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, "...to 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 www.stopaljazeera.org 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 epolitics.com lays out the tools in Obama's communication toolkit. These tools consisted of: website, email, MyBarackObama.com, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, online databases, and cell phones. BarackObama.com 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. MyBarackObama.com, an arm of BarackObama.com, 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. Epolitics.com 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.