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Public diplomacy over the last decade has been dominated by strategic communications thinking with an emphasis on projecting messages about U.S. official viewpoints in a time of war. At the same time, media have undergone fundamental changes, both in the proliferation of satellite broadcasting, and in the advent of networked digital communications via internet and cell phone networks that allow mass participation in the creation of content. The new U.S. administration has promised a different approach – focused on listening over lecturing. What role should public diplomacy take in this context? Should it be redefined? Upgraded? Demoted? Should the U.S. government continue to support international broadcasting efforts, or disband much of that in favor of support for more participatory approaches? Is this a time when less might be better?

An event on Tuesday morning in Washington D.C. (Tuesday evening Asia time) called Media as Global Diplomat, organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace and ITVS, will explore “how the United States can best use media to reinvigorate its public diplomacy strategy and international influence in order to strengthen efforts to build a more peaceful world.

It will be interesting to see if the public diplomacy world begins to take on the lessons of participatory media – and focus less on messages and projecting an American viewpoint, and more on listening, and thinking creatively about how the voices and perspectives of others are treated as partners in conversation.

If you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about public diplomacy – take a look at ProPublica’s investigative series into Alhurra TV – the BBG’s effort to reach the Middle East through a USG-funded “commercial” TV network. Alhurra and related radio project Radio Sawa might be the epitome of Bush-era thinking of how to mimic commercial mass media to project American messages and viewpoints to the world. Regardless of whether they were right for their time – and there are good arguments that they weren’t – it’s worthwhile asking how relevant such efforts will be in a time of abundant media – given hundreds of competing satellite broadcasters, and the paradigm changes to communications brought about by the networked public sphere.

Join me and my colleague Rebecca MacKinnon to find out. Watch the live webcast and join a live chat here or here. Twitter at #usip.  Facebook page here. Rebecca will be live-blogging the event here on her blog, with some backup from me. I’ll also repost that here on burning bridge.

I will be online to moderate and follow the live chat, bringing your views and questions from the live chatroom into the event. That way, we hope the conversation can be expanded beyond the room to include everybody watching and reacting remotely.

If you have views in advance that they’d like to express, please post them in the comments section of this post, or on Rebecca’s site.

Below is the full program and schedule, taken from here.

Challenge
We are in a disruptive period in media, the result of an explosion in digital distribution, social networking, and user generated content. And with disruption comes opportunity. This summit, moderated by Ted Koppel and entitled Media as Global Diplomat, is a forum to ask key public and private sector leaders how the United States can best use media to reinvigorate its public diplomacy strategy and international influence in order to strengthen efforts to build a more peaceful world.

Agenda [All times EST]

(9:00 a.m.) Welcome and Framing the Day
Sheldon Himelfarb, Associate Vice President, Center of Innovation for Media, Conflict, and Peacebuilding, U.S. Institute of Peace

Hosts Remarks
Ambassador Richard Solomon, President, U.S. Institute of Peace
Sally Jo Fifer, President and Chief Executive Officer, Independent Television Service

Media & Public Diplomacy: The Challenge at Hand
Ted Koppel will address the dramatically changing global media landscape and its implications for public diplomacy and peacebuilding.

(9:30 a.m.) Public Diplomacy 2.0: Rethinking Official Media

In this new era of digital distribution, social networking, and user generated content, what is the role of government-funded media in bolstering America’s global influence and ability to manage conflict? This panel will discuss where traditional strategies for media-based public diplomacy are effective and where they need to change.

Panelists:

  • Kathy Bushkin Calvin – Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, The United Nations Foundation; Former President, AOL Time Warner Foundation
  • Ambassador Edward Djerejian- Founding Director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
  • Abderrahim Foukara- Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief, Al Jazeera International
  • Ambassador James Glassman – Former Under Secretary of State Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Andrew McLaughlin – Director of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs, Google
  • James Zogby – Founder and President, Arab American Institute

(11:15 a.m.) The Global Media Marketplace
What is the responsibility of free market commercial media to serve the greater public good in the global media age? This panel will consider the role of “unintended” stereotypes in shaping the image of the US abroad and the perils of uninformed citizens at home due to declining news coverage of international events.

Panelists:

  • Edward Borgerding – Chief Executive Officer, Abu Dhabi Media Company
  • Carol Giacomo –  Editorial Board Member, The New York Times
  • Mika Salmi –  President of Global Digital Media of MTV Networks
  • Smita Singh – Director, Global Development Program, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
  • Sydney Suissa – Executive Vice President of Content, National Geographic Channels International

(12:30 p.m.) Lunch

(1:15 p.m.) Special Screening: Waltz With Bashir
Ari Folman’s animated documentary on the horrors of the 1982 Lebanon War. Academy Award nominee and winner of 2009 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. Waltz With Bashir is part of the ITVS International initiative and will be introduced by introduced by Calvin Sims, Program Officer, Media Arts & Culture, Ford Foundation.

(2:45 p.m.) Independent Documentary and Participatory Media
In discussing the film, this panel will consider the potential of film and video to connect people around the world and transform conflict. How can this powerful content be deployed as part of a more effective US public diplomacy strategy?

Panelists:

  • Tamara Gould – Vice President of Distribution, Independent Television Service
  • Yvette Alberdingk Thijm – Executive Director, Witness

This is part two of my notes from a presentation at the USIP event “Passing the Baton.” Conference documents here and panel summary and video here. Part one here.

For the presentation, I was asked to discuss how people use digital media information in and around conflict, who they are, and what motivates them. This post focuses on recommendations and examples of citizen media in conflict.

In many conflicts, complex emergencies, and significant political upheavals in the past few years, citizen media have played substantial roles in producing information, as well as for activist ends, to mobilize constituents, and argue positions.

In conflicts such as Lebanon (2006), Pakistan (2007), Burma (2007), Kenya (2008), Kashmir (summer 2008), Sri Lanka (2007-08), and Zimbabwe (2008), citizen media in the form of blogs, social media, user-generated content on media-sharing sites, wikis, SMS messaging, twitter, and other applications have provided differing and new perspectives into the impact of conflict on communities.

This comes at a time of diminishment in traditional international journalism coverage, and fewer resources for mainstream media production.

Citizen media and mainstream media have a complicated relationship today – merging, symbiotic. Together, they form an active online public sphere.

Recommendations: what do citizen media need to flourish?

  • Support open networks and keep generativity in media and computer technology – if we want to build a world that includes mass participation in media creation, then we need technology and regulatory environments that encourage it.
  • Support the principles of free speech in general, and concentrate on listening to diverse perspectives rather than attempt to control or shape opinion. Providing access to diverse perspectives is more important than shutting out divisive viewpoints.
  • Theories of mass media based on scarcity of information and communications don’t take the networked public sphere into account. Different technology calls for different approaches. Re-examine continuing relevance of mass media solutions such as international broadcasting, attempting to restrict information and speech, and public diplomacy based on messaging and strategic communications.
  • Focus on supporting projects that organize and validate good information produced by diverse sources.
  • Focus on ensuring that people are heard. Design projects that amplify diverse, varied, and underrepresented perspectives.

Recommendations for project design.

  • Support local media to adapt and use digital media tools as well as citizen media initiatives, and note the convergence between them.
  • Focus on local innovation, practice and sharing best practices among citizen media groups.
  • Consider the growing role of humanitarian, human rights, and policy/advocacy organizations as information providers.

Citizen media include many, diverse perspectives that may be counterpoints to mainstream media perspectives that often focus on conflict and difference. Citizen media may be spaces for free expression in face of censored, controlled, or corrupt mainstream media. Citizen journalism in conflict zones is likely to include activists, public intellectuals, and others who are not well represented in mainstream media.

What forms do citizen media take in conflict zones? Examples:

1. Incidental use. People witness and record events around them, upload them into networks where they are shared and amplified.

  • Example: The U.S. military bombs insurgents in Azizabad, in Afghanistan. A resident documents civilian deaths on his cell phone and shares it with the journalists. The resulting furor sparks a UN investigation, a U.S. military investigation, and calls for NATO to change its tactics to minimize civilian deaths.

2. Networked communications use. People create their own blogs and content – commenting, sharing, and linking. Tools include blogs, social networks, microblogging platforms such as twitter, mobile telephony applications, SMS.

Some are authors who switch focus of content, much the way that incidental reporting does. Others focus specifically on issues. We find these projects in almost every country with significant political or violent conflict. Examples:

  • Don’t Block the Blog. A Pakistani blog that supports online freedom of speech, created in the time of the 2007 PK political crisis.
  • Freedom for Burma. A Burmese freedom collective blog that links to blogs, news, interviews, videos in support of Burmese political opposition.

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3. Initiatives and Projects. Efforts to understand, analyze, contextualize information, and create metadata, including databases and mapping, specifically for the purpose of communicating or acting upon conflict. These are often citizen-led initiatives, coming from individuals, activists, nonprofits, rather than governments, large commercial enterprises, international organizations. Examples:

  • Groundviews. Sri Lankan citizen journalism initiative with a focus on peace and reconciliation issues and ICTs in development.

groundviews_12312765099611

  • CMEV: Centre for Monitoring Election Violence. A project that uses cell phone/SMS reporting to map infractions during elections.
  • Ushahidi. Original page of African-led project to monitor and map violence after the Kenyan elections in December 2007.

ushahidicom-mapping-reports-of-the-post-election-crisis-in-kenya_1231198805575

  • Harvard Humanitarian Initiative study comparing Ushahid, citizen journalism, and MSM reporting on Kenya.
  • Ushahidi home page – global development.
  • War on Gaza page. Al Jazeera use of locally developed initiative.

war-on-gaza_1231197155078

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life-must-go-on-in-gaza-and-sderot_1231350691697

I spent a day last week at a conference sponsored by the US Institute of Peace called “Passing the Baton, ” for the DC foreign policy community on the occasion of the transition to a new administraion. Content from the event is here.

I presented on a panel called Bullets and Blogs, together with Linton Wells, Duncan MacInnes, and John Kelly. I was asked to address the question of how people use digital media in conflict zones. A report and videos of the panel and presentations is available here.

The discussion revolved around the role of digital media and its relationship to modern conflict, with the presumption that conflict plays out in the public sphere as well as on battlefields.

The presentation prompted me to pull together some observations on the changing relationship between media and conflict. In this post, I’ll address a number of paradigm shifts that change the way people are able to interact through digital media, and specifically do so in and around conflict. A second post will look at examples and provide recommendations. First, structural issues:

1) From media scarcity to media abundance.

The first answer to the question, “who are the citizens in citizen media,” is, in short, potentially everybody.

  • 1.5 billion Internet users
  • 3 billion cell phone users
  • Growth of upwards of 10% for Internet, 30-50% for cell phones  annually in developing world

This is true for countries and territories that suffer from endemic conflict and political unrest as well. A glance through 60+ fragile and weak states on indices such as the Foreign Policy Failed States Index and the Brookings Index of State Weakness in the Developing World shows that communications and ICT access is growing almost everywhere. For example, Somalia has five cell phone networks and Internet access but no government. Afghanistan currently has over 400,000 people with access to the Internet.

The lesson: future conflict will occur in the context of information and communications abundance.

2) Network effects in the networked public sphere.

Access to communications and media technology doesn’t guarantee information creation. There are many barriers to creating good information; at Global Voices we call it the participation gap. It’s defined by a lack of:

  • Literacy
  • Education
  • Connectivity and material resources
  • Community and culture for content creation

Regardless, it takes a surprisingly small amount of connectivity to have an effect on conflict. For example, access to Internet is rare in Burma, and cell phone access prohibitively expensive, but even a little bit of connectivity transformed people’s ability to document and transmit information about the monk’s protests in 2007. The networked public sphere facilitates information to move from local to global levels in only a few hops.

3) Convergence.

Citizen media and citizen insurgents are potentially the same people. Citizen media activities in and around conflict are used to both organize and inform, frequently with blurred lines. Use includes:

  • Information production and amplification – documentation of events
  • Support for political activism – nonviolent protest, democracy advocacy, social movements and other political and socially oriented movements
  • Organizational support for riots and other unplanned violence. Planned violence – also riots, protests, up to terror
  • Operational use in insurgencies, civil war, and intrastate conflict

There are typically disparities in use and access to information around conflicts, just as there are often disparities in force capacity.

  • States have more power and information than citizen movements as well as insurgencies
  • Non-extremists seeking non-violent solutions have a disadvantage over extremists willing to use violence

Conflict may even increase information flows. Anecdotally, we know that diaspora communities drive information networks; empirically, we see spikes in information and communication use around times of conflict.

4) Media as a ground – information environment is constitutive of the public sphere, not a function of it.

Information in conflict is both a tool and the field upon which conflict plays out. This is important because wars are almost never total – they require support – public opinion, other governments, citizen pressure all have effects because sovereignty is not simply determined by coercion, but also by persuasion.

Digital networked media increases awareness of rights and expectations that others have, and that we may expect from our governments. In Gaza, for instance, the conflict seems unjust to many simply because of the clear disparity between the respective rights and expectations of Palestinians and Israelis.

Fighting and conflict increasingly takes place amidst populations, by people who may not be full-time soldiers. Non-state actors. The gap between actor and observer has shrunk in a world in which soldiers may film and record every act, militaries monitor their own people to control and focus violence, and bystanders and incidentals are able to record what occurs in their midst.

In future conflict we should think of the recording and dissemination of events with digital media as a norm, and note the absence of it as a directed effort. We see this playing out in Gaza today, with Israel working hard to keep out journalists, closing media outlets, and restricting access to the conflict. Regardless, people living in Gaza are sharing images recorded on consumer-level cameras and cell phones via the Internet and cell phone networks, as exemplified on this Al Jazeera labs site, War on Gaza.

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