International Communication

Welcome to our blog, we hope that through our thoughts, opinions, and criticisms (constructive of course), you will come to love the field of international communications as much as we do!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Edutainment - does it work?

This past week's class featured two great presentations but I was particularly interested in the group that focused on edutainment, a strategy which harnesses media for educational purposes.  It seems like a great way to diffuse important information on health and pro-social behavior to those who may not be so responsive to traditional methods of health education, such as pamphlets.  Further, it does not discriminate based on education, and in some cases like Sesame Street can teach literacy in alternative ways.

However, after reading Silvio Waisboard’s Family Tree of Theories, Methodologies and Strategies in Development Communication I definitely see where there can be particular issues with edutainment, especially Sesame Street which is distinctly Western in methodology.  Waisboard notes that edutainment, “subscribes to the Shannon-Weaver model of communication of sender-channel-message-receiver, a model that does not take culture and other environmental factors into account.”  In layman’s terms: how we perceive our message to translate does not always get interpreted the same way by the receiver.  Nigeria’s Sesame Street may have changed names, food groups and certain characteristics, yet the communication methodology is still the same therefore while on the surface Sesame Street is accommodating cultural norms, is it really digging deep enough to respect culture that is below the surface? 

Sesame Street in Nigeria has only been in place for less than a year, so its success is still undetermined.  I remain skeptical, especially considering that other forms of edutainment that are grassroots, such as Soul City in South Africa do not have an overwhelming amount of research that supports it as successful (per the group’s presentation).    

- Claire

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"If you see Muslims, say something."

The readings for this week talked about "social marketing," the concept of using the techniques of  commercial marketers to promote "pro-social" behavior.  No matter where we come from or what culture we belong to, there are probably a few things that all Americans agree are vaguely pro-social: driving responsibly, not littering, eating a healthy diet.  While most of us are likely to fall into these behaviors at least once in a while, there seems to be a general consensus that these are good things to work on.

The problem comes when we fail to look at the subtle agendas being promoted by the social marketers.  A recent example that stands out is the "If you see something-say something" campaign.

We've all heard this phrase or seen it in advertisements.  It's a trademarked phrase thought up by the Department of Homeland Security.  Just a friendly reminder to spy on your neighbors.  What could be more "pro-social" than fighting terrorism?

I'm surprised that more people aren't concerned about this campaign.  It's a brilliant strategy.  The government would catch a lot of flack if it said "If you see Muslims, say something."  As a string of recent articles have shown, this is the kind of language they reserve for their internal FBI training manuals (   It's what they want the public to think, but saying it is just so tacky. 

They have a much vaguer social hygiene message for public consumption.  The "something" that you see is left up to the viewer's discretion.  In the case of one guy I know, who is Indian and darker-skinned, someone reported him for timing the amount of time between each subway car.  Apparently this was all that it took to get him questioned by the police on his way to work.  But it's better to err on the side of caution and assume that everyone is a terrorist.  At least that's the message we're getting.  

As the recent shootings in Norway showed, there is simply no way for the public to gauge when these sorts of things might happen.  A blond-haired, blue-eyed police officer-the type most people would rush to and report a certain "something"-could turn out to be the real criminal we should be worried about.  This social marketing campaign should be called out for what it is. Rather than make us safer, it's there to give us a creeping sense of paranoia, until the only ones we feel we can trust are the friendly faces smiling at us from the other end of the surveillance camera.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Community Media as Counter Hegemony

Building from the Pandason Cooper’s Group Presentation, radio broadcasting and community media has an important role to penetrate message into society. Broadcasting has always been “the battle arena” for meaning of those who seek "power". It consists of two poles of interest, we/society/us-the-people vis-a-vis broadcasting media owner. This battle-meaning arena ideally should stand side by side with us-the-people. Thus, it serves as a tool to encourage people for being critically conscious. Such partisanship is essential in the “battle” against the hegemonic system of domination. Gramsci suggests that us-the-people should build a counter discourse. It is a way to counterbalance the hegemony and domination.

In the broadcasting world, this task actually do bestow upon the community broadcasters. Why is that? In philosophical standpoint, community broadcasters are very different from the private ones. It is an institution formed by the citizens' initiatives. It aims to meet the needs of citizens for information on economic, social, and cultural issues. These community institutions are formed to strengthening the citizens’ critical awareness to all potentially exploitative and dominative things. On that basis, it is a must that the community broadcasters should win consensus on the Habermas’ struggle for meaning. They—the community broadcasters—should be able to reverse the dominant culture, even in more ambitious goal; they should be able to force the capitalists to meet with the community needs.

Now our question is whether our community able and willing to be bestowed with such task? Which is serving as counter hegemony. Hegemony in this case, the one comes not only from foreign but also from state domination.

By the way, I really enjoy the Pandason Cooper 360 today! Maybe after this there will be a PNN, a Panda News Network as one of the community-based media. Hahaha...just saying! (L)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Some concepts que me gustan

For this blog post, I would like to go back to some of the concepts we've previously discussed, simply because some nice discoveries compel me to do so. In the last few days, I've seen a few nice examples of (1) hybridity and (2) participatory culture.

The first one is a mix between Latin American culture and cyber culture, which is highly influenced by American culture. It's the “Me gusta” video, which uses the Venezuelan song “Me gustas” and pairs it with the “Me gusta” face from the Rage comics. For those of you who are not too into cyberculture, here's some examples of rage comics and some explanations about them.

Me gusta is a Spanish phrase, which English speakers on the net have appropriated and paired with that weird face. But these Rage Comics are widespread, and there are Spanish versions of them. For example, there's a Puerto Rican group on Facebook called Partido Trolinista Revolucionario (Revolutionary Trolling Party), which creates and shares a lot of these. In fact, their logo is a mix between the Me gusta face and Che Guevara. Underneath it says: “Che gusta?”. So Spanish speakers have retaking the phrase and appropriating the face. Yet, they're still able to share the joke with English speakers because they added subtitles that perfectly go with the song.

These are also an examples of participatory culture. In the case of the video, the creator took the images (which have no copyright and are freely available on the net) and a portion of the song, and made a creation of his own to share with other users. The Partido Trolinista also represents an example of this. It's the sort of satire that one of our papers was talking about in the context of China (though, obviously, we do not have the same censorship problem). Those who in other times would have been consumers of satire are now also producers. It's a great tool of empowerment and political speech.

My last example is this fan movie that was posted on MTV recently. Great example of participatory culture! Sailor Moon is a manga and anime that was popular in the 90s. With a $5000 budget, Elana A. Mugdan made a 20 minute film based on the manga that even has an IMDB page. According to the page, the money came from fans around the world and the producers' personal savings.

These are fascinating examples of how far consumers' imaginations can go with the aid of new technologies. They also show how the Internet is a meeting place for different cultures, but also a place where they converge, remixing and transforming some of their elements.

Learning our lessons?

Kristen Lord and Mark Lynch's report for the Center for New American Security details the issues hampering Barack Obama on foreign policy. Specifically, they mention what a great speaker he is, but that his actions have not delivered up to his talk. Their research mirrors what Joseph Nye states in his article on Soft Power, that public diplomacy only goes so far and that policy has to match public diplomacy, otherwise it loses credibility. This is a major issue for the US, and Obama, especially as we draw closer to elections.

One of the most important countries where the US is losing credibility today is in Pakistan. The US spends millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, while trying to win over the skeptical Pakistani public. However, when US drones kill twelve Pakistani soldiers (as we recently did) we can see that policy is not mirroring diplomacy efforts. The US has now been forced to close one of its drone bases in Pakistan as it trieds to appease the current government and avoid more international outrage.

This is just a recent example of the consequences that can happen when public diplomacy efforts don’t match policy; however it is an ongoing problem. The US cannot afford to maintain its short term memory of the importance of public diplomacy and that it is a compliment for policy. The fact that there are still debates about the importance of public diplomacy after the Cold War, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is disheartening. Do we really need someone to tell us over and over again that diplomacy has tangible, worthy outcomes? 

The JET program and US Public Diplomacy

This week’s readings revolved around the discipline of Public Diplomacy. Most appropriately, Joseph Nye’s piece, Public Diplomacy and Soft Power was assigned.  In Nye’s work he first defines the purpose of Public Diplomacy and then its methodology, including his three dimensions of public diplomacy: daily communication, strategic communication, and development of lasting relationships.  Nye then evaluates various types of public diplomacy worldwide from all three dimensions and makes recommendations for the US’ future course of public diplomacy.  One of these recommendations is practicing isomorphism in regards to Japan’s JET program and others like it, where the Japanese government invites foreigners to spend a paid year in Japan teaching their language and culture.  Nye believes that the alumni of a similar program hosted in the US would create groups of informal US cultural ambassadors across the world, which could remain connected via the Internet. 
                  As the US receives harsh criticism and negative public opinion from around the world it seems an opportune time to engage in a US version of Japan’s JET program.  American’s foreign language abilities are well below world standards, and American’s exposure to world cultures and affairs are similarly low.  A teaching program bringing native speakers to the US for a long period of time in an immersed community could have a two-fold effect where US citizens are given a more dynamic educational opportunity, while foreigners are exposed to the US culture beyond that of their own media.  
                  With that said, there are many hurdles in putting a program like this together in a post 9/11 America, particularly in regards to visas.  One of the criticisms of the US is it’s expensive and arduous process of arriving here, first through obtaining a visa and then the probable search and question routine at the airport.  Many foreigners have reported that they feel unwelcome when they arrive in the US and that is from their first experience at the airport!  There must be other hurdles and issues as to why a US JET program has not been created in America, likely including funding.  Please write a comment if you know other educational exchange program issues or if a similar JET program is currently taking shape here in the US.

- Claire

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Public Diplomacy" is a strip club where propagandists give lap dances to their imperialist sugar daddies.

In the article "A 21st Century Model for Communication in the Global War of Ideas" the authors are fond of tossing around the terms "strategic communication" and "public diplomacy."  I find these terms offensive.  The fact that these terms are being used more and more often, and the fact that their use is rarely challenged, shows that we are living in the midst of a "Global War of Euphemisms," rather than ideas.

Back in the day propaganda was called "propaganda."  The Department of "Defense" was more accurately named the War Department.  "Biosolids" were known as toxic sludge.  "Extraordinary rendition" was known as torture.  You get the point.

The authors of this article are repeating a message that has been so fashionable that it has become a cliche in papers on communications theory.  The United States is failing to spread its message to the world.  If we could only come up with the right buzzwords, a better catch-phrase, or a more clever jingle the other 95% of the world's population that isn't American would rush to embrace us with open arms.

The article talks about how one Muslim cleric described "democracy" as a religion.  It's true.  Instead of being accompanied by Crusaders, witch trials, and the wrath of the Spanish Inquisition, "democracy" is followed up with cluster bombs, depleted uranium, waterboarding, drone attacks, and CIA-backed death squads.  People that fail to realize this will continue to be left scratching their heads and asking themselves, "I wonder why they don't get America's message?"

The authors of this article, and their fellow propagandists at the Consortium for Strategic Communication, are the shock troops in the latest mission to sugar-coat American imperialism.  We have a global war for resources, which we euphemistically refer to as a "war on terrorism."  But the "War on Terrorism" has gotten a lot of bad publicity, so now it's being spun as a "War of Ideas."

Given the successes of the "War on Drugs," the "War on Cancer," or the "War on Poverty" it should be obvious that declaring war on something is a surefire way to make it worse.  Now that a "War of Ideas" has been launched, we can sit back and watch as the free discussion of ideas atrophies and withers away.  If ideas are really "bulletproof" as the tag line from "V for Vendetta" says, then we need to take a few pot shots at our own ideas of American exceptionalism and see if they stand up to the test or not. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Beyond the "rainbow coalition"

One of the most interesting points of the essay Postcolonial Approaches to Communication (Shome and Hedge) was the criticism of “the packaging of otherness”. Postcolonialist scholars reject the rhetoric of multiculturalism that sees cultures as retaining their “pristine flavors” and being “separate in their authenticity”. This rhetoric takes away the underlying power structures and colonial histories that ethnic cultures have been subject to. That way, multiculturalism can be used to further perpetuate “the normativity of whiteness”.

The scary thing about this is how people and media products can use “the cosmetic approach to multiculturalism” (inadvertently) to perpetuate current power structures, even if they're seemingly challenging them. As the professor says, it's not a group of conspirators sitting on a table and stroking their beards. It's something that happens without them even noticing it most of the time. That makes it more difficult to challenge.

I like that the postcolonial scholars are trying to bring the past into the present in their studies. It really cannot be erased, and it challenges the idea of a pristine culture. If you go back far enough, our histories are very interconnected and, as they say, constitutive of each other. I don't think this erases difference, but it does give it another meaning and has made me rethink the concept of multiculturalism.

Freedom of Speech on the Internet

One of the major emerging themes in my international communication classes this fall is the question of Internet ownership. We’ve seen this developing battleground through the Arab Spring where the power of social media as a tool for organization was recognized by the Egyptian government through its closure of the Internet and other telecommunication networks.
This has led to a larger discussion of Internet ownership at international communication conferences, including at the ICT for Development Conference this fall in Kenya.  Till recently, I believed that the battle for freedom on the Internet lay outside of the United States, particularly in countries where freedom of speech was not guaranteed by law.  However, this latest incident in Kansas shocked me:
A Kansas teen, Emma Sullivan, tweeted that Governor Brownback “sucked” at a school event, and was subsequently reprimanded by her principal told to write an apology letter to Brownback as part of the damage control.  This tweet was reported to the Sullivan’s principal by Brownback’s social media team.   An integral part of the United States constitution is freedom of speech, and not only did Brownbeck’s team and the school principal attempt to violate the constitution, they also sought to exert control over Sullivan’s personal twitter page.  Thankfully, this did not escape US citizen or media attention and Brownbeck has since made an apology to the Sullivan and the school has followed up saying that an apology letter from Sullivan to Brownbeck is not required.

I’d like to end this post with a highlight from the above article:
“Speaking as a taxpayer in Kansas, I’m more than a little annoyed that my government has cut funding for the arts and other programs, but apparently thinks it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars to have the governor’s office troll the Twitter feeds of high school kids to make sure they’re not saying anything mean about him,” wrote Alex Knapp, social media editor at Forbes. “I’m also annoyed that the schools think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars to punish students for what they say on their private Twitter feeds. The whole exercise is absurd.”

- Claire

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hindering Diplomacy

Why does the US, land of free speech and freedom of the press, have such a hard time with public diplomacy? We spend millions of dollars on advertising products and services, and politics, but we can't engage with foreign publics through discussion and communication. Even now, with negative attitudes about the US rampant, and the US Military waging a war to win the "hearts and minds" of people,  there is still widespread doubt surrounding the use of Public Diplomacy.

The United Nations is the most important forum for public diplomacy where the US can exercise it's soft power. However, there is such vehement rhetoric around leaving the United Nations and not paying our dues, including recently withdrawing funds from UNESCO, that we are ruining our chances at using public diplomacy successfully. These actions pose great challenges to US diplomats and often have a negative effect on foreign publics who see the US as belligerent rather than diplomatic.  My main question for those who advocate leaving the UN is how on earth is one expected to be a part of, or lead, the conversation when you aren't even in the room?

The US cannot "go it alone" and needs to spend more time cultivating understanding of US foreign policy in foreign nations. Public Diplomacy should not be painted as a weak act to engage in, or an ineffective tool, it is extremely important in today's world of instant communication and access to information. If the US is not involved in the dialogue, someone else will control it and we will have no chance to counter or control what is said about the US. If anti-UN activists get their way, we will end up wasting our power behind a closed door talking to ourselves and wondering why no one is listening to us.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Has Al-Jazeera become the "loyal opposition?"

I used to be Al-Jazeera's number one fan.  I felt like it stood for the colonized instead of the colonizers, that it was representing the majority of the people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and especially the Middle East that were staring down the barrel of Western imperialism.  There were times when I was glued to it during Israel's raids on Gaza, when it showed footage you would never see on any of the other corporate networks, shots of Palestinian flesh being melted to bone from the white phosphorus dropped by the Israeli military. 

In Powers and El-Nawawy's article "Al-Jazeera English and Global News Networks: Clash of Civilizations or Cross-Cultural dialogue?' the authors show the results of a study in which many of the viewers polled also felt the same way about the network.  Had I read this in 2009 when the study was released I would have probably shared their same sentiments. 

But, over the last year I've noticed a shift in Al-Jazeera's coverage that has left a bad taste in my mouth, to the point where I've pretty much stopped viewing it all together.

The network has thrown any kind of objectivity it once had out the window when it comes to the so-called "Arab Spring."  It has become a cheerleader for the so-called "revolutionaries" in Egypt, Libya, and Syria  when the goals of these protesters happen to dovetail nicely with American plans for regime change in the region.  But when movements begin to threaten friends of Qatar-such as we've seen in Bahrain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia-the network coughs, shuffles its feet, and mumbles a few words. 

The "Arab Spring" is not a spontaneous, grassroots uprising of frustrated youth looking for greater freedom and democracy.  It's the continuation of the neo-liberal agenda to reshape the Middle East that was laid out years ahead of time.  It's the use of Facebook warriors to implement regime change.  And when that doesn't work, as in the case of Libya, it's a good excuse to sell weapons and military contracts in the name of "protecting civilians," even while NATO is slaughtering them at the same time.

Al-Jazeera has gone completely over to the dark side.  As soon as Hilary Clinton declared it to be "real news" back in March I knew they had made some kind of deal that compromised their former integrity.  The goal of journalism should be to hold people in power, and any news organization that is getting praise heaped on it by the State Department, which formerly regarded Al-Jazeera as an enemy, should be suspect. 

Al-Jazeera has become the "loyal opposition."  These days, while pretending to represent a challenge to imperialism, it ends up supporting it.  This became even more clear to me last summer when it created a Wikileaks-style whisteblower site.  
( Only, on their version you aren't allowed to leak material unless you've obtained it legally, and they don't guarantee the whistleblower the right to confidentiality and anonymity.  This is exactly the kind of thing the loyal opposition would do-pretending to reach out to those wanting to expose corruption while, at the same time, reserving the right to hand them over to the authorities like Bradly Manning.  You can't have it both ways, Al-Jazeera.

Nowhere, however, has their reporting fallen more flat than when it comes to the U.S. orchestrated invasion of Libya and the overthrow of the Gadhafi government.  Since Al-Jazeera is owned by the Emir of Qatar, and Qatar has provided troops for the Libyan invasion (as well as funding for anti-Gadhafi media) it is impossible to take their claim of unbiased coverage seriously.  They have cheered on the CIA-backed rebels from the very start.  Any rumor that the insurgents wanted to spread, whether it was Gadhafi's Viagra-fueled troops, his planned masscres of civilians, or his use of African mercenaries, was quickly picked up and spread by Al-Jazeera, even though there is no evidence to back any of these rumors.  News anchors would take cell phone calls from anonymous "protesters" and play their unverified claims live over the air.

At the same time, it showed a complete lack of interest in covering any of the many civilian casualties caused by NATO.  NATO bombed many civilian targets, such as the Al-Fatah University, and the Great Man-Made river irrigation project.  There have been many reports that coalition forces are using depleted uranium munitions which will leave radiation in the soil for thousands of years. 

At least one former Al-Jazeera journalist, Ghassan bin Jeddo, agrees with me.  He resigned from the network last summer, saying publicly that "Al-Jazeera has abandoned professionalism and objectivity, turning from a media source into an operation room that incites and mobilizes."  Now that we have the head of Al-Jazeera, Wadah Khanfa, resigning in September and being replaced by a member of the Qatari royal family, we can only expect their future coverage to fit even more smoothly into the plans laid out by the U.S., Qatar, and it's gang of dictator friends in the gulf.    

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The US' Internet Regulations may soon seem A LOT like China's

Much of our class has touched upon communication ownership.  From the telegraph to the radiowave we have read and discussed government and private sector control over these society-changing technologies.  We have also frequently compared China’s authoritarian regulation over the Internet against the US’ liberal Internet policies.  However, as noted in this NY Times Op-Ed,, the Protect IP Act has been introduced in the Senate and a similar bill known as, Stop Online Piracy Act, in the House both of which propose regulations that would have effects on Internet users similar to those experienced by Chinese citizens. 

As noted in the Mattelart reading, “’The mysterious magic of being able, with a simple click of a mouse, to send a full length movie hurtling with the speed of light to any part of the planet, is a marketing dream and an anti-piracy nightmare.”  These two bills seek to contain intellectual property, which is reasonable, yet at the expense of  “democratic discourse” at home and abroad. 

However, it is this writer’s opinion that the government should concentrate efforts on further strengthening its bill on patents which would support those producers of “intellectual property” to create.  Why don’t we concentrate on displacing “patent trolls” which would encourage innovation rather than infringing the communication of its citizens which could also stifle these same producers access to creative, knowledge, information flows?

- Claire