Role of Communication in Accountability and Governance

The two books from the World Bank promote the importance of communication in international development efforts and in mobilizing civil society to keep their state leaders accountable.

I found it interesting how there is a specific program within the World Bank–the Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (CommGAP)– to promote such efforts. It is especially relevant today, when corruption and oppression caused by the leaders of state governments still persist, preventing the economy and society as a whole from moving forward. The CommGAP program claims that a series of complementary programs involving research and advocacy, training and capacity building, and support would ensure the success of multi-stakeholder efforts to maintain effective governance while protecting the rights of its citizens. All this seems like a difficult task, especially when convincing political leaders to support such efforts. I wonder what sort of incentives there would be for governing officials to not only agree, but practice the principles.

One of the case studies presented by Cecilia Cabanero-Verzosa regarding the implementation of the Philippine Procurement Law also caught my attention. In her piece, she explores the reasons for procurement reform (namely, money being spent unwisely and not for the public’s benefit) and how it was able to pass through successful strategic communication practices; however, the actual implementation is facing some obstacles due to the lack of resources, effective communication between networks, mobilization of civic society, etc. I see this being the exact same case in my current research in laws passed by the Philippine government to protect the rights of its disabled citizens. The one law I’m looking at in particular is a new one passed earlier in the year ensuring that 10% of government goods are to be procured from small businesses owned and operated by persons with disabilities (PWDs). The issue (from my current understanding) is that the law isn’t so clear as to who exactly should be monitoring its implementation. With so many government agencies, municipalities, and actors from the private and non-profit sectors involved, it would be difficult to coordinate without centralized leadership (as seen by the procurement law case study). Another issue is the lack of awareness at the civic level. When I speak to Filipino citizens regarding this law, they have expressed their surprised  that such laws exists. Many are also skeptical because they hear of all these progressive laws being passed, but do not see any sort of real action thereafter. Instead, they view it as a way for the government to show off or save face. I do think that some of the solutions Cabanero-Verzosa had presented are good ones, but to actually convince the “middle managers” to play along is easier to be said than done.

Ultimately, I think that the efforts by the CommGAP program are well-meaning and I can definitely see its potential in furthering development, but I do wonder what the role of culture is, considering that responses may vary depending on the culture and values of the society. For example, it can be argued that some cultures tend to prefer more authoritative leadership figures. How, then, would it be best to mobilize citizens, especially if they do not understand the concept of accountability, holding their governments responsible for protecting their rights. Also, what are their rights and how does one go about informing them?

Global Media & Development

Our group (Odna Brinsly & Nicolette Regis) is presenting the effects global media has on development. We revisit the two dominating paradigms in development theory (modernization and dependency) through Waisbord’s piece and learn how each theory is related. We then look at how media is used in Asia to promote good health and medical services through entertaining dramas, and how China uses its media resources to develop the African continent.

Here are a few of our discussion questions:

1. What direction should development communication take? What would be the most effective?

2. How else have you seen entertainment media being used to shape the way people live their lives (positive and negative)?

3. Do you think China’s strategy is successful in Africa? What development paradigm would their strategy fit under?

Looking forward to Monday’s discussion!

Soft Power & Diplomacy

This week’s readings delve more into the subject of soft power and diplomacy.

I can see the concern of propaganda being used in public diplomacy strategies, as it can be seen as imposing one’s own culture as being “exceptional,” thereby threatening more traditional cultures. But, Professor Joseph Nye’s definition of public diplomacy as being “credible,” with the purpose of building long-term relationships to create a more amiable environment to discuss and implement policies, helped me to view public diplomacy as not propaganda but as a means to fostering state cooperation and preventing conflict. He further argues for a focus on “soft power” in effective public diplomacy, allowing for attraction to similar goals, culture, and values. He offers an example of one of Japan’s PD movements–the JET Program. As a JET participant, the Japanese government offered many programs to make sure I was comfortable and adjusting well into Japanese society. Aside from my teaching duties, there were free language programs and ample of opportunity to travel the country and conduct cultural activities. It definitely left me a wonderful impression of the country, so much so that I have encouraged my family and friends to travel to Japan to visit me. I even helped a few of my friends apply to the program as well. After returning home, I became an active alumnus working with the Japanese Embassy in strengthening ties between my local alumni chapter and Japan. Our work was particularly important during the devastating tsunami in 2011, where we have organized a volunteer group to help collect money for the rebuilding of the Tohoku region. I have several JET friends who have since returned to Japan to visit, and I still remain in close contact with the people I have met there. I have personally seen how effective this exchange program is in solidifying US’ relationship with the tiny island country, promoting not only its tourism industry, but helping extend their culture abroad. Japan has definitely gone a long way since World War II, where many saw them as dangerous enemies. Now, when people think of Japan, they think of technology, fashion, and food. We’re more inclined to help them when they experience a natural disaster, and more inclined to build favorable trade partnerships.

I also think it would be wonderful if the US were to implement a similar exchange program, sending young professionals from overseas to teach their language/culture in our classrooms. It would definitely teach Americans to be more culturally aware, lessen our views of exceptionalism, and make us more curious of the world–starting from a very young age. It would also help improve our public diplomacy efforts and create a more positive image of the US abroad. I do really wonder whether the US has lost its edge, its soft power. What would that mean for our country’s future if we cannot get other states to cooperate with us?

Lastly, I think that Andreas Sandre brings up an interesting point in viewing new communication technologies and social media as a double-edge sword. On one hand, such technologies help us implement public diplomacy efforts abroad, and at a lower cost. On the other end, messages sent have much faster repercussions, and if we are not careful, we can do more harm than good. It is also more difficult to control false information from spreading. Because communication and diplomacy is conducted at a much faster pace, the public expect a more immediate response from their leaders in times of crisis and uncertainty. An example of this is the US embassy attacks in Benghazi, where both former Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice and Secretary Hillary Clinton were criticized for revealing misleading information about the case. There is increasing pressure to reveal information at real time, even if the investigation is still ongoing and it won’t benefit the public nor the government in any way. Thus, like Sandre, I do think finding the balance between fast diplomacy and accurate diplomacy is critical. The question is, how?

The Audience: From Passive Recipient to Active Participatant

While the past readings focused almost exclusively on the roles of the nation state and the global media networks, their struggle for power/influence in the “market for loyalties,” and their relationship to each other, this week’s readings focus on audience’s role.  Castells argues that the audience act as active recipients of these messages sent by the media, or “codes.”

One case study Castells provides when describing global culture as global (and not entirely derived from American culture), is the popular telenovela  from Mexico, Betty La Fea. The show was so successful that they were able to build the brand in the US as Ugly Betty. I don’t think he really addresses this in his book, but I wonder what factors help contribute to the appeal of a local product, so much so that it is able to be rebranded and packaged overseas. What helps make a product successful as part of the global culture?

BoA's US Album

BoA’s US Album

Some thing that Arsenault mentioned during her past lecture was the popularization of Korean pop music and culture in the West as an example of a global culture (not from the US). As a person who grew up around Koreatown in Los Angeles and in a big Asian community, Kpop was not entirely a new concept to me. My friends and I would trade music and watch Korean dramas together, even though we don’t necessarily understand everything that is being said. When the popular Korean artist, BoA, visited LA to hold a concert to promote her new English album, I thought it was strange but understandable that she’d want to try to tackle the American market (just like she had with Japan, China, and the rest of Asia). And when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” kept playing on the radio, I then started to believe that Kpop is really taking over. However, I think that my hometown is an anomaly–I don’t think the same thing could be said for the rest of the US, specifically in “middle America.” With that said, I wonder if this concept of global culture more relevant in certain areas than others. Does Castells think that global culture only pertains to bigger, more “cosmopolitan” cities?

Logo for Ragnarok Online, a popular MMORPG game

Logo for Ragnarok Online, a popular MMORPG game

Lastly, I found the case studies presented in Mark Deuze’s article, “Convergence Culture in the Creative Industries” fascinating as he looked at how exactly the audience or consumers are collaborating with the professional designers or journalists to create new products or modify existing ones. The specific case study on the online game Counter-strike, was an eye-opener for me because I had no idea that it is the product of Half-Life users. Another example of this sort of collaboration is the MMORPG game Ragnarok Online where, instead of paying monthly for access to the official game server and all the limited that come with it, people have been creating their own free servers customized with special mods to fit their needs and interests. For example, some free servers make it easier for users to “level-up” while others have new special maps not available in the official server.

With the recipients of messages now able to customize what they see and hear,  and (with the help of the Internet and mobile technologies) are able to make their own influence on products, I do think that a strong argument could be made for the shift of information/communication control from the traditional elite to the everyday man.

Netpolitik, Soft Power, and Public Diplomacy

This week’s readings from the Aspen Institute Meetings try to make sense of the Information Age and its repercussions on development, peace, and public diplomacy. I enjoyed them particularly because of the idea of using soft power as a way to resolve (and even prevent) conflict.

Regarding Shanthi Kalathil’s report, “Soft Power, Hard Issues” among the issues the meeting attendees brought up is the need to define “success” of public diplomacy initiatives. I wonder if there really is a way to measure the improving attitudes of people regarding the US foreign policy accurately, especially since I could imagine the use of soft power does not have an immediate or apparent affect. Would surveys or public opinion polls be an accurate way to depict the results? And, if we are able to find out how successful the use of soft power has been, would it be too late to change the message, if necessary to prevent further damage?

Another point I find interesting is the competition between US and China for soft power dominance. I’ve read how China has been making huge strides within African nations, helping them develop their infrastructure and communication systems, which are improving their relations with them. In instances like this, I wonder if soft power is indeed more effective than hard power or engaging in physical conflict. In what instance would it be more optimal to engage in hard power than soft power?

Lastly, these articles had me thinking a lot about my previous work as an English teacher in rural Japan. I used to teach in about 13 schools spread along the very quiet and peaceful Seto Sea. Most of my time was spent with Jr. High School students who often viewed English as impossible to learn. It wasn’t their fault however; the English curriculum is designed to be fairly rigorous and difficult with a focus on “correct” grammar rather than actual communication. As a result, I’ve been in situations where my students would ask me “Why should I learn? There’s no point because I’m in Japan and I will never use English here.” I could see where they’re coming from, but I also knew how many foreigners live in our tiny prefecture alone. With the availability of travel and access to the Internet, it is easy to see how open our borders are. It’s not like they will never see or communicate with a foreigner once they graduate. To try to motivate my students, I integrated multimedia sources (photos, videos, music) into their lessons, not only to show how native English speakers actually speak, but to connect them with Western/American culture. My goal became not only to grow their interest in English, but make them curious about the world outside their island. Although the classes ended up being more enjoyable, I’m not so sure how much of an impact I made. But, I did read an essay written by one of my students who expressed her goals to travel abroad and meet more foreigners.

I think that communication is an important step to building an understanding across cultures. And, it’s not a one-way process. Just like with any relationship, communication is a 2-way process. With that said, I can see how the concept of Netpolitik and the utilization of soft power can be crucial to developing stronger relationships for a more peaceful world.

Anyway, that’s my little experience as a sort of cultural ambassador. 🙂

Thoughts on Online Activism

Among this week’s readings, I found Harp, Bachmann, and Guo’s study on the Internet and activism an interesting read, although (considering the countries surveyed) their findings were not all too surprising.

This study centered on China, Latin America, and the US where various organizations have already been using the Internet and social networking sites to mobilize their communities. For all their similarities in usage, however, it was interesting to see how different each of their concerns were. Chinese users were worried about government intervention while Latin American users did not have much Internet access at home. In contrast, American activists’ primary concern was the lack of time. This made me think about how often I would see posts on my social network feeds with an invitation to sign petitions or donate money for various causes to  change my local community. How often do I actually sign or donate my time and/or money? I don’t pay attention to these often not because I don’t care for the cause (although that may be a case for some), but because of lack of time. This study questions the effectiveness of online activism without conclusive results. My hunch is that the Internet is effective in advertising the cause. But, it is difficult to actually mobilize people, especially with all the other distractions available online.

I also wonder how feasible it is to study the relationship between online and offline activism. I could imagine the Internet making it easier to globalize a regional cause, but how helpful are social networking sites in influencing others to actively support and participate in a cause?

pussyriot

As a final thought, I kept thinking back to the Pussy Riot case in Russia, where the punk band was imprisoned and trialed for speaking ill of the government and Vladimir Putin. Their case sparked protests not only in Russia but in the US. People all across the globe donned the band’s signature ski masks and held signs with messages to free the women in solidarity. In the US, a documentary was even made highlighting the trial and the problems with Russian censorship. All this would not be possible without the Internet and social media networks, and is a good example of the translation between online and offline activism.

Power and The Big 7

This week’s readings are an interesting follow up to last week’s discussion on media and its role in globalization because we learn about the true movers and shakers of the global information network–the “Big 7” media empires.

I like how Arsenault and Castells touch upon the fact that the media empires not only allow globalization to reach local regions, but for local regions to influence the globalization process outwardly as well. One example they state for this is the spread of “formulas for shows like Pop Idol and Top Model around the world.” Vietnam is a region that is still largely rural and developing, yet it is remarkable how local Vietnamese are so accepting of the Top Model franchise, and are able to make it their own. Of course, this allows Western companies to do some strategic branding and the Asian fashion industry to gain a new target audience, so there are large economic incentives for this as well.

 

Arsenault and Castells also shed light in the various business models of the Big 7, especially concerning online media content and advertising. Companies have been purchasing rights to have their products strategically placed on set and within the script. I think this is particularly helpful for movies and shows that are offered on Netflix “ad-free” because it still gives them an avenue to promote their products subliminally. I remember watching Baz Luhrmann’s rendition of The Great Gatsby last year, and felt like I was watching a giant music video commercial, which it irked me a little. I do also find myself wondering whether this is sustainable and even socially and economically beneficial for the common people.

Lastly, Arsenault and Castells take a closer look at Rupert Murdoch and the reigning behemoth of media empires, NewsCorp, as a case study in analyzing the power relationships within the network society. They cite NewsCorp’s ability to act as a “switcher” ensuring its control and influence over multiple programs, platforms, and regions, and further sustains the empire with over $20 billion in annual revenue. With so much power in Murdoch’s hands (as we’ve read, 30% of NewsCorp’s shares are owned by his family), it isn’t surprising to find out how many people–businessmen and politicians alike–are wary of his actions and are waiting for the chance to weaken his empire (if just a tiny bit). Indeed, when NewsCorp’s former British tabloid news company, News of the World, was under investigation for a series of scandals in 2011, Murdoch himself faced a number of criticisms directly. The public outcry also prevented him from buying the British satellite broadcasting network, BSkyB, and thus preventing NewsCorp’s further expansion broadband and telephone arena. I don’t think this is the last time we’ll see cases like this, as competition between media companies grows stronger and the conquest for more power and global influence continues. But, with the seemingly unlimited amount of resources these media conglomerates hold and their undoubted presence in politics today, it is a bit scary to think about how our everyday lives and decisions are shaped not entirely on our own. With strategic product placement (as described in my earlier point) and the economic incentives of political pundits to feed the pockets of the media elites, one can argue that the “Big 7” are the true rulers of the globalized world today.