Sunday, December 27, 2009
What won't the commercial media do for controversy and ratings... rights?
And well, when Russia Today is criticized by one of the most ridiculous phenomena in TV history, they can't swallow it, without offering compliments in return, of course..!
Just really hope we don't end up having The Onion or the Daily Show as our prime news sources, indeed...
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
And many also know that much of the DC area was paralyzed because of some 15": a usual (or even laughable) phenomenon for many... so shoveling was a skill EVERYONE around here could use, even if just for the sake of being able shop.
Anyway, here's an ad I got from Borders last night, and thought that it rarely gets THIS ironic and self-contradictory...
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Mark Lynch wrote in his Foreign Policy blog that “There is probably no more interesting figure in the Middle East diplomacy these days.” I tend to agree with him. Erdoğan indeed is trying to live up to this characterization, learning from the West and gradually realizing that often perceptions matter more than deeds.
I am not quite sure there was the need for a show this time, though. Obama still hailed Turkey as “a great country” and stressed he is “strongly committed to creating the best possible relationship between Turkey and the United States.” However, did he have an alternative, given the attempts to leave Afghanistan and Iraq while saving face, and given the strong desire to stay out of Iran as much as possible?
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Richard Grenell, director of communications and public diplomacy for the US permanent representative to the UN in the Bush administration, in an AJE interview.
I don't think that this conversation should be just one interview by the Obama administration or by President Obama; I think it needs to be the beginning of a constant flow of information both ways so that the 200 million Arab households who watch Al Jazeera on a regular basis can hear a variety of US policy goals."
Read the interview HERE.
Another great piece from The Listening Post, and yet, far from being comprehensive...
Just last week two bloggers were given 2.5-year prison terms in Azerbaijan for criticizing the government. Read more on the case from Reporters Sans Frontières here.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Ethos. Pathos. Logos: the three Aristotelian pillars of successful argument still very much relevant today, but, for some reason, also very much neglected by several major states in their international affairs.
Modern-day conduct of foreign affairs heavily depends on communication, especially when it comes to public diplomacy and non-traditional warfare. After all, it’s about perception management and “manufacturing consent,” be it domestic, or within a foreign public: control over info. That’s the key.
A government cannot purge all unfavorable discourse from the public, excommunicate all “unorthodox” thinkers, or, for that matter, hunt down and burn all their writings: fortunately we have been out of the Middle Ages for a while, now. Yet, governments still get entangled in their attempts to literally control information, spin it to work in their interest, or improve their “international ranking” in terms of appeal. This is especially true when the government is also desperately trying to win a war of ideas, which essentially constitutes multiple communication battles.
To continue with the over-abused example of the American “War on Terror”… It indeed has a major ideological component. Yet, again, the US ended up in a situation where it had to learn the hard way. You cannot bomb ideas. You have to bend them, or you might even have to disprove them altogether. To do that, you need persuasion. Persuasion requires argument; cohesive argument. The US has been trying to persuade the Middle Eastern public for most of the last decade, and yet, its persuasion tactics have been far from even resembling a true Aristotelian argument (rather, they involved military invasions, consequent humanitarian crises, attempts to clamp down on the local media, and disaster cases such as the corruption in the “Oil for food” program or the Abu Ghraib controversy). So what is wrong, exactly?
Ethos: the ethical appeal, i.e. credibility. - The Western arrogance towards the region, and the invasion already established a “bad name” back in 2001. The outburst against Al Jazeera (and other “uncensored” media, which freely covered the TRUE nature of the war) and the support of corrupt local regimes provided further proof that the US was unable to practice what it preached. Not to mention the constant negative framing of the Muslims and their culture by Western media – at least as perceived by the Muslims themselves. There goes credibility, down the drain.
Pathos: the emotional appeal, i.e. sympathy and compassion. - I don’t think it is fair to expect many people in the Islamic world to feel enough compassion towards any of the coalition forces in light of the Afghanistan or Iraq invasions, and the events that followed. The local media – successfully providing counter-frames that worked – undermined all American effort to make a “sweeping victory” over the hearts and minds of the population.
Logos: the reasoning of the argument, including cohesiveness and supporting evidence. - In this case, the initial rhetoric was that of hostility, and although it changed later on, it was far from being cohesive. As in the case of ethos, the US and its coalition partners showed, time and again, that they were unable (or were simply unprepared) to follow the very principles they were supposedly promoting, giving rise to many alternative explanations, that (at least seemingly) made more sense, especially to the local public.
This all in light of an incompetent speaker as president and a new media environment, where there is an abundance of alternative sources of information, as well as multiple channels of access to it. The US had apparently forgotten to take good note of that, and assumed that just like in the good-ol’ Cold War times the people would unquestioningly internalize whatever they were told, as long as it was coming from America. The flowers and cheers for the “liberators” were not there for the American troops. Did the US fall victim to its own rhetoric and information campaign?
Whatever the root causes and the real reasons behind the “War on Terror,” it is certainly not perceived as a war of “liberation” by the ordinary Iraqis or Afghans, or by most of the people in the region. The US attempts to promote the “democratization” rhetoric have fallen short of actual evidence to support it, while political and economic dealings get increasingly more dirty in both, Iraq and Afghanistan (and the US is conspicuously involved in most of these cases). And certainly, the most prominent example of the US not keeping to its own values is its very attempt to overtly control the flow of information: bashing of “unorthodox” (in American view) media, embedding reporters in the military (thus successfully hampering their chances of some true reporting), and sometimes even preventing journalists from reporting altogether (references can be found in all of this week's readings).
Basically, the Americans have failed to deliver; and even where they have, the means to these achievements were largely disastrous. Given the situation as well as the context, the US might not have many options left. The most promising one, however, remains true understanding of and sensitivity to the local cultures (and figuring out what is that they really value at the time, unlike "soccer," for example), as well as a better demonstration of the true American values through more effective communication and palpable evidence. Yes, openness and true freedom of choice for the people of the region might mean that in the short run the “coalition” might not see friendly governments there (but that’s just the way a true democracy works, right?). And yet, the picture might be different in the longer run, if these governments are engaged and better integrated in an international cooperation system. In the end of the day, despite the importance of communication, it’s not only about words, but deeds as well.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Noömanagement Crisis, continued...
Marwin Bishara and notable "panelists" discuss the problem on Al Jazeera English.
The second part of the program touches upon "glocalization" of Al Qaeda's ideology, and the implications of this for the general "War on Terror."
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
As all of this week’s readings pointed out, the new media are changing the structures of information flows, robbing the formerly powerful players of their ability to shape public opinion, and making the latter more malleable and susceptible to “counter-power” influence. This is not necessarily bad, but can be used to serve many not-so-friendly goals, too, as the success of various insurgent movements has come to prove. Networks such as Al Qaeda or Hizballah have utilized new media and the communication space not only for achieving financial sustainability and waging their war of ideas (which are among the key components of Mary Kaldor’s “New War” model), but also for achieving legitimacy outside of their own local communities. They have successfully created a new set of goals and ethics – be it the fight against a hostile foreign nation state (US or Israel, in these cases), or the provision of local support networks vital for the day-to-day survival of the local population due to the total absence of functional societal or state institutions (Qandahar or Southern Lebanon) – and have proved to be consistent in matching their deeds with their promises.
Despite the increasing prominence of non-state actors, the nation state has not lost its status completely – yet – as many states are still attempting to manage the information flows so as to contain the “counter-power” influence over state objectives. Prominent examples of such attempts, to name just a few: the American efforts to embed reporters within military units in Afghanistan or Iraq; Russia (or Georgia and NATO, for that matter) flooding the international media with biased reports on the war in South Ossetia in August 2008; the desperate attempts by the Islamic Republic of Iran to control the web-space in the post-election debacle this June. And when these attempts fail, all the state can do is finding a clearly identified scapegoat to blame: Al Jazeera, NATO, or "The Great Satan."
As it has become increasingly obvious, addressing Noöpolitik with Realpolitik has not only NOT been successful, but has further discredited the attempts of the state to maintain legitimacy. To use the America example – after the alleged “win” in the Cold War, the US simply stopped its efforts in maintaining its international image, and even the eight years of “War of Ideas” have not brought it back to senses. Just as it is currently being discussed - openly - despite all the fluffy names, such as “public diplomacy” or “strategic communication,” effective coordination is nonexistent and the government has no clue as to what is REALLY being done, how to gauge the efforts and their success, or how to manage them more efficiently.
The incumbent “powers” in the international sphere will need to adapt if they want to survive; otherwise, the increasing number and influence of the global “counter-powers” will deem them irrelevant in the Noosphere age. Arquilla and Ronfeld say that this would require rebalancing of relations among state, market, and civil-society actors. But then, why not match the rhetoric with deeds, for starters?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I had just logged on Facebook when the news broke: “The signing of the Armenia-Turkey protocols delayed indefinitely for unknown reasons.” And that’s how it all started. A large part of my Armenian “friend” population suddenly came to life with status updates and shared links, discussions and comments… I tuned in, and within seconds I was reading tweet and news updates on Facebook from reporters in Armenia and “on the ground” (i.e., Zurich, where the event was taking place), going through articles hastily put together by the wires, having protracted discussions through comments on friends’ Facebook/Tweet statuses and shared links… simultaneously watching (rather, listening to) two TV news live streams online, while skyping with a friend on the same issue. By the end of the hour, when the foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey finally signed the much-debated and controversial agreement, I had updated my Facebook status five times, shared some ten-eleven links, and made dozens of comments and tweets… When I actually stopped and looked back at it all, this week’s readings started making more sense than ever. Within an hour I had probably communicated with more than thirty people, consumed and shared multiple media, smoothly fitting in the Armenian wave that swept the information sphere that day... all that without even leaving my chair.
Engagement and convergence: the key words this week. The digital media have indeed transformed the relief of the information sphere, not only flattening the industry hierarchies and empowering the reader to get active in the interpretation and discussion of the issues, but also indirectly making them participate in the entire production process. The beauty of it, however, is that anyone (given they have the means, of course) can take part, basically controlling what gets “out there” and connecting with people from virtually anywhere around the world. The trend seems to have started with mIRC, forums and blogs, but the boom of the social networking sites and various widgets gave it a whole new dimension. Of course, we cannot really measure the actual amount of consumption around the world, let alone its impact, but taking Facebook as the most successful and well-known example one can get a fair picture. Here are some of the official statistics on Facebook use:
- More than 300 million active users
- Average user has 130 friends on the site
- More than 6 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)
- More than 2 billion photos uploaded to the site each month
- More than 2 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) shared each week
- More than 70 translations available on the site
- About 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States
- More than 15,000 websites, devices and applications have implemented Facebook Connect since its general availability in December 2008
- There are more than 65 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices (and these users are almost 50% more active on Facebook than non-mobile users).
- There are more than 180 mobile operators in 60 countries working to deploy and promote Facebook mobile products
Revealing, to say the least. And that’s just Facebook. Web pages have started making active use of the “share” tool, many providing some 90-100 different share options and widgets (Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Windows Live Favorites, Yahoo Bookmarks… to name a few). So if you’re “connected,” it is basically impossible not to get involved, especially when sharing a valuable/interesting piece of information with friends is just one click away. And with the increasingly mobile global population, where despite the distance people can stay connected – virtually – means that the explosion in consumer digital technologies is here to stay (for a while, at least).
So what is left in the industry for the traditional media content producers? Singer is right to suggest that their roles are transforming from reporters and filters to monitors and managers of information flows. This basically ties in well with Toffler’s “prosumers,” whose product mainly aims to engage consumers and thus, induce further content creation. Consequently, despite transforming professional functions and tremendous shifts in the trends, approaches, and means of production and advertising, profits are there to be made as the industry has proven to be fairly resilient in adapting. As for the consumers… they run the risk of becoming tools themselves, just by engaging, acquiring virtual lives and identities, and, ironically, becoming ever more alienated despite being increasingly connected.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
But they don’t. Is it the system? Fair enough. Even if we go blaming the system, we could at least try thinking of some bottom-up means, which are usually said to work against the “oppressive regimes.” On a global scale, the nation-states would be the “local” players, acting from the “bottom.” But that power was taken away from them by the transnational conglomerates, and the nation states seemed to have given it up fairly easily. Or at least they had to, given the current global economic trends and integration.
So where did the power of the individual go?
The concept of liberty, when discussed by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, was not meant to be conferred upon the mass of the people universally, at least for so long as there was no universal education on the proper use of this liberty. Giving liberty without the appropriate limitations on it could lead back to chaos, oppression, and the eventual loss of the liberty itself.
People worldwide are increasingly gaining the “liberty” to access information and consume media from literally around the world (that is, given they have the means and make the necessary effort). And yet, the increasing availability is not matched with a similar rate of education on the use of that media and the need to approach it critically, in all respects. Mostly on purpose – and yet, sometimes not as much – people can be easily “socialized” into the consumerist and apathetic mindset, without any realization of the need for alternatives. And the ultimate questions, time and again, are “WHO makes these decisions?” or “WHOSE interest does this serve?”
Given the current global political and economic circumstances, nation states or even representatives of the so-called global civil society cannot overtly oppose transnational media giants, their interests, and programming/production that often takes away the individual’s right to true liberty. And yet, the former can make the effort of conscientiously and regularly investing in awareness campaigns and education on media and news consumption. Only thus can the vicious circle of media production and audience demand be broken, as well as an increased awareness of the true world around them be achieved. Then, if the demand for a more “informed’ and “un-distorted” media culture appears, one would hope that the global giants would step in to meet that demand.
Thus, although the current prospects are bleak, the global civil society, as well the nation states, can play a role, and do have the moral responsibility of doing so, being the representatives of their people. Yet, when it comes to profits, unfortunately many ethical considerations tend to be forgotten…
Monday, October 5, 2009
I’m sure most are well familiar with the concept of socialization: the process through which one acquires the norms within their culture through social institutions. Well, this process does not only include family and friends, but also the educational system, the media, the political system, etc… and it was only last week that we discussed the significance of the media in “shaping us.”
As much as it is true, it is also very worrisome. I’m sure the stereotype of the “assembly-line-produced Soviet person, who is not even an individual per se” is still well-stuck with many, just as the case of the “madrasah-idoctrinated zealots out there.” Well, these images may carry some degree of truth, especially when we consider the circumstances in which these “non-individuals” were “produced” by their respective systems.
Yet, as much as we would not like to think of it, a similar tendency seems to persist – though in a significantly different form – in most of the “developed world” today, and both, McChesney and Thussu attest to that. Isn’t a prevailing standardized message, centered primarily on entertainment and driven by sensationalism a threat to societies which hold their diversity and liberties dear? How different is then McChesney’s “populace that prefers personal consumption to social understanding and activity,” or a “depoliticized citizenry… [which is a] mass more likely to take orders than to act,” from the (hopefully) obsolete images mentioned above?
Orwell’s “never-published” preface to the Animal Farm makes this point precisely (So what if he was talking about WW2 Britain? The piece still makes a lot of sense, today). To quote him directly: “Unpopular ideas can be silenced and inconvenient facts kept dark without the need for any official ban.” It’s all about mainstream public opinion, and the unwillingness to go against it.
Not so? What if “national security” is at stake? Well, at Orwell’s time the wording was a little different: democracy was the principle of the day. “If one loves democracy […] one must crush its enemies by no matter what means […] [even if that] involves destroying all independence of thought.” Don’t we see that happening now? Especially after 9/11…
Yes, much has been written and said about the politics of fear. Or rather, we heard the part that was generally tolerated. Yet, there was a part that was not. For example, none of the American TV networks would air Adam Curtis’ “The Power of Nightmares”. Too controversial? Yes. And although a little over-stretched at times, it still makes a very strong point, which could have been regarded as just another prominent political-historical documentary had it provided an acceptable perspective. But apparently it was too unorthodox. (By the way, I really recommend watching it. Just for fun.)
The problem is kind of similar in the case of Al Jazeera or any other non-Western TV network (especially when it comes to news). They are extremists, terrorists, communists, nationalists, fundamentalists… you name it! Why? Well, they are simply talking in their own terms: something that becomes increasingly unacceptable by the mainstream. However, given that there are practically no true media contra-flows, the mainstream in the West becomes the mainstream everywhere else, too. Gradually.
Improvement and progress cannot happen without the realization and a true acceptance of a problem. While without the freedom and room for “unorthodox” ideas, the true realization may never come in the first place. Just as Orwell put it: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Well, the American officials are increasingly trying to open up to the world and understand where the problems in their approaches lie (just today I attended a panel discussion on the subject). And yet, at a larger scale, they do not have much influence even over their own public opinion, precisely because they do not have any power over the profit-driven transnational media corporations. Free journalism, which supposedly had to perform the role of the “unorthodox thinker” and of the true “agenda-setter,” is now completely distorted by the commercial, 24-hour “breaking news” and “get-it-the-first” cycle, allowing no room for any substantial analysis, debate, or the “unorthodoxy” that would kick-start a change for the better. Cannot resist quoting Orwell here, again: “The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment.”
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Siochrú and Girard point out that media products are special because they are essentially the tools of “society production.” In order not to get back to the discussion of the media shaping identities, suffice it to say that their statement is in itself a powerful argument for a cautious regulation of the media market, especially as it is increasingly privatized and taken over by commercial interests.
A free media market essentially implies equilibrium. This can work perfectly well… in theory. In reality, many times people forget to ask about how that market demand is created. A second question that needs to be urgently addressed is whether, given the above-mentioned special status of the media products, the mega-corporations should be given the unlimited freedom to create that demand. I see the matter as an ethical issue (especially when it comes to news reporting and journalism), unless, of course, the sole acceptable morality is that of profit-maximization and instant gratification.
The traditional “mainstream” approach in the US seems to have been very critical of the European (as well as other governments’) attempts to regulate or, at least, carefully monitor the media market. Well, perhaps justly so. After all, a true democracy cannot function without freedom of speech and a free flow of information. However, I still find it hard to understand how a system that took such great care to create a meticulous structure of checks and balances can be inclined to completely overlook a fundamental threat to its very existence. With the increasing trend of privatization and liberalization of the media markets, which gave way to the rise of the large transnational media empires, the very democracy that freedom is supposed to facilitate is being jeopardized, as the corporations start to acquire and exert political influence.
Yet, their influence – acquired through large profits channeled into active lobbying and “support” campaigns, in expectation of favorable policies and treatment – is not limited to the political sphere. It is no secret that media ownership affects content and that through carefully directed programming, media companies can potentially cultivate the demand for specific “products”, create and promote ideas and social movements, and even kick-start revolutions. The first example that jumps to the mind is the claim made by the Iranian regime about the June presidential election. However, why go there? Let’s look at the US and Obama’s healthcare plan debacle.
Of course, Al-Jazeera, being the channel that it is, is NOT unbiased, but still it provides a very good alternative insight into the recent 9/12 demonstrations and the role Fox News played in all that. Needless to mention, of course, that Fox is one of the central pillars of Murdoch’s empire, and that there is absolutely no coincidence in the fact that he had recently begun voicing his concerns about Obama’s approach to the economy, calling him “dangerous.”
Freedom of speech and information, whether in the national realm or in the global sphere, was meant to serve as a vehicle to ensure plurality and diversity of opinions, as well as best possible access to the best possible information. Being fundamental to democracy, these were also supposed to improve governance AND effectively check the government’s power. Thus, the media were meant to be the “domain of information” and supposedly assumed the responsibility to act as the fourth estate, in the public’s best interest. And yet, the recent trends of conglomeration, privatization, and deregulation have resulted in a situation of decreased competition and domination by aggressively profit-driven corporations that gradually become the very power that was meant to be contained. And so it happens that by “using the words properly” the transnational media corporations are spinning the idea of freedom to serve their own ends, defeating the very purpose of the much-cherished First Amendment.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
That said, it is important to note the OVERALL outcome. Globalization that brings with it the intensification of resource flows and a greater interdependence of nations can ultimately result in an increase in general output: i.e. overall increase in affluence and in the standard of living. What is more, one cannot overlook the fact that the more the states are economically interdependent, the less willing they will be to engage in any conflict, which, in turn, can lead to further stabilization and sustainable economic and political development (even in cases where the interstate, or the state-corporation relationship is regarded as asymmetric). Therefore, potentially, globalization can bring the greatest benefit to most people, and all the readings this week touched upon this matter in one way or another.
Nevertheless, they also pointed out the fact that the benefits are not as equitably distributed as most of us would like to hope, which gives further ground to the pessimists. Even more relevant in this matter is the fact that the nation state seems to be among those to lose out most in the globalization process, as its sovereignty and self-determination are gradually eaten away by the post-modern tendencies. Together, the groups that fall behind in this intense global competition (be it on the international, national, or sub-national level) can present viable evidence to prove the selective advantages of globalization and its deficiencies. And certainly, the Marxist argument of “the rich exploiting the poor” is ever present in any such talk, be it concerning nation-states, or MNCs. Perhaps it may sound rudimentary, but one only needs to look at the current international sphere to see that these arguments might really be making a GOOD point. International structures such as the G8 and G20, despite all their altruistic mission statements, are essentially serving the interests of the select few – those who are IN the club – and even if the attainment of their goals might involve the development of the other parts of the world (well, being interdependent will allow more international stability and better business), they are still motivated by their very same self-interests. Fair enough. But that is where Morgenthau and Realism come creeping back in.
And yet, the end result should not be overlooked. Development and “progress,” especially on a global scale, can take many decades, if not centuries, to achieve and instant gratification is not something one should expect. Even if all the “agents of change” are ultimately driven by their self-interests, they can still play a significant role in dragging the “laggers” along. It is then up to these laggers to make sure they are included in the process, by proving their potential and getting involved – sufficiently and on time – instead of merely complaining and waiting for benevolence. If one looks at world affairs as a game, then there are rules by which it is played, and each player should make the most out of them, apparently, without expectations of altruism from others...