Communication at the heart of change. Reflections from SIDbaires Chapter
'Although media is global from a technical point of view, it is still not global as a concept...We are witnessing a new way of creating culture. But the new media should not be taken as a panacea, because it ultimately refers to the channel rather than the content of what is communicated.
by Marcelo Garcia
Communication is at the heart of change, not simply as mediation but as an arena where a community builds its destiny via politics. In our hyper-media societies, the perception of communications has replaced the direct perception of the world. Communications has to do with the political construction of the public space and it is, ultimately, a political struggle for power. Throughout modernity, the media-led construction of public space is gradually overtaking the direct interaction of the individuals.
Modernity's social construction is mostly a virtual reality. Our societies are imagined communities. The press and the media have played a key historic role as a political actor in the construction of our modern societies. But through the decades, its action mutated from that of a political actor to one of an economic, business-oriented actor, which led to a privatization of the (now mediatized) public space. A public space guided exclusively by a market-oriented business logic impacts directly on the representative institutions of democracy. Thinking a communications system for development implies, at least ideally, an effort to place public space again in the hands of the public and to the service of the public. The public as a whole can only be represented by the State. And the State, needless to say, is not the government. The management of State-media (public media) should stand at the avant-garde of a project of communication for development. The surge of new technologies of information and communication is an ineludible aspect to take into account when considering communication for development. We are witnessing a new way of creating culture. But the new media should not be taken as a panacea, because it ultimately refers to the channel rather than the content of what is communicated. In developing societies, new media penetration is still not as strong as in the developed world especially Internet connection and e-literacy.
SID- Buenos Aires Chapter, Communication and Development penetration, though important, is not the only factor to take into consideration. The mass media press, television, radio are still the place where the big collective political orientations are built. While the constructions of political projects bottom-up are more and more becoming a possibility and a reality, the political weight of traditional media should not be underestimated, especially in societies where the media are highly concentrated and where the mainstream media actors historically associated with the establishment in highly fragmented an unequal social configurations tend to play a political role which is staunchly pro-status quo.
This conflict between governments that try with many flaws included to confront with the media establishment is very common in Latin American countries in these days. A debate over media reform that has been going on in Argentina over the last year is an example of the hurdles that governments in these societal configurations may find when they decide to undertake a reform path. The close association between the mass media establishment and the economic establishment, whose project in many cases does not coincide with that of inclusive and sustainable development, turns them into a non-elected force which has the power of imposing an agenda in the short term and a political and cultural project favourable to their interests rather than those of the majority in the long run. Their accountability, meanwhile, is purely linked to a consumers' option in highly concentrated markets rather than to any logic linked to the institutions of democracy.
In the SID Buenos Aires Chapter, we believe communications is neither an input nor purely a channel, but a sphere which has to be regulated by the State in order to create a media environment that is optimal for the many different actors to carry their message on an equal footing. The new technologies move in the right direction in terms of easier access to the tools of communication which are horizontal, but a step prior to the channelling of the message is the power of the individual and the public's stakeholders associated in a political project to be given the necessary conceptual an intellectual tools in order to be able to form their own judgment.
Although media is global from a technical point of view, it is still not global as a concept
On the very contrary, the trends in the agendas most of the public in our societies consume, seems to be moving in a direction in which the local gains increasingly more relevance in its quest with the global. Local agendas continue to condition any good global intention that democratically elected leaders, whose accountability is linked to the national level, may have. A global view is unlikely to develop until global governance becomes a reality something unlikely to happen in the near future. Until then, the battle for development will have to continue to be staged at a national level, which is the level that influences decision-making. The case of media reform in Argentina should be closely watched because it is likely to repeat itself in other developed, developing and underdeveloped societies in the not-so-distant future and, if so, will greatly affect any project of development.
Toward a concept of communications for development
Here we outline a few points regarding what the SID Buenos Aires Chapter believes should be on the table when the concept of communications for development is discussed.
1. A debate on regulation, overseeing and use of the media space in our societies means discussing the use of public space.
2. Public space is physical it is the hardware, the virtual streets of our Era but it is also the possibility of establishing via communications the main ideas, visions and concepts that influence the will and motivations of social groups and individuals.
3. Communications for development must be able to open up the necessary spaces for as many actors as possible to express, in an environment overseen and regulated by the public authority.
4. A communication for development must allow all actors involved in the life of a society to be able to wage a cultural battle on an equal footing. As the alienable owner of the communications spectrum, the State is the actor in charge of distributing the communication tools.
5. There is not private property when we talk about communication, but the administration of the right to talk in the public space.
6. The surge of new technologies of information and communication, their dynamic evolution and their interaction with politics, conflate in the construction of new logics for the public space. Their impact is still unpredictable. Their understanding must be thorough but techno-optimism should be avoided.
Marcelo Garcia coordinates the Communication and Culture Department of SID's Buenos Aires Chapter (SIDbaires). He holds a degree in Media Studies and is completing a masters' degree in International Relations (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina). He writes a weekly column on Politics and Press in the Buenos Aires Herald and contributes on communication issues with several other publications.