Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gaza: This is not the story of Hamas. This is not the story of Israel.

So much has been written about Gaza. So much about the Israel-Palestine conflict. We grew up watching it on TV, reading it in news magazines and it doesn't catch our attention anymore - nothing has changed.

Its tiring to keep yourself updated about the conflict like its tiring to keep yourself updated about Kashmir. From books, news stories, academic papers, discussion groups, information flow is relentless and overwhelming - but nothing has changed.

We are reading about it again. Any news report I pick up on  Gaza crisis today might read the same as it read in 2008-09. We continue to read the same stories.

A very engaging post by Dr Rhonda Zaharan in the CPD Blog - 'Gaza in the First Person'  - looks into this problem of narrative very well. The whole context of the conflict, its perception and communication by parties involved - Hamas & the Israeli state - and the framing of it by international media.

Dr Zaharna states,
"Israel now vows to stop the rockets “once and for all.” I shudder at the political and moral implications of what this means, even if it were militarily possible to silence 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. For me, this is about more than whose story wins."
She calls Gaza "a piece of of the world densely populated with human misery" and talks about how the siege of Gaza has become a prison for the 1.8 million people of Gaza. The "one-point-eight" whose stories we never hear. What is it like to dream, hope and imagine under a lifelong siege?

Gaza crisis is always framed in the context of Hamas, Israel and legacy of colonialism - while the world has changed tremendously.
Pic from: Roomee Times

There's a ban on storytelling about Gaza with numerous media restrictions, the latest being a ban by Israel on radio adverts listing names of children killed in Gaza. No wonder the stories are always the same.

One wonders how is it possible in a modern society to accept such regulations, how does an ally of the "greatest democracy on earth" deny freedom of expression to some. Especially when the Israeli state itself doesn't deny itself the right to an international public relations campaign to shape public opinion in its favor.

This isn't about the story of Hamas. This isn't about the story of Israel. 

This is about the story of one-point-eight, the conflict is about their future, their destinies. This is also about the the story of the people of Israel -"what do they want". I wonder if we hear their stories at all, if we ever will. I doubt if institutional media will ever be able to tell these stories given the context in which they operate.

I hope communication scholars like Dr Zaharna find ways of empowering the people of Gaza and also (why not?) the people of Israel to communicate their stories.

I am sure the world will listen as the narrative takes a new turn.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Of social media, anti-rationalism and low expectations

 'Social Media Detox' is good. I say this to all those of you who checked on me to figure what happened to my blog and where was I to be found on social media. If you write on a topic that is not necessarily mainstream, the 'noise' in social media and the content blitzkrieg, indeed gets to you.

We tend to lose sense of what's important and what's not, what's relevant and what's not.

photograph of Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine
TIME ASIA COVER MARCH 10, 2014
Recently,  I got a taste of what I was missing as my reading habits became increasingly 'social'. It was on a long flight back to India where I happened to pick up the TIME magazine as I settled on my seat after dinner. Years ago I was a regular reader of the magazine and was now shocked to see now how much the magazine had shrunk!

It almost seemed like a pamphlet, the last few pages of a news magazine trying to hold its own against social media onslaught.

I don't really know how the magazine is doing in its digital format, but I as read through the stories, news analysis and updates it was the magazine I always knew - solid research, impeccable reporting, depth of analysis but most importantly stellar news judgement and news selection. The role of an editorial team in planning and presenting content was but obvious.

It's not the digital bit that I am wary about, but the social bit.

Social media not only makes us publishers of our content but also offers us more choices in terms of what we read. But our reading habits and information gathering skills again, sometimes, are limited by our awareness or the lack of it, exposure, biases and habits. We may not always make the best choices in what we read and sometimes, as I realized while reading the magazine on my flight back, it's good to have professionals to help keep our focus on topics that are important. We need our editors and reporters back and find a way to keep them at the job they do for us and not let the social media deluge take over completely.

The competitive noise of social media has its own place but is definitely not an answer to everything. I leave you with this editorial from the The Washington Post: The Dumbing of America, by Susan Jacoby that has interesting insights into how the proliferation of video content potentially affects how we make sense of our world.
"(We are)...in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations."
--





Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pew Research Center findings on Social News Consumption

News consumption is becoming a community activity. It is becoming social. We have seen this happen and know that it will gradually change the way we try to understand our world.

A recent research by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation explored the characteristics of news consumers and the size of their population across 11 social networking sites. The research was conducted in the United States.

The research – “News Use Across Social Media Platforms” – found that the primary social networking sites where users also consume news are Reddit, Twitter and Facebook, in that order. But when looked at in terms of the percentage of the total U.S. population , Facebook seems to be dominant, surprisingly followed by You Tube. The report states:
“Facebook is by far the largest social networking site among U.S. adults, and with half of its users getting news there, is also the largest among U.S. adults when it comes to getting news. As discussed in an earlier report, roughly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults use the site, and half of those users get news there—amounting to 30% of the general population. YouTube has the next greatest reach in terms of general usage, at 51% of U.S. adults. Thus, even though only a fifth of its users get news there, that amounts to 10% of the adult population, which puts it on par with Twitter.”

The report also finds out the access to traditional news sources is still there and states that,
“YouTube, LinkedIn and Google Plus news consumers are more likely than Facebook and Twitter news consumers to watch cable news. Twitter news consumers are among the least likely to turn to local and cable TV.”

The demographic analysis reveals that news consumers on Twitter are more likely to be younger than other social networking sites, LinkedIn news consumers tend to be college educated and higher earners while Facebook news consumers are more likely to be female.

It would have been more interesting to also understand how news selection happen in social networking communities keeping in mind aspects of ‘virality’, conversations and engagement. News on social networking sites may often be consumed on the basis of prominence it may enjoy in a certain community. In the process, sometimes the not so significant news may become important with community action – a trend that should not be encouraged. It also has the potential to promote news that traditional outlets might choose to ignore or play down – a trend that can become empowering. For practicing communicators, social news consumption seems to be the next minefield to navigate!

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


Monday, October 28, 2013

News Release: APO content now available on Thomson Reuters professional platform

DAKAR, Sénégal, October 28, 2013/ -- APO (http://www.apo-opa.com) announced today a strategic partnership with Thomson Reuters that will provide APO’s clients with enhanced global visibility, making their Africa-related news releases available on Thomson Reuters Eikon (http://www.thomsonreuterseikon.com), the professional platform for market analysis and trading software.

APO’s feed of Africa-related news releases issued by companies, international institutions, international organizations, governments and branches of the United Nations across Africa will be posted on Thomson Reuters’ terminal providing users of the service with unrivalled news release material coming from the world’s fastest growing continent.

Screenshot: http://www.photos.apo-opa.com/plog-content/images/apo/photos/screenshot-eikon.png (APO clients news releases are now available on Thomson Reuters professional platform)

Photo Thomson Reuters Eikon: http://www.photos.apo-opa.com/index.php?level=picture&id=686 (APO content will now be available on Thomson Reuters Eikon, the professional platform for market analysis and trading software)

“Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic growth is expected to increase to 5.3 per cent next year, with strong private and public investment underpinning the region’s robust performance, the World Bank said on Monday. The Bank lifted its forecast for 2014 from the 5.1 per cent projected earlier this year”, said Eloine Barry, Executive Director, APO

She added: “This means that African economies are a force to be reckoned with for any true multinational business seeking expansion into the next frontier of growth.”

For almost 10 years, APO has been the partner of choice for companies operating in Africa and has helped private sector companies, NGOs, UN agencies and other multinational entities reach a much broader audience in every African country. This unparalleled reach has been made possible thanks to a solid relationship with key media houses across the continent and an investment in technology that allows instant dissemination of news material to all African media.


With such an audience reach now made available at a global level through the partnership with Thomson Reuters, this will build a two way communications highway between Africa and the world at a time when interest in the continent has reached an unprecedented level from Asia Pacific to the Americas, through Europe and the Middle East.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

4 tips for an effective outreach into India

"The new circumstances in which we are placed call for new words, new phrases, and for the transfer of old words to new objects"
- Thomas Jefferson 

This year’s been difficult for India. From economic policy paralysis, corruption of a scale unheard of earlier and a rapidly depreciating Rupee, it is not a very happy situation. Nonetheless, given the country’s strong institutional framework, its influence in South Asia, commitment to a democratic tradition, size of economy and size of population, attempts to engage with India (politically, socially, culturally or for business) will continue. Besides, India underwent a lot of changes in the last two decades and is a very different country today. 

For an effective communications outreach into India, remember to factor in the following:
I. AUDIENCE: Youth will be the primary drivers of your message. Find ways to engage with them on almost everything. According to the ‘State of the Urban Youth, India 2012: Employment, Livelihoods, Skills,’ a report published by IRIS Knowledge Foundation in collaboration with UN-HABITAT, every third person in an India city is a youth and by 2020 the median age of the country will be 29 years. See INDIAN YOUTH PORTAL of the Government of India : http://www.youthportal.gov.in/
IIMESSAGE: Localize your message and content for India; for each of its regions. India has a long tradition of assimilation and a composite culture. We like to give our own shape to stuff. Remember to package it audio visually, sometimes it helps to overcome barriers presented by linguistic diversity or illiteracy.
III. TONALITY: Aspiration is what it should represent. Irrespective of geography or socio economic standing. Here I would like to draw the approach of Harvard Professor Dominique Moisi’s much criticized work - “The Geopolitics of Emotion” - where he maps the world according to three primary emotions – hope, fear and humiliation.
 IVMEDIUM: Do not forget alternative media, the ubiquitous mobile phone and social co-creation. The mainstream press and journalists remain important but the monopoly over production of viewpoints is  broken and so is the monopoly over the medium. Also remember access to technology and media in India is often ‘informal’ – people without the means or know-how still manage to access through friends, family, community groups etc. See this excellent slideshare presentation below by Mohit Chhabra: 

                       
      Indian digital consumer from Mohit Chhabra

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Japan's aggressive PR to bolster colonial claims

Japan's Cabinet Office last week released the results of  an opinion poll that considerably raised tensions with it's neighbor South Korea.  Tokyo's  first opinion poll on South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo, showed that six out of 10 Japanese view Dokdo as Japanese territory in terms of history and international law. Dokdo is also referred to as the Liancourt Islands or as Takeshima by the Japanese.

The survey is among Japan's numerous recent PR and strategic communications initiatives to publicize Japan's territorial claims at home and abroad. It was commissioned by PM Shinzo Abe who set up a new government agency tasked with such publicity initiatives.

                    
                           View Larger Map
While it may not have created too much of a furore in media internationally - important regional publications of Asia Pacific like The ChosunIlbo, Yonhap News, The Hankyoreh, People's Daily, The Global Times etc. dedicated considerable space to the findings of the opinion poll.


It is said to be the Japanese government's first such opinion poll. Until now surveys were simply restricted to the Japanese media houses. This is the most significant takeaway from this development - the adoption of tried and tested PR tools and techniques to influence media and public opinion by a government. The sample size was not too significant, restricted to 1784 people - but the sensitivity of the subject and being commissioned by the government itself is what I guess made it newsworthy. 

The wisdom of carrying out such a survey can be debated, and this might be more targeted towards domestic political interests.  Nonetheless, media houses got what they wanted with tensions rising high between both the countries and the Japanese government got the eyeballs it was hoping for. South Korea, in the meantime, registered its protest and in a strongly worded statement, Seoul's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said,
“We sternly protest the Japanese government’s decision to use a opinion poll commissioned by the Japanese Cabinet Office as a pretext for yet another provocation regarding Dokdo, a territory that is clearly South Korean on historical and geographical grounds and by international law, and strongly urge it to halt such actions at once. It is deplorable for the Japanese government to continue coming out with these absurd claims about Dokdo. Such ahistorical behavior will pose a serious obstacle to the future-oriented development of South Korea-Japan relations and reconciliation in Northeast Asia.” 
I would be interested to find out about the reaction on social media. Readers help!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

South Korea's Civilian Diplomatic Corps for Public Diplomacy

The Global Post reported the launch of the first civilian diplomatic corps by South Korea last month. The article stated,
"The corps with five groups as well as 30 individual adolescents and 20 senior citizens plan to push for diverse projects with the government's support to improve the national image abroad and to help increase its influence on the international arena"
Among Asian countries, South Korea is quite innovative in its approach to PD as seen over the last few years. This information is significant because,
  1. The PD corps not only includes civilians from diverse backgrounds but also non-Koreans 
  2. This development is associated with the securing of a PD budget of nearly USD 5.99 billion; as per the report in the Global Post. Now this should easily be among the highest PD budgets in Asia reflecting the growing importance of soft power in managing international relations. Note that South Korea's PD program is relatively recent - 2010 was when it formally began.
  3. This also means coming together of the government and the people on foreign policy. Foreign policy can finally come down from its ivory tower of 'geo-strategy' & 'security' and acquire a human dimension - nations, after all, are an imagined community of people. Nations exist in people's minds and that's where foreign policy should begin. Quite interesting actually, something that I have been writing quite frequently in this blog.
  4. The South Korean experiment seems like an institutionalization of informal/formal citizen groups & networks by the government. Now this is open to debate since the possibility of co-option by the state may exist. 
I remember being a member of the Pakistan India People's Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD) as a student of Delhi University. An experiment in Track II diplomacy, initiated by prominent citizens, with blessings from the government it was complementary to the peacemaking efforts of the Government of India. Numerous such 'people to people' programs are currently underway in India and there is definitely a diverse network of civilian diplomats working behind the scenes.


 Is it necessary to institutionalize these into a civilian diplomatic corps? The PD division of the Government of India is already doing a stellar job of being the facilitator, bringing different groups together and trying out new things and a collaborative approach in foreign policy is definitely something new. Managing these informal networks of relationships in a collaborative fashion will significantly determine foreign policy outcomes in the future. What a time to be in PD!

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur
 
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