Rebranding a Nation

A recent NPR article highlighted the recent efforts made by the Haitian government to “rebrand” Haiti. After living in Haiti for six years as a child, I couldn’t contain my excitement. For years, I’ve listened to natives, visitors, scholars, and policymakers speak about the troubled state of the nation. I never understand why Haiti was considered such a “basket case” of a nation. In just one moment everything can change from being tranquil to violent. Haiti has changed a lot and the country has experienced a great amount of stability, especially when compared to the early 90s and other years. Although it is suffering from the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, the level of stability has enabled the government to move forward in rebranding the nation.
Lessons learned in this class have demonstrated that communication can go far in rebranding a product or a country. In the past couple of months organizations in Haiti have taken real steps to show a different, more positive, side of the country. As illustrated by the NPR article, President Martelly insists on introducing the world to new Haiti—the Haiti that many have effectively kept out of the picture for centuries. Speaking about the country’s beauty and potential was just not the mainstream thing to do. However, with new media the Haitian government is fighting to change the norm when referring to Haiti. Many new organizations are establishing Facebook pages and Youtube videos that focus on the beauty of Haiti and the touristic opportunities provided by the country. Using new media will not erase the many stereotypes held about Haiti but it can began—and actually has begun—a new conversation about the country. The rebranding of Haiti is starting with tools found in communication strategies and new media.

“Now Class” … Let’s Wrap it Up!

So all of this ‘stuff’ we’ve been talking about over the semester … what does it mean? In essence the topics covered in class from IR theory to public diplomacy to globalization to network building to development and nationalism are all influenced by the communication, political, technological, and cultural elements constructing the field of International Communications. With any hope, understanding the framing of stories, association between networks, integration of media platforms, NWICO failures, use of media for nation and state-building, and the spread of media to remote regions of the world will better equip us, students in the SIS program to interact in this globalize world. Moreover the readings providing insight into this interdisciplinary field, coupled with the class discussions help to supplement our understanding of International Communications. Through this holistic approach to the field of International Communications, we can go forth from the class, cognizant of complex and diverse elements interacting in the global environment to be trailblazers defining the future of international communication sphere.

Who knew a prank could be so deadly?

Talk about unintended consequences … “Kate Middleton’s nurse was tormented by radio prank before she killed herself”New York Post online headline.

Yes we’re gonna talk about it. Even though it’s just celebrity gossip, the events transpiring after the announcement of Kate’s pregnancy, highlight critical failure on behalf of the radio hosts for not being interculturally sensitive.

While the autopsy reports still wait to confirm cause of death for Jacintha Saldanha, all fingers have pointed to Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the Australian Radio DJs charged with bringing about Mrs. Saldanha’s untimely death. Pulling what they called the “biggest royal hoax”, the DJs impersonated Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles calling King Edward VII’s Hospital to check on Kate’s condition. Unaware of the ruse, Mrs. Saldanha patched the DJs through to the head nurse to answer the call. No discriminating information was released to the DJs, yet the prank phone event set into motion the death of Mrs. Saldanha.

Blamed as the culprits for Mrs. Saldanha’s tragic end, the hoax played out by the two DJs highlight the absence of intercultural sensitivities. While authorities are still investigating other factors that influenced Mrs. Saldanha’s choice, the fact is these radio DJs were not aware of the impact of their prank. Not cognizant of Mrs. Saldanha’s Indian upbringing and cultural heritage, the Australian DJs prank message was decoded differently than it would have to a British nurse. Although influenced by British colonizers, Indian culture does not possess the same core values rooted in British society. Interpreting the message as just transmission, Mrs. Saldanha could not see the ruse in motion. Yet, her failure to decode the message properly, in her mind, was a failure. Mrs. Saldanha could have seen ending her life as the only was to ‘save face’, as a way of showing respect to the group (Indian culture tends to be more collectivist and respect orientated) and fixing her error in judgment.

While this is just speculation on my part, these events highlight the need to be interculturally cognizant in international communications. No matter what type of communication: phone, radio, or internet messages are interpreted different for everyone. As Castells mentions in Communication Power that “people [can] modify the signified of the messages they receive by interpreting them according to their own cultural frames.” (Castells 127). Keeping this mind, people must be mindful of cultural diversity. In this case, the DJs assumed it was just a simple prank played on an unsuspecting British nurse, yet their lack of intercultural sensitivities lead to tragic ends.

Even though these events do not reflect international communications in the sense of public diplomacy, development communications, international relations, and networks, the tragic end of Kate’s nurse highlights the need for more intercultural awareness and decoding of messages in cultural contexts.


Isn’t it Just a Phone?

I’ve had a mobile phone since I was 13 years old. At the time, I talked my parents into buying one of the old prepaid Nokia models that all my classmates had. The truth is that I didn’t need the phone but like my peers, I wanted to be connected with others—whether through a quick text or call. To get and keep my lovely Nokia phone, I had to earn a specific G.P.A throughout the year. If my grades were any lower than expected than I knew that it would be taken away from me. Today, I have a smart phone that’s able to do much more than my old Nokia could have ever done but I now see the true benefits of having a mobile phone in a country enshrouded in social and economic turmoil—Haiti.
Just last year, I found out that one of my uncles living in Haiti bought a Blackberry. I was taken aback by the news but just two weeks after hearing the news, I received a text in Haitian Creole from an international number. It shocked me to find out that my uncle—although working a job that barely feeds his family—now has access to a mobile phone that can get him information from all over the world without ever having to leave Haiti. Over the next couple of months, I was able to receive information about my family via his new blackberry. Even his wife began to use the phone for practical reasons such as health related information and even getting access to remittances, which form a large part of the Haitian economy.
The State Department and organizations throughout the world have also caught on to the usefulness of mobile phones in advancing development. Through my uncle’s experience, I too, was able to learn of the importance of something as simple as a phone whether it’s an old Nokia or a new Blackberrry. At the end of the day, mobile phones enable people from all over the world to practice the art of communication.

Development and New Media

This week’s readings about development and new media brought up interesting ideas about influence of communication technologies on development, particularly mobile phones. While the papers showed that communication technologies are not necessarily a fix-all solution to development problems and come with drawbacks, it’s undeniable that these technologies have made significantly impacted the way federal agencies, NGOs and other organizations approach development problems. I would argue that for many, new communication technologies have made a positive impact, particularly as they relate to micro financing.

In a nutshell, new media technologies are bridging the gap between the developed world and the developing world, and one way this is happening is through micro financing. Last year, for example, I read a fantastic book called “Half the Sky” about the plights faced by numerous women in the developing world. The authors argued that improved education and economic opportunities could make a huge difference in these women’s lives, and at the end of the book, they listed several websites where you could help finance business loans for women in developing countries. The website, for example, lets you browse through profiles of projects, participate in a “team,” create a profile, etc. It blends the experience of social media with development projects. The site serves as a platform for communication, but it also offers people a way to transmit messages about their values and beliefs through the “teams” option. This type of engagement in development work would never have been possible thirty years ago, but thanks to new media technologies, it’s not only the present, but the way of the future. 

By Kira

Entertainment-Education and Sesame Street

In his report on the “family tree of development communication”, Waisboard mentions Entertainment-education as a strategy to bring about behavioral change. This change in turn is what is supposed to drive development (versus change brought about only by changing the system).

An example of an entertainment program that at the same time is educational to invoke change is Sesame Street. Aside from teaching the ABC’s the idea behind the program is that the muppets can address problems within a particular culture without putting blame (or shame) on a specific ethnicity or group of people. The Sesame Street Workshop is an NGO that takes that idea and applies it in countries that have faced some type of conflict or are in transition. By working with a country crew on the ground that assesses specific issues kids in a country in transition face, a team creates story lines, cultural specific puppets, and a movie set where the local sesame street can be taped. Specifics the team has to keep in mind are: are there cultural minorities? Is the language of the minority different and if so how can that be addressed in the show? What problems are children in the country facing? How can those problems be approached in a childlike yet educational and entertaining matter?

A big issue was the introduction of the first HIV-positive muppet. Especially in the US this raised concerns as media and parents were wondering what values their children will be taught. Only when it became apparent that this muppet will not appear in the US-show did the wave of concerns and protest subside.

There is a documentary out there on the Sesame Street Workshop. Watch it over the break, it’s worth it!

Though this is slightly unrelated, I thought you might enjoy this cookie monster “share it maybe” song. 🙂 Something to cheer you up during finals week.


Case in Point: Mobile Phones in Africa

So this weeks readings dare to open up the box of theories, approaches, strategies, and so forth as they relate to development communication. (or if you to break it down further, the readings open up the doors to defining communication ‘and’ or ‘for’ development (elaborated by Sey). Yet, this blog will steer clear of the competing and intermixing of development communication theories and approaches to talk about an ICT used in development… the mobile phone.

Araba Sey’s “‘We use it different, different’: Making sense of trends in mobile phone use in Ghana” looks at the various uses of mobile phones for Ghanaian. The article emphasizes people use mobile phones to multiple purposes, more specifically using them in ways that help them achieve their livelihood goals. While previous researchers highlight the use of mobile phones to pursue development outcomes: political, social, or economic, (in the case of this article mobiles as a means to reduce poverty) Sey paints a different portrait. She notes mobile phones take on a variety of purposes for each user, not explicitly for poverty reduction, but most importantly as a means to “facilitate connectivity” (377). So in this light, she highlights the ‘different’ benefits mobile telephony provides Ghanaians.

Yet, Chenxing Han’s “South African Perspectives on Mobile Phones: Challenging the Optimistic Narrative of Mobiles for Development” points out what Sey and other ‘mobiles for development’ scholars lack focus on …. the negative consequences of mobile devices. [As a side note … reading Hans’ article before Sey’s enabled me to identify the ‘optimism narrative’ in Sey’s article]. Just as Sey laid out in her argument, mobile phones in Ghana, while not necessarily achieving economic development goals, they did provide connectivity benefits. Her argument reflects what Han wants scholars to re-evaluate. This notion of ‘positivity’ and ‘optimism’ integrated into the ‘mobiles for development’ literature. Scholars tend to steer clear of the negative consequences and effects mobile phones may have in that community. Looking at the various communities in South Africa, mobile phones did not necessarily act as a “safeguard for people in emergency situations.” (2063) Rather, mobiles required purchasing expensive minutes and text messages, they also enabled new opportunities to engage in sexual exploits, and lastly posed an individual security risk – the potential to be mugged. In this light, Han calls for scholars to examine more than just the benefits of mobiles, but a holistic review of mobiles, including the neutral and negative outcomes.

With this being said, this week’s readings show us a case in point of Han’s argument. While Sey highlights the connectivity benefits mobiles provide for Ghanaian livelihood, she fails to acknowledge the neutral or potentially negative effects. So while mobile telephony may exhibit potentially beneficial means to bring about connectivity and development, it will be necessary to access the not-so-gleaming attributes of mobiles.