Communication for Governance & Accountability

I must say I appreciated the theme of this week’s readings being on accountability and governance in communication for development – as opposed to the long and sordid history of straight IC4D we studied last week.

I think an overall lesson I take from this area of activity in development is that when the local culture is better understood by the foreign actor – understanding that comes from many years of imbedded living, communicating, learning and action – and the local partners trust the foreigners, those are the circumstances under which effective change on the ground takes place.  Most western models have foreign actors in development parachute in to an environment for a few months or a few years, and powerful connections and relationships are lost, or are not made.

I witnessed this in Mauritania.  One of the more successful NGOs in Nouakchott had been established in the early 1990’s and of the two full-time managing Americans who worked there, one had been in place for more than 20 years, the other for more than 10. They did regularly have volunteers for less than a year who came in to do various kinds of work, but the deep relationships from the time the leadership had invested built a foundation of trust, respect, and accountability that made their initiatives and programs far more successful.  Because they, too, had become very real stakeholders in the community, the community trusted them more.

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Media’s Role in Global Development

This week’s readings on development were a fair introduction to what’s going on in the field, though I determined this is not the field for me.  Hah.

I thought Khiun article on health communication-dramatization was a useful reminder that infotainment – presenting ideas in a realized form – is more digestible in an immediately effective way for audience persuasion.  It’s why mass consumerist culture works so well in the market for loyalties.  Media helps shape identity when it is attractive and the audience buys-in, and becomes a willing distributor of the idea.  Infotainment’s challenges are to give the audience what they’re looking for, make them feel good about the actions and want to modify their behavior, and also to maintain their attention as long as necessary to effect attitudinal and behavioral shifts.  Infotainment that masquerades as information almost has a harder time, because there is a different expectation of credibility.  Entertainment-based infotainment is free to claim that it has no intrinsic value other than entertainment if it gets into trouble with its audience or other stakeholders. I’m thinking specifically of CNN vs. The Daily Show.

The China in Africa summary of the forum held in London didn’t have much new to say.  Though it is likely the first and only inquiry of its kind specifically into the Chinese role in media in the sub-Saharan continent.  I thought it was less interesting that they used Egypt as one of their examples, because China’s presence in Egypt does not at all typify it’s activity in the main continent.  More action would be interesting, but it must come from the sovereign nations in the region themselves, and should be held on the continent also.  This report reads like ‘no news here.’  Although one very interesting point was about how the Sino approach to diplomatic engagement with African partners would inherently be very different from the western approach, as both Sino and African cultures are community-based.  I don’t think any African is buying the ‘we’re both misunderstood brothers caught in the western media market’ schtick.  Though it is a valid point.

The methodologies and theories of Development Communication chaffed me; I found them uninformed, neo-imperialistic, arrogant, etc. – though these were the vanguard of the industry, and they were right to pay some attention to communication tools in development, in their way.  Thankfully, the theories continue to evolve, but I do not think that telling the avialable complex, dynamic, disparate continental community in Africa an American story is likely to lead to their development.  Not if they are not going to do what we do.

Soft Power & Fast Social Diplomacy

As most of you know, I am looking forward to meeting Italian Public Affairs officer Andreas Sandre this week.  The articles reviewed here on social diplomacy and fast diplomacy broach issues worth further research.

One idea I liked was how the internet has shifted the diplomatic conversation from a vertical conversation, to a more horizontal one – with public engagement, discourse, and opinion as a new actor in what foreign governments must consider when they take any action or respond in their bilateral relations.  U.S. public diplomacy for example does a lot of local engagement and storytelling.  Do other governments do this?  Do other governments do it outside the capitols where they operate?  We know the U.S. does, Ambassador Chris Stephens was on a trip visiting Benghazi where the U.S. was not maintaining a presence any longer when the compound was swarmed and four U.S. government employees were murdered.  While stationed in Mauritania, I myself organized trips for the deputy chiefs of mission – second at the embassy to the ambassador – to remote outposts.  I know of a few foreign governments at least that actively reach out to their nationalized diaspora living in the U.S. who do not maintain citizenship in the countries their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents emigrated from, Korea, many African missions, etc.  Do they go beyond this, outside of the typical cultural events which are so common in Washington?  Joseph Nye spoke about Japan inviting foreign youth in to teach their native languages, and about their cultures every year, do they engage in similar programming outside their borders?  What does American diplomacy have to learn from that of our neighbors?

Mr. Sandre quotes Anne Slaughter’s idea that new leadership in diplomacy will combine hierarchical methods with the newer, more horizontal web of foreign relations and influence.  He is also clear in distinguishing the internet, social platforms and technologies as tools, force multipliers, as Colin Powell was fond of saying as Secretary of State, for the message and engagement.  Sandre emphasizes that creativity and innovation will make good use of the internet, and this too is useful in ‘fast diplomacy.’  Staying current with current events, and making sure that the audience is actually being reached are ways that a flexible, smart diplomat, willing to make use of the internet, will find success.  Because though information on events is available worldwide in real time, being the first responder is not necessarily the most powerful response.  Fast diplomacy is not the goal, a stronger, more credible presence is the true goal of diplomacy.

Joseph Nye reiterates several of these points in the seminal article we read, Public Diplomacy and Soft Power.  Nye defined ‘soft power’ as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment.”   He goes on to identify three dimensions of public diplomacy: daily communication, strategic communication, and development of long-term relationships through exchanges at any and all levels, though most pointedly those which will create relationships amongst future governmental actors.  In addressing public diplomacy in the information age, he also addresses our over-abundance of available information – which has alternatively been called the “paradox of plenty” and “the anxiety of choice” – that has turned the attention of the populace into the new major scarcity in western nations.  This glut of information has reinvented our need for media intermediaries who instead of filtering content for suitability, now must filter for significance and relevance.  To accomplish this, one must enjoy trust and credibility as given by the audience.  Credibility and trust are status; they are informal qualities of moral leadership an actor must earn and be granted.  In any dimension, public diplomacy has a hard time when the messaging does not reflect actual foreign policy – when what a governments says differs from what it does neighbors take note and credibility is lost.  This phenomenon is drastically compounded in the information age, with foreign audiences and domestic audiences.

The question this week is how can diplomacy, thrust into this environment of instant global news and demands for reaction or response, effectively harness opportunities available in communication technology to garner soft power?  How can U.S. diplomacy re-establish, and in many cases establish,  trust and credibility?  Personally, I believe Joseph Nye is correct that listening with an open mind, making ourselves available to the influence of others to some extent, is the most powerful attitude we can take in improving our public diplomacy.  For this to be accepted in the world, it would need to be in line with our actual foreign policy.

There is a very recent, very dramatic example of this – if the story can be told right:  During the U.S.-Russia meeting on the chemical weapon crisis in Syria in early September of this year, Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-hand comment (one he was not necessarily cleared to make, as evidenced in that he did not bring it forward during the official discussion) that if the Assad government in Syria produced and surrendered its total chemical weapon cache, the U.S. would not need to intervene militarily.  Russian President Vladimir Putin jumped at the chance and convinced the USG to actually go forward with the unlikely scenario, which the Secretary of State and President (to say nothing of the Security Council) were not at all convinced would work.  As of November 7, 2013 that all but one of the identified sites have been cleared and the chemical weapons destroyed.  The U.S., open to influence, made a drastically different choice in intervention in the Syrian civil conflict – where is the story?  Why not harness this situation into an example of true international partnership and compromised resolution.  It was even our idea – is the superpower afraid of looking weak?  I think we’ve missed an opportunity in our public diplomacy on this issue, though the policy itself is heartening.  Soft power resides in relationships, messaging and social diplomacy can contribute to such relationships, making our presence more real and impactful – as the upcoming generation of diplomats and foreign relations actors, it will be our responsibility to build those policies, messages, and relationships.

Convergence Culture, Nollywood, andCultural Change in a Globalized World

Hello All –

Our group will present tomorrow, and as my presentation focuses on the Global Nollywood reading, I will focus my comments here on that.  The following will be brought for dialogue, for your consideration.

The Nollywood network is an asymmetrical global media framework, or regulatory and distribution system, similar to the asymmetrical systems studied in last week’s Bollier reports from the Aspen Institute.  In the military example given in the paper, the asymmetrical military capabilities of the U.S.’s super-dominant military power and the lesser powers of the next most powerful militaries of western allies leads to specific labor divisions.  The disparity in capabilities between the U.S. military and enemies with far lesser capabilities, and no timely expectation of reaching level capabilities leads to guerilla-type   The total exclusion from the dominant global media network may or may not have lead to the alternate system – what evidence do we have in either direction?  Is it possible for those outside of the West African region or ‘global south’ to understand the dynamics well enough to answer that question?

Has the alternative Nollywood network grown in contrast to (or “against”) the western and eastern Hollywood and Bollywood media industries?  Or has this network grown as an inherently West African cultural phenomenon?

Would regulating the Nollywood network with laws, formal contracts, and regulations help or hurt the industry?  In what ways?  Who specifically would it help?  If Nollywood can be seen as a social network, has adaptation to technology and exclusion from the western dominant network facilitated the network?  How?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWsehhj2JRw (skip to 2:58)

Is the case of translation or dubbing the films into French a case of the local acting on the global?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i49WXTp4fVY (skip to 3:25)

In my summary, I have used the terms ‘western’ and ‘dominant’ interchangeably to indicate the U.S.-dominated western global media network.  Is this network dominant?  In what way?  In what ways could Bollywood or Nollywood be described as dominant?

The Rise of Netpolitik

In David Bollier’s 2003 report on the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Information Technology, he summarizes the conversation coining the term “Netpolitik.”  Netpolitik is diplomacy that uses the internet to shape politics using soft power approaches; appeals to story, values, cultural identity, and perception.   He breaks his report into three themes: how electronic networks are changing the architecture of power and culture, the internet and the rise of soft power, and international politics as an arena of competing stories.  He also touches upon the roles of credibility and legitimacy in soft power – in fact, soft power is derived from credibility and legitimacy within the audience.  Let us take Joseph Nye’s definition of soft power as “the ability to get desired outcomes because others want what you want.  It is the ability to achieve goals through attraction rather than coercion.  It works by convincing others to follow or getting them to agree to norms and institutions that produce the desired behavior.”

Towards the end of the article, Bollier introduces a section titled “Toward a New Global Story,” discussing the inclusion and exclusion of nations to the internet, and how internet users are using a language – earlier proven to be separate from governments in the slower process that governments must come to official policy – to create new stories, and aggregate to a new possible ‘global story.’  He goes on to highlight, as had been underscored by participants throughout the session, that the stories told are not always the stories heard, and that even stories passed down from ancient Greece are interpreted differently across nations to emphasize local values – and that these values are often quite different from each other.   This demonstrates that understanding the audience, even the audience of one’s own citizenry, is a central role in making oneself understood.  What is different about that?  Nothing really, it is what communicators get into the business, and why governments and organizations pay communicators, to understand nuance.  To reach a goal of soft power amongst neighbors, and even at home, an organization must have credibility and legitimacy, credibility that only those neighbors and citizens can bestow.   After reading this article I think that a new approach in Public Diplomacy of listening to audiences could build that valuable credibility.  Listening and understanding what the interlocutor is trying to say about themselves, understanding and appreciating their values and interests such that they know they have been properly understood creates relationship and intimacy.  Richard Shell in his book “The Art of Woo” writes that credibility is bestowed by others according to the relationship between two actors, and a combination of authority on a subject, competence, expertise, trustworthiness, and character.  Respecting relationships by listening to stories builds credibility over time, and credibility leads to soft power.  Power wielded wisely leads to legitimacy.

The internet does not create anything new so much as it acts as an instantaneous conduit and force multiplier for stories and events, it doesn’t create the movement, it becomes a tool of the movement.  The question is, how can U.S. Public Diplomacy use that tool effectively to prove the State as credible?  How can it foster belief in our values among the many disparate actors on the international scene?  I posit that in a market over-saturated with talking, listening may be a more powerful tool than telling.

The Second reading by Bollier, “People / Networks / Power” echos the sentiment of listening as a way forward to credibility, especially in a network context.  In the ensuing section on the rise of NGOs as “the second superpower,” I think this phenomenon, like the CNN phenomenon offers their own unique opportunities and context in the power network of international politics for states and their issues.  Some U.S.-based NGOs such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and those that deal in governance and democracy have very close and effective ties with states, but in some cases this can hurt its credibility.  The new Government of Egypt recently found NDI workers there during the 2011 revolution guilty of espionage.  CNN, too, takes hits on credibility in its close relationship with the USG, both domestically and abroad.  I believe this is probably caused by the USG’s model of ‘cooperation’ typified by top-down leadership and direction, rather than a more lateral interdependence seen in networks.  How states can learn to work with outside organizations, without more subtly pulling strings of power where separation of powers should be respected is something that must be discovered and practiced with vigilance.  No state should wield the power of a Castellian “switcher,” though they must find a way to meaningfully join the new conversations being had or suffer losses at the hands of the new social powers on the rise.

Internet Media and Power: Infrastructure, Stakeholders, and Governance

Hello All, below are my thoughts on this week’s readings:

As Castells concludes his research into Communication Power, he summarizes the data-driven research he did into Rupert Murdoch, News Corp, and Murdoch as a major network unto himself.  I appreciated the challenge for others to do similar research into others likewise wielding tremendous power as “network switchers.”  He has herein provided a theoretical and research structure for similar investigation.  It made me want to investigate “switchers” in the U.S. Department of Defense, in the National Security Staff (formerly called the National Security Council), in former White House chiefs of staff, and other U.S. public policy figures, addressing both domestic and foreign affairs.

To begin, one would need the beginning of a story, because each of these positions transition, initial background would be needed to identify the beginning of the story.  For the military, I would start with Rachel Maddow’s book “Drift” about the shift in American military policy since the Vietnam War.  Not because she is an expert in this area, she’s a pundit – her job is to talk about what other people say – but because in her research of that book, she identifies what I see as the beginning, and one of the first “switchers” in modern military policy, U.S. Army Commander Creighton Abrams, Commander during the Vietnam War.  While General Patton, the famous World War II commander would be a likely choice, his army was not the army we have today, so we must begin with the shift to modern policy.

The same would be needed in other areas, for the presidential-campaign-turned-public-policy-wonks we refer to as ‘White House chiefs of Staff,’ I would begin with Jason Johnson’s book, “Campaign Management: One Day to Sell.”  And so on down the line.

Regarding the article on the internet and social media in activism, I’d first like to acknowledge academic research on the subject that did not use the Arab Spring as an example.  The Arab Awakening, as it was also called, is a fascinating case, and worthy of much study, but it is also such an extreme example that underlying principles of the theme may be difficult to distinguish so soon to the events’ history, and present if the Syrian civil war is to be included.

That being said, I appreciated mostly what the research revealed about how the three regions’ populations felt about the internet, social media, and activism.  I appreciated that Americans saw and still generally see the internet as a hopeful mode for equality and change; that the Chinese citizens polled saw these tools as useful to circumvent censorship and get direct access to journalists; and that Latin Americans saw the web platform as a place to increase debate.

Chief concerns were/are also telling.  I generally think of the North American characterization of South America as ‘developing’ as neo-imperialist and negative – but to read that 15% of those polled had no access to the internet in their homes is a shock.  That is the reality in parts of the world, but I did not expect to see that in the Americas.

I think that each of our regions may have something to learn from the chief concerns of the other.  While we don’t deal with much censorship as such in the U.S., our government does over-classify information, which is a more centrally-held form of censorship, censorship the citizen in unaware is taking place.  That aside, Americans are less concerned with debate than our Latin American neighbors.  However, research shows that international, borderless information platforms like the internet and international news networks do not encourage debate with people of differing views, instead, viewers follow perspectives close to their own, thereby becoming more entrenched in their original viewpoints.  Likewise, China might emphasize change along with their very real governmental-censorship problem, and Latin America might look to their own censorship issues in their post-dictatorial regimes.

Global Business Media: Networks, Politics, & Power

Hello Colleagues, looking forward to speaking with Amelia Arsenault this week after reading these articles!  She and Castells (and masters grad Ann Kennedy – that could be us!) did a masterful job with a mountain of research to substantiate trends in new media.  Coming from an economics background taught me the value in statistical research – numbers speak for themselves.  These articles make great use of the public record in their research.

1.  From the first article regarding global media businesses, I loved the reference to ‘derivative news’ sources in the mention of Nick Davies’ research and book, Flat Earth NewsFlat Earth News Cover I would love to see that kind of research done in other countries.  In the U.S. the market is so broad it would be telling to see this kind of research focused by areas of interest such as target audiences, and heightened periods of news viewership such as presidential campaigns, or crises like the BP oil spill in 2010 and the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.  Derivative news-source comparisons amongst global media businesses  and the networks they are allied with would also be fascinating:  Time Warner’s multiple CNNs, the CW, and local affiliates -versus- News Corp’s various Fox networks and other holdings -versus- CBS -versus- Al-Jazeera -versus- Univision.  For these news-source comparisons, a company that produces media like VIACOM should not apply.  Arsenault and Castells did study Richard Murdoch in the second article, which discussed CEO and chairman of the board Murdoch himself as a news source for Australian News Corp.  I suspect that the larger companies with more interrelation and a broader network across industries deal in more sourced news, repeating and re-packaging centrally delivered ‘facts’ primarily from the Associated Press, whereas the more globally independent companies and networks we have in Al-Jazeera, and Univision would feature more varied content with direct fact-checking.  Farhood Manjoo wrote a book related to this subject, True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact World. True Enough Cover

2.  Again in the first article, and also concerning statistical research and reporting, there was a paragraph in the section: “Local Influencing Global” that asserted that the agenda of much daily cable news media is set ahead of time by reporting in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Al-Jazeera, BBC World, and The Economist.   I would really like to know how that claim is substantiated, where it is sourced, and how it was researched?  I find that much of what we learn and study in IC has to do with impressions of the responses/thoughts/reactions of ‘most people’ to various events.  I look forward to our methods courses to learn how to solidly test, and thereby either disprove or verify our hypotheses.

3.  In considering the Murdoch article, I will address the authors’ writing style.  This is a timely piece, maybe a bit untraditional as the gentleman from Australia is still alive (ha-ha), but so current and reporting on wireless, satellite, internet, and altogether international media – it might have been difficult to round out with facts.  The authors accomplished a successful, unbiased, academic article by the use of two main strategies: they brought hard evidence in statistical data to their argument, allowing the numbers to stand alone; and they “cooled” their language to maintain impartiality.

It is said in diplomacy ‘the hotter the subject the cooler the language.’  In crafting official U.S. Government policy, when sensational issues are wrestled with, one neutralizes the excessive drama and emotionality from the investigation by writing a report that strives to lend nothing in descriptive valuation (adjectives) to any potential position.  For example, female or child sex workers kidnapped or lured from one country, transported through a second country to arrive at a third location where they have no support and are unfamiliar with the laws and language – becomes the broader issue of ‘human trafficking.’  To shift the buzzwords from ‘sex slave’ to ‘trafficking in human beings’ takes nothing from the victim, but does not humiliate a government the United States wishes to partner with on the issue – because that government is one of the trafficking sites, and has been unaware, unwilling, or incapable of taking action against perpetrators, or because that government has been complicit and in some way a beneficiary for the activity.  Barring ‘x’ government’s facilitation of the trafficking, for a potential partner government just coming to the issue it harms the issue to humiliate or chastise them in any way by using sensationalist language to describe a problem in their region of the world.  Neutralizing ‘buzz words’ reduces the likelihood of triggering emotional responses – which don’t have a place in policy discussions.

While the authors acknowledged allegations put forth that Murdoch is a ‘bad’ person or too influential, they made no valuation judgments whatever.  Murdoch Limit Info memeThey stayed far clear of language that infers opinion or shades meaning, and objectively and empirically assessed the CEO and chairman of the board of News Corp.Muroch Tweets

They used a massive amount of noted articles and databases to give empirical evidence of their hypothesis.  It will be interesting if their investigation inspires other similar profiles of global media “switchers.”

(Not a part of the reading, but a Murdoch-meme favorite…  Murdoch Wife meme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY-dyz_iW1s)