All posts by cd0253a

Participatory theory and media advocacy in Mexico City

In Mexico, there is a need for more citizen participation when it comes to public consultations.

Every year, billions of pesos are funded into public construction projects. In Mexico City, the famous “second floor” of Periferico (in which, they built a highway over an existing highway) was built in 2006 around a lot of controversy. The highly polemic construction was criticized for not including the citizen’s in the decision making process. There was no public consultation and the residents had to deal with that construction for over five years.

Now, in 2015, there’s a glimpse of that happening. Recently, there was a new multi-million-construction plan proposed for Mexico City, called Corredor Cultural de Chapultepec.

The project leaders say it will bring new life to the Chapultepec neighborhood, brining private commerce and public spaces together. The opponents argue that it will be just another shopping mall, with little space for culture-related projects. Plus, the project requires a second floor to the Chapultepec neighborhood (think something like the High Line Park in New York City), making it very invasive for the residents around the area.

This past Sunday, the Mexico City’s Electoral Institute held a public vote on the project. There were over 22 thousand votes, with the majority voting “no” to the construction of the project, putting it on hold.

The Electoral Institute referred to the vote as a success. However, only 4.8% of those eligible voted.

It would seem these types of citizen initiative campaigns need more of the participatory and media advocacy focus that Silivio Waisbord talks about.

Waisbord explains that participatory theorists argue that development communication requires sensitivity to cultural diversity, and lack of such sensitivity leads to the failure of many project. That certainly seems to be the case for the Corredor Cultural de Chapultepec (CCC). Since the start, the commercial aspect for the project was featured too much. The word “cultural” is in the project’s title, yet not one cultural initiative was proposed in the CCC’s presentation. A large majority of Mexico City’s population is lower-middle class, the project seemed to be targeting upper and upper-middle classes.

Which brings us to the second point. The media advocacy was nowhere to be seen. The project needs to change its messages to the media. Stop selling it like a shopping mall. Use the media to really disseminate the social changes the project will bring to the community. It’s about changing the key words being used by the project’s spokespeople.

The Corredor Cultural de Chapultepec still has a chance of being built, but its creators need to seriously rework the branding and key messages of the project if they want to get the citizens on board with it.

Strategic Narratives and the Syrian refugee crisis

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga

Are “strategic narratives” something everyday publics can control or shape? Do publics, in a sense, “matter” more to the idea that strategic narratives get international actors to change their behavior or “see the world” differently? Why?

Strategic narratives can be influenced or shaped by the everyday public. The biggest force and the driver behind a strategic narrative is, of course, nations and their government agendas, but public opinion can change its course.

Let’s use as an example the Syrian refugee crisis and whether or not countries should take them in. The strategic narrative each country has taken varies a lot when comparing them. There’s hardly an article from a United States’ news site that doesn’t mention their ongoing issues with migration from countries like Mexico, or nations in Asia, when talking about if they should admit Syrian refugees and in what manner. This differs a lot when you look at how Germany has positioned itself in the media when it come to Syrian refugees. They’ve strategically used the situation to sell an image of an open and welcoming country.

Now, at the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, the New York Times reported in September that Obama was under pressure to join European nations to accept more than 10,000 refugees into the United States. Part of that pressure came from the public, who thought the United States should be more welcoming to refugees. The audience was most likely being influenced by the strategic narrative that Germany positioned in the media, that nations should help each other and that this crisis was a humanitarian issue, not a political one.

Cut to November, where the horrible tragedy that fell down in Paris completely changed the American public opinion of the Syrian refugee crisis. Now, Obama is being pressured to limit the number of refugees allowed and having strict monitoring measures when they enter. Currently, most Americans oppose accepting refugees. Obama is now fighting with the House, with both Democrats and Republicans mixing the refugee issue with possible ISIS attacks. Obama, for his part, is brining in the narrative that Germany used, to position the issue as a humanitarian one, calling those that oppose the refugees as being “scared of widows and orphans.”

Miskimmon, O’Loughlin and Roselle argue that “narratives set the stage for understanding specific US foreign policies and actions.” This certainly seems to be the ongoing case with the refugee crisis.

The US and its conflicting strategic narratives in internet governance

Carlos Diaz Barriga

Do you think there are conflicting aspects of the “strategic narratives” that the US promotes around its internet governance policies? If so, why?

The United States government positions itself as a fighter for freedom and firmly opposed to censorship. However, their policies on surveillance of internet users in the US says otherwise.

The strategic narrative the US has created for themselves is “the country that puts free speech above everything.” They’re very critical on the way China limits its use of the internet for their citizens. They claim it’s censorship to not allow social networks like Facebook and Twitter over there.

At the same time, the US has very strict policies in how they monitor that “free speech” and heavy measures on that speech they deem dangerous. For years, the National Security Agency (NSA) has collected American’s private data in bulk without any consent. It was only until Edward Snowden became a whistleblower that the citizens became aware of the US government acting like Big Brother, a very different narrative than the one they had been cultivating in the media for years.

This is not to say the US and China are comparable in internet governance aspects. China is still extremely limiting in the way their citizens can use the internet and how people from all over the world can communicate with them online. China is a firm believer that a nation’s sovereignty also covers cyberspace and works to control network technology.

One can make the argument that the NSA spying is a “necessary evil” in order to combat terrorism. However, not many people agree: polls show the majority of Americans are against this type of surveillance.

Coming up: WSIS +10

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga

Why was the WSIS a significant development in the role of non-state actors in international organizations and governance?

On Dec. 16 of this year, the ten-year Review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10) will occur. The event is to determine whether progress has been made on WSIS’ goals in the last decade and to talk about where the Society is heading in the future.

With this in mind, it is important to look back and determine the significance WSIS has had for non-state actors in international organizations and governance.

The main element that made WSIS “different” from other communication and information organizations was that it involved debates among government and non-governmental actors, taking on issues of communication policy and governance (Raboy 20). These very different actors helped shaped an agenda that truly covered all perspectives.

WSIS was the first UN summit where civil societies had equal standing, or what appeared to be equal standing. It established a new parameter and standard when it came to these types of summits, promoting the “multistakeholder” model.

While the actual influence of civil societies in the first WSIS was minimal (in comparison to its intended purpose), it put this actor on the stage along with government to tackle internet governance issues.

Radboy argues that it was the inclusion of civil societies in WSIS marked a big difference from the NWICO debate.

The Civil Society Plenary at WSIS declared that there was “no single information, communication or knowledge society: there are, at the local, national and global levels, possible future societies.” And Radboy expresses that the right communicate and freedom of information were not substitutes for one another, but rather related concepts.

A shared global pop culture

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga

As Manuel Castells argues, ‘our society is constructed around flows’. A couple of years ago, it was easy to trace these flows, as their origin seemed to be centered around the traditional outlets in the United States. But now, it seems the flows are coming from every direction, with the traditional-dominant ones being left behind.

Contra-flows are what dictate the pop culture currently. The U.K.’s Downton Abbey dominates U.S. award shows. Netflix, an American streaming company, produced one of the best Colombian show in years, Narcos. Mexican and Indian films (in their native language) are debuting in the top 10 at the U.S. box office.

Even domestically, one could argue the culture flows that broadcast and cable television used to dominate are now being shared with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. People now receive their culture products from all countries and all types of outlets.

Again, in the U.S., media has been in the power for years by the “Big Six” Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom and CBS Corporation), thanks to the 1997 Telecommunications Act. But now, it would seem that power is being shared.

Many young teens would rather receive their news in the form of YouTube videos and popular Vine users can draw bigger advertising deals than a morning show.

The informal flows of media are opening up a whole new world of possibilities of where people can consume cultural products. While the traditional media conglomerates are racing to adapt their content to these new flows, it’s clear they now have to share the field, and the profits, with so many new players.

And yes, like Thussu states, all these flows still largely generate revenue for Western media organizations, but as the media becomes more and more fragmentized, non-Western organizations now have the biggest opportunity to rise to power.

Is controlling information sovereignty even possible?

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga

This is the first tweet from Edward Snowden’s recently opened Twitter account. The tweet, while humorous in nature, is a clear defiance to all world leaders who seek to control the information of their nation.

Powers and Jablonsky argue that “new transnational governance structures enhance the vitality of existing states by insuring the viability of debate within democracies while limiting the influence of special interests.” But what governance structure can control the power of the internet?

With the internet, information flows now appear to be in control of the citizens. Technology overrides nation-states in certain parts of the world; diasporas have created endless transnational online communities.

Consider the Millenial generation, who has grown up thinking everything on the internet should be free (music, movies, news, etc.) and accessible. They were the first users and creators of the system, it’s not easy to suddenly establish parameters as to what they can or can’t do.

Perhaps what states should be focusing on is how the public defines “information sovereignty”. For a lot of the population, free internet means endless access to funny Vines and YouTube videos (as the “Cute Cat” theory suggests). To keep them happy, don’t restrict what they already enjoy. Western governments are already pursuing some version of an intranet anyway (Powers and Jablonsky). The population will accept what they perceive as “just” control (i.e. making illegal music and movies downloads punishable).

The problem, for the nation-states, lies with the Edward Snowden and the Julian Assange types. Both are considered, by some, as heroes of freedom of speech. Snowden, in an interview with The Guardian in May, stated:

“The idea that they can lock us out and there will be no change is no longer tenable. Everyone accepts these programmes [NSA] were not effective, did not keep us safe and, even if they did, represent an unacceptable degradation of our rights.”

And Snowden is not alone; he amassed more than a million followers in less than 24 hours.

Diasporic audiences find validation in media

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga

Representation matters.

As a Mexican immigrant living in the United States, to sustain my collective identity, while also try to attain some sense of American nationality, I need to see my community being represented in the media of this nation.

That is easier said than done. I mean, some might even argue that Latinos are already all over the media.

Sofia Vergara is on Modern Family! Shakira is on top of the music charts! I saw Salma Hayek on a movie last week! J.Lo!!!

But if you take a closer look at the statistics, you’ll find the opposite.

A 2014 report from Colombia University, called “The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media”, found that “Latino participation in mainstream English-language media is stunningly low. A review of the top movies and television programs reveals that there is a narrower range of stories and roles, and fewer Latino lead actors in the entertainment industry today than there were 70 years ago.”

The way diasporic audiences can sustain their home identity, while also feel like they belong in their new nation, is through accurate and visible representation in mainstream media.

It’s not enough for Mexican-Americans to just have Univision. It’s a necessary network, as it will keep them up-to-date with news from “home”, but they also need to see their culture being represented on US-centric networks such as CNN or MSNBC.

The same report from Colombia University states that “stories about Latinos constitute less than 1% of news media coverage.”

The ‘niche’ media helps build stronger “imagined communities”, whether those are nations or diasporas, but mainstream media needs to be inclusive of other nationalities.

No nation in the world is comprised solely of born-citizens; we all have immigrants in our countries. The so-called “global networks” need to reflect this.

Karim H. Karim says it best: “No contemporary analytical framework of international communication that seeks to be comprehensive can legitimately exclude diasporas.”

International education and the modernization theory

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga (cd0253a@american.edu)

Reading about the doctrine of ‘free flow’ information, the basis for the modernization theory, and how it was used to help develop Third World nations, reminded me of the state of education currently in my country, Mexico.

The inconsistencies with the modernization theory are well documented, for example, when it failed to recognize the disparity of wealth among the social classes in these nations (Thussu, 44). This failure is particularly applicable when studying the topic of education in Mexico.

In Mexico, income disparity is still a big issue. According to a report from El Daily Post, “the richest 10 percent earn 30.5 times more than the poorest 10 percent”. ‘Free-flow’ information and exposure to modern media to expand education in Third World countries sounds good on paper, but it fails to recognize the obstacles each particular country is facing when it’s put on practice.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2014, Mexico was the sole country in the organization where 15-29 year-olds are expected to spend more time in employment than in education. This fact alone tells you a lot about the way people live their lives and what their priorities are.

Work is more necessary than education; people don’t always see the benefits of getting educated. The OECD states that “in Mexico, higher educational attainment does not necessarily translate into better labor market outcomes”.

Why would citizens choose education if it’s not going to provide them with better opportunities?

This also coincides with the other discrepancy of the modernization theory, in which it disregards traditional lifestyles in favor for modern ones (Thussu, 45). Grouping a whole bunch of different nations, calling them Third World countries, and expecting the same outcomes when helping with their development, is probably why the theory needed to be reformulated.

Communication, the basis of global relations

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga (cd0253a@american.edu)

Information is power. This much is clear when studying the impact international communication has in the current development of international relations. From the British domination of electric telegraphy thanks to their control of submarine cables (Hanson, pg. 19) back in the 19th century, to the United States’ rise as a marketplace model because of its advancements on commercial television (Hanson, pg. 38) in the early 20th century, communication instruments play a key role in a country’s global influence.

The ability to move and influence people, whether for commercial or political reasons, is the basis of the way nations interact with each other today. An example of this is the current situation of the refugees from Syria. Four years ago, when Syria’s climate conflict was just beginning, the coverage of it was relegated to the International News section in the newspapers; today, you will find it in the front cover of the major national outlets. The media has played a huge role in influencing citizens to urge their country leaders to cooperate with taking refugees.

One country that has been keenly aware of this, and using it to their advantage, is Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently one of the more outspoken world leaders on helping Syrian refugees, stating, according to Reuters, that efforts of German citizens to support the arriving refugees had “painted a picture of Germany which can make us proud of our country”.

Germany’s efforts on accepting Syrian refugees are now being covered daily by outlets all over the world, effectively improving their image as a welcoming nation.

 

Citations:

Hanson, E. (2008). The Origins of the Information Revolution. In The information revolution and world politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.