Citizen Media


Homes effected by the flooding that began last month in North East Brazil. Photo courtesy ofhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8046955.stm

Homes affected by the flooding that began last month in North East Brazil. Photo courtesy ofhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8046955.stm

 

Earlier this month North East Brazil experienced a series of extreme flooding events which have displaced thousands of people. In the last few decades remote cities like Salvador, in Northern Brazil, have felt the effects of climate change with increased intensity and frequency of flooding. This latest episode has taken a heavy toll. Thousands of people have been made homeless by days of heavy rainfall and there has been a heavy death toll due to collapsed houses, fallen trees and landslides. During this flooding event new media platforms, such as Twitter and the blogosphere, took centre stage as information disseminators for flood victims as well as keeping the rest of the world up to date. This example feeds into current theories that have stipulated the importance of new media during environmental hazards and other tragedies. New media, due to its immediacy and user generated contact, is quickly taking over from many mainstream media platforms in times of crisis.

Climate change in Brazil…

Firstly, lets put climate change in Brazil into context. Some critics argue that Brazil is just not properly prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change and does not have an efficient national climate change policy. In many areas of rural Brazil climate change is taking its toll. For some, whom it has rendered landless and homeless, the impacts are even worse than the current economic crisis. Whilst in urban areas shoddy buildings and inadequate planning regulations mean that flooding effects penetrate infrastructure and can destroy whole towns in one go.

This comes after new research has revealed that fiercer storm surges and extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change will claim the most land in Latin America than in any other continent. See here for the full report. Economists at the World Bank’s, who carried out the research say worsening weather threatens 52 million people and more than 29,000 square kilometers of agricultural land, across the globe. Mexico and Brazil, with larger coastal zones than other countries in the region, are predicted to suffer from the most severe coastal inundation.

Despite these ongoing threats from nature and repeated warnings, the media affords climate change little coverage.

Widespread flooding began in North East Brazil in April and has displaced thousands of people. It is thought this due to the increased impact of climate change in Brazil. Photo courtesy of http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8046955.stm

Widespread flooding began in North East Brazil in April and has displaced thousands of people. It is thought this due to the increased impact of climate change in Brazil. Photo courtesy of http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8046955.stm

Brazilian bloggers…

Brazilian blogs have played an integral role in covering of the flooding and getting information out to the wider population where it would other wise by impossible. Facebook, Twitter, You tube and the blogosphere have played a key role in disseminating information on the number of victims and how to assist those who needed help. Liberdade Digital (Digital Freedom) called for more help from social network users to spread information about the situation and ask them to help flood victims: “If you have a blog, a website, a mailing list or if you are a member of a social network, do pass this information on.” Whilst one local journalist took interactivity to a new level. Sarita Bastos published a map on Google Maps showing the most badly effected areas. Others internet users then updated the map with their own local information. The end product has been a community resource that has aided the local population with recovery from flooding.

The power of the Twitteratti…

In Salvador, Twitter took centre stage by giving detailed accounts of what was happening in the city day by day and at a mush faster rate than other media platforms. This contrasts greatly with the role played by mainstream media and especially commercial television who gave only brief and superficial news reports and whose news agenda was dictated by scheduling and advertising. Cottle and Nolan (2007) argue that this is the very nature of mainstream media; ‘the media spotlight is apt to roam from one disaster to another and does so in a competitive environment informed by the pursuit of readers, ratings and revenue.’

Mainstream media are only interested as long as it makes exciting news. This emphasises the importance of the role played social networking sites in news dissemination and cyber-activism. They are bottom up and participatory platform allowing everyday people, affected by these issues, to control the news agenda.

One blogger comments that: “there’s no doubt that the coverage via Twitter was the best about the tragedy in the city of Salvador.”

André Lemos, Communications professor at the Federal University of Bahia, reported the experience as an “alternative media show” and as a “sample of how mass media is losing influence” in his blog:

 “I went to look for some news on local online newspapers but I didn’t find anything very… informative. I gave up on it and came back to Twitter, much more deep, fast and detailed.’

One last point…

There was a clear lack of interest in this event from the rest of the country. Here in the West, if it wasn’t for the internet, and blogs especially, we would never have heard about these problems. This is again due to the differing controls and agendas of mainstream and alternative media platforms. Cottle and Nolan (2007) effectively sum up the fact that geopolitical issues dictate news agendas. Disaster reporting is all about focusing on ‘home connections’ and regionalising stories. If there is no cultural connection with an event then it goes unreported. People are left to fend for themselves and often lack the support needed for recovery from natural disasters. This is what has happened here in North East Brazil .The rest of the country and continent just aren’t interested as it does not affect them and for many climate change is old news and dull. Beck (1999)  has argued that climate change reporting focuses upon dramatic impacts at the expense of useful information and such ignorance increases the environmental risks. This perhaps reiterates the importance of new media platforms and user generated content in the future for environmental and disaster reporting.

The Venezuelan government issued a decree (Decree 6649) back in March 2009 which sought to forbid “superfluous or luxury spending in the national public sector”. These so called ‘luxuries’ include mobile phones, the use of the Internet and other technological equipment. Things that we take for granted in the West as a neccessity. This has sent shockwaves throughout the online community who are increasingly concerned about the impact that this will have on the capacity of ICTs to foster social development and economic growth. They fear that education, research and development projects will be severely hampered if internet use is further eroded by what Chavez defines as ‘rational’ use.

In response to these draconian measures a wave of internet activism has sprung up and a cyber-war has begun. The University of the Andes has launched a campaign, Internet Prioritaria (Essential Internet), to raise awareness of the importance of access to the Internet and pressurize the government to amend the decree.

The logo for Internet Prioritaria who are internet activists lobbying the government to keep internet development as a priority.The campaign argues that developing an information society is integral to economic development 

 

Their objectives are as follows:

We seek to revise the inclusion of Internet and its technological infrastructure in the list of superfluous and non-essential items published in Decree 6649.

To  maintain research and educational programs that is made possible because of the Internet.

To maintain the status of Internet use as a priority, to develop technologies associated with Internet use that could be helpful in the public sector, and to support research on information technologies.

To place the use of these technologies in the discussion around Venezuelan media so there could be a deep dialogue on the weight of Internet in development, as well as the importance of digital literacy.

 The campaign has embraced all kinds of new media. They have used the power of social networking sites to get their voices heard by using YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Numerous blogs and other digital spaces have also joined in. However the views of the Venezuelan blogosphere are divided. Some argue that the decree is another attempt to restrict freedom of speech. Whilst others feel that these cyber-activists are over-reacting to this new law and purposely trying to raise alarm. One blogger argues that there has been a misinterpretation of the new decree:

“The decree says clearly that the main goal is to “optimize savings in the public sector.” This does not mean that the Internet is going to be banned or eliminated; it means that it is necessary to purge this activity, even if it is a very reasonable and necessary activity, “using limited resources in a better way.”

The campaign should be devoted to INFORM and to point out clearly what are the elements that could make Internet a sumptuary expense. They should talk about how social organization can help to generate more “solidarity” in their proposals.

Other blogs on the topic worth a look:

http://www.nosumacero.org/

http://khandika01.blogspot.com/2009/04/internet-prioritaria-atencion-blogs.html

http://www.el-nacional.com/www/site/p_contenido.php?q=nodo/81763/Tecnolog%C3%ADa/Usuarios-defienden-a-Internet-como-insumo-necesario

The government has defended its decisions by arguing that they don’t want to ban the internet and are merely putting more focus and funding into economic priorities.

Whatever your viewpoint, this kind of cyber-activism has opened up a debate forum for bloggers across Venezuela to discuss issues of freedom of speech, media censorship and the role of the internet in the development of their country. If one good thing has come from this decree, it is that at least people are now openly talking about the issues affecting the media.

To put the impact of this decree into context it is worse a brief look at the academic discourse surrounding the relationship between ICTs and economic development. Howard (2007) argues that digital communication techonologies play a critical role in economic and political development whilst Lugo-Ocando (2008) recognises the direct links between economic wealth and the development of an information society in Latin America. The role of the internet in development should not be underplayed. Stratton (2000) argues that it promotes non-english cuture to the world through cyberspace as webpages, podcasts and blogs have, espcially in the case of Venezuela,  created imagined communities and greater connectivity between everyday people.

In my opinion this decree will inhibit development and increase the digital divide between the internet ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ both within South America and with the rest of the world. Castells (2000) has already warned that the ‘network society’ is creating wider economic and social disparities across the globe and singled out South America as a continent that could become ‘fourth world’ because of its limited technological advancements. This decree stands directly opposed to media development discourse and it seems Chavez’s decree might force this Castell’s predictions to come true.

Media ethics in the third world - a tough balancing act? Photo courtesy of: http://www.pjreview.info/issues/11_02_05.html
Media ethics in the third world – a tough balancing act? Photo courtesy of: http://www.pjreview.info/issues/11_02_05.html

The journalists’ role in developing countries is complex and contradictory. There is a set of universal principles of journalism which include freedom of expression, objectivity, truth and social responsibility. There is controversial debate surrounding the question as to whether these principles, code of ethics and professional ideology inherent in western journalism actually translate into practice for the development journalist in the third world, where conditions are very different. According to Musa and Dumatob (2007) in post colonial societies there are tensions between social responsibility and journalistic principles and the practicalities of implementing these principles. For them development journalism is distinct from other forms of journalism; professional values of development journalism do not align with the western model.

What is a development journalist? A simple question but extremely hard to answer. Are they truth tellers? Civic advocates? Liberators? Watchdogs? Government propagandists? The truth is they still aren’t sure themselves:

“Development journalism eschews a dogmatic adversarial posture toward government…it doesn’t require journalists to become lapdogs” Musa and Domatob (2007).

They argue that a balance needs to be found between these two extremes. Sooner or later development journalists need to decide what role they want to play and stick to it. Is there a need for a re-examination of media practices for the third world?

The media as a lapdog?

As Latin American countries gained independence their leaders saw the media as an institution that could and would play a salient role in fulfilling development goals and national building (Schramm 1964).  Media is still seen as an instrument of modernisation imposed by the west as development journalists are expected to partner with the government in a drive to improve socio-economic conditions for the people. Conversely in developed countries the media emerged as part of the economic structure of these countries.

The media as the peoples’ advocate?

To return briefly to the argument of Musa and Domatob, they stipulate that development journalists can take on the role of ‘peoples advocate’ – giving a ‘voice to the voiceless’. Latin America boasts a plethora of examples of the ways in which development journalists have empowered the marginalised and raised indigenous issues onto the governmental agenda. “The People’s Radio” of Vila Nossa Senhora in Brazil powerfully illustrates Musa and Domatobs’ argument.

Vila Nossa Senhora Aparecida today - photo by Vitor Rodrigo Dias courtesy of http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://www.panoramio.com/photos/original/7173268.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.panoramio.com/photo/7173268&usg=__D9VJTPrbs_g3-LNQq4wnw3YQx8A=&h=1536&w=2048&sz=795&hl=en&start=2&tbnid=11NDGQqrifwWDM:&tbnh=113&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3DVila%2BNossa%2BSenhora%2BAparecida%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Vila Nossa Senhora Aparecida today - photo by Vitor Rodrigo Dias courtesy of http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?

This community radio project was established on outskirts of Sao Paolo in the 1980s by migrant workers to provide them with the means of receiving information about government events; radio was also used as a medium through which they could voice their concerns and initiate debate. TV programmes were westernised in outlook and portrayed industrial southern Brazil and its relatively affluent lifestyle as the true urban Brazil. This image attracted rural populations in their droves and ultimately led to problems with integration and identity for these once subsistence farmers. The radio project was inspired by the use of loudspeakers as popular radios in Villa El Salvador on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. The station was set up using a basic tape recorder, amplifier, microphone and loudspeaker wired to the church tower and transmission was over an area of 3 km. The broad aims of the station were to use the oral medium as a vehicle for mobilisation and empowerment.

‘In Shanty towns nobody knows how to read…people have an aversion to paper’ (Sao Paolo News 1986).

Radio reiterated the importance of the oral culture for rural migrants and overcame the hurdle of illiteracy. After the success of this project 19 sister stations sprang up across the region under the umbrella of the ‘Project for Non Written Communication of the Eastern Zone’. The group developed communication and technical skills at a grassroots level, ideas were exchanged between communities and locally produced programmes and audio visual materials were made. A news group was created to read daily papers and journals as well as providing a critical commentary on them. Schelling (1999) describes this as the development of a ‘new communicational order’ where communication is participatory, two way and dialogic. The poor were not seen merely as receivers of information but producers of it.

The results of this communication network are far reaching. Firstly radio played an educative role by raising awareness of social and political issues and providing basic information to help the community. It also created a sense of community and celebrated the values of rural culture for these migrants.

Secondly it created a culture of resistance by giving these migrants the power to resist marginalisation and push for development from below. This is an example of how the ‘radio’ can be a double edged sword for the development journalist. Empowering the masses also politicises them and can ultimately lead to rebellion. This brings me back to my first point that the development journalist is stuck in the middle of the government and the people unsure of who he/she is serving. On one hand the development journalist is partnering with the government to disseminate its literature and publicise its events. On the other by educating workers about their rights and providing them with civic media tools they are breeding discontent and workers begin to demand justice and equality. This inevitably means that authoritarian governments will limit work like this as it threatens their own power systems.

Projects such as the ‘Peoples’ Radio’ have developed from the belief that Latin America needed to follow an alternative route of development that reflected its historical, social and economic identity. Today most Latin America post-colonial societies are experiencing waves of democratisation with communication at the centre. Globalisation is constantly changing and re-defining the roles and impacts of development journalists. The question is how will they adapt to these changing landscapes and best serve both the government and the people?

Can they find the balance between working with these new governments to aide development and becoming their lapdogs and propaganda tools?

 With so many competing interests, contradictory principles and unforeseen effects of reporting it’s proving a challenge.

Indigenous communities in Bolivia (photo courtesy of - http://rising.globalvoicesonline.org/blog/2009/03/29/voces-bolivianas-augmenting-digital-literacy-in-bolivia/)

Indigenous communities in Bolivia (photo courtesy of – http://rising.globalvoicesonline.org/blog/2009/03/29/voces-bolivianas-augmenting-digital-literacy-in-bolivia/

Voces Bolivianas (Bolivian Voices) project teaches citizens’ media skills to underrepresented communities in Bolivia.  This raises many questions about how the internet can be used to support development and decrease economic disparities within Bolivia and with the rest of the world.

Bolivian Voices is a participatory citizen’s media project that promotes the use of ICT (Internet and Communication Technologies) to allow Bolivians to share their stories about their communities and thus decide how they are represented. The projects holds workshops to promote the use of participatory media tools such as blogging, digital photography, podcasting and videos in order to create their own content.

They emphasize that the web is for everyone as ordinary Bolivians then become creators of content, rather than only consumers. In this way they are breaking away from western modernist discourse where communities are seen as receivers and communication is very much top down and one way. Everyday Bolivianos now have the opportunity to become part of the ‘global conversation’ and there is a network of national bloggers. Examples of some of these blogs can be found here.

 

This month, the project also helps bolivians living in Argentina to reconnect with their country and become part of an imagined community. Eduardo Avilo is the founder of the Voces Bolivianas project and his blog Barrio Flores discusses a number of issues that Bolivians face.

Bolivian Voices is one of several national projects participating in Rising Voices, which works to bring new voices into global conversations through resources and training. In this way publicity and a voice is given to places and people that other media often ignore. One of their main aims is to empower under-represented communities to make their voices heard online and cultivate a network of citizen media activists.

 

It also brings new languages to the web and counters the traditional American domination of the world wide web. Some have argued that the internet is merely another tool of Western cultural imperialism. However others stipulate that cultural imperialism on the Internet can be overcome to prevent cultural homogenisation in the world. The internet promotes non-English culture to a world-wide audience through cyberspace; anyone can create a website or blog and promote their culture easily and much more cheaply than other media. The Bolivianos have few other ways of promoting their culture as despite what the government says the media is heavily censored in the country. 

This project feeds into a complex theoretical debate surrounding the internet.

This project counters the ethnocentric views of western development discourse. It also encourages active participation of people at grassroots by involving local people in decision making for the future and greater self-reliance in development using local skills and knowledge. Richardson (1998) outlines five ways that the internet can support third world development. Research by Martín-Barbero (2006) on Latin American communication research argues that communication, namely through the ICTs, has been ‘transformed into a highly effective mechanism for the insertion of all cultures – whether ethnic, national or local – into the sphere of the market.’

 

However, academics have long highlighted the problems caused by this increasing digital divide. Castells (1997) argues that there is an increasing digital divide where there is a clear divide between those with access to cyber space and those without. He defines this as the network society where a global network of information and power transcends geographic space and time. He predicts that those without access to cyber space will become a ‘fourth world’ and identifies South America as one of these areas. Voces Bolivianos aims to counter this ‘fourth world’ discuss for participatory methods. However there are a series of problems.

 

Whilst Heeks (1999) outlines the constraints in the use of ICT based information in the developed world. One of the most challenging obstacles, amongst many, to effectively training new communities how to take advantage of citizen media tools like blogs, podcasts, and online video is the lack of documentation in languages other than English.

 

Projects such as these are an attempt to empower under-represented voices and introduce them into the global conversation. See here for an update on the progress of the project. However many of the techniques are still rooted in a modernist and imperialist theoretical framework. People in the third world need to take control of their own ICT infrastructure and resources rather then relying on intermediaries, such as NGOs or development groups, if they are ever to have a truly representative and powerful voice.

Rio de Janeiro - The Heart of South America

Rio de Janeiro - The Heart of South America

Welcome!

This is my first daliance into the world of blogging. I’m a total novice but thought it was about time I jumped onto the blog wagon.

As a budding broadcast journalist, a one time geographer and a travel junkie this blog acts as a hybrid for all these interests. This is the first of (I hope) many insightful and analytical posts tracking the global media trends surrounding globalisation and development in the third world with specific focus upon environmental security (thats the geographer buried within).

I’ve developed an obsession of late for Latin America and thus many of my subsequent blogs will address this area of the world, which I might add is hugely under-reported by western media. Indigenous communities, social movements, sustainable development, grassroots infowar, eco-feminism…theres alot to get your teeth into!

And so…I hope these posts will act as a tool for opening up discussion of development issues which are often ignored and overlooked by the West, help to deconstruct the ’North’ vs ‘South’ (outdated) discourse and challenge the media imperialist paradigm towards third world development.

An ambitious feat? A rather wide remit of discussion? Yes indeed…but I’ll give it a go…whats the worst that can happen? In the distant future when I’m a famous foreign news reporter (Hmm time will tell)…I’m sure I’ll look on this maiden voyage into the blog-sphere with affection…

So Happy Blogging.