Saturday, December 4, 2010

Biggest Loser: entertainment education in the form of reality TV

Dominating the health agenda, obesity has represented one of the United States’ priority health and behavior risk campaigns over the past several years.

Whether or not the reality TV show Biggest Loser was designed to be a form of entertainment education, the fact is that it is acting as a platform to raise awareness about obesity.

On the Biggest Loser, obese contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight in a given time period. Cameras follow contestants as they learn better eating habits, how to exercise and how to overcome emotional undercurrents of their eating behaviors. The show provides viewers with education about obesity and how to combat it, creating an entertainment education (E-E) program.

As defined by Singhal and Rogers, E-E is a “strategy used to disseminate ideas to bring about behavioral and social change.”(1)

The Biggest Loser gives the audience positive and negative role models, which illustrate behaviors that contribute to a healthy or unhealthy lifestyles. Viewers are able to identify their own behaviors, actions, and emotions as represented by the “characters” on the show and thus analyze how their own habits compare to the healthy/unhealthy models.

Reality TV shows are wildly popular in the United States, as well as in the global TV market, as we discussed in class on Thursday. In a highly competitive, commercial TV market, reality shows enable social awareness campaigns to reach a vast audience. E-E brings these messages to people in a way that they may not recognize them as such, in part because entertainment is such a prevalent part of people’s daily lives. “Not only does the public consume more entertainment, it is becoming a more integral part of people’s shopping, traveling, eating, driving, exercising, and working experiences,” Singhal and Rogers write. “By adding the luster of entertainment to the relatively “duller” fields of health promotion, education, and development, E-E fits in well with the contemporary global trend to entertainmentization.”(2)

In class we also discussed whether the nature of this program is truly altruistic in providing health information for the sake of health, or if it is another profit-driven program. Either way, the popular TV program is educating a nation, and a world with its international adaptations, that is increasingly obese.

1. Singhal, A. & Rogers, E.M. (2002) “A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment Education.” Communalization Theory. 12(2): 117-135.

2. Ibid.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I don't care about communication education

Somehow, I thought the segment on communication and development was going to be different. While I am known to sometimes look too literally at words and phrases, sometimes maybe I didn’t look hard enough. I was honestly kind of disappointed when I discovered that the segment was on education. It’s not that I’m against education, and it does make sense to use education as a vehicle for development, but that I thought we were going to learn more about access. This might be my uberliberal side poking through, but education is not the only thing that separates the haves from the have-nots, undeveloped countries from developed ones. Yes, teaching the youth in the Third-World about AIDS/HIV and being tolerant to a host of issues is great, but what is the US’ excuse? We are ‘developed’ but we’ve still got a lot to learn about tolerance and diseases that run rampant in this country.

I want to talk about access. I want to talk about entrepreneurship and how people can bring development to their region. I want to talk about the goals of the people. I want to talk about what people think development is, and through that, what measures can we take work together to achieve our goals. I say I want to talk because this is a discussion that I am sure does not happen on a regular basis. In our academic institutions, there is hardly enough diversity to scratch the surface of understanding our goals and the goals of people around us. Even in theory/practice courses, when we try to see what this means, we still are hindered by our own perspective. It is simple enough to think that we do not know what the other guy is thinking or experiencing, yet people still refuse to internalize that to understand what that means. Then we can have some discussion, then we can have some progress.

12/09 an update: My friend posted this on my facebook. It kind of makes fun of communication education in the US through Dora the Explorer.

Is a Global Entertainment Network the Next Step? I Hope So

Transnational entertainment is on the rise with shoes like Sesame Street, the Biggest Loser and American Idol being sold and reformatted everywhere.  CNN, Fox and Al Jazeera broadcast to a huge international audience, but they are news networks.  When will there be a completely transcontinental popular music or children’s network?  It might seem like a pipe dream, but with the growing number regional shows, bridging this gap might just be the next corporate step.  Instead of sending or importing shows to other networks, an international network would made its own programs and partner with production companies everywhere for content. 
I’d like to spend a Sunday watching a line up of Jersey Shore, Lake Shore (Canada) or maybe Bosporus Shore (not actual, yet).  Instead of hunting on the internet for foreign music, I could watch music videos from Mali, Portugal or New Zealand.  World Idol, would be on there.  And of course, a Big Brother World.  If I were creator of this station, I would make sure there was a strong outreach and development component to reach undeveloped entertainment pools.  There might be a lot of opportunities for soft power diplomacy to take root here.  If people became exposed to each others cultures and began to understand their thinking, there would be greater international cooperation.  In the privacy of a living room or in front of a lap top, a person could open their mind about another culture.  It might solidify negative preconceived notions of a culture to (lazy, greedy or impolite), but at least the strange customs would be humanized and therefore less scary. 

Reality Bites

Aside from reality shows where people actually must have a skill--like Project Runway or the Chef shows--I'm not a fan of reality TV, in fact I only watch PR if I remember to and because I love Tim Gunn. But a new book by Jenifer Pozner, "Reality Bites Back" brings up the issue of how women are portrayed in reality TV shows and the genre doesn't make it out unscathed. She points out that any reality show is far from real--each cast is carefully selected, and Pozner points out, women rarely make it past the editing room without perpetuating derisive stereotypes. Pozner writes in an article for Women's News website (

"It's a time-tested bait-and-switch: smart, professionally independent women become more successful by playing the part of the silly, dependent dimwit in the media. The phenomenally accomplished 'I Love Lucy' star Lucille Ball, the first woman to head a Hollywood production company, is probably the most famous TV example. Reality producers may have cut their teeth on 'dumb blonds,' but they want viewers to believe female stupidity knows no racial limits."

Here's a fantastic clip, breaking down how reality tv is edited (I should warn you the last 5 seconds are not appropriate, but by then you'll have gotten the idea and can stop it if you like):

So I think the reason reality TV is so pervasive is something brought up in class--it's cheap, and therefore easy to import, export, distort and watch to make us feel better about our own reality.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I love Smores

A new, more modern, ‘21th century model’ for communication comes in response to the repeated failures of a model that the authors of this article wish to outline and make obsolete. The previous method merely involved firing a stream of information towards the target (this was discussed my September blog: the Effect of Communication on People). It is assumed that if a message is sent then that message will be received by the intended recipient unless there is some sort of interference. It does not take into account the telephone effect or ‘getting lost in translation’. This phrase does not have to mean a literal translation of languages, but a translation of ideas and perspectives. What the sender knows and understands to be true, fact, and the norm may not be the understanding for whom they are intending to communicate.

In several of my elementary school English classes, I was taught to write directions on how to do something: a simple task, like how to make s’mores. The rough draft was simple: Put the marshmallow over the fire until its black or dark brown on the outside, put on top of chocolate, and place both in between graham crackers. Sounds right? Not good enough. In communication, we must remember that those who were are communicating with might not have the same background of understanding marshmallow/chocolate/graham crackers. To work with these minute obstacles, we have to learn to be more specific and sensitive to others perspectives in order to explain something best. Indeed, the issue might be a simple as: what is marshmallow? The commonly sold version in stores is not Kosher or Halal, that blocks out a sizable portion of the prospective participatory population in Muslims and Jews who keep Kosher and Halal. In order to accommodate these people, you must explain what marshmallows are, and where to find gelatin-less, Kosher/Halal versions to use. Additionally, they would need to know that graham crackers come in a box, and that needs to be opened, and that within the box is a bag, and that needs to be opened. Depending on the brand, size might be an issue; this same level of detailed explanation needs to be repeated for the chocolate, and the marshmallows. What do we heat the marshmallows with? What if I’m allergic to chocolate?

The authors attributed failures the so-called War on Terror to a failed communication model. The model that they proposed however does not have to be its own entity; it can be incorporated into the old model. (As we well know, people trained in liberal arts fields are adverse to big changes, so it’s probably best to try an incorporation method rather than something brand-new, unless they only did it for being recognized for doing something new and special). The four principles of the model are
• Deemphasize control and embrace complexity
• replace repetition with variation
• consider disruptive moves
• expect and plan for failure

The first three are very similar; they embrace complexity and seek to look at the issue from a broader lens rather than straight on. The last point is always good to keep on hand. Lower your expectations.

So what did we learn here? Communicate with people as if they are not you. And lower your expectations, because if someone does not want to make s’mores, you’ve wasted your time.

You Think You know, But You Have no Idea: Model UN

 Joseph Nye's soft power can be seen beyond a wide-scale cultural negotiating table, down into a New York hotel meeting room during a National Model United Nations (NMUN) conference. Soft power implies that if a country's culture is well-liked and appreciated by others, that this likability translates to political power.  A nation's trustworthiness and friendship are its most critical tools in international politics, economics, and relations.  My experience in the NMUN conference is a microcosm of this principle in action.  
Students from around the world came to duke it out and take home a little bit of glory.  Certain teams were trained how to win, or, more importantly, how not to lose.  At their command, these officious diplomats had every esoteric rule ready to deploy: roll calls with 200 people, fact checks and date checks – all with the flip of their placards.   To prepare, I went to Macy’s. I told the saleswoman I needed a color that said, “I’m right, co-sign my resolution.”   Ladybug Red became, Sign My Resolution Red.  Other delegates relied less on subtlety; they would rush up to weaker representatives, attack them with questions, accusations and commands, then move on.
“Do you support bilateral efforts to mitigate….?”
“uh, well … Chad believes that its better stick with our regional – “
“- No. That doesn’t work.  You need a … with a … Brazil is making a resolution that would …. You support it? Good. Sign Here.”
Several kids called the conference quits because they couldn’t share any of their opinions and no one listened to them. 
  I looked around the room: crestfallen soldiers sat scattered with index cards full arguments no one would ever hear.  I pulled them together and asked if they would share their ideas with me.  We decided on a scribe, then went around and shared our opinions and perspectives.  In our down time I made sure to share restaurant and shopping tips in the city and swap travel stories. We sat in a circle with the rest of the committee buzzing around behind us.  I figured that if people were going to vote on any resolution I supported, they needed to like me.  Not in a Michael Scott,  I need people to like me, kind of way, but rather in a way that opened them up to share their thoughts with me.  To support my ideas, they needed to trust me. My resolutions developed in depth and practicality with each contribution.  They knew that I cared about their interests and that I considered their opinions in our work.  Credibility and communication are key to soft power.  Sign My Resolution Red became I am Listening Red.
the colloquialism, you win more flies with honey than vinegar summarizes Nye’s concept of soft power.  My strategy worked in the end with all three of our resolutions passing. I received the committee award for diplomacy, which is selected by a peer majority vote. The intimidation tactics of the hard power delegates failed to the soft power of talking and trust. 

The Silver Bullet

If you've ever taken antibiotics of some sort, you're probably aware that instead of downing 30 pills in 30 days you there's a "Silver Bullet" pill out there; something like 6 powerful pills to get you a super dose and you're back to normal in a week. We talked about Corman's point of needing a consistent message that takes time to communicate. There isn't a magic bullet out there and we're so focused on getting everyone to hear our message that we don't think our silver bullet might be, or was once, flawed. I think of how this relates to what we're doing in Afghanistan. After this long, is our message an effective one? Do we specifically tailor our 'antidote' or do we approach people as though they should be capable of understanding our completely different way of communicating?

I liked the example from the lecture about pragmatic complexity and doing what your communication partner doesn't expect. I think we have evolved into a 'quick results' oriented society that doesn't understand how, in all likelihood, we'll fall short of our short term goals and sees being realistic as unacceptable. We've created a number of problems for ourselves and for others in the world and I think we, civilians and government officials alike, tend to think we'll luck out with some kind of silver bullet that takes care of all the past transgressions (we heard the example of Obama's Cairo speech and the lack of follow up). We approach others as though they are no different from us, that the same techniques, the same remedies will work with them as they would for us, but only a fraction of the world is similar to us in the respect. For the rest, we have to battle a stereotype that we're flaky and don't take the time to let a relationship develop. I'm not very optimistic that this will change in my lifetime. We recently heard how there are more people in all the military marching bands than there are in all of the State Department, and given how slowly bureaucracy moves I don't think we'll change our way of relating, communicating and living with people who approach diplomacy or trade differently. The disconnect between people perceiving a quick fix or solution and the slow real-time solution is startling and it will take a form of 'relational or communication literacy', like media literacy only interpersonal, which I think should be taught to everyone along side of media literacy, but that would take a review of the nation's education system...and I don't feel like standing on my soap box for that long!

Soft power and American hegemony

In a recent Foreign Affairs article, “The Future of American Power: Dominance and Decline in Perspective,” Joseph Nye writes, “ [power] measured in resources rarely equals power measured in preferred outcome, and cycles of belief in decline reveal more about psychology than they do about real shifts in power resources.”

In this article, Nye addresses the domestic concern that U.S. hard power is declining and that it will soon be just another fallen empire. Nye suggests that America’s hard power will remain stable, and the U.S. will be one of the key players (if not the top one) in the international arena for decades to come. Raising international nations, especially China, seem to pose a threat to U.S. dominance. However, Nye suggests that China will not necessarily overcome the U.S. to be the one and only super power. For instance, China’s economic power may become the same as the U.S. as far as its GDP by 2030, but the U.S. will likely have a higher per capita income. China will still have an underdeveloped rural population and will have to deal with the impacts of its one-child policy, according to Nye. Also, Nye wrote, “China’s authoritarian political system has shown an impressive capability to harness the country’s power, but whether the government can maintain that capability over the longer term is a mystery both to outsiders and Chinese leaders.”

Nye says that the U.S. is not in an absolute decline, but rather a relative decline where other states use their powers, including soft power, more effectively.

In his article “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” Nye writes that soft power relies on three primary resources: “its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority).”

Effective soft power in the U.S. is partly due to immigration, Nye writes in the Foreign Affairs article. “When Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew concludes that China will not surpass the United States as the leading power of the twenty-first century, he cites the ability of the United States to attract the best and brightest from the rest of the world and meld them into a diverse culture of creativity.”

U.S. universities remain among the top-ranked in the world. Also, Nye writes, “Americans win more Nobel Prizes and publish more scientific powers in peer-reviewed journals – three times as many as the Chinese – that do the citizens of any other country. These accomplishments enhance both the country’s economic power and soft power.”

By these measures, U.S. soft power will enable it to maintain its position as a dominant super power in international affairs, and that worries as to U.S. decline should not cause the U.S. government to, “overreact out of fear.” As Nye argues, “the U.S. will need a smart strategy that combines hard- and soft-power resources – and that emphasizes alliances and networks that are responsive to the new context of a global information age.

Foreign Affairs article:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

U.S. public diplomacy should embrace Al Jazeera

To win the “war on terror,” it is imperative that the United States wins the hearts and minds of the people who are sympathetic to the cause of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda.

Those people don’t get their news information from Western media. They watch Arab satellite channels including Al Arabiya, Al Hayat, and especially Al Jazeera. During the invasion of Iraq, the Arab media framed the news much differently than Western media outlets with polarizing worldviews being portrayed.

In her chapter “War and Peace in the Information Age,” Elizabeth Hanson writes, “The ambiguity of the [reasons for going to war] left it open for a framing contest, in which American imperialism, Arab humiliation, and variations on these themes had more cultural resonance in Arab countries than themes of liberation and international security.”

In a study by Powers and el-Nawawy, they found that people tend to watch news channels that reaffirm what they already believe. The global media system doesn’t provide a global public sphere with this clashing of narratives.

The U.S. should adapt its diplomacy to meet viewers where they are. Hanson said, “In the broadest sense diplomacy is the communication process through which the official representatives of states try to advance their national interests and reconcile conflicting interests by words rather than force.”

In order to influence people’s perceptions of the U.S., government officials need to at least be in the news frame. In the Frontline documentary we watched in class, there were two military spokespeople who regularly appeared on Al Jazeera English to get the U.S. perspective out to the audiences. Another step forward was the state department official who spoke fluent Arabic and went on Al Jazeera.

A recent article on the Yemen Post’s website described an interview that Al Jazeera did with John Brennan, the assistant to the U.S. President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Brennan talked about how the U.S. provides funding, equipment, and training for Yemen’s national counterterrorism forces. He also made the following statement:

“The U.S. doest not plan to open new warfronts because many Americans have been killed while trying to protect others such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. But our country is committed to assisting others to live in peace and security and protect them from terrorist slaughters. Yemen was a victim of the cancer of Al-Qaeda, hence, we are doing all we can to ensure that we help this country deal with security and economic problems. We can't allow Al-Qaeda to spread in Yemen because it is undermining the country's economy and basic systems, which receive our support. The Yemeni people are good and I am confident they don't want Al-Qaeda to live in their country, however, they want to bring up their children well and help them go to school.”

Brennan’s appearance on Al Jazeera signals to Arab audiences that the U.S. sees Yemen as a partner in its fight against terrorism. It’s not a narrative they hear very often. This is a step in the right direction for U.S. diplomacy and they should step up their efforts at utilizing Al Jazeera.

Yemen Post article:

Hanson, Elizabeth C. (2008) “War and Peace in the Information Age.” The Information Revolution and World Politics. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield). Pages 97-138.

Internationally Underwhelmed

If you don't like Shakespeare, then I apologize for the random reference I'm about to use to make my point. If there was something rotten in the state of Denmark these days, we probably wouldn't know about it. Our interest in, and the news media's capacity to deliver international news is diminishing quickly. It's possible to argue that Americans have never been interested in the rest of the world. I'd argue this is incorrect, as up until 1945 we anxiously watched everyone else and wanted to be like them, hoping to one day be supreme. It's possible we have news fatigue, that there is just too much going on to really care. I think people had more interest in the rest of the world when we weren't inundated by three 24 hour news channels that reported some stories ad nauseum and others reduced to one line with the annoying ticker at the bottom of the screen (one example would be a year or so past, when helicopters circled above a river that might crest and devour houses--because we all really want to see peoples homes getting destroyed, right?--and the scroll at the bottom spoke of Zimbabwe's diseased and starving population.)

I've digressed. I think some reasons for the decline in international reporting are that it's expensive, people have access to websites focused solely on the region of interest, and the demographics are changing. In regards to monetary value, it can cost up to $300,000 to open and operate a foreign service bureau. The more free access a person has to the news, the less likely they are going to pay for content, which cuts into operations of the news source. If I want to know what's going on in Europe, I can find shows or papers (European Journal on PBS or Eurozine) that focus just on Europe, and it'll be from a European point of view, not an American one. The same in respects to Al Jezeera if I wanted a different voice from the Middle East or Asia Times online. NBC, CBS, ABC, or CNN even, would broadcast international stories that their producers think are relevant to the majority of the audience, and I might not agree or like their spin. This leads me to the demographics. Most people who still watch news, aside from those of us who were weaned are particular news anchors, are middle aged and middle class. Their world view is going to be rather different from mine, and I'm more likely to have a level of tech savvy they don't, and am not as likely to pay for my news (online or in print form, although personally, I love newspapers) and search for it online, either from actual news sites, or from podcasts like PRI's The World. I don't think any of this is wrong, per say, but it does become a problem if the population isn't media literate.

This issue comes at a bad time, since it's crucial that we are aware of and pay attention to what's going on elsewhere, especially if our government or trade deals have something to do with it. We have to actively, and vocally, want better international news. It's not likely that the AP or Reuters will suddenly vanish, and CNN seems to have hired more journalists. But does that really matter if people are stuck navel gazing and watching Fox or MSNBC?
Here's an interesting, hand-wringing article I found from a British perspective:

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Media is Causing all of the World's Problems

“. . . the cosmopolitan outlook means that, in a world of global crises and dangers
produced by civilization, the old differentiations between internal and external, national
and international, us and them, lose their validity and a new cosmopolitan realism
becomes essential to survival. (Beck 2006, p. 14)”

The Cottle article focuses on global crises represented in the international media and the implications of an increasingly global media system. In Cottle’s view, global crises and the media are intertwined, even going so far as to say that “global crises are highly dependent on global news media.”

But if global crises are dependent on media, and, in Beck’s view global crises are transforming and redistributing the way we look at the world and our national and regional boundaries, does that mean that (understanding that if A-->B and B-->C then A must-->C) media is the cause of the transformation of international, internal and external differentiations?

Trying to fully understand the implications of Beck’s quote, I feel like the argument is, essentially, a cosmopolitan outlook will make older outlooks outdated and therefore cosmopolitanism is the only viable option. Really, is the issue reflective of global crises or a theory addressing the crises? In general a new outlook is just that, it changes the perspective in which we receive and interpret information. Indeed, a world that is increasingly changing and within a global system that is becoming more aware of itself we can no longer look at the system in the same way we always have.

Making an Appearence on Someone Else's Blog

The example of CNN and the Iraq war begs the question: is there any way to really trust ones media sources.  Their failure to honestly report on the War left many people feeling like I had been lied to.  Because so many people trust CNN to provide a critical opinion, CNN’s support of the war made it seem necessary.  If mass media is, as Hafez suggests, so unreliable in reporting unbiased accurate information than is there any way to get the truth?  What other sources are available, if the sources we trust to be honest are not?  I try not to rely on online information too often, because I can’t trust the sources.  But If I cannot trust the mass media either, what can a person do?  Although, I am currently writing a blog, I don’t trust many of them for my news.  Here is a story about my experience making into someone else’s blog, and learning how, twisted they are. 

While interning on Capital Hill, angry constituents asked me ridiculous questions and demanded answers.  Many people would laugh to themselves when I couldn’t answer their questions like, “If the government can tax me for methane gas, how can you guarantee me the Senator won’t tax me for farting? That’s methane gas too!  How can you promise me?? Tell me?”  or “If the hate crimes amendment goes through,  did you know that my pastor could get arrested for preaching anti-gay beliefs.  Does the Senator think its right for people to get arrested for free speech?”  I wasn’t allowed to contest their responses, only promote them to correspondence or plead intern ignorance.  So many people would end their conversations, laughing and saying, “Oh boy, my blog followers will love to read about this conversation.  ‘The Senator supports pastors getting arrested for preaching the bible.’ You’ve been so helpful...Not.” My intern obligation to not wrestle with constituents made it hard to listen to them. “Listen, Mam, the government has much better things to do than worry about your personal flatulence. Might I consider stock in Beano or some hobbies.”  I always wondered if their readers really considered the entire Government system staffed with stammering idiots.  They could have been lying (probably were), but they did seem to have a large readership.  And with quotes from the Senators office, they had new credibility.  The experience made be understand how uncredible online media can be and how people select sources that confirmed their arguments, no matter how unsound, tautological or outlandish they were. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

And the Award goes to...

In the next few months, as the rest of us brush off the post holiday glow, Hollywood will amp up the self-congratulation with its annual Award Season. Everyone knows how crucial and stuffy the Academy Award ceremony is, which is the pinnacle of the season, but it's the first award show, the Golden Globes, that everyone seems to want to go to and get. It's not just because of the free booze, although that promises viewers at home a chance at seeing inebriated actors at their not-so-finest, but rather the reach of their careers when given a stamp of approval by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The awards are chosen by 90 foreign journalists from 55 countries with a readership of 250 million. However you translate it, Hollywood culture will do anything for more money and more places to sell its product.

I've read that the Golden Globe ceremony gives people an idea of what to expect for an Academy Award, however, what's great about this award is that it often recognizes smaller films or shows or lesser known (and often foreign) actors will be rewarded for their work, over something big budget and...American. It's important to note though that while it's a foreign association, most of its members are from western countries ( and are hardly well known journalists. The idea behind it, was for foreign journalists to gain access to more movie stars as Hollywood increased its overseas clout back in the 1940s. At this point though, many aren't journalists and they all have to live in Southern California. (a scathing review:

So the connection to our class and reading is that something like the HFPA helps make Hollywood money overseas, and serves as a funnel to export our movies or promote movies that aren't ours. Hanson wrote about it on pages 207/208, pointing out UNESCO's concern over American movies and the balance of exporting entertainment. Yet even if the HFPA was keen on promoting foreign movies in the US, and undoing some of America's dominance, it seems incapable of not being start struck and easy to court. Most foreign films lack the "secondary" budget to wine and dine the important people who can help their film gain international stature. The organization that many of us thought did a lot to promote foreign films and interest within Hollywood rarely votes against potential American favorites. It's possible that as more Americans are exposed to foreign films, directing the flow of money elsewhere, that Hollywood would take notice, but it's not very likely.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Check with Your Link Analysis Software Before Planning a Party

this is a cheesy picture of people holding hands around the world

I’m starting to feel a trend forming with what I like to write about when it comes to blogs. If I only write about people and the way people feel about each other; and technology, and the way people feel about technology, I will have temporarily fulfilled my urge to write and think about people and technology. This is no different. In class, we were again talking about networks and network structure, and Professor CHayden again began talking about the strength of networks and network linkages.  As witnessed from a few blogs ago, one might be able to tell that I really like thinking about network linkages.

The internet has brought us many great things that we can use to track each other, and a very interesting invention was that of link analysis software. With this we can see and follow links between nodes. Nodes being individuals, agents or groups, we can see common bonds between them. What does this mean? What does this do? Imagine you are throwing a party, you want to invite 100 friends, they are from all over the world, but unless they are all from 100 different countries (which, you are a lucky person if your friends are that diverse) some of them will be from the same country. The link analysis will show this. When everyone arrives from the party, you discover that many of them know each other. ‘How is this possible’, you ask yourself. Link analysis will show that one third of them went to the same university, surprisingly, the one you didn’t go to; it will show that one half of them attended the same conference two years ago, but you were sick and missed it; it will show that one six of them have children at the same school; it will show that 17 of them secretly formed a you-bashing facebook group, and that they only attended the party to sabotage it. In this, we see considerable overlap, and these multiple links are depicted in visual format, we can see what binds our friends. 

Facebook advocates for green objectives

“We only have one planet. Let’s do all we can protect it.”

One might imagine this slogan coming from Greenpeace, or perhaps the Sierra Club. However, it comes from a more unlikely source: Facebook. The social network is stepping outside its parameters as a public sphere and actually becoming an advocate itself for the environmental movement.

According to a statement on the PR News website, Facebook joined the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign (DESC), which “works to advance ideas, best practices and public policies that promote information and communications technology-enabled energy efficiency, clean energy innovation, and sustainable growth.”

Facebook has created its own “green” Page highlighting their “efforts to be a green and sustainable global citizen.” People can go there to learn about different clean energy technologies and initiatives.

Under the Info tab on Facebook’s Green Page, they describe the role Facebook plays in conveying this message: “We are proud that Facebook plays a unique part in promoting efforts to achieve a clean energy future. By enabling millions of people from diverse backgrounds to easily connect and share, we believe we can help unleash innovative environmental initiatives across the globe.”

Social networking technology has allowed for a particular kind of agency. The prevalence of networked ICTs changed ways activism gets done and has mobilized people in different ways than ever before. It makes you wonder how people were able to coordinate demonstrations prior to the invention of the Internet, similar to imagining what it was like to successfully pick someone up at the airport before mobile phones.

Clearly ICTs have enabled for worldwide interconnectedness on social justice issues. They enable instantaneous communication. Images of tragedies and injustices can spread virally. People from all over the world come together, not always driven by the same ideologies, to connect for transnational activism.

Facebook provides this structure for various stakeholders and enables opportunities for activism. Am I more likely to become an activist because Facebook allows me to learn about different causes and social movements? Does that make me an activist just because I click on “like”? According to my Apple dictionary, activism is “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” I’m not sure I would classify the opportunities on Facebook as “vigorous campaigning.”

The PR News article described Facebook’s commitment in more detail:

“Facebook's membership in DESC is part their ongoing program to develop energy efficient computing systems while also enabling public activism. Earlier this year, Facebook engineers launched a programming language, HipHop for PHP, which allowed their servers to do the same amount of work with half the number of servers. To spread the benefit, Facebook has open sourced the programming language so that other companies can get the same energy saving benefits.

The social network is also focused on empowering Facebook users to embrace energy efficient living and environmental responsibility by launching the Page as a resource for individuals and organizations. Facebook will be collaborating with environmental experts to administer the Page and share. DESC will be the first co-administrator”

Does this technology motivate us to be more involved? Has technology changed our attitude about what it means to be an activist? Perhaps Facebook as created a new generation of slack-tivists – people who care about issues but are too busy or lazy to contribute real manpower to the cause.

Either way you look at the issue, there are more people now than ever before who can learn about these issues and contribute to the transnational activist movement.

Facebook Green:

PR Newswire article:

ITC and the International Intersex Movement

What role do ITCs play in galvanizing us into action, and would we be as socially active without them? The general, non-determinist answer, is no; technology doesn’t make us more active, it’s the other things surrounding technology like culture, norms and rituals.  I have one example, however, of ITCs, causing individuals to mobilize, and that is the case of the international intersex community. Unlike the L’Aguila case, none of the people involved in the intersex movement had ever meet or would likely ever meet, if not for ITCs.  There was almost no hope for face-to-face meetings due to the nature of their condition.  Intersex refers to a number of medical conditions in which the sex of an individual is not fully developed into either male or female.  The common misnomer is hermaphrodite.  Some conditions of intersex are as common as 1/1000 (meaning, that of the 9,000 students at AU, at least nine can be assumed to have a condition of intersex).  In the late 1970’s Dr. John Money set the standards for treating intersex based on his soundly disproven hypothesis that a child could be raised in either gender the parents chose.  The sex was selected based on what genital operation would produce the most convincing results. Most hospitals advised parents never to tell their children the truth about their condition, and also that they continue to get reconstruction surgery through puberty (without telling them why), resulting in a life of secrecy and confusion.
David Reimer was Dr. Money’s experiment case and only a few of his closest doctors and family knew the reality – it didn’t work, David was living his life as a man not the woman Money claimed.  The world didn’t find out the truth until 1997, when he told Rolling Stones magazine (his favorite).  In 2001 PBS did a special on intersex based on Reimer’s story and the work of several people who came forward after hearing about his case.  For the first time, people realized that there were other others out there, and that the hypothesis, by which they had been forced to live their lives, was false.  Once people discovered they weren’t alone, they formed websites and online communities to reach out to others who had lived in silence for years.  Because their condition was so secretive, most people never knew another intersex individual.  As the transnational community grew they began protesting and lobbying for a change of the medical field.  The book Middlesex was written on the subject, which prompted an Oprah special on intersex, increasing awareness and the community.  Eventually, after fighting off the assumption that they were actually transgender or transsexuals, the paradigm shifted.  Now doctors have adopted an entirely new practice for treating individuals of intersex, waiting until the individual has gender identified (usually around three) and then waiting until he or she is old enough the make the decision to have reconstructive surgery.
   The intersex movement would not have happened if it were not for ITCs. Not enough people would have come together over their shared history if it weren’t for television and the Internet. Especially, with the silence most people have towards their condition. Although the condition is more common than people think, it is still infrequent, and the likelihood of a transnational movement facilitated by face-to-face communication is almost impossible.

Friday, October 29, 2010

An Up-to-Date Satellite Image is a Thing of Beauty

Maps are very important to me. An accurate map might be the most objective thing I have ever witnessed. The globe is even better, the globe is great because unlike maps which split the world, possibly putting the focus on one continent or group of continents. The globe allows the viewer to see exactly what they seek, not what a cartographer views as important.
Satellite images are, in my view, perfect. An up-to-date satellite image is a thing of beauty. Averaging about 250 thousand miles away, satellites can take a picture of your backyard, and the backyards of everyone in the world, provided there’s a yard back there.  Compiling data about every visible (outdoors) thing and presenting this information to the world is great, to me. 
But at what cost does all of this information come? I think it is great to be able to look at Google Earth at different countries like Kazakhstan, Indonesia, or Russia, and feel like I am there. Though I cannot smell, feel, taste, or hear anything that is going on in those places, just seeing it puts me in a situation I had not had access to earlier.  In cohort with SketchUp, architects can recreate 3-D images and import them into Google Earth so we can actually walk around in cities we may have never seen. I now have the access to learn street names and navigate around a city that I have never physically encountered. It’s great. But again, that brings me back to my earlier question, but at what cost? If Yin-Yang is something to be taken seriously I must believe that something so great must also be very destructive.
Google Earth is owned by an American company—Google. Which means, when Google teams up with a federal agency, NASA, to bring the world satellite images of itself, what does that mean for, say, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, or Russia? People living in these countries have no idea that I am technically spying on their city. I have them all figured out. I could find out where to get fresh meat if I was put in the capital cities today. The people have no control over this. It was a nice idea when I was innocently trying to attain knowledge about other cities, architecture, or cultural products, but the more I think about it, the more I feel like one of my favorite pastimes is disgustingly intrusive.  And that’s just me, with somewhat noble aspirations. What about those with fewer scruples? What about the images of nuclear reactors? What about work/prison camps? What about refugee camps? Near unlimited access to information is tough enough to grasp, the idea that for the right price anyone can find out about anything, but the unlimited access to geospatial data (which actually is sometimes incorporated with information, but for the sake of this, it is separate) to go with the intelligence has potential to be very dangerous to many parties. 

Google challenges nation-state sovereignty, promotes bottom-line

With the raising influence of new media and information and communication technology, networks and network societies increasingly have the ability to challenge traditional structures of power.

In our reading from Sangeet Kumar, we learned how Google represents this concept of network influence in regards to the nation-state. Google “represents a new modality of power, increasingly making inroads into the Westphalian nation-state system.” Kumar also writes that Google and other digital media institutions, “leverage what scholars have called network power, an amorphous web of treaties, organizations and institutions, which functions by presenting its private interest as a public one.”

Ultimately the point is that the nation-state power structure is currently being challenged, and sometimes undermined, by the forces of transnational networks and movements.

The article highlights the tensions between national governments (particularly India) and Google Earth, a program through which anyone can access satellite images of practically any place on the planet. Governments see this as a challenge to their sovereignty over national security, as people can access imagery of government and military buildings, possibly providing adversaries with the intelligence to attack. Google’s main argument is that this information is available elsewhere for anyone to access and also the programs has beneficial aspects.

Google continues to face challenges today with Google Earth and its Street View mapping feature. For instance, the Italian government is investigating Google’s allegedly violating people’s privacy. Apparently, “Google admitted that its researches collected wireless information [while collecting Street View images] including entire e-mails, URLs and passwords.” Google is facing similar charges in Britain for revealing the name and address of a domestic violence safe house.

According to Kumar, Google represents this rise of non-state actors and their influence on international relations writing that “[their] uniqueness comes from an architecture that is designed to be a centerless diffused network, which allows them to present themselves as a web where, in principle, each node has as much control as the other.”

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, the bi-monthly publication by the Council on Foreign Relation, Google executives discussed this concept of the “’interconnected estate,’ – a place where any person with access to the Internet, regardless of living standard or nationality is given a voice and the power to effect change.”

Google CEO and Chair Eric Schmidt and Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen write that the traditional form of governance is being, and will continue to be, disrupted by technology and people’s ability to create networks outside traditional boundaries and mediums. They write that governments should recognize the impact of these networks and learn how to work with them (ideally supporting uncensored access) in order to progress their governance paradigm.

Google is leading this effort (most likely looking to profit ideologically and financially) through the establishment of the Global Network Initiative, “an organization that brings together information technology companies, human rights groups, socially responsible investors, and academics in an effort to promote free expression online and protect privacy.”

Sangeet Kumar, “Google Earth and the nation-state: Sovereignty in the age of new media” Global Media and Communication 2010 6: 154

Italy news story:

UK news story:

Schmidt, Eric and Jared Cohen. “The Digital Disruption: Connectivity and the Diffusion of Power.” Foreign Affairs. November/December 2010. Council on Foreign Relations: New York. Accessed Oct. 29, 2010

Sousveillance - Surveillance from the Bottom Up

On the subject of citizen journalism in Chouliaraki's article, I think this new medium will develop dramatically over the next decade in the world. As Information and Communication technologies become more ubiquitous.  The implications for state behavior will be great as people are able to monitor their government and report on human rights violations.  With more platforms to present these images and video, governments will not be able to assert their authority over their people as they can when no one is watching.  The term, Sousveillance was coined by Steve Mann, an engineering professor from Canada.  Surveillance, implies watching from above, while sousveillance (from the French word, Sous for under) implies watching from below.  He suggested that one day everyone would have the technology to watch and monitor the police and those who are “watching after” them.  He was a pioneer in the field, thirty years before anyone could image the power and spread of ICTs.  (To demonstrate his theory, Mann turned himself into the first human cyborg by fixing a camera over his rights eye that captured everything he saw.) Initially he was seen as a nut, but people are rethinking his prophesy now. The impact of sousveillance is seen already, and is unfolding daily.

Human Cyborg

         On the subject of citizen journalism in Chouliarakis article, I think this new medium will develop dramatically over the next decade in the world. As Information and Communication technologies become more ubiquitous.  The implications for state behavior will be great as people are able to monitor their government and report on human rights violations.  With more platforms to present these images and video, governments will not be able to assert their authority over their people as they can when no one is watching.  The term, Sousveillance was coined by Steve Mann, an engineering professor from Canada.  Surveillance, implies watching from above, while sousveillance (from the French word, Sous for under) implies watching from below.  He suggested that one day everyone would have the technology to watch and monitor the police and those who are “watching after” them.  He was a pioneer in the field, thirty years before anyone could image the power and spread of ICTs.  To demonstrate his theory, Mann turned himself into the first human cyborg by fixing a camera over his rights eye that captured everything he saw.  Initially he was seen as a nut, but people are rethinking his prophesy now. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Networks Strengthening the Tibetan Plateau

Latour points out that the connection between two nodes in the network is more important than the nodes themselves.  The relationship between each player determines how fast information  spreads across. I witness the power of these network  relationships while working at Machik, whose mission is to  strengthen communities on the Tibetan plateau.  Originally their plan was just to start a school.  As they pulled on more contacts and joined other organizations with tangential missions, they were able to expand into a woman's program, microcredit project, sustainable agriculture, film and social business.  This weekend they held a three day networking event where everyone involved with Machik from all sectors came together to share their work and discuss further collaboration.  The weekend had a lot of down time where people could chat and build relationships that made their connections stronger; as Latour argued the stronger the connection the more likely information will spread across it. 

An interesting trend relating to Latours argument is the rise in organizations specifically designed to make relationships between two unconnected nodes.  The creator of was attended the weekend to discuss his website.  The goal of the organization is to connect business and individuals who are interested in raising money for different causes and want to make sure their money is well used.  He posts specific projects from a wide variety of NGOs allowing individuals to browse and select one to support.  This example demonstrates Catells point that technology is fundamental in enabling tnetwork interconnectivity. 

How do nation states exert power through networks?

Because I am a very visual learner, this question really resonated with me. Well, not so much the question, but the many diagrams that Mr. CHayden wrote on the board. These diagrams help us to understand the nature of networks and how they ‘work’.  My perception of a network was very literal—I assume a network needs to be a net that works; that is, a series of interconnected nodes whose linkages portray the nature of the relationship.  However, understanding the Arsenault article through the use of diagrams helped me to understand the use of dyads and monads. (Monads still do not make that much logical sense to me, because I do not understand the idea that the node does not connect with anything else...)  A amateurish answer of the question stated above, with the basic understanding of what a network is that states exert power through a network hierarchy. One model that Mr. CHayden drew shows just this relationship.
<--This is the basic model. However, in a real-life scale, we run into issues of complexity. This very complexity is where the power is garnered.
State elected officials exert power over their subordinates- bureaucratic officials, who exert power over their subordinates, and their constituents, who then exert power over corporations and businesses that they patronize. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Iranians tune in to telenovelas

Iranians are turning the channel on the state-run broadcasting in favor of foreign satellite channels that provide news and entertainment shows dubbed in Farsi.

In Monday’s Financial Times article “Iranians turn off state TV after soap is dropped,” it was reported that Iranians are increasingly upset with the state television system Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) because it cancelled a soap opera (Black Coffee) with one of Iran’s most popular actors, Mehran Modiri. The state censored the series due to its sensitive theme about a historical authoritarian regime whose mistakes were removed from Iran’s history books. Since the state television network dropped the show, Modiri made DVDs of the program of which he sold 500,000 copies the first day.

Clearly, Iranians are big fans of the soap opera genre. Understanding this market, foreign satellite broadcasters are providing the content denied by state television. Although Iran’s constitution gives power to the state media, many Iranians own illegal satellite dishes, using them to access outside channels such as BBC Persian and Voice of America.

One of the more popular satellite channels is Farsi1, a partially owned by Rupert Murdoch who runs News Corp, a global media conglomerate. Farsi1 shows Farsi-dubbed soap operas and sitcoms from America, Columbia and Korea. According to an article from the Daily Beast, “the real draw of the network is its dubbed versions of Latin American Telenovelas, which have most of the country in their melodramatic grip.” Likewise, according to an article from Middle East Online, “Farsi1, which has been on the airwaves for just over one year, is now much part of the social fabric that the shows it airs are popular all across Iran, even in the remotest villages.”

It should come as no surprise that telenovelas are popular in Iran, given the effect of telenovelas on the global media economy. In her article, “Ugly Betty goes global,” Jade Miller says that telenovelas are “appealing cultural products traversing global networks of capitalist cultural concerns.” One of the reasons that telenovelas are universally popular is due their accessibility – anyone can relate or connect to the stories, which are often “rags-to-riches” narratives.

The telenovelas don’t seem to have a deep cultural impact, especially in countries like Iran who have a strong national identity. According to the Middle East Online story, “Some Iranians believe that the government tolerates Farsi1 because its standard fare of entertainment does not present a political challenge, and may offer a useful distraction from the troubles facing the country.”

If the IRIB wants to reconnect with Iranians, it should seriously consider the popularity of telenovela “Second Chance” and broadcast accordingly.

Financial Times article:

Daily Beast article:

Middle East Online article:

Jade Miller “Ugly Betty Goes Global: global networks of localized content in telenovela industry” Global Media and Communication 6, no. 2 198-217 (BLACKBOARD)

The GIF That Keeps On Giving

Since I'll be out of town at the end of next week, I thought I'd comment on our reading/class discussion this week. The Henry Jenkins interview on youtube, where he talks about how we control what we watch, and discard what we don't corresponded well with the idea we discussed, how the line between consumers and producers has eroded as we 'take back' parts of culture and make it our own. Then I saw this article on, about the GIF (graphic interchange format)"renaissance" and how people take a brief clip from a movie or tv show and use it as a form of expressing their emotions or thoughts in a blog or web thread

So in this respect, people take a popular show, interview, obscure movie and make them relevant by using a fraction of it for their own purposes, in their own venue. It's not exactly the same as a mashup or remix of something like the Obama and the "Yes We Can" music video, since the use of gifs isn't something that can go viral (unless you find a website that has a collection of them, like jezebel recently put together), it's something that is developed by an individual for other individuals. They're attracting attention for way a person any where in the world can take an out of context clip and contextualize it, or for finding a brief image (to replay over and over) that visualizes exactly what a person could be thinking.

Considering that more people have access to faster broadband, I'm sure more gifs will show up, and it'll be interesting to see how creative people will get and how they'll take a product sold to us, and use it for a completely different purpose. And with that, I'm out.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cultural Linguistic and Geocultural Flows

Often we ask ourselves the question, what does this mean for us? I want to ask this question in regards to Thussu's article on cultural linguistic and geo-cultural flows. Today I don't have any answers, just questions. I'm very curious to understand the cultural implications of changes in our world. We can go on and on about what is happening; we can see it in our lives. Or do we?  One particular aspect of this flow has been embodied in 'geo-cultural media centers'. How much of our everyday lives do we Americans actually experience culture outside of our own? Of course, this matters greatly by where we live, and who we interact with on a daily basis, but it is interesting to see what we even consider to be 'our culture' and 'their culture'. We mentioned before that interacting with other cultures over time can create a feeling of oneness, belonging, and possibly acceptance with others, so does this mean that all cultures we interact with are 'our culture'?
In the article, Thussu points out the interaction of foreign based media with their diasporic populations. But what about those who are not in a diaspora (or who do not know/do not believe they are)? What about people watching foreign media on a regular basis? What about people acting in the same function as the media? People bring each other the news, they advertise products, and they tell others what to think. Does that not serve the same function as the media. So when our Indian friend watches Zee TV, our Chinese friend watches Pheonix, and our Turkmen friend watches MBC, and they bring us news from the outside world, what happens to us?

But then, if you do not watch the internews, and you do not have any non-American (or descendants of non-American) friends, you might not at all be impacted by this flow. No?

Vertical (and Horizontal) Horizons

How timely! Just as we discussed and read about vertical integration, 30 Rock has an episode discussing it as well. Definitely check out for a great explanation by Alec Baldwin where he turns the depressing argument on its head and…well, just watch.

I think the issue of vertical and horizontal integration (the variety of media outlets and the supply chain where our ideas come from) is an important one for an informed media consumer, needing to know not only where our information comes from but how much of it comes from the same place. While our reading and discussion made clear to us that we're not told what to think, but what to think about, it was painfully obvious that so many of us weren't accessing truly independent news and media. I think actively seeking out objectivity takes a great deal of discipline that we have yet to reach as a society--nationally and globally. So this is how the topic affects me and will affect me: I will constantly have to work at seeking out a message that is the least "tainted", and I if I have kids, I'll have to teach them to be responsible consumers as well. It seems almost exhausting, actively resisting something intangible, but has tangible results. Regardless of which direction my media goes, I at least have options and internet, which makes the search SO much easier...or at least it will be until Verizon or some other corporation tries to limit my options...(cue dramatic music).

Online Schools, A New form of Media??

Online universities represent a new form of communication.  I think (and this is more mental peregrinations than a solid hypothesis), that online universities can be considered a new form of media.  I recently met a young man who was starting an international online high school with a face-to-face component.  Although he framed the purpose of the school as a new step into open-accreditation, I saw it as a new step into media flows and contra flows. 

The way the school is run, is students enroll online and take classes that are prepared, not by a staff teachers, but by anyone the school certifies as qualified to teach on a subject.  Teachers are typically professors, companies and Nonprofits from any country.  They can form their own class and post reading material, course work and writing assignment.  Currently, the school is in pilot phase, with students enrolled from several U.S. cities, Indonesia, China, Brazil, France and Croatia.

The program got me thinking about online schools in general.  They are emerging rapidly, with many traditional schools offering online courses.  Even Glenn Beck has an online university with classes in Hope, Faith and Charity ( 

These schools facilitate flows and contra flows of information across and between communities. Communities could be formed by age, geography, language, beliefs, culture or interest in a common field.  Although educational institutions have not been under the heading of media, now that lessons and schools are being disseminated throughout the world, I think it’s worth examining the possibility.  Schools publish information on the Internet, then individuals access it and read it; how is this different from reading a website, a blog or online newspaper that you subscribe to?

Thinking of schools as media, we can look at the Thussu and McChesny articles to provide insight on trends in globalization.  McChesny was concerned that the oligarchic nature of the media prevented diversity and plurality.  But it we consider schools to represent a new un-conglomerated source of media, than we bypass the media.  This is a way of getting information to people on current events and the global society in a way that isn’t a “don’t rock the boat” agenda from major corporations.  Thussu focused on media transcending borders and the flow and contra flow of information.  Because online schools can come from different countries, be accessed all around the world they represent high levels of information flow.  They also represent geo-linguistic and cultural communities.   
I don’t know how salient this theory is, but I think it something worth investigating, especially as the popularity of online courses grows. 

ACTA won’t dent the piracy ship

During a meeting this week in Washington, DC, the Office of the United States Trade Representative released the public draft of the negotiations of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). This seems to be the newest development in a long list of efforts (including the World Intellectual Property Organization or Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights of the WTO) to police the underground market of pirated audio-visual content.

The USTR website lists the ACTA’s purpose:

“Consistent with the Administration’s strategy for intellectual property enforcement, ACTA establishes a state-of-the-art international framework that provides a model for effectively combating global proliferation of commercial-scale counterfeiting and piracy in the 21st century. The agreement also includes innovative provisions to deepen international cooperation and to promote strong enforcement practices. Together these provisions will help to protect American jobs in innovative and creative industries against intellectual property theft.” 1

Members of the ACTA include Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and of course the U.S. Apparently these countries represent 50 percent of world trade. 2

Notice that China and Russia, two countries notorious for pirating communication goods, are not involved in this group and have no say in the negotiations.

The U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk released a statement on Wednesday, applauding the work of the ACTA, which held its final rounds of negotiations in Tokyo on Oct. 2:

“This text reflects tremendous progress in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy – a global crime wave that robs workers in the United States and around the world of good-paying jobs and exposes consumers to dangerous products. The leadership shown by our ACTA partners in reaching solutions on tough issues should send a strong message to pirates and counterfeiters that they have no place in the channels of legitimate trade. We must now work quickly with our partners to finalize the results achieved in the Tokyo. This work represents a significant victory for those who care about protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights.” 3

This strong message that the ACTA hopes to send to “pirates and counterfeiters” who “have no place in the channels of legitimate trade” will continue to be the empty threat it has been for so long. ACTA doesn’t seem like it will have more traction than the previous effort of TRIPS and WIPO.

In our readings from this week, Tristan Mattelart discusses how piracy operates in the cultural and communication globalization realm. He writes that “In order to understand piracy, we need to move away from the approaches which criminalized it and to consider the various possible social, economic, and political reasons for its rise.” 4

In class we discussed how piracy plays a role in development, giving people access to communication information they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. It also enabled people to access the technology needed to watch the pirated material, which also has a development component. Economically, piracy creates markets and income in countries that are struggling to create jobs and rise above poverty. Mattelart gives the example of Nigeria, where 300,000 people are employed in the pirate video market. Politically, pirated material plays a role in rising political dissent and opposition, as in Iran in 1979. Pirated satellite signals allow audiences to resist political media censorship.

The continued criminalization of piracy will only increase the demand for pirated goods, and the actions of international regulatory bodies, including the ACTA, will not change the reality on the ground.


2. ibid.


4. Tristan Mattelart Audio-visual piracy: towards a study of the underground networks of cultural globalization, Global Media and Communication 2009 5: 308 (BLACKBOARD)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Murdoch squashes media plurality

The sun, quite literally, never sets on the News Corporation. It’s like the British Empire in the heyday of colonialism but with better technology. As Thussu tells us, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire “straddles the globe.”

The company’s assets are vast:
• Largest number of English-language newspapers
• Fox Broadcast Network (owning 35 stations across U.S. in 2005)
• Fox News Channel (plus local affiliates and sports channels)
• Gemstar-TV Guide International
• Twentieth Century Fox film studio
• STAR, the first pan-Asian network
• National Geographic Channel International
• HarperCollins, international publisher
• Etc., etc., etc.

As the chairman and CEO for News Corporation, Murdoch has the potential to influence issues such as global infrastructure, global governance and media regulation.

News Corporation controls expansive international communication infrastructure. According to Thussu, “he was one of the first to realize the commercial importance of digital, investing a great deal of money to get it off the ground, his empire is most likely to dominate the digital globe.” Murdoch continues to invest in emerging cable and Internet companies as well as spreading News Corporation’s presence in China and India – world’s biggest TV market.

“Murdoch’s growing political influence as a multimedia mogul, and his extensive control of both information software (programme content) and hardware (digital delivery systems), make him hugely powerful,” Thussu writes.

Murdoch’s extensive control over media markets relates to our class discussion about diversity and plurality. With one voice dominating a significant portion of the media and gaining more each year, diversity will become less and less important in the media value system. Transparency, minority voices and openness could evaporate. Also, the plurality of media – more than one entity being in control – would also cease to exist. As News Corporation extends its ownership of TV stations, newspapers, radio, satellites, plurality is fading. News Corporation fits into a wider sphere of media conglomerates consolidating ownership and control of media outlets, thus decreasing plurality and diversity in global communications.

As one of the world’s largest media mogul’s, Murdoch has power to shape the U.S. political landscape, advocating for conservative values and privatization and liberalization of the communication economic market. Murdoch’s political agenda was highlighted in a recent article on

News Corporation donated $2 million to Republican causes for this election year. The money was split between the Republican Governors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “the business lobby that has been running an aggressive campaign in support of the Republican effort to retake Congress,” the article said.

Murdoch’s conservative beliefs are also evident in the program content of his Fox News Channel. The views and news covered on Fox News (despite their claim to be fair and balanced) are notoriously right-wing dominated.

For people who aren’t media literate – those who don’t recognize bias and are passive consumers of the media – the one-sided presentation of news may seem like the whole story. They will not act as active consumers to seek out alternate news sources.

Due to News Corporations widespread control of media and their singular value perspective, the argument for media regulation is strengthened. Unless there is a limit to how much one company (or one man) can own, there will not be diversity or plurality in the media. Also, unless media consumers are more literate about their choices, it may be necessary to protect them as well as the public service model of journalism.

Daya Thussu “Creating a Global Information Infrastructure” in International Communication: Continuity and Change.

Politico article:

Friday, October 1, 2010

What we've got here is FAILURE to communicate...

On Thursday, my most recent media concern was over the arrest of many journalists in Uzbekistan.  The arrests came as a result of photographers taking pictures of everyday life in Uzbekistan, or reporting on everyday activities in Uzbekistan.  My general reception of these matters is to pay more attention to patterns of progression and regression of civil and human rights and change over time than understanding what is happening right now. However, this blog has given me the opportunity to look into how this may have happened.

This may seem obvious to some, but maybe not: the Uzbek journalists do not believe what they are doing is libel, and the Uzbek government do not believe that the journalists are not trying to harm their country. So maybe, this is a communication breakdown? The simple understanding of purpose is causing massive human rights turmoil in Uzbekistan; various groups do not fully understand what the other groups’ main purposes and intentions are. Of course, a journalist shouting that they did nothing wrong while they are being arrested does not exactly help their cause, perhaps there can be another way of getting these two groups to come to an understanding in order to prevent, or at least reduce these types of arrests.

Another way of looking at it, as proposed by Serena, is that the government could have interpreted the journalists to have framed their particular stories to make the Uzbek people look a certain way to the international community, and thus drawing negative attention from those who do not understand Central Asian lifestyles. Of course, this is closely linked to the issue of miscommunication of purpose, but perhaps we can place the blame somewhere? Is it possible that the journalists had a motive when producing their stories? In class, we mentioned that all people, and thereby all journalist have their opinion, by extension we effectively eliminate all real forms of objectivity in journalism. Journalists can try to be objective, but even in their style and manner of going about becoming objective has a motive and/or political stance. I have read some of these translated articles and have seen some of the photos that journalists have been arrested for, and I can see how, (especially when the government is looking for a scapegoat) they can be accused of creating a bias against the Uzbek people and the Uzbek government. For the sake of the journalists-- the government had to be looking pretty hard, and for the government-- the journalists should have known what was considered unacceptable.

Here we run into the issue of acceptability. What is acceptable in one country or region will obviously not apply to another, and, what one journalist feels they should be allowed to do, in a country that is notorious for journalist abuse, will almost always conflict with the view of what the government believes is acceptable conduct. There are issues at stake regarding media policies, the environment, international and domestic policies to say the least.

Libel is rarely covered as free speech, not even in the US. So the question then is to what extent is freedom of speech libel? One might say the speech in Uzbekistan is not free enough, and some might say speech in the US is too free, so what do we do with that? Can there be an international standard? When journalists and the government are both claiming that their duties are to the people-- so that the people are protected from libel, and so the voices and the culture of the people can be expressed-- how can one say one is right and one is wrong?

Everyone is framing their story. Everyone has their own opinion. No one can be right or wrong.

Unless you are the Uzbek government. Who is always right.

Jessica F