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, September 26, 2011

Urban Planning and Communication

In The New Public Sphere: Global Civil Society, Communication Networks, and Global Governance Manuel Castells begins his work emphasizing the importance of “physical space—particularly public space in cities as well as universities—cultural institutions, and informal networks of public opinion formation” as the main developer of the public sphere.  Castells argues that the public sphere transforms into civil society, which ultimately can influence decisions of nation-states.   I wish to further develop his theory, in that the creation of public space encourages close contact to other people and ultimately acts as catalyst for the advancement of society, economic strategy and politics.  Would there have been a Renaissance in Italy without the piazza or migration from the country back to the city? Doubtful.  Communication, innovation and progress are reliant on human contact and urban areas are ideal platforms for these to be cultivated. 

As I read for our upcoming International Communication class I also came across The Atlantic Monthly’s article entitled, “Debunking the Cul-de-Sac,” which gave a brief history on America’s move away from the historic grid-pattern city planning towards the Cul-de-Sac neighborhood and its ramifications on society.  In the article, Norman Garrick, of the University of Connecticut emphasized, “We’ve really been designing communities that make us drive more, make us less safe, keep us disconnected from one another, and that may even make us less healthy.”  However, this article failed to mention the Cul-de-Sac’s effect on human contact-communication and the exchange of ideas.  Cul-de-Sac’s promote the American suburban dream but really close us off to diversity.   How can the United States continue to be a world-class innovator when the places in which we dwell and move about stale development?

Debunking the Cul-de-Sac

Globalization: Is It A Necessity?

After reading a wonderful piece from Claire and Dan, It makes me wondering, does the whole world country need globalization? Case study, my own country, Indonesia. Most of you probably know the 3 main jargon usually used by Indonesian state-crafters when they promoting the country; the biggest Muslim population in the world, the third largest democratic country after India and United States, the fourth largest population after China, India, and United States. Most people will see it as an emerging market. But for me personally (don’t get me wrong, I love my country), I see the urgent need to set a strong and right footing for Indonesia as a whole package before joining the Globalization ‘movement’. The same thought that makes me think that Globalization is needed only to a certain extend.

Not everyone ready and I believe not every country ready for globalization. Most of people believe that globalization is inevitable, like it or not, you have to be in it. But each country has its own choices, look at North Korea--well, that’s the most extreme example. I see it this way, when you decide to become globalized, you have to well understand and well measure the pros and cons. When you at the state of developed country, perhaps you’ll see more lists on the pros’ side. But again in my opinion, you’ll find differently if you’re at the state of developing (third world) country. The third world country need to gear up and properly equipped themselves before they march onto the jungle of globalization. Here’s the analogy; realistically, you’ll not throw yourself into a battle if you haven’t measured your enemy’s and prepare yourself for the battle. That’s the same logic I use.

Referring back to Indonesia, only certain cities in Indonesia are ready for globalization. These cities are the one with better infrastructures, human resources and better management--not necessarily better natural resources. They are the one who can ‘fight’ equally in the ‘globalization battle’. If you take a look at the areas which are not ready yet, lets just call it as periphery, these areas will suffer the most. They’re forced to accept globalization without any ‘safety net’. They don’t have the sufficient infrastructures and human resources. This condition will create a gap and this will followed by another conflict such as, social unrest, mass migration, poverty, increasing criminal rate, etc. Media as one of the globalization pillar will only serve for mid to high level society. The character of the program in the media, IMHO will definitely not suitable for the lower level society which mostly inhabit these areas. That will create another problem. One of the most heartbreaking scenery I’ve ever encounter was when I was in Yogyakarta’s landfills back in 2003. The poor people surround the area make a living by becoming scavenger. The most common scenery at that time was, most of the people’s house there--which’re built from used boxes and anything they can find--have at least 21 inch television set and a vcd player. It was reliving at first but not after you heard that they prefer to have an entertainment set instead of paying their children for school. Don’t you feel irritated by that? It was again another downside of globalization.

So, to wrap up, I believe that globalization is inevitable to some extend. And it’s the responsibility of each government to measure how far globalization can be accepted on their own country. But if you ask me, when you don’t have the strong root and footing, I believe it’s better to think twice to be part of globalization.


One small dose of African film history

Co-production with the West is often tainted with paternalism, and it is an economic dependency which, as such, gives the West the right to view Africa in a way that I cannot bear. Sometimes, one is also coerced into consenting to commercial concessions. In a word, Europeans often have a conception of Africa that is not ours.”
(African cinema: politics & culture, Manthia Diawara)

The words above were said by Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, who is considered one of the most important African directors, with titles like La Noire de..., Ceddo, and Xala. They attest to the importance for groups of people (whether nations, ethnicities, diasporas, etc.) to be able to portray themselves through media, in an increasingly mediatized world.

Many books on African cinema describe the struggle for him and other directors to be able to have a cinema that they could call their own. And that's because films were used by colonial nations “to maintain their respective spheres of political and economic influence” (The Cinema of Apartheid, Keyan G. Tomaselli). “History”, Tomaselli continues, “is distorted and a Western view of Africa is transmitted back to the colonized”. Thus, in the beginnings of cinema in Africa, this medium was used to portray viewpoints beneficial to colonial powers, facilitate assimilation, and maintain their hegemony.

Even after the colonies' independence, it was a French governmental agency that financed many of the movies made by directors from francophone Africa. This was viewed by many as a neocolonialist tool. African cinema historian Victor Bachy has stated that such aid was part of a dependency structure of African states on France. After a bad experience filming Le Mandat with the French Centre National du Cinéma, Sembène stopped making movies with France, and many followed his footsteps.

And so began the production of many anti-assimilationist and anti-colonialist African movies. Filmmakers started emphasizing the importance of cinema in the political, economic and cultural development of Africa. This included not just criticizing ex colonial powers, but also their on governments, like in the movie Xala.


Rise of Two Media's

In The Public Sphere and the Constitution of Society, Manuel Castells mentions fours crises that are arising in the transition from a nation-state world to a globalized world. The crisis most pertinent to today I believe is the Crisis of Equity, which Castells defines as the increasing “inequality between countries and between social groups within countries.” Waisbord further clarifies what this inequality looks like in Media and the Reinvention of the Nation State, noting “wealthier nations have more media resources,” and therefore access to more information and the ability to send information into the world.

There has been much debate about the flow of information and it’s tendency to be from Northern countries to Southern countries. Media conglomerates like NewsCorp are based in wealthy nations, or the media is controlled by the elites within a society, choosing  what messages are sent and how. In America and across Europe we have access to CNN and the BBC, “global” news sources, yet entirely based in wealthy nations. Al Jazeera is becoming a leading source for global news as well, but even this news station is based in Qatar, a country that has the highest per capita income[i]. As media becomes more global, is it not just becoming more global in a wealthier, or northern nation sense? Media is still not global in the sense that it reaches poorer nations and people, who mainly rely on radio and not the television for their news.  The populations in these countries do not have internet access, or it is very limited, and they are not as digitally literate as the populations in Northern countries.

I believe this is leading to the emergence of two separate media circles. The first is a circle of the wealthier globalized media which spreads the “Northern view” of society. It covers news coming out of the developing world, but informs viewers on the “plight” of these societies as they try to modernize.  The news is cast in such a light as being seen from outside these cultures and above them. The second media circle caters to local villages and neighborhoods through cheap mediums like radio. These media stations cover the developing world from the inside, and relay important neighborhood news and services. An example of this type of media could be in Somalia where the limited reach of Radio Mogadishu[ii] competes with local radio stations from Al Shabab. The contrasting views between these two services can be huge, leading to greater disparity of information and an endless cycle of inequality that is hard to break.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The meaning of "anti-globalization"

 "The only thing worth globalizing is dissent." -Arundhati Roy

 If the word "globalization" can be hard to pin down, then "anti-globalization" starts to become even more of a mess.  Keeping the word so loosely defined only serves the interests of the globalists, who try and paint anti-globalization activists with sweeping generalizations in order to discredit them.

The corporate media, which grabs its talking points from people like Thomas Freidman, has often characterized anti-globalization activists as drooling barbarians, yokels that are so hopelessly against anything modern that they threaten to drag our civilization back down into the evolutionary slime we emerged from.  They focus on small groups of individuals that break windows, the kind of activity seen during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, rather than allowing articulate arguments about globalization any time on the airwaves. 

The backlash against those who would dare to question the benefits of globalization has been growing, even since before globalization as we know it really took off.  In Al Gore's 1993 debate with Ross Perot, Gore ridiculed Perot for claiming that NAFTA, if signed, would have a devastating effect on both the Mexican and the US economies. History has shown that Perot's warnings were well founded, but by now they have been swept into the dustbin of history. 

The attacks continue.  Michio Kaku, possibly the country's most well-known physicist, has even made a speech linking people who oppose the integration of the world's economic and political systems with Al-Queda (

Voices that present any kind of criticism of globalization are shut out of the mainstream media.  When they are allowed to present their arguments they usually demolish their competition, the cheerleaders of globalization.  See how journalist Naomi Klein punked Alan Greenspan during a debate on Democracy Now:

Adding to this problem is the fact that a lot of the writing in international communications doesn't help clarify what it means to be "anti-globalization." Silvio Waisbord, in his article "Media and the Reinvention of a Nation" divides the world into "globalphobes" and "globalphiles."  He writes, "To globalphobes, globalization signals the cultural Americanization of the world, and the disappearance of cultural diversity."  His globalphiles, on the other hand, "dismiss such concerns and reason that current economic and technological changes contribute to cultural diversity."  He goes on to add that, "a closer analysis suggest that globalization brings positive consequences," throwing his weight squarely behind the globalphiles.

This dichotomy that he sets up, between globalphobes and globalphiles, is a simplistic way of looking at globalization.  Yes, critics of globalization will argue that Americanization, with our constant churning of Hollywood movies and TV shows, is working to undermine cultural values in other parts of the world.  But that isn't their main argument against globalization.  This is a side effect of globalization, and it plays a minor role in the slew of factors that have pushed thousands around the world to storm meetings of the WTO, CAFTA, the G20, and other multinational institutions.  People don't stab themselves to death ( because they're concerned about the effects Barbie dolls are having on their communities.

Waisborg doesn't mention that globalization is more than just teenagers in Latin America dressing like Brytni Spears and watching pirated movies.  This is only the most superficial aspect of globalization.  The backbone of globalization is made up of a set of treaties, most of them drawn up in secret by unelected officials, that erode the sovereignty of countries for the benefit of multinational corporations.  

By completely ignoring this aspect, which is the real heart of globalization, Waisborg sets up a straw man of what anti-globalization represents, in order to tear it down.  If you think, as he would have his readers believe, that anti-globalization activists are merely concerned about the influx of Hollywood movies, then their fears seem exaggerated and a bit hysterical.    

Manuel Castells, in his article “The New Public Sphere: Global Civil Society, Communication Networks, and Global Governance" gives a more accurate definition of globalization.  Rather than dividing the world into globalphobes and globalphiles, he puts the situation in a different context.  To Castells, the term “anti-globalization" is an incorrect label.  He prefers to call it “a global movement for global social justice,” a definition I think is a lot more accurate.  

Anti-globalization protesters aren't Luddites.  They're not against all forms of international trade.  They're just against a system of trade that only benefits multinational corporations at the expense of workers, ecosystems, and local communities.   

-Dan G. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Film and Public Perception

In Approaches to Theorizing International Communication, Thussu concludes that modern Western concepts of people in the developing world have been molded through literature, travel writing and film.  These communicative mediums have been a noteworthy participant in the extension of imperialism and ultimately used to maintain control of the peripheries and justify Western domination.  While reading this week however, I could not help but think to our own country and how these same mediums, particularly film, contributed to the long struggle for African-American equal rights.  The Emancipation Proclamation was presented on January 1, 1863 and yet the Civil Rights Movement did not begin until the late 1950s.  Why did it take roughly one hundred years after breaking the bonds of slavery for the African-American freedom movement to grip the nation?

As demonstrated by Thussu and other scholars, film is a powerful medium that affects public opinion and perception.  From early films and onward the African-American community was continually subordinated in the United States.  Birth of a Nation (1915) was one of the most widely received silent films celebrated for its technological innovation, yet its portrayal of African-American’s in the Reconstruction Era is indisputably racist.  Gone With The Wind (1939) won ten Academy Awards yet also portrayed its African-American characters as silly, senseless and happily dependent on their Masters.  These films permeated American culture, furthered a negative African-American stereotype and also justified the pre-Civil War Southern lifestyle thereby stifling movements for African-American equal rights until the mid 1950s.

Minority subordination in film and television still persist today.  How can we combat stereotypes in a world where the media has supreme control on public opinion?

Gone With The Wind Clip:

The Muffin Man vs. Pin Pon

When talking about globalization there is a lot of fear that the world is actually becoming "McDonaldized", that is Americanized. However, one cannot forget the role that language plays in the consumption of cultural products from different parts of the planet. We live far from a world where everybody speaks the same language. English has been considered a sort of universal language, but the reality is that the majority of the world does not understand it. 

Thus, before the act of receiving a film, a TV show, a book, or any other product, there is more often than not a process where an institution or company must make it intelligible to a certain audience. This involves, of course, a translation of the words contained in the work, but also a sort of "cultural translation". In this process, the translator may take something away from the original and/or add more local elements. What happens is that the public receives a foreign cultural work that isn't quite the same as the original, but might be more easy to digest.

The Mexican dub of the movie Shrek is an example of this dynamic. Many of the popular culture references are adjusted so that they will be enjoyed by a Latin American audience. Like when the Ginger Bread Man is being interrogated by the Lord Farquaad, instead of talking about the Muffin Man he talks about Pin Pon, a name that comes from a Mexican children's song. Many of my friends who can understand English perfectly actually prefer this version of Shrek because they find it funnier.

If this is often the case, then should there really be such a fear of homogenization? Given the role that each receiving culture has in interpretation, I think it is safe to say that although there is a high flow of American media and cultural products to the rest of the world, the fears of a "McDonaldized" world might be exaggerated. 

*This is the original version of the scene I mentioned:

*This one is the Mexican version:

Also, here's a great interview I found with Ghibli dub director Gualtiero Cannarsi about the process of dubbing Hayao Miyazaki's films into Italian.

- Érica

Flowmations and the Palestinian Communication Situation

In "Communication Flows and Flowmations" by Paul Adams the author talks about the "leapfrog phenomena" where a country that isn't as technologically developed skips over one form of communications technology to begin utilizing a newer form.  He gives the example of how many countries that never had an extensive landline telephone network are jumping to embrace cell phones.  Adams notes that the Gaza Strip is the number one of these "leapfroggers," having a 74 percent cell phone usage, despite its meager $1,500 per capita GDP. 

Adams goes on to explain how insecurity and fear among the Palestinian population have contributed to a rate of personal cell phone use throughout the Occupied Territories that is much higher than the area's relative wealth would indicate.  In fact, the ratio of cell phone use to GDP is higher in the West Bank and Gaza Strip than anywhere else in the world.

He concludes that the cell phone "is not the same medium in the Palestinian territories as it is in New York or Senegal.  The medium is not just a technology but a complex, heterogeneous, network of relations between people, technology, money, ideas, and elements of place...Anomalous places with regards to media penetration have interesting stories to tell."

I've never been to the Gaza Strip, but I have spent in a month in the West Bank, so this passage really resonated with me.  I saw firsthand how cell phone users would snap into action in the aftermath of a tank attack or a home demolition by the Israeli military.  Often civilians, who were trapped indoors from military curfews, would call  someone across the street, who would shout to his neighbor, who would, in turn, dial a relative further down the road.  Because movement was so tightly restricted, the cell phone network became this living, breathing, thing that would spread out in all directions from wherever the sound of gunfire was coming from.  The mere act of looking out your window too long was considered a violation of curfew and could draw gunfire.  Many Palestinians would tell me how disorientated they became while waiting inside for days until the military trucks would drive by, announcing through their loudspeakers that the curfew would be lifted.  And while not every family had a television, almost everyone had a cell phone.  It became, during those days of curfew, their only link with the outside world. 

Being a foreigner, I was allowed to walk the deserted streets while everyone else was kept indoors.  Many days it was only me, the occasional military patrol, and a line of stray dogs.  I could look up and see the shadows of people moving behind drawn curtains, talking on cell phones.

We've talked a lot in several of my classes about how certain forms of technology can, by their very nature, communicate their own message independent of whatever is being transmitted at the moment.  This is something that Adams could have delved into more deeply as he examined the Palestinian cell phone phenomena.

I don't know if this is still the case, but when I visited the area in 2002 you couldn't call the West Bank with an Israeli cell phone, and Palestinians couldn't call Israel.  You needed to either change the chip or carry two cell phones.

In this way the occupation and it's message of "you are under control" was built into the very design of the everyday technology people used.  Not only were there fences, checkpoints, special roads, and different languages to keep Israelis and Palestinians from communicating with each other.   They also couldn't just pick up a phone and call a friend or family member on the other side of the Green Line.  The cell phone was a double-edged sword, both helping people to communicate and keeping them from communicating at the same time.

If you are being forced to live under a military occupation you need to communicate with the people you care about to let them know whenever violence is popping up, which is fairly often.  But what can you do when the only form of communication you have access to is supporting and profitting from this occupation?  This article touches on this issue for anyone who is interested:

-Dan Gordon 

Space: The Final Frontier?

“We no longer have to physically transport to share information,” ~Helen Couclelis, Flows and Flowmations
In Flows and Flowmations the author speaks about the time-space continuum in regards to communication. In the past, the farther apart a sender and receiver were, the longer it took for information to be shared. With the invention of the internet, space has become an insignificant variable in the communication process. It has created a world where we can share information almost instantly (depending on your signal strength) across the globe; you can upload pictures, videos, and chat with friends in another country in real-time. However, what effect is this “instant access” having on our communication process? Is it a good or a bad effect?  And do previous theories still hold true? 
One result of this access to information is the complications of adding more receivers to a message. Social networking sites allow access to information from one sender, to hundreds if not thousands or millions of receivers (depending on your privacy settings). As Korac-Kakabadse, et al. discusses in Low and High-Context Communication Patterns: Towards Mapping Cross-Cultural Encounters, one must adjust their behavior to the sender's orientation when they are communicating, but how can you do so when you can’t even be sure who your receiver is? We no longer have control over the messages we put out into “cyberspace”, they can be cut, copied, pasted and reconfigured into something entirely out of character. They can be distorted and used for purposes the sender never meant. Losing control of one's own message can be a frequent occurrence. 
Also, an important part of the communication process is feedback to the sender, so the sender can respond or adapt his/her message (Weaver Shannon model, Flows and Flowmations) In the present time, we now send messages out into the open, with no expectation of response or feedback, we have no idea what affect our messages are having on receivers, and can be surprised by any hostility or negative reaction to what we intended our messages to mean. Without context, or non-verbal cues from our receivers, we remain ignorant of feedback. And as the old adage goes, "No news is good news." We think that without any feedback, the message has been received and decoded properly and move on to the next message. A sender should be constantly aware and search out feedback
Last, instantaneous communication internationally causes the need for shorter reaction times by governments and diplomats, effecting world relations more quickly than ever. When a message is sent out into the world, it can spread across the globe instantly. Causing civic pressure internally on governments and externally from foreign populations who want their governments to react. This can be a good thing, when immediate actions are needed to respond to a violent regime, but it can also be a bad thing when time for more diplomatic measures is needed.

As we embark on this age of instant access to information, we must tread carefully. We have to be critical receivers of messages, and active senders. The process of communication is becoming more complicated and the dangers of miscommunication or misunderstandings are exponentially worse as the world becomes more interconnected. As worlds are colliding together on the internet though, perhaps people can learn more about the process of communication, and come away more aware of the differences between communication styles and more effective in understanding and using them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How Can History Teach Us about Communication and Technology?

Today, the words “communication” and “technology” conjure ideas of modernity, while the word “history” can apply to early civilizations and beyond.  So how are these concepts connected and what can we learn from looking at them in the same context? As proposed in class, when analyzing the scope of the human experience in regards to communication and technology as tools of control, the connections between current world affairs and historical events are significant. 

Communication has been used to control knowledge throughout the ages, notably seen through the Catholic Church’s monopoly on the production of the written word and the use of the elite language Latin to control the largely illiterate masses.   It was not till the printing press was invented that we saw the fight for freedom of knowledge and thought, as well as a large-scale struggle for liberation from a religious organization that had authority beyond that of even kings.  The communication strategies of the Catholic Church, or as Leonard Dudley stated “the medieval society’s principle information network,” are mirrored in the West’s trickle down communication with its peripheries during Colonialism and even in today’s US foreign affairs policies and public diplomacy. In both cases, control of knowledge through communication in order to wield power is evident.

The same grasp on power can be seen with innovative technologies, this time through physical control.  With the passing of the Radio Act in 1912, the United States Federal Government essentially controlled the access to radio waves used in wireless telegraphy and reserved the right to shut it down in the event of emergency thereby physically controlling the masses’ access to this technology, as well as their communities, businesses and organizations.  A nation or state’s control of the Internet, the modern day technology that facilitates global communication, business and the ability to organize, is fundamentally the same type of dominance.  In the wake of anti-government demonstrations in Egypt, President Mubarak shut down the Internet in Egypt in an effort to curb protestor’s ability to communicate and organize (  With the advent of the Arab Spring and social media as a possible determinant in political events, the world was reminded of the reach of power through a government controlled communication medium.

The connections between history and present day in regards to communication and technology can further be perceived through physical control of commodities such as Russia’s control over the gas supply of other nations ( with links to the British using it’s railway network as an “instrument of pacification” in its Asian colonies (Cecil Rhodes).  The use and manipulation of photojournalism as a type of propaganda can be seen in Crimean War, World War II and Vietnam.  The question is now, what can we learn from past use of communication and technology in political and economical framework?  Can in depth study help to create better policies in the future when new technology is invented or used?  Finally, will further insight into the way people and governments control communication and technology help those involved in foreign policy keep up with the rapidly changing state of world affairs?

- Claire Baumann

Should we stop using the term "Third World"?

Daya Thussu explains the origin of the term "Third World" in The Historical Context of International Communication: back in the days of the Cold War, the world was divided between the capitalist and communist nations, and the ones that stayed out of either side. French historian Alfred Sauvy started calling those non-affiliated countries the "Third World". The planet has changed a lot since 1952, when the name was coined; the Cold War has ceased to exist and the Earth is no longer divided in Eastern and Western blocs. So why, then, does this name still come up so often in the media, casual conversations and scholarly texts? Is its usage still valid?

These two words have evidently evolved since their first use. Since we have stopped identifying our nations in the communist or capitalist categories, "Third World" must represent something entirely different than it did in the fifties. Today, it seems interchangeable with the term "developing world/countries". Nicola Graves mentions various definitions that have been given to it after its initial one. KumKum says that it is not just a geographical space, but an imaginary one that merges diverse areas of the word into "a single 'underdeveloped' terrain". Chandra Talpade Mohanty is more specific and includes "the nation-states of Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-East Asia, China, South Africa, and Oceania". She also adds that "black, Latino, Asian, and indigenous peoples in the US, Europe, Australia, some of whom have historic links with the geographically defined third worlds, also define themselves as third world peoples".

None of these definitions answer some of the questions that I have about the term. Just who decides which countries are in the "Third World" and which ones are not? Under what criteria? According to whose definition of development? One of my problems with this name is that in using the words "first", "second" and "third", there is an imposed hierarchy that puts Western capitalist countries as the winners, the best. "Third World" countries, then, are the relegated losers; the backward nations that strive -or should strive- to be like their Occidental counterparts. It goes in line with that Modernization Theory that prevailed around the time that Sauvy coined the term. That is the idea that Western society has "the most developed model of societal attributes", as Thussu explains. 

I'll give a personal example to prove my point. After hurricane Irene went over Puerto Rico, the electricity system was out for days or weeks, depending on the area. I read the reactions of many of my Puerto Rican Facebook friends, some of whom started calling Puerto Rico a "Third World" country. I don't know if it is (again, according to whom?), but whenever something like this happens one of the most common comments is: "We think we live in a developed country, but we're part of the Third World". It is used as an insult, not as an objective way of identifying countries with high infant mortality rates, with low national incomes or whichever other indicator one might use to categorize.

I am not the only one who disagrees with its use. World Bank head Robert Zoellick declared in April of 2010 that it should no longer be used, albeit for different reasons. "We are now in a new, fast-evolving multipolar world economy…where North and South, East and West, are now points on a compass, not economic destinies", he said. Zoellick believes that the developing countries will play a key role in the world economy, and so the developed countries should start viewing the world in different terms. Maybe we should, too.


How the "Green Revolution" was sold to India

In "The Historical Context of International Communication" Daya Thussu gives what I feel is a biased and misleading account of India's "Green Revolution" of the 1970's and the country's attempts at using communications strategies to convince farmers of its relative worth.

Thussu is writing about the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) that the Indian government helped launch in 1975.  The idea was to borrow a NASA satellite from the U.S. and use it to beam "public interest" news into dozens of the most impoverished farming communities in India.  This was to be "the world's largest techno-social experiment" at the time, costing $6.6 million.

Thussu paints a picture of this project as benign government campaign intended to improve the lives of India's farmers, while glossing over the heavy-handed propaganda implications of having a state-controlled satellite beaming "news" into thousands of communities, to be captured by  government-installed television sets that are set up in these villages.  I would argue that while individuals "communicate" governments never do.  Instead they set agendas, and a major agenda that governments tried to push beginning in the 1970's was the so-called "green revolution" which was created for the benefit of agricultural and chemical corporations. 

The goal of the green revolution was to destroy the ability of the developing world to feed itself, replacing farmers that had once been self-sufficient with farmers that grew cash crops for the export market.  It was also meant to make these countries dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides produced by Western corporations, consolidate small family farms into large agribusiness conglomerations, force smaller farmers to sell off their lands, and drive them into the cities to seek work in sweatshops.

It's interesting to see how the words the author uses to describe this process portray his inherent biases.  Thussu has a catch-all word for this process: "modernization."  He seems to accept the idea implanted by the creators of SITE; that modernization means pesticides and industrial corporate agribusiness.   I realize that his article wasn't meant to debate the relative merits of the green revolution, but for him to gloss over a media campaign that has resulted in such negative environmental and economic effects on India straddles the line between sloppy scholarship and outright misinformation.

The "green revolution" is a concept that was sold to many countries in the developing world and continues to this day in the form of the "gene revolution", led by genetic engineering companies like Monsanto.  It would be interesting to look at this global campaign and the different "communications" strategies that were used to implement it in not only India but the rest of Latin America, Africa, and Asia as well.  I'm putting "communications" in quotes, because I think that in order to have genuine communication a two-way flow of information is necessary.  In top-down approaches, such as the one taken by SITE, this is impossible.

-Dan Gordon 

History Repeats Itself

Information is power, and whoever controls communication technology, controls information. We saw this is the history of telegraph cables and British control over most of the process; from raw materials to boats laying cables across the Atlantic. In fact, as Professor Hayden told us,the first military act of WWI was cutting off Germany's access to underwater cable lines, which would not have been possible if the UK did not have such a high stake in the communication cables.

Even today we see this power struggle over information, we are watching a battle between the advancement of technology offering access to information, and those that want to control that information. Dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, and communist China hold power by censoring the press and controlling access to the internet, allowing their citizen's little access to information that is not packaged and controlled by their governments. But does this censorship actually help a regime maintain control? Or is is a cyclical event where advancements in censorship technology and control result in advancements of telecommunications technology?

In Hanson's book, "International Communications", she described the downfall of the Catholic church when the invention of the printing press allowed the illiterate access to information that used to only be in Latin. Even when Bishops forbade the printing of any books in their territories, information ultimately won out. We then saw the invention of wireless telecommunications and short-wave radio, which gave rise to the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe that transmitted behind the iron curtain and into Eastern European states that were controlled by communist USSR. The USSR initially jammed the signals of these radio stations, but ultimately gave in and access to information beaming from those stations still continues today. Over the past year we have see multiple uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East that have toppled  leaders who have been in power for decades. The argument about access to social media and the internet and whether or not these technologies added to civil unrest and disobedience is still being debated. It seems though that history is repeating itself, and that in the end, people will always find a way to access information.

So are these regimes and leaders who practice censorship and control helping or hindering their cause? As a child growing up you may remember your parents telling you "Don't touch that," or "You can't watch that," which ultimately made the forbidden all the more desirable. You probably did touch what you weren't supposed to, and you snuck into the living room to catch a glimpse of what you weren't supposed to be watching. So while I do not believe access to social media and the internet is the ultimate downfall for these regimes, I do believe that in the end censorship will fail. They are making sites like facebook and youtube 'forbidden fruit' which adds to their appeal and mystery, whereas if the sites were readily available they might go by unnoticed and not have half the power to disrupt as they do now. 

~Amy Wozniak