Last week in Manila, Philippines, I attended an international conference on communication and diasporic communities entitled "Boundaries and Belongings: Transnationalism, Identity, and Communications." Hosted by the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Communication, the event featured research on diasporas around the world and the role of communication in their day-to-day lives. Examples ranged from differences in the use of international and domestic news sources (e.g., newspapers and television news) among local and international students, to the roles of new information and communication technologies, such as blogs and webcams, in helping individuals living abroad maintain a sense of connectedness to their home countries, families, and friends. As should be expected of an academic conference, both positive and negative arguments were raised regarding access to, use, and effects of these old and new technologies.
Susan's blog on media literacy and the outcome of the Presidential Election in the U.S. reminded me of a discussion I recently had with several communication scholars, among them French sociologist Daniel Dayan. We were talking about the difference between "old" and "new" media, and their respective roles in society. The main point that refers to Susan's post and to development is: old media's function is mainly the dissemination of information. New media's function is entirely different! New media are a new form of audience, or rather, they are an extension of the audience. This extension enables the audience to participate. New media are therefore media of participation, going way beyond dissemination.
In the emerging participatory paradigm in development some of the greatest scholars, thinkers and communication practitioners come from developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. One in particular has greatly influenced the field of communication for development, as it has emerged in recent years: Paulo Freire. It is important to acknowledge his influence in this particular branch of communication because he might not be so well known to communication specialists across the board since he is a renowned educator rather than a specialist in communication.
In 1973 Freire wrote an article titled “Extension or Communication”. In that article he clearly illustrated the difference between extension, which can be mostly identified with almost any kind of monologic approach, and communication. That is why in this blog, while referring to Freire’s original analysis, I use the term monologic instead of extension, which he considers closely associated with concepts such as transmission, cultural invasion and even domination. In comparing and confronting the differences between extension/monologic and dialogic approaches, Freire started from a semantic analysis of the terms, moving then to a more operational analysis of the practical implications of the two.
As you must know, Ghana has just had a remarkable transfer of power from one party to another in spite of how close the contest was. A new president has been sworn in and the country is looking to the future as a stable democracy. From the perspective of this blog, two things have been striking.
First, the global news media have been all over the story. All the leading journals of opinion have published stories and opinion pieces saluting Ghana's achievement. It is also interesting how often the stories have been framed as one hopeful sign of progress coming out of Africa. You can feel the collective sigh of relief . And the reason that is interesting is that there is still a debate out there regarding the extent to which liberal constitutional democracy is a universal form of rule, not dependent on specific cultures. Ghana is saying Africans too can build a democratic political culture as well as anybody.
With the new year, the UNESCO printing house has just come out with the copies of the paper “Press freedom and development: an analysis of correlations between freedom of the press and the different dimensions of development, poverty, governance and peace.”
It is satisfying to see brand-new books containing the study on which I’ve been working as part of a research project implemented by the Centre for Peace and Human Security (CPHS) at Sciences Po University, with UNESCO's support. And it is even more interesting to see some of the conclusions that the independent scholars reached in this research -- namely, that press freedom is positively correlated with good governance, human development, and democracy. This is, of course, one more argument to corroborate the theories on how a functioning public sphere contributes to peace-building and governance.
One could make a strong case that the reason why Barack Obama won the US presidential election is because of “Media Literacy” — not just the “Media Literacy” of his campaign workers, but that of a wide swath of the American electorate.
Just before the holidays I participated in a UN conference on the role of the public sphere in post-conflict societies. The one-day event, titled “Media and Communication in Peacebuilding” was organized by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) in collaboration with the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office.
In most of the post-industrial democracies of the global north there is a growing worry about the fate of newspapers. Many are dying or in trouble, including some venerable titles. Agonizing essays are being written about all this, and the issue is dominating more and more seminars on the future of democracy.
The power of public opinion is the power of ordinary citizens; it is the power of aware, engaged multitudes. And there is a way of understanding the spectacular events of 2008 in terms of the power of public opinion. Let's take just a few.
1. The first is the crisis in financial markets and the global economy. Whatever technical experts eventually decide to be the origins of the crisis, there is no doubt that public opinion has played a role in intensifying the crisis. It has done so through the collapse of public confidence in financial institutions generally. For what is 'confidence' but the opinion widely shared that the financial system is sound and your savings and investments are safe? That collapsed in so much of the world in 2008, beginning in the United States. There is no doubt that restoring 'confidence' will be crucial to ending the crisis; that means, recreating majority opinion in the stability and secure management of the global financial system.
One can be forgiven for suggesting that the South African Broadcasting Corporation is a microcosm of South Africa’s changing political landscape. In a way, this correlation between politics and state broadcasting has always been the ‘curse’ of the SABC, the legally sanctioned provider of public service broadcasting in the country. Prior to the ‘blessing’ of the multiparty democratic elections of 1994, the ruling National Party used the state broadcaster to inculcate the ideology of apartheid or racial separatism. 14 years after ushering in a multiparty dispensation, there is a sense of political déjà vu in the operations of the SABC.
The operational chaos being witnessed at the SABC is indicative of the fast changing political terrain in South Africa. Under the SABC Charter, the SABC is governed by a board of directors. Board nominees are vetted by a relevant portfolio committee of Parliament.