Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mattelart: Clearly on Team Huxley

Mattelart’s Foucaultian analysis of the semiotics of ‘globalization’ kept bringing me back to that Huxley v. Orwell comic, or rather, the “Huxley was right” part of it.

The connection is between Huxley’s idea of being lulled by non-stop entertainment and info-tainment and Mattelart’s discussion of “forgetting history” and replacing it with a “techno-mercantile determinism that has instituted endless, unlimited communication, the heir to the notion of ongoing, limitless progress.”

His article is indeed a pretty good wrap-up because it sort of summarizes the critical position of many of the scholars we have read in the last half of the semester. Dutta, Castells, Bennet, Fisher, Melkote: they are all coming from the same place, really, in that they question the rationality of the rhetorical connection between

‘modernity’ and capitalism or

‘globalization’ and global free markets,

or Western scientific knowledge and ‘universal knowledge.’

Dutta’s excerpts from USAID’s white papers, for example, support Matellart’s section on ‘the revolution in military affairs’, in which he asserts that the U.S. military began “promoting an offensive strategy of enlargement of the world market as a paradigm, in place of the defensive strategy of containment adopted…during the Cold War years” (Mattelart, 2008: p 321 of Thussu).

Reading Matellart was also a lot like reading Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who does a similar archeology of the World Social Forum (particularly as a viable form of resistance to the ideology of the WEF), and apparently ones on capitalism, knowledge, and many other topics that fall under the general ‘anti-globalization-as-those-with-power-define-it camp.

I’m not sure I can go along with Mattelart for the whole ride, though. Matellart asserts that “the ideology of corporate globalism is indissolubly linked to the idea of worldwide communication” and I respectfully, hopefully (and naively?) disagree. He is right about U.S. military, aka development policy, and he is right about the power and megalomania of the TNCs, but I'd like to think that Benkler and Bennet and others are right, too...that networked publics still hold some power to resist.

On the other hand, daily activities such as reading a newspaper or watching the "news" rob me of that hopefulness. Some of those think tanks Mattelart was talking about, for example, plus their friends at the energy TNCs that fund them, have continued to successfully hold back meaningful action on global warming by the power of the press (also, chuckle, funded by the same or related TNCs, I'm looking at you, GE I mean NBC) to frame it as an ongoing "debate." That's just one example, really. There is also the fact that Tiger and the Salahi party crashers are rivaling Afghanistan in the press. I'm sure I could list more and better examples, but as I said, I prefer to be hopeful. When corporate interests attempt to steer political debate through campaign $$, there is change congress calling out our reps for bowing to those interests over the desires of their constituents. And globally, orgs like CARE and ECPAT are taking up the 'empowerment' mantel outlined by Dutta and Melkote. So that's good, right? ...Right?

Monday, December 7, 2009

EE a type of PD?

It seems that the articles on Entertainment Education and Open Source Public Diplomacy had quite a bit in common. Both focused on the typical approach of the West to use these tactics (EE and traditional Public Diplomacy) to "impose" its values or beliefs on another country or region. With EE, Dutta says that the West is using the technique to tell the 3rd World countries what they think is best for them, be it population control, or safe sex, or any number of other issues. In PD, it could be any kind of value or idea, from democracy to pro-Americanism, to consumerism (which could also be thought of as the West saying it knows best too).
Dutta indicates that EE is done for the same reasons PD is, to encourage people to act or think in a way that will benefit you. He believes that The West engages in EE for selfish reasons under the guise of altruism. It encourages population control and other programs to create free-markets in those countries which would open them to foreign investment. While I'm sure there are people who do think this way, I doubt that is the overall aim of people in USAID and other similar organizations. Although not always implemented in the most effective way, I believe most of the people are doing this work because they believe it will help people.
However many of these programs have not worked as they were supposed to and therefore could benefit from Dutta's suggestions, which closely mirror Open Source Diplomacy; engaging the population you wish to influence, acting on a peer-to-peer level, and encouraging activism within the community. It seems as though acting like other countries are our peers and we want to work with them, rather than our inferiors whom we must teach how to live in the right way, would go a long way toward solving some of the world's problems.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Comcast and NBC

Interesting graphic for the Comcast NBC merger via boingboing and Free Press

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Value-Added, But For Whom?

In "A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment Education," the authors observe that the role of the media as a societal influence gets a lot more play in communication theory than the role of entertainment, even though Western society is increasingly imcorporating entertainment into more and more activities in everyday life. (I can confirm that the Mall of American, by the way, is awesome.) I agree with the authors that underestimation of the influence of entertainment on individual and group behavior is a mistake. "Previous E-E research has mainly been conducted in developing countries and dealt with health topics," but I think there is definitely room for evaluation of the messages transmitted by entertainment content in America. I once read an account (I can't remember where) of an E-E project where a radio soap opera in an African country encouraged safe sex by having its characters make clear mention of their use of condoms every time they engaged in the behaviors that soap operas are apparently characterized by no matter where you live. This method of banging audiencs over the head with a message every time someone had sex allegedly made a big impression. In public education programs in Third World countries, that is called E-E, but in the U.S. it would be called preachiness. Would that sort of obvious messaging be tolerated on an American TV show like Gossip Girl or Sex and the City? I don't think so. This disparity highlights a double standard: outsiders can tell LDC populations what to do because it is for their own good, but in the U.S. we expect people to know how to behave responsibly and then inundate them with a world that is consequence free.

Moving on to another reading: According to Mohan Jyoti Dutta in "Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique," developers of E-E programs for Third World countries get to "identify" the problems facing their target audience and choose the practices to encourage based on their knowledge of their target audience's culture and way of life, with limited feedback mechanisms in place to find out what the target audience thinks about the problems being addressed and the solutions being suggested. Populations bearing the brunt of structural violence-- a lack of access to proper health care, for example, or just plain poverty-- have only so much power to make the choices or obtain the resources that will benefit their quality of life. Encouraging activism through entertainment, says Dutta, is a possible way to influence change in the system that impacts people's choices. American and transnational organizations have thought that they can accurately judge the needs of Third World populations and dictate proper behavior, but I agree with Dutta that this paternalistic attitude does little to free people on the ground from their sense of powerlessness to improve their ability to make positive choices to improve their life.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Entertainment Education

Dutta's article criticizes Entertainment Education campaigns and analyses USAID objectives. She claims that the values and ideologies driving a campaign are perhaps most evident in the objectives of the campaign. Dutta writes, “the goals of EE programs then are located within the broader goals of USAID to create strategically secure environments and to exploit subaltern spaces to secure profits for the transnational hegemony.” She writes that in essence, the goal of EE programs serve the tools of globalization and transnational capitalism that impose a set of core values on other parts of the world and that open up the doors of countries from starvation and poverty to commercial products of the free market economy. Dutta argues that EE programs have become the tools for colonialism of a different kind that focuses on creating markets for multinationals. Which correlates to what Singhal asks in his article, “why are 'doing well' (commercially) and 'doing good' (socially) perceived as being at odds with each other?” If USAID goals are to open up markets to transnational corporations, are their commercial interests are in some ways at odds with their EE goals?

I was hoping Dutta's article would discuss more specific campaigns and gone more in depth with some analyses. She does mention some movements briefly and writes in a footnote that many grassroots movements use forms of entertainment such as folk art forms, streets plays, etc. She quotes some subaltern voices which articulate the need for food in many countries. Singhal gives examples of EE campaigns and what they are fighting. For example, the Karate Kids has been shown to combat the prostitution of street children in dozens of nations. Soul City in South Africa spend many months conducting extensive formative research to develop one annual campaign cycle. One of the problems of EE interventions in places like the US is what the authors call 'media-saturated societies.' This made me think about last week's readings, specifically Nye when he discussed the 'paradox of plenty' and how there is a scarcity of attention because of this. I think the 'scarcity of attention' is an issue even in societies where people are not overrun by the media and information from many directions. Trying to find the right kind of EE for a specific community is quite difficult and obtaining and keeping their attention is just as difficult. The goal of EE is behavioral and social change, and this is even harder than just acquiring people's attention. I'd be interested to read some research in this area. What are the best EE practices to obtain behavioral change? Is it necessary in this process to separate the commercial and social goals then? Singhal notes that entertainment-education interventions face a variety of challenges and resistances from the start of the message production process, to the message environment, and even during message reception. “Theoretically based research on entertainment-education should pay greater attention to these various resistances, and identify ways to overcome them.” Dutta recommends that scholars of health communication start looking outside the traditional EE agenda and defining alternative models of participatory communication. "Scholars need to identify problems based on community dialogue, fostering it with the elite classes to facilitate structural changes and working with subaltern classes to identify strategies for getting their voices heard." Dutta's recommendations are common sense in some ways, but they are not easily executed because the subaltern voices the ones that are easily ignored.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Birth Control Ends Hunger in 'Subaltern' Community

Dutta provides us with a sharp critique of the ideologies and values that drive entertainment education campaigns, specifically those carried out under USAID funding. He reminds us that those values are not difficult to divine, since they can be found within the mission of USAID itself, which is essentially to create a strategically secure position for the U.S. through humanitarian and developmental projects. As can be expected, Dutta shows that USAID repeatedly and unabashedly makes the post-cold-war rhetorical link between market economies and political freedom: “It [successful development abroad] produces allies—countries that share U.S. commitments to economic openness, political freedom, and rule of law.” (qtd by Dutta from 2000 USAID doc). Dutta also shows the way that USAID has come to its participatory approach towards development programming with the primary ‘problem’ already determined: population control and family planning, as opposed to poverty and lack of access to resources.

While Dutta clearly establishes the covert motivations of E-E campaigns that belie their overt focus on population control methods as opposed to, say, improving subaltern access to clean drinking water, access to health care, or access to food, I wished Dutta could have focused more on establishing how E-E programs carried out by organizations like USAID become the “machinery for oppression of the poor in the Third World by pushing transnational capitalism and, thus, obliterating domestic forms of production that support the subaltern classes” (Dutta, 2006: 224). How? I agree that transnational capitalism has the potential to increase the distance between the rich and the poor (as it has in the U.S. and many other countries) or to put ‘domestic forms of production’ out of business, but I think a few examples would have strengthened the piece. He provides perfect examples for his ideological critique, but I would have like to read more about the concrete results of those ideological efforts (maybe some sweat shops or dangerous coal mines?). Granted, the paper does not really claim to address those issues.

Dutta could perform the same subaltern critique of the World Bank and IMF and their constant touting of their ‘engagement with civil society.’ I started looking at this issue for another class called Global Civil Society (offered in the summer online, I believe) and it was really interesting to delve into the Fund and the Bank’s own accounts of their “engagement with civil society” and the extent to which they account for “country ownership” in their loan projects.

Just as Dutta says that “forms of participation applied in E-E campaigns particularly refer to participation as a tactical tool that is used to diffuse the already preconfigured problem”, Ngaire Woods, author of The Globalizers: The IMF, the World Bank, and Their Borrowers (2006) offers a similar critique to Dutta’s:

“…for the Bank and the Fund, ownership [country ownership/agency in loan agreements] does not…mean ownership as you or I might see it. They applied a different test: Does the country understand the policy we are pressing on them? And have we explained it to a wide section of the society? That is a very different approach [that] at its weakest just looks like amplified public relations and at its strongest, involves an attempt to engineer societies so that they respond better to the agenda pursued by the Fund and the Bank” (Woods interview, 2006).

To give you an idea of the great language I found in World Bank/IMF descriptions of their “engagement” with local populations and civil society, check out The World Bank’s Inspection Panel brochures and online literature, which are meant to show how borrowers are given a voice and agency in loan projects. According to the World Bank itself, “the primary purpose of the Inspection Panel is to address the concerns of the people who may be affected by Bank projects and to ensure that the Bank adheres to its operational policies and procedures .” The brochure assures those with complaints that “if you and at least one of other member of your community believe that you are suffering, or may suffer, harm caused by a World Bank-funded project, that the World Bank may have violated its operational policies or procedures, and that this violation is causing the harm, you may submit a Request for Inspection…” (The World Bank Inspection Panel”, emphasis my own).

This wording makes it clear that all three conditions are needed for a funded project to be eligible for review, which means the Inspection Panel will only investigate a project if World Bank operational policy appears to have been violated or could be violated in the course of a project. There is, as of yet, no recourse for borrower country populations and communities if harm is being done them as a result of a World Bank operational policy.

It’s kind of laughable, really. With that said, I have to also say that the Bank has made clear efforts to be more inclusive of civil society actors and local people when determining their CAS and PRS, as outlined in “World Bank - Civil Society Engagement: Review of Fiscal Years 2007 to 2009”, but I'd really like to see someone outside of the World Bank provide this sort of assessment. They are are always assessing themselves, and saying yep,. we did a great job with this participatory approach, but what in the world is supposed to make that valid? Just sayin....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Winning Hearts and Minds

In his article, Monroe Price quotes a foreign policy specialist, Metzl who believes that there is “a need to reach beyond governments and touch hearts and minds more directly.” Metzl called for a change in emphasis at the State Department for public persuasion rather than a system based on country contacts. The key element was to mesh public diplomacy with national interest decisions, “and to have public diplomacy involved early in policy making as well as in critical part of the execution of policy.” This is similar to what Nye argues in his article about Public Diplomacy and Soft Power. Nye states that the current struggle against transnational terrorism is “a struggle over winning hearts and minds,” and the current over reliance on hard power alone is not the path to success. He argues that “public diplomacy is an important tool in the arsenal of smart power, but smart public diplomacy requires an understanding of the role of credibility, self-criticism and the role of civil society in generating soft power.” Both authors agree that public diplomacy and soft power need to be incorporated into the policy making process and execution. The State Department cannot rely on contacts nor can we solely rely on hard power, especially if we want to win the hearts and minds of people. Perhaps the authors are a bit idealistic in their views, but it makes sense to use soft power to not only persuade people in other countries to believe in our policies and choices, but to really have them see and understand the issues. Trying to pull people to our side is not easy, as we know, but having good public diplomacy that can win them over, not just try to push them over, can really help. But, it is not just talk, as the authors mention, there must be action. Providing people in developing countries with aid helps boost Americas image, for example. More often than not, there is simply talk by diplomats and politicians and not enough dialogue or action. As Nye contends “effective public diplomacy is a two-way street that involves listening and talking.” Exchanges are often more effective than broadcasting.

Nye argues that the soft power of a country rests primarily on 3 resources: its culture, its political values, and its foreign policies. People started to pay more attention to soft power after September 11th. It was always important, but with the revolution of information technologies, it became more important. Nye states that only after the attacks did people start to realize the importance of investing in soft power. Now that there is so much information that we can access quite easily, there is what Nye calls “a paradox of plenty.” Plenty of information leads to scarcity of attention. When people are overwhelmed with the volume of information, it is hard to know what to focus on and attention rather than information becomes the scarce resource. Politics have become a contest of competitive credibility. How can governments better obtain and retain public attention and, at the same time, win the hearts and minds of people all over the world? Well, they first can take into consideration Price's recommendation, that “governments must recognize and internalize this communication transformation.” Taking the advantage of communication technologies is important and in some ways the U.S. has begun to do that. But, as Nye argues, “the effectiveness of public diplomacy is measured by minds changes, not dollars spent on slick production packages.” The fancy, expensive packages that Nye talks about may not be changing people's minds. But, it is also hard to measure this, as we discussed in class. How do we know which 'marketing' programs or packages are working? How do we measure the successes of soft power?

It find it interesting that only after wars or attacks on the U.S. and on the declining image of the U.S. does the government pay more attention to these issues. For example, the Peace Corps was started after the war by JFK to alleviate the negative feelings people had about the U.S. This kind of 'grassroots diplomacy,' as some call it, has been effective as have been study abroad programs for foreign students who come here as well as for those Americans who go abroad. Why not continually support this kinds of efforts, not just after crises?

I also thought Price's discussion on copyright is interesting because he feels that the globalized laws that the Berne Convention established were never adequately adjusted to new technologies or to the changes that arise from a global spread of information and media. Neil Netanel argues that “the international copyright laws have effectively become the arbiters of domestic copyright law.” In his view, intellectual property serves fundamentally to underwrite a domestic culture. The issue, Price says, is not whether Netanel is right or wrong, but rather the intricate relationship between one country's foreign policy towards another's copyright laws and the potential effect on political systems. It is true what Price argues, that an overly rigorous copyright enforcement policy can hamper efforts in developing countries to nourish 'free and independent media' and halt the “spread of parasitic start-ups.” “If there is a foreign policy need for plural media—during a period in which multiple voices are desirable—then raising the cost of entry is counterproductive.” It seems that the higher costs of entry would hinder the emergence of new entrants and cause the lack of plurality. International laws cannot and do not seem to effectively regulate or arbitrate in domestic settings. Nor do I think they should have sole say because each country, culture and region is different. Some governments refuse to take take intellectual property and copyright laws into consideration, but in the boundary-less world we live in now, where ideas and information flow so freely, there is a need for some kind of international laws. Coming up with the laws and regulations is difficult enough, but adequately implementing them would be even harder.

War on Terror vs. Cold War Public Diplomacy

I think Joseph Nye was pretty spot on in his descriptions of public diplomacy (well from what I know about the subject) and in particular his critiques of past and present uses of public diplomacy in the US. One of his main arguments on public diplomacy is that its messages won't work if they contradict policies and practices in place by the government. I think this has been the major failing of US public diplomacy, at least since the cold war, and definitely since 9/11.
While we engaged in two wars which were supposed to be promoting democracy and freedom around the world, and needed the support of the global community to do, politicians and others often used tactics that went against those ideals. While saying we were working to liberate Afghanistan and Iraq from the tyrannies of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, prisoners we took were tortured for information (which doesn't really work anyway, unless you're Jack Bauer), held for indefinite amounts of time without being charged or having access to lawyers, and many civilians suffered immensely from the invasions (yes they have received benefits too, but some of the casualties and suffering probably could have been avoided). In the eyes of much of the world this directly contradicted our ideals of freedom and democracy, which has turned many countries off from helping us.
Nye also discusses how language which can be used to stir up domestic support may actually diminish international support. While many countries may not approve of the actions of the countries of "axis of evil" many are also not eager to lump "disparate diplomatic situations under a moralistic label" as Nye says. So while they may be interested in supporting the efforts of the US against those regimes, they don't like the language used to describe them and therefore ultimately do not participate in those campaigns with the US. Nye states that the "war on terrorism" is a similar example as it implies a "war of indefinite duration" (did we ever win that "war on drugs"?) and countries were also concerned about its use to justify things like holding prisoners at Guantanamo.
The US clearly wanted to promote their message and win the "hearts and minds" of the people of the world, but unfortunately went about it in a way that turned off many people. Perhaps the American image would have been improved if we attempted more "soft power" approaches before invading Afghanistan and Iraq or if we had incorporated those approaches from the start of the wars.
While Nye indicates the public diplomacy of the cold war was more successful than recent efforts, in some ways I'm not sure why. When the west was fighting communism and the USSR it seems that many of the same tactics were used. There was some extreme propaganda touting the communists as evil (check out the movie "The Red Menace" among some of the other anti-communist films of the era) and an unpopular war to stop its spread. So why is cold war public diplomacy described as being so much more effective than today's efforts? I would theorize that it could be because the enemy being labeled was another country specifically (the USSR) rather than a group of people (or a small section of extremists within a group of people) and that the cold war began right after the west had finished fighting Nazism and fascism in World War II providing a wide base of pre-existing public support. That's only a basic theory, but I'd be interested in what other people think of this dichotomy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Al Jazeera: Ticking off authority figures since 1996

Gilboa and Powers' chapter "The Public Diplomacy of Al Jazeera" provides a helpful overview of the history of the network and insight into the controversies surrounding its "internal" and "external" roles. On the one hand, Al Jazeera has attracted a lot of flak for providing a forum for political and cultural dissent and the discussion of topics considered taboo in the Arab world. On the other hand, since 9/11 the network has been accused by formerly quiet international bystanders such as the U.S. for fanning the flames of anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world.

Gilboa and Powers' example of “political fatwas” issued by Saudi Arabian clerics against Al Jazeera highlight the contrast between the idea of a free press that Al Jazeera represents to its target audience and the pressure for conformity and maintenance of the status quo espoused by political and religious leaders in the region. It is interesting that the Arab governments mentioned in the chapter would sever ties with Qatar, suggesting that despite the network’s self-identification as independent, these regimes consider the family that holds the company’s purse strings either responsible for or at least somewhat in control of the network's message. Even in their response to Al Jazeera's expression of journalistic freedom, these authoritarian antiques are constrained by the old paradigm of state-controlled media and their own rusty rhetoric. (Al Jazeera "controlled by Zionists"? Please.) Of course, Al Jazeera has received criticism both domestically and from other Arab states for not putting the spotlight on issues facing Qatar itself, lending a hollow ring to its claims of independence. Nevertheless, it has definitely managed to deliver hefty helpings of open discourse and dissent on issues relevant to the international Arab and Muslim community. In a political environment that suppresses the free press and demands loyalty to the ruling regime, this is an accomplishment, too. The Gallup poll and Zogbi/Telhami poll cited in the chapter both indicate that Al Jazeera is in a powerful position due its reputation as a trustworthy source for news, and is the first place viewers in the region go to get their information.

In contrast to the responses of Arab states over controversial coverage and content, the U.S. has treated Al Jazeera as an influential media outlet rather than an appendage of Qatar. From what I understand, the U.S. actually has good diplomatic relations with Qatar, so perhaps there is dialogue about the network's coverage going on behind the scenes. I think that the most likely explanation for the U.S.'s choice to address its complaints to Al Jazeera and not Qatar, however, is that Al Jazeera both presents itself to the world and is accepted by its audiences as a regional representative on the international stage (72). The network sets the parameters for internal discourse, and has branding power over the actors and issues included in that discourse. The chapter is full of quotes and examples of the influence Al Jazeera has over public opinion-- and not just in the Arab or Muslim world, but among other people dissatisfied with "Western" media coverage as well. It is because of this serious framing power that the U.S., mired in two wars in Muslim countries and a global effort against jihadi terrorism, takes such an interest in the message the network conveys. Gilboa and Powers say that the criticism of Al Jazeera, “especially from external sources,” only serves to make the outlet more popular among Arab audiences (62). If that's the case, then it's no wonder that Al Jazeera is a go-to source for news from Cairo to Karachi and beyond.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

*mental groan*

So many points from the Hanson chapter we read this week resonated with me after conversations I have had with Israeli government officials and staff about the media’s influence over the public image of the country.

For example, I recently interviewed Danny Seaman, Director of the Government Press Office (GPO) in Israel, for a professional profiling assignment for another class. The GPO is the liaison between the government and foreign journalists based in Israel, providing press accreditation and coordinating interviews and access to restricted areas; and it is also the official conduit of information from the Israeli government to the general press, both domestic and international.

Danny’s account of the media firestorm surrounding the al-Dura case in 2000 was representative of the challenges facing governments in keeping up with the technological advances and resultant trends in reporting, government response and audience behavior that Hanson talks about:

“With instantaneous media coverage, the media wants a government opinion before government officials have had any time to formulate an official position, let alone a response.” -- David Gergen at a conference on “Virtual Diplomacy” (Hanson, 99).

On September 30, 2000, the TV news station France 2 ran a 55 second clip portraying the shooting and death of 12-year old Mohammed
al-Dura during a firefight between soldiers and Palestinian gumen near the Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. France 2 promptly distributed the footage to media outlets around the world, free of charge. While most outlets made it clear that the footage was taken during the crossfire, others adopted the perspective of the France 2 broadcast: "Here Jamal and his son Mohammed are the targets of gunshots that have come from the Israeli position.... A new burst of gunfire, Mohammed is dead and his father seriously wounded." Three days later, France 2's cameraman gave a sworn statement to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights that the child was shot "intentionally and in cold blood" by the Israeli forces.

According to Danny, the information coming into his office about the incident immediately after it happened was not conclusive and he urged for patience before responding to the backlash from the clip. Meanwhile, after a hurried preliminary investigation, the army issued a statement taking responsibility for the shooting of Mohammed and his father-- despite the protests of the commander of the soldiers who participated in the firefight. The hope was, Danny says, that by taking responsibility and apologizing for a tragic mistake that may or may not have happened, the issue would lose steam in the press.

“Images and messages are refracted through a national and cultural lens. A message . . . may well make its way to a foreign audience and produce unintended consequences. A single word, whether a slip of the tongue or not, can enrage a foreign audience and complicate future policy with unintended effects”(100).

Stamps coined with the image of Mohammed and his father, streets and parks in Arab countries named after Al-Dura the Martyr-- this was just some of the backlash after the media's coverage of the shooting. There were synagogue burnings in France. Osama Bin Laden and other members of Al Qaeda mentioned the "martyr's death" of the child as one more reason to fight the U.S. and Israel in their video tapes. Most reporters cite Ariel Sharon's visit to al-Aqsa mosque on September 28, 2000 as the flashpoint that started the second intifada-- but Danny Seaman says that it was the
al-Dura story two days later that really set the region on fire. Danny's observation about the violent response to the story is the same as that of many people familiar with Jewish history: the coverage of the al-Dura case fed into a long-standing myth of Jewish lust for the blood or flesh of non-Jewish children, the blood libel. This boogeyman legend has been responsible for attacks against Jews since at least 38 CE, and it is still used in anti-Jewish propaganda today.

“[T]he national and international agendas of nations are increasingly being set not by some grand government plan but by the media: policymakers have to spend a good share of their time and energy dealing with whatever crises or pseudocrises have been identified by the media that particular day”(101-102).

Charles Enderlin, France 2's Jerusalem-based Middle East bureau chief, admitted in interviews that the moment of the actual shooting of the al-Duras is not in the footage. He also explained his decision to air 55 seconds from 20 minutes of video was because it was illegal in France to show someone's "death throes" on television.

France 2's news director during the
al-Dura incident resigned in 2004 after being found guilty of a breach of journalistic ethics by the French broadcast authority in a separate case. His replacement agreed to screen the original raw footage from the shooting for independent journalists Luc Rosenzweig (editor of Le Monde), Denis Jeambar, and Daniel Leconte in 2005. After seeing the full footage, they said that nothing they saw justified assertions that it was Israeli fire that hit the al-Duras or that Mohammed was even dead at the end of the footage (the voiceover in the clip, if you recall, said he was). A full-fledged investigation by the IDF a few years prior had already concluded that is was physically improbable that it was Israeli fire and not Palestinian fire that had hit the al-Duras, based on the positions of the combatants vis-a-vis the place where Mohammed and his father were crouched in hiding. Nevertheless, it was only when outside support from members of the media began to surge forth that Israel had any chance of debunking what had happened... and still the government said nothing. They thought it was better to leave the issue alone rather than bring up a sore subject.

Not content to say that Israel was not responsible for Mohammed's death, some parties claim that the entire scene that was filmed was staged by Palestinians out to blacken Israel's image. No autopsy was performed on Mohammed,
the cameraman yelled in Arabic "the boy is dead" before the shots were fired, the funeral was reported as taking place at night but the footage supposedly shows a daytime scene, and so on. (To its credit, in my opinion, the Israeli military does not debate the authenticity of the footage. The people that say the whole thing is a fake do bring evidence, but I think it would be the easy way out for the IDF to jump on the bandwagon if they really don't agree that the event was staged.) In any case, in 2008 the Court of Appeals in Paris ruled that Philippe Karsenty, a media analyst and founder of the media watchdog group Media Ratings, "was within his rights to call the France 2 report a 'hoax,' overturning a 2006 decision that found him guilty of defaming the network and its Mideast correspondent, Charles Enderlin."

Who shot Mohammed
al-Dura? Did he really die? I don't know. This blog post is NOT a comprehensive overview of the proofs brought by each side, but suffice it to say you have have basically read three versions of "the truth." Atlantic writer James Fallows put it best in his article on what has become "the Pietà of the Arab world": "with the Internet and TV, each culture now has a more elaborate apparatus for 'proving,' dramatizing, and disseminating its particular truth."

Additional Sources:

Who Shot Mohammed Al-Durrah? by James Fallows (I think this article does a REALLY good job of being objective, so if you are interested in this this story please check it out before commenting on the blog.)

BACKGROUNDER: Mohammed Al Dura; Anatomy of a French Media Scandal (Provides a timeline and the different accounts or explanations of the event that are still being debated nine years later.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_libel_against_Jews (Interesting if you want a sliver of understanding about why Jewish humor is so paranoid. You'd be paranoid too after a thousand years of this crap.)

Media vs. the Government

This week's readings really reminded me of my reporting days. When I was writing for a paper in Northern New York, I covered the Army post Fort Drum. While covering the Army was an interesting and rewarding experience, it could also be incredibly frustrating. Of course the Army, like any company or organization, wants the best press for itself possible, but as we know it also has its share of problems (also like any company or organization), some related to the current situations in the world and some endemic to the organization itself.
In the Hafez article the author mentioned the media putting a lot of (and perhaps too much) faith in government sources after 9/11. When reporting on the Army that's what I felt like I had to do. You have to go through their Public Affairs office to get pretty much any information or interviews with officials. While this is standard for many organizations, it seemed like there was an even bigger barrier between reporting on the Army and reporting on other organizations. They always seemed to have their guard up and I definitely could sense the spin being put on certain stories.
While I did want to lead instead of follow the news as Hafez mentions, I didn't feel I had the ability to make a change in policy or even really public perception through my work. It mostly felt like I was reacting to things that had already occurred. A more experienced reporter probably would have been able to get a jump on some of the stories and maybe "break" more news than I would have been able to. I love the idea of the media affecting change as Hafez says it should, but in my experience it is quite difficult to do that and especially to balance it with the impartial view a journalist is in theory supposed to take as wanting to change a policy or actions tends to have an opinion attached to it. I suppose my idealized view of the media (which I know doesn't really and may never actually exist) is one that shows people things that are happening in the world that they may not know about, gives them the facts and allows them to make their own decisions and take their own actions about it.

International Reporting and Conflict Media

Robin Brown sets out to explore two points in her article about communication and the war on terrorism. First, she explores why the presentation of international events has become so important and second, the ways in which the 'informational instrument' has been employed. She discusses the media and the choice of of the word 'war' after the attack of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. She cites political consultant Philip Gould as saying that 'a modern media environment, competence and good communications are inseparable: you cannot have one without the other.' She notes that professionalization implies a willingest to report 'both' sides of the story and less willingness for reporting to be shaped by the demands of the government. This is something we have discussed in class before, which is also raised the the article on International reporting. Mainly, how do we scrutinize, judge and rely on the media? How do we choose our sources and who do we trust? Can it ever be truly objective? In Brown's article, she focuses on the relationship between the media, politics and governments. She states that the developments of ICTs, for example, have encouraged the creation of groups that seek to influence decisions on international governance or to use them to advance their domestic political positions.

Democratic politicians live and die by the media and have come to develop elaborate mechanisms to secure and control media coverage.” In the US, it is evident that politicians and the government heavily use and rely media to advance their own interests. Clearly, President Obama has been using the medium extensively and some have argued that he is actually over exposed, but since he is a great orator, others believe he is able to subdue fears and win the minds of the public with his words. He is facing a troubled economy and two wars, thus the issues go beyond whether he appears on every news show or not. As Brown notes though, 'perception management' becomes an increasingly important instrument of political conflict through encouraging the involvement of new groups or attempting to win over hostile groups. This is also facilitated by the alternative media sources, such as the internet.

In the article on International Reporting, Kai Hafez notes that it remains unclear what impact alternative media, such as the internet is having on international reporting. His focus is not just on the US media system, but on others around the world that report on countries other than their own. He states that “journalists are responsible for elucidating information in the context in which it emerged, explaining the national and regional dimensions of the problem as well as how it connects with global issues.” However, later he mentions that the existing networks of correspondents are underdeveloped even in major Western media. The main problem the systems suffers from is, “the domestication of the world.” Reports coming from the US or from other countries about Israel, for example, are domesticated, so that the local viewers can relate to it or be interested enough to watch. This is often profit-driven as well.

It is interesting that in the Foreign News Study of the 29 media systems, more attention is paid on average to the Middle East than to North America. Also, “the notion that it is genuinely possible to construct a conception of foreign lands true to reality and characterized by positive, neutral or negative dimensions—has scarcely been reflected upon,” seems true. Cultural dimensions play a huge role in reporting on other lands. Objectivity is difficult since it seems almost impossible to extract personal, group interests, and/or corporate interests out of the equation, especially when reporting on a foreign land. This was the case post 9/11 when different national sentiments for Muslim countries were quite visible in their media systems.

The news, in general, is often negative. When reporting on the Middle East, for example, the news is strongly connected with military issues, criminality and other fields of conflict, while other realms of life remain 'invisible'. The case of German television reporting on Israel also exemplifies this. Over 50% of the news reporting was on Terror, violence, and international security. 77.9% in 2000 and 64.2% in 2002. This is obviously not good for promoting Israel's image in Germany.

In the 'trickling down' of political public relations in international news, the consumer is at the end of the chain. Hafez writes that “because of their distance from events, they have little prospect of recognizing misinformation.” It is true that as consumers we often look for various sources, but how do we know which is reliable, which is being skewed by corporate and government interests? Hafez does mention that the media content is distorted whenever international reporting more strongly reflects the national interests and cultural stereotypes of the reporting country. Most of the time, international reporting in media systems across the world are for a domestic audience. It is about the country, though the linkages with that country are often absent. “This makes it impossible to be sure of the quality of international reporting.” The media scholar and political scientist Hans Kleinstebuer advocates strengthening dialogic elements, that is including journalists and more voices from the civil societies of the states being reported on. However, unfortunately, globalization did not reduce conflict by the networking of civil society as some had hoped. Ammon argues that despite the radical claims, new communication technologies have not transformed world politics and media-state relations. At the end of the article, Hafez writes, “the dialogic international reporting as evoked by Hans Kleinsteuber? Not a chance.” Is international reporting and the global media system really not progressing into a more reliable, equitable and perhaps dialogical system?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Media and Conflict Management

It just so happens that I took a skills institute this weekend that explored how media can play a key role in conflict management/ conflict resolution, and it tied in amazingly well to this weeks readings, since they are essentially about reporting on violent conflict.

In the course, we looked at different ways to report on a conflict-- one approach being more "conflict-centered" and one more "peace/democracy-centered". The latter operates under the assumption of journalists as activists who play a key role in managing conflicts, and considering a lot of what we look at in this class as far as media content flows, that is certainly a valid assumption.

Kai Hafez repeats one piont we discussed in the conflict management class-- that media often follow rather than lead. 'Internatinoal' news stories are presented in light of national or in-country interests, at least in the perspective from which stories are told. One of Hafez's conclusions is that mass media is not globalized in the sense that international coverage leaves its national interests aside. Zuckerman supports this from a political economy angle when she points out that the amount of attention mainstream media devote to particular regions generally correlates with the GDP of the regions in question.

On top of all of this is what we examined in the skills institute from an "IPCR" perspective (peace and conflict resolution): war journalism versus peace journalism, and the tendency for mass media to take a conflict-centered angle on a story rather than a contextual, conflict-management role, which is a more interventionist view of journalism. It's interesting to think about this while at the same time reading about terrorist's groups who are using the media very carefully and consciously to put out a conflict-oriented, strategic message. Perhaps more than ever this calls into question the old way of reporting on conflict-- highlighting the drama, playing up adversarial positions, leaving out important historical details that give more context. In other words, often the way conflict is reported plays right into the narratives that are pushed by terrorist networks, doesn't it?

Even more complicating is the problem of patriotism in the of journalism, and complicity with the military-- Hafez points out how national interest tinges the news, but in war coverage sometimes journalists are caught in a place where they could be seen as "aiding and abetting the enemy" for attempting to report all sides of a conflict in a balanced way. (Kate Adie spends some time on this in "Observing Conflict" 2006)

I'm not sure how much water this problem holds, though, since a truly cm-oriented report would not be favoring one side or the other, but simply giving a bit more historical context, discussing how all groups (usually more than two, and usually more than military fovernment officials) are affected by an event, the history of those groups interactions, and all conciliatory efforts being made-- not just troop movements or threats from one official to another.

As you all know, I also think only publicly funded media can produce responsible, conflict-management-oriented, "democratic" journalism. I have a hard time seeing how attention to conflict management could be incorporated into Murdoch or GE's attention to ratings and the bottom line-- their concerns regarding conflict are only for those that could affect their holdings, and despite the fact that not every story coming out of their outlets will be slanted so obviously, but I'm sure editors have very strict guidelines about what they can and cannot cover, and about how they cover it. So, basically from this weekend, I still conclude that reforming corporate media is near impossible, and democratic/peace journalism is great, but probably irrelevant for anyone working in corporate media...

* Random criticism:
Kai Hafez mentions that "the consumer tends to lack direct experience when processing direct information about other nations and cultures" but that can be true of the editors and journalists themselves, especially as more and more foreign desks are eliminated and the news sources become a smaller and smaller pool. The people cutting/editing the news stories’ might have little knowledge of the history or culture of the region on which they are reporting.