Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Public Input in Media Regulation

While reading the Siochru and Girard chapter on media regulation I became interested in the different ways in which various governments allow public input into media regulations. This mainly applied to the societal regulations in terms of the public sphere and prohibitive content. I was impressed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's extensive use of public input on regulations. There are public hearings, notices for public submissions, regional consultations, round-table discussions and apparently even more. Of course we don't know how much the CRTTC actually uses the suggestions and opinions expressed by the public, but I've never heard of the FCC in the US so actively pursuing public opinion on media regulation. Typically it seems that the only input the FCC gets from the public is when they see something they don't like and complain about it (Janet Jackson at the Superbowl anyone?). However, in my mind at least the FCC is somewhat separated from the government and therefore hopefully able to take a middle-ground position between the government and the public.
Then of course there are other extremes of countries which have no independent regulating organizations and all of these decisions are controlled by the state. Siochru and Girard did mention in societal briefly discuss regions where communication that is believed to "subvert" the state or "offends state symbols" can be prosecuted (11). While not explained or mentioned, the recent election crisis in Iran comes to mind, with the harsh government crackdown on any media coverage (or communication) that criticized the state. Much of the justification for the crackdown was that outsiders were trying to subvert the government and needed to be censored.
(However, a police state like Iran likely is not the only place such censorship could occur. While in the United States we do have protection for freedom of the press, it is unlikely the government would allow a company or organization to air material that explicitly subverts the state, for example a call to violence against the federal government.)
With these two ends of the spectrum, I began to wonder, what roles should the public play in creating societal media regulations? In Canada there is extensive public involvement, in the USA moderate involvement, and in Iran none. While I do admire the Canadian system, it seems unfeasible in many areas. I'm not sure how well the public hearings, regional meetings, and round-tables would go in the US, especially after seeing what happened at the health care town hall debates of the summer. So what then? Is our system of making our objections to content we find offensive the best way for us to continue or will the those with more extreme views (usually the most vocal) be the only ones heard because they yell the loudest?
To be fair, I think that so far the FCC has done a good job of regulating content, by prohibiting things that are generally offensive to American society (nudity, some profanity) but protecting free speech by allowing others that push boundaries, but don't technically cross that line (shows like Family Guy and South Park for instance). My fear is that in the future certain groups will push for labeling more and more content as offensive and therefore slowly curtail the rights of free speech.
Assuming for the sake of argument that this is a valid fear how should more moderate groups and individuals counter this? Should we write to the FCC and tell them we think they're doing a good job or wait until other groups push for those stricter regulations and then express our own discontent? Is it a constant dialogue between the public and regulating agencies or a matter to be addressed only when we have something to object to? How do we make sure our voices are heard in content regulation so that the views of the general public are not overshadowed by louder more extreme groups? Is that even possible?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Murdoch, the poor and Global Governance

I hate to harp on some of the things I have mentioned before in my previous posts, but it is what interests me and it keeps coming up in all of our readings in one way or another. Mainly the power that corporations and nations with money exert on those people and nations with less power, money and influence. Even within our own country, the flow of information is at the hands of a few. It has been taken over by the big corporations, GE, Disney, and the News Corporation. The market-driven strategy, privatization of global communication and expectations of profitability is affecting the way in which information flows and, more importantly, what information is being dissiminated and shared with viewers, readers, and the public. Satellites and space communications have been bought by private investment groups, for example. The ownership of satellites and media conglomerates such as the News Corporation, have given the owners control over access, information flow, and content. Liberalization and privatization have not positively affected the poor. The market-based globalization has a down side. “A shift from public to private agenda is the increase in poverty amont the world's poorest, living in countries on the receiving end of neo-liberal reforms, which have yet to deliver for a majority of the world's population.”

The media corporations have a grasp on information and although some developing countries have benefited (India), others have been bought out by foreigners. Africa, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe have high degrees of foreign ownership of their national broadcast media. Case in point, Murdoch and the News Corporation. The quote by one of the senior staff officials where he mentions that from morning to night, the News Corporation is a part of our lives (on TV, news, books, entertainment, etc) is true and spells out just how much it infiltrates people's lives whether we consciously choose Murdoch's products or not. I don't think many people are aware of all that he owns, and only Fox News get the negative attention because of the conservative bias. In the end, he controls his media empire, and his view trickle down in some shape or form into the News. He has that power and his influence is far-reaching. Is it fair? I'm not sure, but I do believe that each network, news channels, and newspapers have their own biases, whether it be the boss' or the journalist's point of view. I don't think it's fair to have the wealthy control how the news is spun or have them control what developing countries watch, listen, etc.

The articles discuss Global Governance and infrastructure and it got me wondering how Global Governance is best managed, and how it can best be conducted. I think Castells purports an interesting, somewhat idealistic view. “Either to construct the global political system as an expression of power relationships without cultural mediation or else to develop a global public sphere around the global networks of communications, from which the public debate could inform the emergence of a new form of concensual global governance.” In this way, the ICTs and global networks could be completely inclusive, and hopefully all would have equal presence and participation. Alas, to think that this would work is idealistic, but we can hope that we are headed towards that direction. Although from the General Assembly at the UN last week, I'm not so sure...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Communication: Responsibility or Commodity?

One of the things that Hanson discusses in Chapter 3 different media systems across the globe (which we also learned about in earlier readings). Hanson quotes Dizard who said that in most of the world telecommunications systems were considered "a government responsibility, not a market commodity". Most countries had some form of nationalized or government monopolized telecommunications systems comprising, post, telegraph, and telephone services (PTT). However in the US the postal service was public and telegraph and telephone service was monopolized by AT&T until the 1980's. So the United States made the telecommunications sector a market commodity. We've seen this trend continued with some countries having nationalized news networks (BBC in the UK) and some having private networks only (obviously the US).
So what is communication? Does a government have a responsibility to provide an infrastructure of postal service, (previously) telegraph and telephone lines/service, and now even television and internet? Or should it all be bought and sold on the free market?
In the case of the US the overall postal service is government run (USPS), but it does have shipping competition from UPS, FedEx and other companies (mainly just for packages and special types of mail). In essence we have a mixed socialized and privatized postal system. In a country that seems so opposed to socialization (as seen in the recent health care debate) why have we allowed our postal service to remain government run? Surely the free market would create a more efficient system (who doesn't hate waiting at the post office?) with more competitive prices (44 cents to mail a letter 3,000 miles from New York to California? Outrageous!).
Now I haven't researched the post office history (I guess I'll have to visit that museum at the Smithsonian...), but it could be that the USPS remains because that's just the way it's always been and we're too lazy to change it. Or maybe, on some level we do believe that communication is a government responsibility (and maybe even a public right?) and not just a free market commodity. National communications is essential to the functioning of our modern society, without it pretty much nothing we have today would be possible.
Now I'm not saying that every communication system should be government run, maybe it would be better maybe not (is there really that much of a difference and need for so many telephone companies or internet providers?). Of course there are many concerns about state-run communications, such as censorship of the internet in China, which I'm against. However as I've said before I'm not a fan of huge transnational conglomerate corporations running communications either. There's a risk of censorship and bias there as well, take the recent case of certain books, already purchased, being removed from customers' Kindle devices by Amazon. While the government should in theory have the best interests of the people in mind, it often values its own interests more. Corporations aren't even ideally supposed to have the best interest of the consumer in mind, their goal is to maximize profits, so how can we trust them to give us the best technology/prices/service/information possible either? (Although I do acknowledge in theory they should keep customers happy to keep them, but how often do we hear of consumers getting screwed over by big companies?)
I don't have the answers to this debate. I'm not sure which, if either, of the systems would work better. Maybe everything should be like PBS with some government backing and public contributions (although that's unlikely to succeed). The central question seems to remain; is communication a responsibility of the government or a market commodity?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hi my name is Rachel and I believe in cultural imperialism.

According to Sinclair, one of the fallacies of cultural imperialism is that the power of free will is not given any credit. He mocks the specter of the pernicious influence of American culture in LDCs. He also points out that people's identities are not one dimensional but exist on multiple, dynamic levels, allowing them to identify with different cultures or facets of the world around them without abandoning the precious "native" culture that the dependency theorists and cultural imperialists are so worried about (I'm channeling his disdain here, not my own). Whether one thinks that globalization is a phenomenon induced with intent or a naturally occurring postmodern process, the resulting dispersion of populations allows for free flows of culture all across the world. Sinclair says that this in turn gives people the chance to "maintain cultural identifications brought from outside that nation . . . no longer obliged to assimilate themselves to a national culture."

I do agree with Sinclair's demand that people take responsibility for themselves, taking the time to probe their personal values and beliefs and cultivate a dynamic identity that rings true to them. I bring the story below, however, as a purely relative example of how the critics of cultural imperialism underestimate the appeal of a culture of entertainment:

When I got married and moved to Israel two years ago, I never thought to buy a TV. The few shows I watched with any regularity could be found on the Internet, and the same went for movies. Plus, the majority of the channels would have been Israeli programming unless I paid for cable. A lot of talk shows, variety shows, and knock offs of reality shows like Survivor and American Idol. Not interested. I liked shows with stories, plots that I could escape into and turn my overactive brain off for all at the same time.

Over the course of those two years, I experienced a strange dissonance between the values and worldview of the people around me in Jerusalem and the values and worldview expressed in what I was watching on my computer. I found myself disturbed by the gratuitous sex, caustic language, glorification of the wealthy and general mindlessness in a lot of American entertainment, particularly when I thought about my younger teenage brothers being exposed to this smut fest (oldest siblings out there know what I am talking about). But who cares, right? It's just entertainment. It doesn't affect you, it's just fun.

Coming from a religious Jewish community in the U.S., there were certain customs and values that were daily givens in my life but never made me feel less a part of the general cultural milieu. So I only wear skirts and shirts with sleeves in mixed company, and started covering my hair as well after I got married. Those were just "ethnic" things, the uniform, and my faith was an internal thing and no one else's business. Being Jewish had no impact on the music I listened to, the movies I watched, my dating habits, or anything else I did for fun. American culture was my parents' culture, my friends' culture, and my culture. In my mind, being a modern Orthodox Jewish American did not get in the way of anything but my love of tank tops, and that was liveable.

Once I was in Israel, however, the space between my external expression and spiritual beliefs-- my mind, my intellectual identity-- became a cultural battleground. I was no longer being entertained by what I watched or did for fun. Instead, I was constantly evaluating, parsing, wondering if I shop or talk or conduct my marriage the way I do based on the influence of a culture that demands pleasure, encourages consumption, and puts the beautiful (who is beautiful?) on a pedestal as if beauty is some sort of accomplishment. These were not the values in the Jewish community around me; there was a congruence between their spiritual beliefs and day-to-day culture that seemed to endow them with a sense of peace and positivity.

Don't get me wrong: I am not saying that there is something inherently American about materialistic or hedonistic values, or that Jews or Israelis are a bunch of holy rollers, or that my little rant above did not refer to characteristics that lie at the base of human nature regardless of a person's background, religion, whatever. What I am saying is that mainstream international entertainment, the basis of which is American entertainment, is promoting a worldview by presenting it to audiences as an innocuous, fun given, a given that I myself only began to question when immersed in a society that encourages a different attitude towards love, life, and self.

If there had been faster or more omnipresent access to American entertainment in my apartment, maybe I would have taken in enough to subdue any discomfort I was experiencing from the dissonance, numbing myself with fun. I still watch TV and movies, but I do try to pick through my options, a call to conscientiousness that sometimes annoys me. After all, I still just want to be entertained. We all need a break once in a while. But I am trying to steer clear of entertainment that is not in tune with my values-- if I don't, I know Sinclair will say I have no one to blame but myself.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Globalization and the Digital Divide

Hanson provides historical background on how ICTs have helped globalization and made it easier, faster to trade, perform financial transactions and share information. How is globalization good and bad? She gives examples on both sides of the coin. Sometimes it is beneficial to have these technologies that help globalization, but sometimes it can deter nations, especially developing nations. One issue that she brings up that I discussed on last week's blog was one of access. “Unequal acess creates new patterns of exclusion and inclusion,” she writes. From her discussion about the distribution of wealth and the digital divide, it is clear that those who do not have access to ICTs or cannot afford them or do not know how to use them are at a disadvantage. New ICTs are one of the driving forces behind the globalization and create new ways to interact in the economic realm. Increasingly, developing nations are left behind. The advancement of ICTs and globalization have aided the West's economy, for example, by outsourcing production where cheap labor exists, but as we have read, those countries that are at the bottom are not getting a slice of the pie or not a big enough slice as they need. Hanson mentions Wal-Mart as an example of a company that uses cheap labor from developing countries. Wal-Mart negotiates heavily with other countries' companies to obtain the lowest prices, to sell for low prices, but at what costs? These types of situations also have pros and cons. Some argue that the US loses jobs when US companies outsource. At the same time, the companies often argue that they are providing jobs where they are needed most, developing countries. Growing up on the border town of El Paso,TX and Juarez, Mexico, I became aware of the maquiladoras (factories) early on in my life. Mostly young women are hired by Western companies who have set up shop in Juarez. The wages are about $5 a day there, which are very low even for the cost of living there, at the same time, these girls, women, and men have very few other choices of attaining income. The business practices and ethics are questionable in many of these situations. Companies make business choices that usually revolve around their own interests and, of course, money. Social and economic development of the countries they infiltrate rarely make the agenda or if they do, it is not high on their priority list.

It seems that new ICTs contribute to the digital divide and have not been beneficial to developing nations. As mentioned, it is an issue of access and resources. They cannot afford them or they are not educated and have no idea how to best utilize them. There have been cases were ICTs are being used to try to ensure that these nations can progress and have some economic growth, as the case in India that Hanson mentions. Due to various issues, these have not been as succesful as we would hope. I find these cases very interesting because as we have discussed many countries, like Burma and Iran, are using the internet for social change and to share information globally. What is pertinent and what came to mind as I read the chapters is how globalization, ICTs, new media can be used to socially and economically develop nations who have high poverty rates, who have high HIV/AIDs rates, etc. There have been cases of organizations using cell phones to disseminate health, and other information in developing nations, but these have to be evaluation to see if they are worth the time, money and effort. These cases are new and from the readings for this and another class, it seems that there are many problems when trying to implement technological programs into communities and populations who are not accustomed to these sorts of innovations. There have been failures due to culture, exposure, education of the developing nation, but these failures will serve as lessons for the future.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Nationalism and ICTs. Good or Bad?

Castells writes about the Global Civil Society and how the media plays a role in creating a global society. With the emergence of new media such as twitter and facebook, the notion of a global civil society will become crucial to governments and communities at large. The case in Burma were public opinion was exposed on facebook, blogs and videos is a good example. The question to consider is one of access. The people who have access to internet and can post a blog or have access to a video camera and use youtube to share is something we must keep in mind. Waisbord pointedly mentions that we can't ignore the inequalities in cultural production and consumption. Karim states that the primary barriers seem to be accesibility to the servies and subscription costs. Karim also cites Newman that although there are diasporic communities, that does not mean that a majority of the group has access to them or that they are interested in using them. People living in rural villages in the developing countries often do not have access to internet, and usually depend on one source of information, usually the radio, as Waisborn mentions. Also, Karim reiterates what we read last week, that information usually flows from North to South, usually reinforcing northern views. What Latin Americans see on television that comes from the this North-South, ie, from the US to them, is different than from what they watch from Latin America, even from Univision and Telemundo, since these adhere to the Latin Ameican news values.

All three articles had one thing in common, they spoke about the power of the media and how, just like nationalism, it can be a good or bad thing. Waisbord says that nationalism is an elastic concept and that the media serves to nurture and perpetuate cultural identities and outline boundaries between in-groups and out-groups rather than their crystallization of cultural sovereignty. Karim gives us some examples of this in his article pertaining to Spanish-speaking Latinos in the US who watch Univision or Telemundo, for example. Latinos and all other immigrants, migrants, and nomadic peoples have television, radio, newspapers that make them feel at home, but also perhaps prevent them from assimiliating into the new place. Groups of people who travel to one area from a community feel at home by watching shows in their language, about their culture. The media helps create linkages. Nationalism can be reinforced and spread by using media outlets. Having this 'new cultural formation' is also due to the lack of spatial or literacy obstacles of the media.

Assimilation perhaps does not happen as quickly or at all due to ICTs and the media, but I think what Karim declares, that the diaspora is a “coexistence of multiplicity of cultural cartographies supported by the vibrant bodies of literature as well as other intellectual and artistic forms” is something positive that researchers need to think about in IC.

IC and the use of ICTs can be a two-way street in the sense that those in power can dissiminate information and demand control, and spread nationalism, but individual citizens can use these tools and new media to respond and make their views heard across continents. However, problems arise when governments and those in power wish to control, for example, the internet. Again, it is an issue of access and accesibility. In the US, our president has said that the internet should be free and open. However, this has not necessarily been the case in China, N. Korea and other nations. There are dangers from information sharing and also from the internet itself. We mentioned cyberattacks in class a couple of weeks ago. We are starting to rely more and more on the internet and new information-sharing technologies (how many people have an iphone or blacberry, for example.) An interruption or destruction would cause mayhem. Businesses, markets and individuals rely on the technologies, on television and other news sources for information, communication, and education, It would be similar to the Y2K scare, but it became a reality, there would be many unable to perform their jobs, for example.

I do believe those without these technologies would benefit from them if they were able to obtain and use them properly. People in rural African villages who only listen to the radio, if they own one, would be able to hear about the presidential candidates, other than relying simply from one source or from word of mouth. At the same time, if there was electricity available and we gave all of them televisions and computers and taught them how to use the internet, how would this change their society and ours? Would it all be used for good? Maybe, maybe not. (I have the movie 'The Gods Must be Crazy' in mind).

Analysis Question 1

The prevalent political and economical concerns that have driven IC debates over the past decade are still relevant today. At the same time, at this juncture, with the development of many new ICTs, there needs to be in inclusion of other factors by researchers and policy-makers. As in the early stages of international communications that we read about the past few weeks, there is a need for nations or governments, and officials to use the telegraph, radio, tv, phones and now the internet to spread their own ideas and interests within the nation and internationally. The system of control that most of the authors mention, is still in place today. It is a group's ideals and beliefs that are the driving forces. Also, as we have read it is usually more powerful nations, or more economically secure countries that are able to take advantage of ICTs, use them to make money or to spread beliefs. Economic and political gains will never be completely pushes aside, and for good reason. This has been the case for the past decades, but I believe now is a time for a bit of a change because of the emergence and accesibility of new technologies. One example is how terrorists groups are now using video and the internet to try to impose their beliefs, spread their messages, and capture violent moments to instill fear in peoples. It is not only the wealthy who have access to these technologies, although it a majority of the wealthier nations who have more and better access, but with the emergence of cheap cell phones, video cameras and even internet service the IC field is transforming, thus I believe researchers and policy makers should being to focus not only on the money-making and the politics of IC, but on culture and individuals. (Blogs are an interesting way to follow individuals.) Perhaps a melange of the old and these new concerns would work. The cultural theories that Karim and Thussu touch upon are interesting and a good start. It is difficult to consider all cultures, all people and all religions, but with globalization, there is more of a need to try to include this diversity.

Us vs. Them Identity

Identity is a recurring theme in this ever shrinking world. How do we define identity and decide who to identify with? Waisbord made an interesting point in discussing group identities. He said that while the cosmopolitan identity seems the one most likely to take over the national identity, it still has not done so and seems far from becoming the main way we think of ourselves. I believe this has a lot to do with something else he talked about, that group identity is defined by the inclusion and exclusion of others. In order to be a separate group, some people must be included and others excluded. There must be another group to compare yourself to. National identity easily does this pitting one country against another. It is enforced in international sports competitions like the World Cup of soccer or the Olympics. Every country cheers on its own members and wants to bring home the most gold medals to show they are the best. People create a national identity by including those who are part of their country and excluding those who live in another one. How many times have you heard politicians say that their country is the greatest in the world, no matter which one it is? This group identity is based on valuing the "us" above the "them", in this case every other country.
The problem in using cosmopolitanism as a form of identity is that it includes everyone. From my understanding of the reading, it is based on a "universalist human consciousness", there is no "us" and "them" only everyone. While in theory it sounds great to have everyone identify more as a human being than as a citizen of a country, and ideally would promote helping and caring for all humankind, it isn't how people think at this point in time. It seems to me that the European Union identity is not succeeding because there is no other similar conglomeration of states to define themselves against. Perhaps if there was a South American Union, a North American Union, an Asian Union, and so on members of the EU would be more inclined to define themselves as Europeans first and members of their respective countries second.
I think it would take some kind of other group to be in contact with the human race before we can think of ourselves in a "cosmopolitan" way. Not to get too sci-fi, but if we interacted with some type of alien race, we would likely develop a more generally human or Earthling related identity to contrast with whomever this other group was (however it would still be in contrast/opposition to another group).
Therefore it seems until humans as whole can move past the "us vs. them" mentality (whether it be nations, races, gender etc.) it group identities are here to stay and a cosmopolitan universal human identity is a future idealization.

Discussion Q1

Do you think the "political-economy" concerns that have driven much of the debate in IC research over the past decades are still relevant? If so, why?
Or, do you think that other kinds of questions should be the focus of researchers and policy-makers?

Yes and Yes. I'm not exactly sure that this can be boiled down into an either/or answer. I think the "political economy" concerns were not only an important stepping stone to the debate that exists today, but I think that those sorts of issues are absolutely still relevant and should be kept at the forefront of any inquiry or policy. By 'political economy' issues, I assume you mean the critical research paradigms outlined specifically in Thussu's "Approaches to Theorizing International Communication"and more generally in Gary Weaver's piece? I hope I am right.

I think Thussu and Weaver are making very similar points with which I wholeheartedly agree. Thussu discusses how the dominant opposing schools of thought (Marxist vs liberal) each predicted the erasure of nationalism and war through either international communism or a the creation of a global consumer (capitalist) culture. She writes that "missing from both models has been an understanding of the complexity of interaction of class with nationalism, religion, race, ethnicity and feminism to produce local political struggles" (Thussu, 2006:64). Weaver makes a similar outline in his address to Aoyama University, concluding also with the importance of the addition of cultural concerns to contemporary international communication studies.

I found Thussu's concluding recommendation to "work towards an innovative, more inclusive and cosmopolitan research agenda...that cuts across disciplinary, ethnic, national and religious boundaries" disappointingly vague, though her self-citing at the end indicates that she unpacks this recommendation more in another work that I will have to check out.

But back to political economy-- I don't think this line of thinking can be left to the side, though it is clear that internat'l cultural and media studies are much more relevant now in terms of understanding 'digital diaspora' and 'glocalised' cultures, as Thussu points out. But if attention to political economy means understanding the 'new comm order led by transnational businesses', then I would say that it is absolutely still important to better understanding how the communication world works, especially as big telecom and media giants continue to expand and partner across continents and cultures.

I think I agree with Thussu that the older political economy theories overgeneralized and idealized like any grand overarching theory usually does, but I also agree that they were onto something. Systems theory and even the NWICO debate are very much tied up in a post-colonial way of thinking that doesn't necessarily apply across the board in this hyper-digitized and glocalized age, but that doesn't mean that power imbalances and information flows are no longer relevant considerations. It simply means that they are one among many issues that a researcher has to consider when attempting to study, explain, or improve international communication and/or -cultural dialogue.

Part of what Castells wrote in Chapter 2 of Thussu's reader really resonated with me--basically he points out that nation states are sort of behind the curve right now, behaving in their traditional power-acquiring way when other parts of the world (networked publics, global civil society, etc.) are moving on without them on an ad hoc basis, and this is causing increased contradictions in policy and flare-ups of ultra-nationalism.

As Castells puts it, "governments see the global state as an opportunity to maximize their own interests rather than a new context in which political institutions have to govern together." As long as this is the case, a political economy perspective is going to be key to understanding conflicts and international policy debates.

I look forward to hearing what others have to say about this question, and I hope I am not way off the mark...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Innis' Insights

Soules says that Innis anticipated Foucault's archeologies and discussions of power and indeed he did, and I would add that he also seems to have anticipated Stallybrass & White's 1986 observations about 'the power of the periphery', as I like to call it. Stallybrass & White were writing about the concept of the grotesque/carnivalesque, when they wrote that “…what is socially peripheral is so frequently symbolically central.” In this case they meant that the social and moral peripherals established and reinforced what was 'other' or taboo in a society or culture and simultaneously made clear what was 'normal' , but they were also talking about the way that these peripheries often, eventually, find their way to the center of things in the end.

The Innis article tells us that "change came from the margins of society, since people on the margins invariably developed their own media" that "allow those on the periphery to develop and consolidate power, and ultimately challenge the authority of the state" (Innis piece). Perhaps an 'Innis version' of Stallybrass & White's observations would be to say that "“…what is socially peripheral, when coupled with new media technology to enable its dissemination, so frequently becomes central, and not just symbolically.

We can see an example of this in the young Iranians' use of twitter and other social networking media during the elections, or in the growing popularity of blogger journalists and other citizen journalists that operate outside of 'state-sanctioned' media circles or venues. New technology makes way for voices and viewpoints that are either physically peripheral or have been pushed into the periphery and to silence by those more powerful. Or, as the Soules writes, "New media threaten to displace the previous monopolies of knowledge, unless those media can be enlisted in the service of the previous power structures" (Soules, 1996).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NWICO and Tea Parties (belated week 1 reflection)

Thussu quotes Roach’s 1987 prescient comments on "the U.S. predilection for oversimplifying complex issues" and "the need to ensure that NWICO would not reinforce government-run public sector communications media at the expense of the private sector" (Roach, 1987 qtd in Thussu , 2006: 36). Had she been writing to day, Roach may have been talking about Tea Parties and Town Halls, but she wasn’t.

As IC students, we see NWICO again and again in various courses and readings, but I think it's good to continue to re-consider it because it's such an integral part of our understanding not just of American Cold War history but of various dueling ideological world views, such as those of the World Economic Forum vs the World Social Forum, for example. Each time I read a gloss of it in the first chapters of a textbook like this one, I see it a little differently. This time, for example, I noticed how na├»ve the 1980 resolutions sound—some read more like complaints then viable solutions. For example, how does a nation actually go about the “elimination of the imbalance and inequalities which characterize the present situation” or the “elimination of the negative effects of certain monopolists, public or private, and excessive concentrations” (UNESCO, 1980 qtd in Thussu, 2006: 34)? These resolutions point to the existence of inequalities, but in grand U.N./UNESCO style, they sound like toothless decrees…

Viability aside, though, the NWICO debate marks the one the earliest flare-ups of the clash between what is now called ‘global neoliberal capitalism’ and what I suppose you would call a socialist resistance to it.* For me, re-reading the critiques and arguments for and against NWICO and UNESCO's 'agenda' seem particularly relevant in the current political climate-- at least the climate portrayed by popular media news outlets like Fox, NBC, CBS, etc. There is a particularly strong resurgence of the tendency to couch debates in terms of what is "American" vs 'socialist' and what ‘takes away our freedom’ and doesn’t. All of of this really boils down to what Roach was talking about, though—a debate about what a government should or should not regulate, and how much ‘free market’ is enough free market.

The American Constitution is unique in its focus on ‘freedom from the government’, which we all know stems from our colonial history. The NWICO debate is just one more way that the American tendency to shy away from any sort of government/public control (even its own, democratically-elected government) manifests itself. The fact that our main news media outlets are privately funded rests on this belief in freedom from the government, freedom from government influence. The only problem with this is the fact that a media chiefly motivated by profit and accountable its private owners is in no way accountable to the public or its interests, of course. The fact that in many (most?) countries, the govt-funded BBC has maintained its reputation as a reliable, 'balanced' source of world news--beating out cnn--shows (me) that when it comes to news and the public interest, the American way is not necessarily the better way.

While NWICO may have been co-opted into communist/Cold War debate, it still represents a key critique of Western hegemony and neo-liberal capitalism that added to a debate that is still raging today...

* One of my favorite critiques so far, btw, is Boaventura De Sousa Santos’ The Rise of the Global Left: The World Social Forum and Beyond, London: Zed Books, 2006.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Reaching Out Across Space and Time

It is easy to associate the media, many modern states, and business corporations with Harold Adams Innis’ space-biased empire. According to the article “Harold Adams Innis: The Bias of Communications & Monopolies of Power,” “[s]pace-biased media are light and portable; they can be transported over large distances. They are associated with secular and territorial societies; they facilitate the expansion of empire over space.” This characterization falls in line with many modern phenomena, from the ongoing shift from the newspaper to online publication, to the ability to see the President speaking in Germany, Cairo, and Washington D.C. at your leisure and from the convenience of your Sidekick. Even the way clothing stores inundate people with email coupons is a method of using space-biased communication in empire expansion and maintenance.

On the individual scale, people have adopted some of the priorities of the space-biased model as well, allowing for the exchange of information without consideration for the constraints of space. On the one hand, activities such as photo sharing, emails, and online relationships can exist in a network of communication that is not bound by those constraints. On the other hand, these exchanges leave no tangible relics behind. Think of photographs of once-in-a-lifetime moments uploaded from a digital camera onto a laptop. Where are the pictures? Unless one prints them, they exist only in the computer's memory or as a collection of pixels on the desktop. According to Innis’ distinction between the users of space- and time-biased and communication as summarized in the article, the time-biased society opts for the longevity of its communications in the interests of legacy. An artifact that cannot withstand the test of time is lost when the legacy of a civilization is examined at a later date and impacts the examiner's understanding of the past.

I think that the idea of legacy is not exclusively related to the time-biased society but is an ineffable part of the basic human spirit, even in space-biased societies of the Digital Age. People take photographs because it is a way of capturing a moment or a feeling and preserving it. It can be a means of communicating a message with a future self, or a future recipient unknown. The same goes for the emails from loved ones that we move to Saved Mail, or things we Fan on Facebook. Even though the medium we use is a far cry from the oil painting or clay tablet of yore, the desire behind the behavior is still the same. No matter how dynamic communication technology can become, I think there will always be a part of us interested in preserving moments in amber, if for no other reason than to tell someone we were here and give them an opportunity to know us in some capacity. After all, the exchange of knowledge is what communication is all about.

Ideal Global Knowledge Society

Carey's article begins by comparing the transmission and the ritual view of communication. First, the transmission view, which is how most would define communication, is “a process whereby messages are transmitted and distributed in space for the control of distance and people.” As we read last week, civilizations and empires used innovative methods of communication to conquer, to attain more land, power, and wealth and ultimately to control others. The ritual view is “directed not toward the extension of messages in space, but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but representation of shared beliefs.” The reason, Carey explains, that in the US the ritual view has not been explored as extensively is because the concept of culture does not play a huge role in American thought. The transmission view is also more common because it is more often defined in this manner. Carey notes that Dewey's work derives from working over these views of communication. Dewey said, “of all things communication is the most wonderful” and Carey adds that this is because it is the basis of human fellowship and it produces social bonds. Basically, this is why society is possible, through the circulation of information and not only the transmission, but also the ritualistic view of communication. Carey compounds on the ritual view, and argues that reality is brought into existence and is produced by communication. Reality is made up of symbols and representations which we define and use to communicate, an example is language. She gives an example of using a map to show a child how to get home from school. Carey offers a different way of looking at communication, not just for transmission and information sharing, but one through which we share our own realities. “We create, express, and convey our knowledge and attitudes toward reality through the construction of a variety of symbol systems; art, science, journalism, religion, common sense, mythology,” she writes. She also notes that people pursue power or feel anxiety in the transmission view, which leads to Thussu's article.

In this particular article, Thussu discusses the theoretical approaches to international communications. He discusses the modernization theory, dependency theory, the global sphere, hegemony, and globalization. The discussion revolves around the way in which Western cultures' information flows, usually one way from developed to undeveloped countries, from north to south or from the center to the periphery. Globalization is compared to cultural imperialism because some argue that the US is trying to simply trying to make other countries more like the US, without keeping others cultures and interests in mind. The capitalist markets have spread globally and communication is facilitating the transnational patterns of marketing and political communication. Thussu mentions that due to globalization, people are being sought out for their purchasing power. Transnational corporations are using modern communication technology as a marketing tool for corporations to obtain more customers. Countries, like the US, are now able to advertise products in many new consumers that were not able to be reached before thanks to the Internet, TV, and film and other communication technologies. The question is if it is possible to internationalize media, cultural and communication equitably to have a global village that is inclusive and that “cuts across disciplinary, ethnic, national and religious boundaries to address the emerging cartography of global communication.” Ideally, if we were to apply a ritualistic view, we would need to, as stated in Carey's article, “share aesthetic experience, religious ideas, personal values, and sentiments, and intellectual notions”. Perhaps focusing on these and not just on the transmission view (government and trade) we could create a model for and of communication and a better global knowledge society.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Realities of Reality

I was fascinated by this week's article by James Carey, "A Cultural Approach to Communication". He discussed something I have thought about for a long time, that we create our own realities through communication. His example was that lines of latitude and longitude don't exist in nature, they are human creations. However this can be applied to a myriad of ideas that we take as truth or reality. Political geography is another similar example. There is nothing in nature that dictates the boundaries of states, only what we have set them to be. There are no rules, laws, or even morals in nature (other than the laws of physics I suppose, but I'll avoid those since we're all communications people), only what we as a society have created and disseminated through various forms of communications. Even things that we consider valuable like gold, jewels, and the like are only have value because we have assigned it to them. Gold has no intrinsic worth or use for survival in the wild. I am always curious as to why societies developed the way they did and what it takes to bring about change in them. People often do things because "that's just the way it's always been done", when we just made all of this stuff up and could change it whenever we wanted!
Carey quotes John Dewey in stating that communication is a symbolic process of maintaining, repairing, and transforming reality. As Dewey said, "Society exists not only by transmission by communication, but it may fairly be said to exist in transmission, in communication." If there was something people wanted to change in society, the way they would have to do it is through communication, in many forms. People often think of communication in very limited ways, e-mails, phone calls, texts, television etc., but in almost everything we do we are communicating. Use your left turn signal and you are communicating to the drivers around you that you'll be turning left. Read a magazine and it communicates to you news, fashion trends, even gossip. The clothes you wear, the way you walk and talk all communicate something to people, even beyond what you might actually say. In the ritual view of communication this is all part of maintaining our culture and society.
Unfortunately in the US we tend to have a limited view of culture. We don't see it as what we do in the whole of society, but generally a frivolous thing that we can take time for after our actual work is done. In this way we also tend to see most activities, technology, and other aspects of life as means to a political or economic end because that defines success for us and we believe that is important. As Carey says, technology is seen generally in terms of its utility for government and trade and therefore that is what we tend to use it for. Education is seen in terms of preparing another generation of workers to continue on the economic and political processes of the nation and so we treat it as such (which can be seen in the marginalization of school activities like art and music which we don't believe are as economically viable). While productivity is important in our modern lives, it would be a refreshing change if we all realized that it is only that important because we have made it so. If we stopped emphasizing economic success as the main (and sometimes seemingly the only) goal of life and career it would become the new reality. Which makes me wonder, if you could make a change to "reality" (do those count as air quotes?) what would it be?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Power to Communicate vs. Responsibility to Communicate Honestly

Mattleart's chapter on "technical networks" delves thouroughly but consicely into the inventions and developments that formed technological networks from the time of Cyrus the Great and the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. This treatment deals not only with developments strictly related to communication, but also includes leaps in transportation networks and displays of technological advancement among nationstates. The inclusive assortment of innovations he presents conveys the advantages that nationstates were experiencing as a result of technological achievements, even as the use of these new tools to consolidate and challenge power (militarily, economically, and psychologically) forshadowed the troubles to come in the 20th century (the race for the atomic bomb or the Nazi propaganda machine, for example).

Both Mattleart and Thussu focus on the nationstate as the original powerbroker utilizing international communication technology as tools of conquest, administration, and influence: control in varying shades of subtlety. What about that anecdote about William Randolph Hearst, though? "You furnish the pictures and I'll provide the war"(Mattleart, 18). Propoganda, even in its broadest sense, and honest reporting are not usually mutually inclusive-- and Thussu makes it sound like today's media is the ideological progeny of Reuters and Radio Free Europe. (Note on First World to Second World propoganda in the Cold War: the ends don't always justify the means that simply.) Where does Hearst, or the individual in general, fit into that framework of powerbrokering and control through influence? Was he genuinely interested in drumming up war hysteria because war sells newspapers? (It would be funny if Hearst was really kidding and this whole thing was taken out of context. Not the haha kind of funny, but still.)

Does Thussu structure international media as a top-down phenomenon because that is how it developed, or was there a bottom-up demand (for more than just financial information) that contributed to the expansion of the international press and deserves more than a passing sentence?

And then the big question: Is the modern-day journalist the logical ideological progeny of Thussu's nationstate and Mattleart's Hearst? If so, then the accusations that today's international journalism has abandoned its principals, is not independent, etc., and that journalists must recognize their age-old obligation to the public, blah blah blah, are based on a glorified misconception. If you believe in objective and accurate reporting, you are not resurrecting the old rules-- the ivory edifice you are thinking of has yet to exist. You are carrying on the tradition of the exceptions to those rules, William Howard Russell style.