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Walking on the Other Side
of the Information Highway:
Communication, Culture and Development in the 21st Century

Edited by Jan Servaes

 

Governments sometimes seem to forget that information and communication technologies may not only have a direct impact on the economic development, but also on the political organization, and socio-cultural value system of a society. Many policy-makers seem to assume that technical and economic progress is simply a means to an end and that it hardly affects the culture in which it occurs. It seems as if they believe that they can achieve Western-style progress while at the same time retain the essential parts of their culture. This book takes a closer look at the other side of the information highway. It wants to find out what is happening on and around the dirt roads. It does so by looking at the problems of communication, culture and development from different perspectives: historical and futuristic, theoretical and applied, institutional and organizational, strategic and methodological. Global and local, globalization and localisation, are terms which could be used to characterize the processes of growing interconnection and interdependence in the contemporary world. It is generated by growing international economic, cultural and political cooperation and links, as well as by the need to respond together to complex problems which can be solved only on a planetary scale. The world is "shrinking" as a result of increased human mobility, and the increasing contacts between the world's people, possibly with the aid of cheap and speedy travel, the telephone, fax and the Internet. Barriers have been eased with the reduction in trade barriers, the expansion of capital flow and the transfer of technology. However, we lack insights into how the processes of cultural globalization and localisation actually operate in locally defined public spheres. We consequently also lack insights into how the global is linked to the local and how new perceptions of the global and the local lead to adjusted (cultural) identities. These are the issues which the 12 contributing authors of this book are trying to get a grip on. It is available in four separate sections: 

 
Contents of the book

Section 1:  BACK INTO THE FUTURE

"A Clockwork Orange, 1984 or The Power to be" by Carlos A. Arnaldo
Imagine a world of silence . . .
No future, but to survive in a self-created past
Immediacy of the other
Social, cultural implosion
Why intolerance?
Does television breed an impotent society?
Can media lead?
Media and peace building
Conclusion

"The decentering of cultural imperialism: Televisa-ion and globo-ization in the Latin World"  by John Sinclair
What's in a word? 
A bit of history 
A new era of globalization 
So much for the homogenization thesis 
The rise of geolinguistic regions 
Latin American cultural imperialism 
Lessons to be learned 

"Development communication in Asia" by Chin Saik Yoon
A time of transition 
Digitizing the future 
Breaching of borders 
Participatory media thrives in pockets 
Echoing philosophies and models 
A blending of three approaches 
Old needs in new times 
Some needs have not changed 
New needs in changing times 
New poverty 
New illiteracy 
New technologies stifle social processes 
Video activism 
The decade ahead 
A wish for the village 
A wish for the city 
A wish for the nation 
A wish for the region 
Conclusion 

 

Section 2: TOP-DOWN OR BOTTOM-UP?

"Communication for development in a global perspective: The role of governmental and non-governmental agencies"  by Jan Servaes
Introduction 
A 'Diffusion/Mechanistic' versus a 'Participatory/Organic' 
Communication Model 
The Diffusion Model 
The Participatory Model 
Consequences for policy-making and planning in DevCom agency work 
Assessing the changes 
DevCom approaches in intergovernmental and non-governmental agencies 
Conclusion 

"UNESCO's contributions to communication, culture and development"  by Alan Hancock
UNESCO's mission and charter 
Evolution of development communication The professional tradition 
Professional networks 
Mass media tradition 
Instructional media -- Theoretical tradition 
Population communication 
Communication research 
Holistic planning 
Global information flow 
The International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) 
Experimental projects 
Communication planning programme 
Decentralisation 
Projects and activities 
Communication in the service of humanity 
A free flow of information 
Strengthening communication capacities 
News exchanges, agencies and sources 
Community media 
Co-production and exchange 
Development of communication technology 
Conclusion 

"Towards a human rights agenda for the 21st Century"  by Janusz Symonides 
Human rights challenges 
Globalization 
Cultural relativism and cultural diversity 
Science and technology 
State responsibility for the development of human rights education 
and the creation of a culture of human rights 
The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action 
The United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education and its Plan of Action 
Towards a culture of human rights 
All human rights for all 
Footnotes 

"New age, new challenges: Unda and its mission in radio, television and audiovisuals"  by Victor Sunderaj 
New age 
Concerns 
Condition of People 
New Technologies 
Challenges 

 

Section 3: PULL OR PUSH?

"Advocacy strategies for development communication"  by Jan Servaes
Scope of advocacy 
The crucial role of communication in advocacy 
Advocacy for policy design and decision-making versus advocacy for policy implementation or social mobilisation 
The decision-making process in policy development 
Decision-making versus decision-reaching 
Decision-linked research for policy-making 
Factors/forces which influence the decision-making process 
Actors that influence the decision-making process 
The problem-solving basis for advocacy 
Dimensions of advocacy strategies 
Conclusion 

"Mass media campaigns for development: Some practical guidelines" by Anura Goonasekera 
Strengths and weaknesses of media 
Matching media to messages 
Media strategies 

"Tapping local cultural resources for development" by Anamaria Decock 
Introduction 
A lifetime of indigenous knowledge 
From romantic use to sharpened knowledge 
Destination? Home! 
Participation: the key 
People versus wires 

 

Section 4: AFRICA HAS A FUTURE 

"Walking with Paulo Freire: Political/development communication and alternative media in Africa"  by Temba S. B. Masilela 
Introduction 
Insights from development communication theory and practice 
The place of culture in liberation and development 
Conscientization as humanising pedagogy 
The limitations of Freire's intervention 
Participatory communication strategies and alternative media 
Propositional statements suggested by this literature 
Political communication theory and the return of powerful media 
Radio pluralism, ethnicity and propaganda 
Propositional statements suggested by this literature 
Conclusion 

"Communication research and sustainable development in Africa: The need for a domesticated perspective"  by Francis B. Nyamnjoh 
Introduction 
Modernisation Theory and development in Africa 
The illusion of modernization 
Communication research and sustainable development 

"The incongruity between basic education for all and educational policy in Sub-Saharan Africa"  by Erik Raymaekers 
Proposition one 
Proposition two 
What does the future look like? 

 

INTRODUCTION

Jan Servaes

The introduction of new information and communication technologies has begun to zip through both the urban and rural areas of the so-called Third World like a social earth quake. Throughout the developing world, satellite shuttle dishes and the western lifestyles they project are provoking rapid changes within the social tissue of cities and villages. Under this influence, more than one teenager has lost his pride in the media his parents have culturally and traditionally cherished.

Information and communication technologies are one of the most dynamic sectors in today's world 
economy. Asia, with half of the world's population and some of the most dynamic economies, is 
considered as an absolute priority by most of the economic actors in this field; especially as Asia is at the same time a consumer and a producer of communication and information technologies.

Many governments, encouraged by the IMF and World Bank, have set up national strategies for 
economic growth, in which the leading role is given to information technologies. Obviously, these governments no longer want to drive on dirt roads but on the information highway. 

These governments seem to forget that information and communication technologies may not only 
have a direct impact on the economic development, but also on the political organization, and socio-cultural value system of a society. As technology is called into existence by a particular set of historical circumstances that shape and define that technology, one must understand that set of historical circumstances if one is to comprehend the effective relationship between technology and society. Therefore, I don't believe in the idea that Western technology can be borrowed without taking in Western culture at the same time. In my opinion, science and technology are much more than the mere instruments they were expected to be; they cannot be just borrowed or bought. Many policy-makers seem to assume that technical and economic progress is simply a means to an end and that it hardly affects the culture in which it occurs. It seems as if they believe that they can achieve Western-style progress and at the same time retain their culture and their morals or, at the least, most of the essential parts of them.

This book is therefore taking a closer look at the other side of the information highway. It wants to find out what is happening on and around the dirt roads. It does so by looking at the problems of communication, culture and development from different perspectives: historical and futuristic, theoretical and applied, institutional and organizational, strategic and methodological. Global and local, globalization and localisation, are terms which could be used to characterize the processes of growing interconnection and interdependence in the contemporary world. It is generated by growing international economic, cultural and political cooperation and links, as well as by the need to respond together to complex problems which can be solved only on a planetary scale. In the economic sphere, globalization may be desirable because of the widening and deepening of the international flow of trade, finance and information in a single, integrated global market. The world is shrinking as a result of increased human mobility, and the increasing contacts between the world's people, possibly with the aid of cheap and speedy travel, the telephone, fax and Internet. Artificial barriers have been eased with the reduction in trade barriers, the expansion of capital flow and the transfer of technology. However, we lack insights into how the processes of cultural globalization and localisation actually operate in locally defined public spheres. We consequently also lack insights into how the global is linked to the local and how new perceptions of the global and the local lead to adjusted (cultural) identities. It could be argued that there are in fact multiple globalization/localisation processes at work and that consumption seems to be the key moment. These are the issues which the contributors of this book are trying to get a grip on.

The first set of contributions by Carlos Arnaldo, John Sinclair and Saik-Yoon Chin offers a number of general observations on the theme of communication, culture and development.

Arnaldo argues that wherever there are differences of ethnic origins, cultural values, or religious beliefs, there are potential seeds of social and cultural implosion. He believes that the electronic media, especially television, by their globalizing effect and their immediacy, are hastening this process. However, this process could have positive as well as negative results; it could produce ideas and influence for intolerance and violence -- or for understanding and peace. Therefore, he believes in the as yet untapped potential of the mass media to act as the forum for exchanging ideas and opinions even and especially in zones of conflict. Radio and television particularly could be used to air public debates on the issues that separate peoples: territorial lines, religious beliefs, cultural mores, social behaviour, aspirations for social and economic betterment. Such media fora could contribute to consolidating peace where basic accords have been reached and could support efforts towards realizing such accords in countries where conflicts still hold sway; editorially independent media could contribute to forming public opinion and ensuring a more comprehensive understanding of events.

Sinclair's contribution supplements this view with theoretical arguments. He contends that the pattern in which television industries developed around the world in the 1960s gave substance to the durable critical paradigm of 'cultural imperialism', in which the USA as a nation was seen as the centre from which the national cultures of most of the rest of the world had come to be penetrated by the US television system and its programs. He takes the cultural imperialism paradigm as a reference point against which to assess both the actual changes in how cultural influences are exerted in the world, and how they might otherwise be theorized.

On one hand, the Centre-Periphery Model of world power has been made obsolete by the 
fundamental shifts of the last decade, and the rise of 'globalization'. This is characterized by the eclipse of the nation-state as the basic economic, political and socio-cultural unit of world order, and the ascendance of the private corporation, with its power base in globalized industrialization, trade and communication. On the other hand, the Cultural Imperialism Paradigm's view of mass media as mechanisms of cultural 'homogenization' is now challenged by the recent 'ethnographic' trend in empirical audience studies, and an emergent theoretical view of culture as a form of resistance through 'mediation'.

Furthermore, one of the blindspots of the Cultural Imperialism Paradigm was its neglect of how 
commercial television was actively embraced by indigenous entrepreneurs in certain countries of the so-called Third World. This is found in the case of Televisa in Mexico and TV Globo in Brazil, which now not only dominate their respective national media markets and the program trade within the Latin American region, but also have made incursions into certain European markets. As well, Televisa has played a major role in the development of the Spanish-language television industry in the USA, and in the advent of the world's first private international satellite service, which links the Americas with Europe. Thus, relative to the character of domestic markets and to commercial and technological innovations, culture and language of origin now emerge as factors of comparative advantage in building up international markets in audiovisual products. 

The strategic global positions attained by Televisa and TV Globo calls for an analysis which takes account of the internationalization and pluralization of cultural production centres, particularly where geo-linguistic factors are involved, and of the variable relations between corporations and the nation-states in which they are based.

Saik-Yoon Chin supplements these findings with data from Asia. He also broadens the perspective by looking beyond the media situation into the communication for development field. By so doing, Chin's article prepares the ground for the second set of contributions by Jan Servaes, Alan Hancock, Janusz Symonides and Victor Sunderaj. 

After assessing the changes which took place in the communication for development field, Servaes presents two communication models: a 'Diffusion/Mechanistic' versus a 'Participatory/Organic' Communication Model. Building on both models he then analyses the policies of a number of national and international governmental and non-governmental agencies. The general conclusion of this review is that no all-embracing view on communication for development is on offer. No theory has achieved and maintained explanatory dominance. Each of two models on development communication still does find support among academics, policy makers, international organizations, and the general public. In general, adopted and updated versions of the ideas upon which the Modernisation Theory and Diffusion Model are built-economic growth, centralised planning, top-down flows, and the belief that underdevelopment is rooted in mainly internal causes which can be solved by external (technological) 'aid' -- are still shared by many development agencies and governments. A revitalised modernisation and diffusion perspective in which some of the errors of the past are acknowledged and efforts are made to deal in new ways (as outlined in the Participatory Model) remains the dominant perspective in practice but becomes increasingly more difficult to defend in theory. 

However, at a more applied level, several perspectives on communication for development could be adopted and pursued. 

A first perspective could be of communication as a process, often seen in metaphor as the fabric of society. It is not confined to the media or to messages, but to their interaction in a network of social relationships. By extension, the reception, evaluation, and use of media messages, from whatever source, are as important as their means of production and transmission.

A second perspective is of communications media as a mixed system of mass communication and interpersonal channels, with mutual impact and reinforcement. In other words, the mass media should not be seen in isolation from other conduits.

Another perspective of communications in the development process is from an intersectoral and inter-agency concern. This view is not confined to information or broadcasting organizations and ministries, but extends to all sectors, and its success in influencing and sustaining development depends to a large extent on the adequacy of mechanisms for integration and coordination.

Both Hancock and Symonidesz concentrate on the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and 
Cultural Organization UNESCO to further clarify and deepen the above made observations. According to Hancock, UNESCO's interest in communication is holistic, encompassing all aspects of the discipline -- technological, social, political, and cultural. Clearly, the majority of UN agencies have some interest in communication -- whether in its technical aspects (like ITU), its industrial (like UNIDO), or in its potential contribution to specific fields of agriculture, health, population, the work place (FAO, WHO, UNFPA, ILO). But in the case of UNESCO, Hancock argues, the interest is more in seeing how those individual dimensions come together, in communities and social systems, both local and international. That is UNESCO's strength -- most probably also one reason for the controversies into which the organization has on occasions been drawn

Symonidesz's concern is more global and related to the issues of culture and human rights. He wants to assess the impact of cultural globalization on human rights. The culturally homogenizing effect of globalization, the gradual process of adopting common values and behavioural patterns reinforces the universality of human rights, establishes ties and linkages between various parts of the world and helps to eliminate certain traditional practices which may be qualified as discriminatory. However, he argues, the mixed blessings of cultural globalization are linked with its negative consequences for the cultural rights of vulnerable groups like persons belonging to minorities, indigenous peoples or immigrant workers. It also undermines existing cultural identities, weakens various ethical norms, social cohesion, as well as the feeling of belonging and, by this, contributes to the proliferation of various internal conflicts.

Symonidesz argues that a universal culture of human rights is a long-term goal which can be achieved through the establishment of a comprehensive system of education, training and public information aimed at all groups of the population, especially women, children, minorities, indigenous people and the disabled, embracing all levels of education. In his opinion, education has to be seen as a cornerstone in the construction of a human rights culture. However, it cannot be built without the participation of the communication media which, at present, exert a predominant influence on the forging of attitudes, judgements and values which create images and often determine the relation to 'others', individuals, groups, religions or cultures.

Victor Sunderaj presents the viewpoints of Unda, the International Catholic Association for Radio and Television. Unda makes efforts to be actively present in and contribute to the forging of policies in communication, and to facilitate the coming together of media professionals to share experiences and concerns so that common plans of action can emerge. The main purpose of his contribution is to address questions such as: How does an issue become a topic of public concern and win a place on the national and political agenda? What factors do we consider and what forces do we mobilize towards this end? What evidence must be gathered and arguments do we develop for making a powerful case for gaining priority and marshalling resources to tackle the problem? 

The third part of the book is concerned with different communication approaches and media 
strategies. The three contributors -- Jan Servaes, Anura Goonasekera and Anamaria Decock --share the opinion that different kinds of problems and situations may call for different solutions. Therefore, there is no universal approach which can be used in all circumstances, flexibility is required in selecting appropriate strategies. 

Jan Servaes distinguishes between two fundamentally opposite strategies, which in practice can be viewed as extremes on a continuum: a) strategies for decision-making (top-down); and b) strategies for decision-reaching (interactive). Therefore, he propagates either a combination of policies or strategies, or the creation of a hybrid approach drawing on several theories. 

Goonasekera's article shows the vast disparity among Asian countries in the available media resources. He argues that basic data on media consumption is essential in order to plan a media campaign. In some countries, such data is not easily available. The campaign strategist should also know the strengths and weaknesses of the medium per se, as for example, the use of print media presupposes a modicum of literacy among the audience. The campaign planners should pay attention to the cost effectiveness of each medium. Some media like television will be effective but very costly. In short, in order to use mass media effectively the campaign should be planned on the basis of an understanding of the issues central to the campaign, the availability of the media and the nature of the audience for whom the media campaign is meant.

He adds that there is one other important concern that we should pay attention to. This is the socio-political and economic context within which a media campaign has to be launched. The media is a subsystem within a total system which comprises many other parts such as the bureaucracy, the market, socio-political environment, and last but not least, the world system or the regional systems of relations among countries. This will differ from country to country. And the use of the media will hinge on this factor to a great extent in some countries while it may not be that important in others. The persons who intend to use the media should know the media laws of the country, the regulations under which the media operate and a little bit of 'who's who' in the media. This knowledge will help to launch the campaign quickly, without running into unanticipated obstacles.

Anamaria Decock takes a completely different position. She argues that development is about people, not about media. Human development requires interaction, discussion, dialogue. At the village level, traditional performers are still potential educators. But for how long?

How strong are indigenous communication resources? How fragile? Is their existence threatened? Will they be able to live up to a world woven into the nets of high tech. wires? For how long will the global culture project images which incite people to steer away in contempt from their own cultural roots? Will the culture of the many allow one-day for safeguarding the cultures of the few? Participation and the use of indigenous communication resources are in her opinion the answers to these questions.

The fourth part of the book focuses on Africa. Many of the questions raised by Decock are based on her experience in the African region. Not surprisingly the three contributors -- Temba Masilela, Francis Nyamnjoh and Erik Raymaekers -- contend with her claims. 

The democratization processes that occurred across Africa from the late 1980s, the most dramatic of which culminated in the April 1994 elections in South Africa, have brought to the fore the question of the importance of political communication, and alternative media in particular, in political change. Masilela's contribution locates Paulo Freire in terms of his African political contemporaries, primarily Amilcar Cabral, and in terms of his conceptualization of the role of culture and communication in liberation and development. He uses a reassessment of the legacy of Paulo Freire as a point of departure to construct analytical frameworks, based upon insights from development and political communication, for use in assessing the significance and potential of alternative media for political change in Africa.

Nyamnjoh highlights and discusses two factors responsible for the failure of both development communication research and development to make a positive and sustained impact on Africa. The first factor is that the continent has relied on a notion of development and on development agendas, that are foreign to the bulk of its peoples both in origin and objectives, and that have not always addressed the right issues or done so in the right manner. The second reason is that development communication researchers have adopted research techniques designed to answer to the needs of Western societies and which do not always suit African cultures or societies that are in the main rural and non-literate. This means that for most of the time communication scholars have either been asking the wrong questions altogether or asking the right questions to the wrong people. Nyamnjoh seeks to establish to what extent communication researchers and the media have been willing colluders of modernisation, trying to convince local people that this is good for them, the right thing to do, the central value. He contends that the communication scholars have been used most of the time, but that they have hardly had the financial and cultural independence to set their own agendas in the service of the African masses.

A similar argument is being developed by Erik Raymaekers. The target of universal primary education (to be reached within an unrealistic short delay) has been high on the agenda of most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Raymaekers attempts to show how such an educational system, far from inducing social change and triggering economic development, remains largely an extraneous body, and how the excessive emphasis on qualitative expansion has pushed global and profound educational reform, at all levels, to the background. Without such reform he fears that prospects for human resources to contribute to economic recovery and to carry social change to a more equitable society will remain bleak for many years to come. 

It is to be hoped that out of the diversity of insights and findings presented in this book may emerge a policy and research agenda for the 21st Century.

 
 
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