is relayed. All in all, Thussu's observations were a good starting point to the semester and provided a necessary context to the field of international communication.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wikipedia Gets Serious

We spent our first class talking about the power of citizen blogging and the evolving criteria used to ensure the credibility of diverse forms of communication. After embarrassing user "updates", including the announcement of deaths that hadn't yet happened, it seems Wikipedia is eager to take back some control over its content. They have announced that "within weeks, the English-language Wikipedia will begin imposing a layer of editorial review on articles about living people." Wikipedia will make a distinction between their regular contributors and their trusted editors - the latter of which must approve changes to articles discussing people. With over 3 million English-language articles and prominent rankings in most Google searches, it makes sense that they'd like to enforce a little quality control over the website. The New York Times article also notes that after a steady increase in popularity, Wikipedia had been recently losing credibility as a result of inaccurate edits by newbie contributors that required continuous correction.

Readers are eager to see how long the new approach will delay updates. Under the new system, would Ted Kennedy's death (and two paragraphs on the circumstances surrounding it) already be posted this morning? (Since midnight last night, around 150 edits have been made - and argued about - on his page. One editor even questioned in his notes whether it was too soon to be updating the Wikipedia page.) For now, we can carefully read Senator Kennedy's updated article but note Wikipedia's prominent warning: "This article is about a person who has recently died. Some information, such as that pertaining to the circumstances of the person's death and surrounding events, may change rapidly as more facts become known."