Friday, December 14, 2012

ICT4D's Are still Limited

Despite the technocentric focus on the impact of mobile phones in bridging the so-called "digital divide," the full extent and accessibility to information and communication technologies remains a continued developmental issue in many parts of the world.  For example, in Southeast Asia (SEA), many states possess weak building infrastructure causing both inaccessibility and capability in possessing information and communication technologies (ICTs) like the Internet. 

Closely-linking ICTs with socio-economic development as Araba Sey points out in his piece, SEA nations through the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) have started to pursue new strategies in order to develop telecommunication infrastructure, to provide their citizens with access to popular and new emerging connective tools. Following suit many other developing nations in Africa are looking for new ways to increase their own ICT development. Through the efforts of state governments or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the ICT for development (ICT4D) initiative was created to introduce ICT services in unconnected communities.

Analyzing the impact that newly introduced ICTs and mobile phones have had inside these communities many research has shown that the immense of opportunities that these tools provide cannot be denied. Linda Raftree, an ICT4D advisor of Plan International USA, believes that ICTs can offer specific support and opportunities depending on how they are utilized. In Ghana, Sey notes that many Ghanaians utilize mobile phone technology differently, by using mobile phones for different purposes such as a shopkeeper contacting his customers to inform them of the store closing, or a priest facilitating communication with his parish while the church is being renovated.

ICT4Ds and mobile phones have certainly provided more connectivity to many developing areas. But, full access in these regions remains limited. According to the Chenxing Han reading, many South African citizens doubt the affordability and continuity of the ICT4D and even mobiles for development (M4D) initiative that has grown over the last few years. With lack of a viable affordability and future plan goal for both of these initiatives, the long-term impacts of each remains clouded. ICTs provide both a positive and negative dimension to developing nations.  Enabling connectivity and access to a wide variety of resources they provide potential for these once unconnected communities to improve their livelihoods and well-being.

With new ICTs emerging from the developed world, new hope arises that the "digital divide" will decline. However, providing limited impacts in the areas that they are introduced, ICT4Ds and M4Ds are not a one-step solution. Acknowledging national contexts, ICT4Ds and M4Ds cannot fully provide large-scale access and connectivity to developing nations who lack sufficient infrastructure. 

Chengxing. Han. South African Perspectives on Mobile Phones:
Challenging the Optimistic Narrative of Mobiles for Development. (2012). International Journal of Communication 6.
Raftree, Linda. Empowering girls through information, communication and technology. (27 November 2012). The Guardian. Retrieved from: Accessed on December 5, 2012.
Sey, Araba.  We use it different, different: Making sense in trends of mobile phone use in Ghana. (2011). New Media and Society. Vol. 13:375.

Nationalism Dampens Holiday Cheer

One of Japan’s beloved holiday traditions is coming under scrutiny of K-pop fans around the world. The Kouhaku Uta Gassen is Japan’s favorite New Years Eve television program that airs annually and features appearances by the year’s most popular artists in the Japanese music scene. This year’s lineup of participating artists made headlines for its shocking lack of singers and bands of Korean descent. Considering the high number of Korean artists whose albums and songs have topped Japan’s Oricon charts and enjoyed successful concert ticket sales in Japan, appearances by K-pop artists on Kouhaku have been common in the last few years. NHK denied accusations that this year’s surprisingly K-pop-devoid selection is related to issues of race and nationality, instead stating that Korean artists were simply not popular enough to be invited to the annual program. (“NHK Denies Lack of K-Pop at Kohaku Uta Gassen Due to Racial Tensions”)
            In another interesting observation of Asian year-end programming, the Korean-produced MAMA (Mnet Asian Music Awards) seems to only target Chinese-speaking audiences in its outreach efforts. Despite Japan accounting for 70 percent of the Korean music industry’s overseas proceeds, the Korean cable channel Mnet interestingly chose Macau, Singapore, and Hong Kong as the venue for the three MAMA awards ceremonies that have taken place thus far. Is the Korean Wave leaning toward China in Asia’s pop warfare, having encountered Japanese criticism? Perhaps. After all, Korean actors are regularly hired to play lead roles in Chinese productions even despite their inability to speak Mandarin or Cantonese. Even obvious dubbing apparently can’t get in the way of Chinese viewers’ hunger for Korean celebrities and shows.
            Despite NHK's denial, the sudden and complete lack of chart-topping K-pop artists from the Kouhaku Uta Gassen in the aftermath of significantly increased tensions in the Japan-Korea bilateral relationship can not be easily overlooked. Does this dampen not only holiday cheer among diehard fans in Japan but also dash the hopes of scholars and practitioners who believed in the power and potential of popular culture to overcome racial tensions or political disputes? Are cultural envoys now out of the question, and will Japanese housewives no longer flock the streets of Seoul after watching Visit Korea videos featuring boy bands and pop princesses? Probably not. But the geopolitics of pop in East Asia will nevertheless hold significant implications for the applicability and effectiveness of soft power and cultural diplomacy. 

A Covert Take on Convergence Culture

        I don't watch television much (in fact, I don't even own one), but there is one show that I catch on iTunes every season: Covert Affairs. Maybe it's because the show is set in D.C. or maybe I'm just a sucker for spy-on-spy action, but I'm quite a fan. I've even "liked" the show's official Facebook page and I'm guilty of visiting the Covert Affairs online homepage whenever I feel like procrastinating. This time, it actually yielded something more productive than a mindless scroll through pictures from the latest episode. I realized that the marketing campaign for Covert Affairs puts convergence culture on display to the max.
        In addition to providing cast member information, photos and episode summaries, the website features everything from interactive quizzes to contests to engage with interested visitors of the site. The social interaction element of the website and the show's promotion campaigns are particularly striking. The website features a separate "SOCIAL" tab, under which lies links to platforms for fan involvement such as the Mobile Fan Club, Message Board, Send Us Your Comments, Newsletter and links to the official Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts. The show even encourages viewer involvement during the broadcast through games and contests that are launched live simultaneous to an episode's broadcast. In addition to the dozen games offered on the website, "Sights Unseen" is an "interactive prequel" to the show that apparently features a direct fan-involvement component. 
         The producers of Covert Affairs obviously highly value fan involvement in crafting new storylines and character developments for future episodes. The homepage of the Covert Affairs website features a prominent box featuring the headline, "We Want to Hear from You!" They've actually created a separate e-mail account for receiving and managing comments and feedback from viewers. Encouraging viewers to send in their comments, the website states, "This is you chance to make your voice heard! We can't respond to every comment, but we WILL read them! Promise!" Covert Affairs seems to be a case of a win-win-situation for both producers and consumers in a practical example of convergence culture in today's entertainment media. It also incorporates the manifestation of convergence culture that combines traditional forms of media with upcoming ones, such as the social media involvement that accompanies live television broadcasts. 

Territorial Disputes Make their Red Carpet Debut

             Last year, hundreds of critics protested outside a television studio in Tokyo against the airing of a Japanese television series featuring Korean actress Kim Tae-hee. After news circulated that Kim had worn a T-shirt promoting Dokdo (the Korean name for the disputed islands, called Takeshima in Japanese) in Switzerland six years ago, Japanese protestors took to the streets demanding that the broadcast company ban the series from airing. Protestors shouted, “Kim Taehee who does not like Japan, do not try to make money here,” and threatened the broadcasting company by announcing, “We will remember the Japanese company that supports anti-Japan actress Kim Taehee.” An advertising campaign promoting a Japanese cosmetics product featuring Kim as its model was also revised to significantly reduce her portion of the commercial after facing similar protests. It later became known that the actress even received death threats from perpetrators who were arrested by police in Osaka earlier this year.
Considering the extent of protests against the inclusion of a Korean actress in a Japanese television series filmed completely in Japan and featuring a nearly entirely Japanese cast, similar outrage over completely Korean television series have unsurprisingly been worse. Although the Japanese television series featuring Kim eventually aired amidst continued controversy, a Korean TV drama slated to air in Japan was completely banned from being broadcast after it became known that the lead actor (Song Ilgook) visited the disputed islands. In a rare official statement addressing a specific individual, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi remarked, “it will not be easy for him [Song Ilgook] to come to Japan from now on.” In the aftermath of worsened territorial disputes between Japan and Korea and in the months leading up to the Japanese general election, even Abe Akie—the wife of likely Prime Minister-to-be Abe Shinzo and once an avid fan of Korean entertainment—changed her mind. Long known for her friendly stance on Korea and love of Korean entertainment media, Abe recently told reporters that she no longer watches Korean television shows and completely stopped learning Korean.
            Although tensions between Japan and Korea regarding historical and territorial issues have continued for years, the spillover to entertainment media is a relatively recent phenomenon. It will be interesting to see how things will play out once (or if) ex-PM Abe Shinzo takes the seat again after the General Elections in two days alongside his ex-K-drama fan wife.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Conversation on PD

            I was talking about public diplomacy to one of my friends the other day. He works in finance, does creative writing on the side, and is therefore both technical and open-minded; but has never learned about public diplomacy before. I gave him a brief overview of the field, including Nicholas Culls’s definitions of listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, international exchanges, international broadcasting, and psychological warfare. Afterwards, he remarked that public diplomacy is a very interesting field to be in at this time, with the onset of globalizations and whatnot. However, his interpretation ended up being that it’s a way of convincing the other cultures to act in ways we want them to. When I refuted this, stating how the U.S. is focusing on two-way engagements and effective cross-cultural communications, he reminded me that most nations are too proud and hesitant to truly cross-cultures.
            When studying public diplomacy, I think it is all too often seen as an optimistic, good-hearted action; which it usually is. However, the side of influencing other cultures can have negative effects as well. The video on Mohammad that sparked outrage in the Middle East and government officials from South America studying American economic systems, initiating those systems in their home country only to have them result in more poverty, are only a couple examples.
            I also told my friend that public diplomacy is done daily by just about everyone. He replied that a typical Valley girl living in Manhattan could really care less about someone living in Somalia. However, I told him that although she could care less, her workplace, which is undoubtedly diverse, and the clothing styles she wears are all affected by public diplomacy. He also stated that the only way to make a living out of it is to work for a government or a corporation. I convinced him that this wasn’t the case, that citizen diplomacy is a growing field that speakers, writers, singers, and even finance workers are all exposed to. People are constantly communicating across cultures and influencing opinions in one-way or another.
            I’m far from a being a guru in the PD field, and there was more to our conversation than me convincing him the benefits of PD, but those were some thoughts I wanted to share. While we learn more and more about PD we need to also realize that people not staying up-to-date with the field will have different perceptions of the initiatives we explain to them. This may be obvious, but was interesting for me. I think practitioners should make an effort to speak with people more about PD and voice the benefits to spark discussion (hint-hint Smith-Mundt). Then the public can become more aware, and that girl from Manhattan just might share a fun Skype conversation with the man in Somalia. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

I didn't really like the Araba Sey article

            Araba Sey’s article We use it different, different reminds me a lot of the topics we have covered in Levinson’s class “Communication in Social & Economic Development.’ Her thesis, that ICTs in developing nations are oftentimes used for different purposes intended by those that provide the technologies, has become a common theme in developmental communication. Those disseminating ICTs in the developing world must take into consideration not only the needs of the people, but also the culture of the people in which they are working. It was Bill Gates who said that those in the developing world need access to food and water more than they need access to a computer – providing ICTs may have showcase some developmental improvements in these regions but at the end of the day core issues need to be first resolved.
            Unfortunately this article was lacking in anything really groundbreaking:
The surveys revealed a similar trend – when subscribers were asked to indicate their top reasons for owning a mobile phone, the most frequently selected reasons were: ‘So other people can contact me’ (74.6%), ‘So I can contact other people’ (69.5%), and for ‘Emergency situations’ (36.4%).”
…Really? So you’re telling me that subscribers in the developing nation of Ghana use their mobile phones to talk to people? Riveting. This article is basically artful rhetoric used to cover up a lack of content. Yes, it’s true, different cultures use ICTs for different reasons, but the fact that mobile telephony in the developing world has been used by its subscribers to increase connectivity is nothing ground breaking.
What’s more groundbreaking is how ICTs, such as TV dramas, are being used in Northeast and Southeast Asia to disseminate information about health related issues. This topic was discussed in Khiun’s Information-Dramatization. Levinson talks about how this tactic was used in Nepal through community radio. That those in the developed world use TV and Radio “serials” for entertainment, those in the developed world have found a way to combat talking about taboo subjects through TV programs to get HRMs (health-related messages) out to the public. That is how a culture truly used ICTs in a different way:
Not limited to distribution and consumption, the circulation process also entails adaptation and localization of commercially successful foreign screen narratives by cautious television stations.”
            This provides a different way of diffusing information and developing low-income countries in terms of health, a way that is different from the traditional top-down approach where practitioners from the developed world come in and try to immediately introduce an institutional change. By providing ICTs and allowing a more bottom-up, participatory approach, attention is paid to the culture where ICTs are implemented. It is in this way that practitioners can be successful in increasing public awareness of a taboo topic in a developing nation, such as HIV aids or women’s health issues. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Western Gaze

An Alibi for a Magazine
     Images of female refugees have been used by the US and many international organizations to promote and draw attention to a specific cause. The photograph of the Afghan Girl is not unique, but the global circumstances surrounding her 1985 National Geographic cover allows communications scholars to draw connections between post 9-11 images of the plight of Afghan women and those of the Afghan Girl. Recent communications scholars have seen a connection between the justification for military intervention in Afghanistan and the use of images of Afghan women in creating the “Afghan Alibi.” The Afghan Alibi is a relatively new field of study and is founded on “Eurocentric representations of Afghan women.” [1] The Afghan Alibi is centered on post-colonial and feminist theories and how their interpretations of images depicting Afghan women, supports western justifications for intervention, colonization, and territorial occupation. For this cause, no image has had more of an impact than the groundbreaking image of the Afghan Girl in 1985. 
     National Geographic has long played a role in US history and continues to promote a distinctly pro US agenda as with its depictions of the Afghan Girl on the cover of the 1985 issue. The decision to place the image of the Afghan Girl on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 was calculated and strategic with an aim to foster public support for increased US aid to Afghanistan.
     National Geographic was founded on racist ideologies that promoted paternalistic colonialist attitudes that reinforced the existing stereotypes that Europeans were “at the pinnacle of civilization” while non-western cultures and civilizations were inherently backwards. Rae Lynn Scwartz-DuPre lays emphasis on the importance of National Geographic as an institution for promoting the US as “rational, generous, and benevolent.”  
A Western Gaze
     The Afghan Girl is seen by Western audiences as a frail, helpless girl, who has no control over her future. This simplistic representation of the plight of refugees from the conflict in Afghanistan following the Soviet occupation, has allowed Western audiences to feel sympathy and promote change in the region. Schwartz-DuPre identifies race, veil, refugee status, direct eye contact and frontal posture as signifiers of inferiority.  The photo shows a girl looking directly at the audience with “sea green” eyes.  The uniquely “western” eyes allow for the audience to connect and identify with the subject and help to evoke paternalistic emotions which helped justify US intervention to aid the refugees.  These emotions are reinforced by the fact that she is twelve years old, a refugee, and is wearing a veil. The veil further exemplifies western perceptions of the plight of women in Afghanistan and the Muslim world. Although the Western perception of the Muslim woman can be linked to the colonial narratives, more recently there has been a close link with feminism The veil is seen in the West as a tool of oppression towards women and evokes emotions amongst Western audiences to intervene and “free” or “unveil” them.
Pictures Change the World
     In the article Schwartz-DuPre states, “Photographs of the victims of war are themselves species of rhetoric. They reiterate. They simplify. They Agitate. They create the illusion of consensus.”[2]  The timing of the depiction of the Afghan Girl and the scale and sophistication of the aid given to Afghanistan demonstrates the effectiveness of images as tools to convey messages. The Afghan Girl is not unlike other photographs which depict the horrors of war where images of nameless female refugees have been used by a plethora of international organizations to evoke emotions, raise awareness and gain support.  Schwartz-DuPre makes a very relevant point that after American audiences were familiar with the 1985 Afghan Girl, the US media could simply evoke the same emotional response using images of veiled Afghan women. The image of the Afghan girl and veiled women bring to light the justifications that sold the current war in Afghanistan to the American public. It is important to “recognize that history often repeats itself; fort he images that refigure our future in many cases mirrors our past.”[3]

[1] Rae Lynn Scwartz-DuPre (2010): Portraying the Political: National Geographic’s 1985 Afghan Girl and a US Alibi for Aid, Critical Studies in Media Communications, 27:4, 337
[2] Sontang, S. (1973). On Photography. New York: Picador. 6
[3] Rae Lynn Scwartz-DuPre (2010): Portraying the Political: National Geographic’s 1985 Afghan Girl and a US Alibi for Aid, Critical Studies in Media Communications, 27:4, 352

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An Iron Fence Preventing Cultural Communication

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”[1] American journalist Edward R. Murrow, made this statement about the importance of the broadcasting, both domestically and abroad. However, sixty years later, the U.S. has retained restrictions over international broadcastings being run within the U.S. since the establishment of the Smith-Mundt Act in 1948. The continued existence of the Smith-Mundt ban on domestic dissemination of organizations such as Voice of America (VOA), and U.S. government-produced international broadcasting (USIB) products, has created an "iron fence" preventing the U.S. public from accessing cultural communication networks, which broadcast inclusive coverage of world-news.  

Viewed as one of the most influential laws, the Smith-Mundt act, has raised contemporary concerns due to the dynamic change of the international environment compared to the period after WWII, when it was created. According to critiques, the Smith-Mundt act creates barriers in oversight and prevents cultural communication.  For example, possessing an educational and cultural exchange component focused on the promotion of American information abroad, the act was created as a counter-wait to the (former) USSR and signed into law under a "cold-war context". Seeing the need to foreign audiences to learn more about the U.S. by establishing programs abroad was essentially the Smith-Mundt acts main goal. Consequently, Congress did not include a two-way exchange component within this legislation due to a consensus that materials created for foreign audiences should not publicized within American borders.  

 It was not until 1972 that an amendment was added onto the act, sponsored by Senator J. William Fulbright.  However, during the same year the 1972 Foreign Relations Authorization Act that prevents domestic dissemination of “information about the United States, its policies, and its people”[2] prepared for foreign audiences was created to support the Smith-Mundt act. Why this act still remains in place today, may be closely tied to a security aspect more so than a prescribed ban on preventing cultural communication.  However, by default the Smith-Mundt act has prevented the American publics access to wide-ranging information on foreign affairs. Even now, the act hinders use of significant journalistic resources by both public and private networks in the U.S.[3] Whether or not this "iron fence" will be removed remains to be seen at this time.
[1,2, and 3] Metzgar, T. Emily.  Public Diplomacy, Smith-Mundt, and the American Public. (2012). Communication Law and Policy, 17:1, 67-101. Retrieved from: theAmericanPublic.pdf. Accessed on November 28, 2012.

Strategic Communication: U.S.-China Public and Cultural Diplomacy

While not new concepts, public and cultural diplomacy have subsequently become embracing elements within the realm of international relations for not only establishing close communication, but also developing long-term relationships.  In the case of the U.S. and China, over the past few years both nations have increased the use of soft power methods to promote their respective cultures, values, and ideals by interacting with other states, and more importantly engaging with the foreign public. 

Utilizing two soft power methods of diplomacy the U.S. and China are pursuing new forms of statecraft within their engagement with one another.  One strong reason behind this statement relates to the Chinese government's Confucius Institute initiative, which first began in 2004.  This public and cultural diplomacy initiative made by China, was established to promote cultural exchanges and the learning of Chinese language and culture.  

Viewed as an instrument of soft power the Confucius Institutes,which are housed by host institutions, (majorly higher education institutions)  focus on building more peaceful relationships between China and other nations, by promoting a deeper understanding of Chinese culture, values, and ideals. Following suit, this past year, the  U.S. approved funding  new introductory American Cultural Centers in China.  These centers, similar to the Confucius Institutes, promote cultural and education exchange.  However, not focusing on English-language learning the American Cultural Centers provide a venue for Chinese citizens to engage with U.S. citizens and develop a greater understanding of the U.S. and American culture.

As major trade and investment partners, China and the U.S. have acknowledged that in creating a more collaborative partnership, both nations need to also strengthen their understanding of each other's cultures.  Using strategic communication, one of the three dimensions of public diplomacy,[1]  to develop closer bilateral relations, both countries have placed a strong emphasis on people-to-people exchanges through public and cultural diplomacy efforts. 

Pursuing these initiatives, both countries have shown that they are progressively working toward becoming more focused global partners[2], through their outreach approach toward gaining foreign audience attention; and for the U.S. specifically, an inward approach toward supporting its own citizen engagement to participate in this cultural exchange. 
[1] Metzgar, T. Emily.  Public Diplomacy, Smith-Mundt, and the American Public. (2012). Communication Law and Policy, 17:1, 67-101. Retrieved from: eAmericanPublic.pdf. Accessed on November 28, 2012.
* According to Joseph S. Nye, there are three dimensions to public diplomacy:daily communication, strategic communication and development of long-term relationships.  Equally important, all nations exercise some form of public diplomacy in order to create and sustain connections with foreign publics in hopes of making the world an easier place to implement their preferred foreign policies.  
[2] Hachigian, Nina. Re-thinking U.S.-China relations.19 November 2012. Retrieved from: