Aug 31, 2009

Communication and Political Strategy

Before coming to AU, I briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a marriage and family therapist. While I ultimately didn't go down that path, I still idealize what clear, effective communication can achieve. In coming to the International Communication program, I hope to study communication as a tool for intercultural understanding on a personal level. The readings this week, particularly the Thussu reading, however, highlighted an aspect of communication that I hadn't given much thought to in the past: communication and communication technology as an industry with significant political and economic ramifications.

I found Britain's history of communication and communication technology particularly interesting. That British control of the raw materials for cable manufacturing contributed to its leadership in the cable market, which in turn brought political and economic advantages that sustained its far-flung empire, is a case study for both vertical ownership and world domination. I also find it admirable that, at least as conveyed in the Thussu reading, the British government throughout history has understood the strategic importance of controlling communications and communication technology. It seems that the British state has grasped the balance of benefiting from state ownership of communication technologies (such as with the telegraph), and yet remaining detached enough to also reap the benefits of a free media (such as with the BBC).

The debate and adoption of the New World Information and Communication Order further highlights the importance of a national media as it relates to the international stage. I was particularly struck by the resolution proposing, "respect for each people's cultural identity and for the rights of each nation to inform the world public about its interests, its aspirations and its social and cultural values." In some sense, one might consider the developing world's inaccess to mass communication technologies as de facto exclusion from the world media stage (though the struggle to get the NWICO framed the matter as de juris exclusion). Yet, just as we value the right of an individual to express oneself in one's own terms, it seems only fair that a nation should be able to articulate its own culture and identity to the rest of the world. Components of critical ethnic studies involve the struggle to get self-produced images of one's group rather than having externally produced representations tell the whole story. The same could be said for those countries whose stories are perpetually represented through an international media lens, without an opportunity to frame it according to more national goals.

I should clarify here that I am not advocating state-control of media across the board, so much as advocating broad access to the means of media production, whether through private companies or government-funded projects. Deeper in the resolution, however, one can extrapolate the conviction that a country's public diplomacy should be produced by that country. This brings up an interesting question: to the extent that a country's public diplomacy is driven by a national agenda, do nationally-controlled attempts to manage a nation's public image tell the more complete story, or does a globalized media present a more critical look? What role does a native understanding of culture play in presenting a nuanced picture?

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I agree with much of your analyses to the reading and thought I’d comment!

    I agree that access to the media should become more feasible for developing countries to acquire, whose lack of strong infrastructure often hinders sustainable communication. The inability to access all mediums of communication seems to present a mass suppression of numerous populations, especially indigenous ones. Furthermore, I’d like to respond to your question about the government controlling the media by noting that in numerous developing countries the government nearly prohibits forms of communication in order to gain authority and control over the population. Thus, it seems that government control of the media is either in order to advertise its political agenda, or to keep a population ignorant, thus gaining control.

    In addition, in response to your final questions, I do not think that nationally controlled media presents the complete story, either to the nation’s own citizens, or to the outside observers. However, I do believe that in recent years America has projected a much more complete picture of news than other countries, such as countries perturbed by ethnic conflict that often conceal disturbing situations. Furthermore, because news is often incomplete or misleading, I was surprised when one of the articles commended the BBC for demonstrating objectivity, as I find that rare in broadcasting. This objectivity seems unique in the 21st century, when every country attempts to protect its own public image and promote its public diplomacy.