Category Archives: Christina Howerton

Salam Shabab

In light of the readings on development communications and both presentations this week (one on reality TV in the Middle East and one participatory theater), I wanted to take an opportunity to write a blog about Salam Shabab, reality TV show featuring youth from all over Iraq competing to become ambassadors of peace. According to the website, “They can express who they are and say what they think about building peace in Iraq. Salam Shabab is a way for the next generation of Iraqi leaders to have their voices heard. The mission of Salam Shabab is to build the foundations for peace by empowering Iraqi youth to be confident, responsible and participatory citizens of their society.” Additionally, Salam Shabab uses social media to serve as an online community for Iraqi youth to discuss conflict issues. Salam Shabab is a U.S. Institute of Peace endorsed program. Here is a video about Salam Shabab.

The reality series serves an entertainment purpose, but helps to address serious issues at the same time. It combines aspects of reality TV in the region addressed in the presentation in class with aspects of participatory conflict resolution through a platform similar to theater. I think that it incorporates positives of reality TV such as imagined community building and is effective in addressing gender issues and ethnic and religious divides.

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Cross-Cultural Understanding Through the News

Powers and el-Nawawy write in “Al Jazeera English and Global News Networks: Clash of Civilizations or Cross-Cultural Dialogue” that global news networks have two effects. 1) they can reaffirm the us versus them mentality because people seek out programs that already display their views and 2) long-term viewership of channels such as AJE help lessen the clash of civilizations phenomenon. This means that the bias AJE has because of the culture it derives from ultimately affects viewers even if they are not of that same culture.

This theory is especially interesting now, because more people outside of the MENA region became aware of AJE this year and now watch it or check the website for news about the Arab Spring. (I am making an assumption here, as I have nothing but what I’ve noticed to back up this claim.) In any case, this possible increase in Western viewership of AJE could have an effect of how accepting U.S. citizens are of Arab culture. It could help dissolve some of the issues with the “clash of civilizations” between the Middle East and the U.S.

AJE has this effect over time because it is successful in depicting universal themes, which all people identify with, specifically now with stories of the uprisings. One case of this that I think does well to show the effects is the AJE documentary about the protest movement in Bahrain, called “Shouting in the Dark.”  It takes an in depth look at the movement and clashes between protestors and government. It shows gruesome scenes of the violence protestors experienced in February and has interviews with lots of different people. Basically, viewers cannot help but empathize with the people of Bahrain, which lends to Powers and el-Nawawy’s theory.

Check out the documentary here.

Whose side are you on?

The Washington Post article by Ian Shapira was particularly interesting this week, but I think that there is more to this issue of U.S. administrations’ role in preventing or supporting authoritarian regimes monitor and censor citizens. The Shapira article, U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors,” discusses the positive side of the U.S. role. It says that, “Federal agencies — such as the State Department, the Defense Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors — have been funding a handful of technology firms that allow people to get online without being tracked or to visit news or social media sites that governments have blocked. Many of these little-known organizations — such as the Tor Project and UltraReach— are unabashedly supportive of the activists in the Middle East.”

This is a crucial step in supporting the citizens of countries in the Middle East, as opposed to supporting the regimes. This funding is great because it sets a tone for U.S. companies that produce this software. However, there is still an obvious disconnect between U.S. support for citizens and any opposition to oppressive regimes. Openly supporting citizens over regimes causes problems for U.S. diplomacy with economic partner countries such as Saudi Arabia and China, ” which are known to block Web sites they deem dangerous,” according to the article.

Additionally, it may not matter what the government funds if other U.S. companies are selling spyware software to authoritarian regimes. It’s true that the government is between a rock and a hard place with balancing economic and strategic diplomatic relations with doing the right thing by supporting dissidents of authoritarian regimes. But this 2009 article from The Guardian offers somewhat of a solution to the problem. It would force regimes to go else where for spyware, and be another small step in supporting citizens.

Cultural Co-option

Earlier in the semester we talked some in class about Native American cultural and co-option of cultural symbols and history. To go from there, here is a clip about the same issue from Al Jazeera English’s The Stream.

The blogger says that a certain level of cultural appropriation is expected in a multi-cultural society, but it’s about who has the power to use the cultural symbols and what the reasoning behind the use is.

This sort of commercialization of native cultures is what they say is the problem. It is degrading. For example, members of the Santee Sioux Nation are targeting Urban Outfitters for its use of patterns and symbols of the culture. Here is an open letter from  a Sioux member to the CEO. It points out that this use of Native American symbols is actually illegal.

The guests and host bring up many more instances of cultural appropriation that are interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about this issue yet, to be honest, but I wanted to bring it up again to hear what you think. Is use of these symbols for commercialization and entertainment a serious issue that is detrimental to the Native American community, or is the community overreacting to any extent?

A Case of Hybridity in Tunisia

This news article about the animated film, “Persepolis,” being aired in Tunisia is from a few weeks ago, but I hadn’t had the chance to blog about it yet. It is especially interesting now that we know the Ennahda party has won a majority of seats in the Tunisian constitutional assembly.

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Broadcast of an Animated Film Roils Tunisia Before Elections
TUNIS — In the final week of the first election campaign of the Arab Spring, political discourse here in Tunisia has been all but consumed by contention over the television broadcast of an animated film, “Persepolis,” which touched off accusations of heresy and censorship. In a campaign that people here often describe in terms of a choice between East and West, the debate has come closer than any poll to identifying the political center, underscoring why so many expect a victory for Tunisia’smainstream Islamist party, Ennahda.

The episode began when a relatively small group of ultraconservative Islamists attacked the television station that had broadcast the 2007 film, about a Muslim girl growing up in post-revolutionary Iran, because of a scene in which she rails at God. He is depicted as she imagines him, violating an Islamic injunction against personifying him.

But it soon became clear that ultraconservatives were hardly the only ones offended. The broadcast has touched a nerve among a far broader section of Tunisia’s Muslims, even in the coastal regions where many pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism.

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The film is originally French and portrays many different issues including sex, drugs and Muslim identity. It also shows the main character’s imaginary personification of God, which is against the religion’s traditions. The movie is meant to be a critic of post-revolutionary Iran and focuses on a sort of Westernization of the main character who leaves Iran to live in Europe.

This is an interesting case through which we can talk about hybridity. In class, we decided that hybridity is more about a practice than it is a black and white definition. Therefore, we have to talk about it in terms of how it is made and understood as a reflection of its hybridity.

Persepolis juxtaposes the two supposed sides- the Middle East and the West, and its showing in post-revolutionary Tunisia became controversial because there is a similar debate going on in Tunisian society. It involves speculation over whether the new Tunisian government will be Islamic or secular.

The article mentions that the film was shown in colloquial Tunisian Arabic, instead of its original French, which is one main reason why it was so controversial. It quotes a Tunisia student: “If it was in French, it would be O.K., maybe because it would seem foreign to you,” said Eya Trabelsi, 21, a sociology student who said she supported Ennahda. “But for people who speak Arabic, that is not O.K.”

This is an instance of an attempt at hybridity that did not work. It is fascinating because the outside perspective would assume this film would be a popular point of discussion since the themes are prevalent in Tunisian culture, but instead it was appalling to the culture because it is 1) such as hot topic and 2) an insult to the most prevalent religion in society.

I hope this is what’s happening here

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Thomas Friedman recently wrote a commentary about the global protest movement we’ve seen emerge in the past year or so. It’s called There’s Something Happening Here and it points to two different theories of why this is happening globally. The first is called “The Great Disruption,” in which “Paul Gilding, the Australian environmentalist and author of the book “The Great Disruption,” argues that these demonstrations are a sign that the current growth-obsessed capitalist system is reaching its financial and ecological limits,” according to the commentary. This argument states that the system is broken. People who have worked hard are still unemployed and the environment is getting worse and worse.

But John Hagel III, who is the co-chairman of the Center for the Edge at Deloitte, and John Seely Brown write in their recent book, “The Power of Pull,” that we’re in the early stages of a “Big Shift,” brought on by the merging of globalization and the Information Technology Revolution.

I like this theory better than the first. It states that the continues attempts to work in this dysfunctional system have caused the influx of protests. This is the point where change starts to happen.

Friedman writes that “the Big Shift also unleashes a huge global flow of ideas, innovations, new collaborative possibilities and new market opportunities. This flow is constantly getting richer and faster. Today, they argue, tapping the global flow becomes the key to productivity, growth and prosperity. But to tap this flow effectively, every country, company and individual needs to be constantly growing their talents.”

They write that this flow is unstoppable. It crosses barriers of distance and bridges poverty gaps. “We have more big problems than ever and more problem-solvers than ever.” The protest movement is the manifestation of those problem-solvers emerging.

I am an optimist, like Hagel, and I believe in the ability of people to collaborate and innovate using new information technologies to create change.

But then again, if this isn’t what’s happening, I’d be worried we won’t have jobs as international communications and media professionals, so of couse I believe in “The Big Shift.”

The Al Jazeera Tech Effect

Steven Livingston’s article on the reconsidered CNN Effect, or the relationship between governance and ICTs created by this form of info-sharing, as he refers to it, made me think of  the newer and very controversial satellite channel, Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is evidence of exactly what the article is discussing.

Livingston discusses how the CNN Effect has focused on content primarily in the past, but should focus more on the technologies used to spread news. Some of these technologies are mobile uplinks, Skype, crowd-sourcing software, cell phones, streaming content, mobile data sharing. Essentially, our information and communication technologies make the way we communicate global.

Al Jazeera English, which is the branch of the network I’m going to focus on, has changed the way information is shared globally because, unlike CNN, it is not seen as a Western policy tool. More people globally might trust it more than they would CNN or other American or British satellite channels. This transforms the types of news people consume globally as well as what technology mediums they use in the process.

AJE features live streaming of its programming and live blogs on several popular or newsworthy topics at a time. There is also a new show called The Stream that gathers content including questions for guests from social media websites. AJE has used the internet and the satellite to help make information more available to people who might have only had access to traditional state television before.

Livingston sites Bimber saying that, “fundamental shifts in available technologies alter information regimes. Bimber calls these shifts ‘information revolutions’: ‘An information revolution disrupts a prior information regime by creating new opportunities for political communication and the organization of collective action’ (p. 18). He adds: ‘These changes create advantages for some forms of organization and structure and disadvantages for others, leading to adaptations and change in the world of political organizations and intermediaries’ (p. 18).”

AJE has obviously had an effect on the global community that is its audience.

Patriotism as a Tool for Political Parties

NPR recently published an article about nationalism, its roots and whether or not it’s a good thing. It also discusses the difference between nationalism and patriotism in the U.S. It bassically implies that there is a fine line between the two in the American context.

To see patriotism in the U.S, the article says,

“• Go to a baseball game where fans often croon “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch.

• Check out the American flag pins on the lapels or collars of nearly every politician.

• Listen to Toby Keith’s current hit Made in America and read how it inspired a Michigan kindergarten class to create an “American-made show-and-tell.”

Call it what you will — American nationalism or patriotism — it is covering the country like a Wi-Fi cloud — above the fruited plain from sea to shining sea.”

Patriotism/nationalism are especially prevalent around election time, and with that comes accusations of being unpatriotic. This, I think, is where nationalism hurts the U.S. Being a patriot, or a nationalist, can be a very positive thing. It brings people together to support the military, it helps create a community in general. It allows a sense of pride that usually cannot be broken. Those are important functions for a nation. But, when patriotism is used as a tool for fighting and breaking up community sensibility, it is negative. We see this in  the U.S. political party system. Parties pit people, and each other, against each other under the guise of patriotism.

The NPR article says, “Patriotism permeates contemporary American politics. As do accusations of unpatriotic behavior. Of course, the word “patriot” is a subjective characterization, and most politicians use it as code for someone who shares their beliefs.” So, a republican calls a democrat unpatriotic for supporting Obamacare and thinking higher taxes are a good thing, while a democrat would call a republican unpatriotic for not supporting Obama’s heath care system and higher taxes. Really, this has nothing to do with being patriotic.

 

Parachute Journalism v. Culture

I want to examine more a topic that I brought up in class this week with foreign correspondence, especially from the American perspective. This issue is called “parachute journalism,” which according to one Poynter.org essay  “is the dispatching of globe-trotting reporters and camera crews…to cover the latest breaking news…There’s nothing polite about some of the outcomes.”

Parachute journalism involves reporters and photographers flying in to countries or regions in conflict without any prior knowledge or interest in the historical or cultural aspects of the conflict- CNN reporting tends to follow this model. The problem with parachute foreign correspondence is that culture and history drive conflict, so neither aspect should be left out of reporting. Parachute journalists tend to cite political events and general societal norms as background, but don’t go in depth with learning about and reporting background information. It focuses on the day-to-day events on the ground, which doesn’t help readers/viewers understand the issue well.

Parachute journalism is detrimental to how American’s perceive the world, as I mentioned in class, because it can perpetuate the us v. them mind set. This is one way that the media aides in creating American nationalism. With parachute journalism, Americans can’t begin to understand or relate to conflicts in other regions.

One model for foreign correspondence that some media outlets are using is far more effective than the parachute model. It involves hiring correspondents that live in the countries that coverage focuses on and have broader regional knowledge to refer to. The New York Time uses some reporters who live in the region they are covering. Anthony Shadid, who covers the Middle East, is one example. Here is a story he wrote on Bahrain that explains history and culture in depth.  He has written similarly in depth stories about Egypt, Syria and Libya.

However, the NYT also uses the parachute model. Here is a Columbia Journalism Review article that discusses the two models and shows more examples.

The Social Media Focus: An Orientalist POV?

“Innis sees a dialectical relationship between society and technology: they influence one another mutually. According to this view, certain social forms and situations encourage the development of new media; these media, operating within existing situations, react back on society to produce a new cycle of change. It would thus be a mistake to consider Innis a technological determinist: he does not believe that technology drives social evolution. He does, however, appreciate the considerable power invested in communications technologies and monopolies of knowledge to shape culture.”

Innis’s ideas about the relationship between society and technology help to offer a great theory behind what much of the debate about the recent uprisings in the Middle East has focused on.

How much of an effect has social media had on the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the protests elsewhere? Although many academics, policymakers and professionals, including journalists, seem to agree that social media wasn’t the actual cause of the “Arab Spring,” just a facilitation tool, Western media outlets remain focused on this aspect, which is problematic.

Rabab El-Mahdi, an editor for Jadaliyya, wrote in April that this focus on the social media role shows that we have been looking at the revolution in Egypt from an orientalist perspective.

In the case of Egypt, the recent uprising is constructed as a youth, non-violent revolution in which social media (especially facebook and twitter) are champions. The underlying message here is that it these “middle-class” educated youth (read: modern) are not “terrorists,” they hold the same values as “us” (the democratic West), and finally use the same tools (facebook and twitter) that “we” invented and use in our daily-lives. They are just like “us” and hence they deserve celebration. These constructions are clear from a quick look the CNN, Time, Vanity Fair and others representations of the so-called leaders or icons of this revolution.”

I think that Innis’s point that technology does not drive social and cultural change is correct in the context of the Middle East. This media reliance on the social media story has taken credit away from the revolutionaries and protestors. It has ignored human agency to create change. Instead, we should be asking, “Why did the protestors choose to use social media?”