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Managing public opinion in the epic migration crisis

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Refugees line up at the UNHCR registration center in Tripoli, LebanonIn all the affected countries, the ongoing migration crisis centering on both the Middle East and Europe is many things. But it is also a public opinion management challenge of impressive girth and height. This is one of those instances where wise leaders will not make policy first and only thereafter ask communication advisers to go and ‘sell’ it. They will have their sharpest communication/political advisers in the room while making policy, especially as the situation evolves in ever more dramatic directions. And those advisers will, one hopes, be monitoring public opinion, consulting panels of voters, talking to deeply experienced players in the political system… all as vital inputs into the policy process.

Why is this a particularly ticklish public opinion management problem? Here is why: the fundamental emotional and values drivers of public opinion at work here are powerful ones, and they clash clangorously. The temptation in host communities is to keep outsiders out, especially people who look different, speak different tongues, worship different gods, and have all kinds of fundamental commitments that host communities might be wary of.  People often think that these primordial sentiments come into play only when transnational movements of people in large numbers happen. But for people like me who grew up in geographically plural, multinational societies (where different ethnic groups live in distinct parts of the country) we know that moving to another part of what is supposed to be your own country to live permanently can be an ego-shredding challenge. As we used to say in Nigeria, the ‘sons of the soil’ might not accept you.

If climate change is a human story, men are telling it.

Jing Guo's picture

Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

harvesting wheatFrom extreme weather events to water shortages, reduced harvests, and increased spread of infectious diseases, climate change can affect human life in countless ways.  Climate change is not simply an environmental challenge. It is a human story, fundamentally about people.
 
However, climate change does not affect us equally. Compared to men, women are more vulnerable to its impacts, as women constitute 70% of the world’s impoverished population and are more dependent for their survival and livelihood on natural resources increasingly strained by climate change. 
 
Given these disproportionate effects on women, one would expect them to have an equal, if not greater, say in public discussions on climate change. Yet, in fact, their side of these stories have been mostly ignored.

The silenced crowd

Who was quoted on climate change?

In media coverage of climate change issues, women are often a neglected group. A recent report published by Media Matters unearthed a stark imbalance between men’s and women’s likelihood of being quoted in media coverage of the U.N. climate reports in 2014. The findings suggest that less than 15% of those quoted or interviewed in major print, broadcast, and cable outlets in the United States were female.

The gender gap in media reporting on climate change is perhaps more striking in developing countries. A new article (Frontline farmers, backline sources) in this month’s Feminist Media Studies shows that in Uganda, where 56% of women are farmers, both female sources and bylines are completely left out of page one, two, or three of the prominent newspapers when covering climate change topics.

Another unpleasant truth is that female sources are not only far less preferable than male sources (61%), but even less utilized than anonymous sources (20%).

What happens when women actually speak? Well, they are hardly considered the experts. 

Campaign Art: Ebola still needs our attention

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Ebola has largely disappeared from news headlines in recent months as the epidemic started to settle. Earlier this week, on August 24, Sierra Leone’s last-known Ebola patient was released from the hospital, possibly signaling the end of the disease in that country. No new cases have been reported in Liberia since mid-July, and only three new cases have emerged in Guinea as of last week.

Yet, experts have warned that international organizations are still not capable of containing it, if it were to re-emerge. It's also clear that the economic impact of the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is profound, as the disease affected livelihoods and led to food shortages, loss of education, and widespread fear and mistrust in communities.

This is why #TrendOnThis, a new campaign from the Ad Council and Y&R New York, aims to keep Ebola on the forefront of people’s minds.  The campaign includes a series of public service announcements featuring celebrities David Oyelowo, Olivia Munn, and Lance Bass. These ads play on the typical, pandering commercials many celebrities have done and, instead, uses ironic self-deprecation to get the message across. Here’s Actor David Oyelowo, who introduces some tongue twisters based on his own name, like Oyelowo's Yellow Oboes, while emphasizing the seriousness of Ebola:
 
David Oyelowo: Ebola still needs our attention


A role for media: Empowering local voices in development debates

Mina Akrami's picture

“All human and development processes rely on the flow of information and communication between individuals and groups,” begins a PANOS paper. For communication helps donor countries, NGOs, development organizations, and other actors to understand the needs of the poor in developing countries, to form partnerships, to build consensus, and to facilitate change.   

Kindness Nehwon and Moses Kowllie work on producing a piece in the studios of the Liberian Media Initiative, which creates and produces radio and television shows, informercials and PSAs Media can play a crucial role in facilitating this flow of information. As outlined in a POLIS report, media can work to both build public awareness and support for development issues. It can also work to build a pluralistic public sphere where actors working in the field of development are constructively critiqued.

Public awareness is beneficial for both the public in donor countries and the recipients of aid in developing countries. As explored by a Guardian, media can help the public in donor countries understand how their money is being spent and that complex problems such as food insecurity require solutions that take a long time to demonstrate results.

To individuals, communities, and societies affected by the problems of poverty, terms such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are of little significance as these individuals are more concerned with daily struggles than global targets, elaborates the POLIS report.  Media can assist these communities in understanding how such targets could improve their daily lives while creating space for them to question these targets or other development strategies. It also provides a medium for them to push for development targets that are more aligned with the reality on the ground.

Media (R)evolutions: New Publications on Media Development around the World

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Children watching television in Eastern Indonesia New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Twice a year, CAMECO, a consultancy specializing in media and communications, publishes a list of selected publications on media and communications in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. This rich resource includes 250 titles, covering recent media developments and project experiences in about 150 countries worldwide. Many of the titles can be downloaded directly.

Measuring public diplomacy in a time of global information competition

CGCS's picture

Twiplomacy's World Leaders on Twitter data visualised as a networNicole Bailey is one of the ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight the critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar discussions. Here, Bailey discusses the pros and cons of measuring elite and grassroots public diplomacy efforts.

The annual Burson-Marsteller Twiplomacy Study highlights the importance of Twitter to modern public diplomacy. It recognizes that influence is much more than the sheer number of a leader’s followers and tweets and admits that quantifying influence in the form of “reach” is a massive challenge. Quantifying reach, and thereby evaluating communication “success,” is one of the greatest foreign policy challenges of the digital age—one that is not exclusive to Twitter (or to social media), but rather applies to all communication platforms.

Crocker Snow, Jr. defined public diplomacy as something that “traditionally represents actions of governments to influence overseas publics within the foreign policy process [but] has expanded today—by accident and design—beyond the realm of governments to include the media, multinational corporations, NGO’s, and faith-based organizations as active participants in the field (Snow, Jr., Crocker, 2005).” For the purpose of this piece, I will focus on public diplomacy as practiced by governments to influence multiple audiences overseas. As a result of new communication and media technologies, conflicting accounts are easier than ever to produce and consume. Therefore, one of the continuing themes of the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar was the challenge of successful strategic messaging in a time of global information competition.

Listening, watching…and forgetting

Sina Odugbemi's picture

People watch TV through shop windowMore and more of us these days consume news in a multiplatform manner, and every week, every day even, we learn about a fresh outrage that has occurred somewhere in the world.

Instantly.

The news media stay on each outrage for a while. A plane crashes. Why? How? The pilot flew the plane into the mountain? Goodness! Why? How did the airline miss his descent into madness? And on and on they go. For a while, it is a frenzy of analysis, fresh angles, scandal-hunting, scapegoats-sniffing and so on.

Eventually, the media move on to the next outrage. What is interesting is that we tend to move on before the media do. There is a lag before the media realize that we are bored with the story, that we are mentally blocking it, and that the readership or audience numbers are no longer sky-high.

That moving on from the intense coverage of the latest outrage that we do is what I find fascinating. For we don’t just move on, without conscious effort we try to forget about the outrage because we have to get on with our lives. We are naturally good at forgetting. The question is: why do we practice forgetting so skillfully?

What influences journalists’ attitudes toward freedom of information?

Jing Guo's picture

The Government of Iraq recently withdrew lawsuits against news media and journalists nationwide and adopted an access to information law in the Kurdish region. Jing Guo explores the range of opinions journalists have regarding freedom of information in a country experiencing political transition.

In December of last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced the withdrawal of all government lawsuits against news media and journalists under the previous administration, signaling a departure from the media policies of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki. This announcement, in addition to the adoption of an access to information law in the Iraqi Kurdistan region a year ago, marked a positive step toward freedom of expression and information in the post-authoritarian country.
 
In Iraq, a functioning national freedom of information law is long overdue for supporting an independent media sector and the public’s right to know, both of which are among the fundamental pillars of democracy.  With open access to government meetings and records, journalists can serve as conduits of information between the governing and the governed.  At the same time, citizens and journalists can help strengthen democratic governance by holding those in power accountable.
 
Today, more than a decade after the end of full state control, Iraqi journalists are still largely “in transition.” As proponents and users of the legislation, their views of freedom of information are important in the passing and implementation of the law. What do journalists think about accessing government information in their country? What factors shape their views?

Strategic communication and the global 'market for allegiances'

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Free Expression, Globalism and the New Strategic Communicatio by Monroe E. PriceAs you observe the transformations in the global communication environment what do you see? Do you see chaos confounded?  Do you hear ear-splitting cacophony and the alarums of discord? Or do you see an ordered system with definable laws of motion? Do you see both order and disorder at the same time? Well, one of the acutest minds devoted to the study of global communication has contributed an elegant, deeply observed reading of the global public sphere … such as it is… today.

He is Professor Monroe E. Price, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication. The new book is titled: Free Expression, Globalism and the New Strategic Communication (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Price paints a picture in two parts: a striking set of practices in global communication(s) and an evolving set of institutions.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week

Remittances to developing nations to hit $500 billion in 2015 - U.N. official
Reuters
An estimated 230 million migrants will send $500 billion in remittances to developing countries in 2015, a flow of capital expected to do more to reduce poverty than all development aid combined, a senior official of the U.N. agricultural bank said. Ten percent of the world's people are directly affected by this money, Pedro De Vasconcelos, programme coordinator for remittances with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, told a conference on Tuesday. "Migrants are investing back into poor regions," Vasconcelos said, adding that about $200 billion is expected to go directly to rural areas.

The Aid Industry- What Journalists Really Think
International Broadcasting Trust
There has been growing media criticism of the aid industry in recent years. Some of this has been ideologically driven and some opportunistic but it also appears that journalists are more insistent on holding aid agencies to account than they have been in the past. This is a good thing but often the aid sector has appeared unduly defensive in the face of criticism. This report seeks to understand what a broad range of journalists – both specialists and generalists – think about aid and the agencies that deliver it. The criticisms are wide ranging but several themes emerge. There’s a consensus that the aid sector as a whole needs to be more open and transparent.  Since media reporting of the aid industry undoubtedly has a big influence on public opinion, it’s important that we take the views of journalists seriously. A better understanding of what journalists really think will also enable those working in the aid sector to deal more effectively with media criticism.


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