Media representations: who wins and who loses?

It becomes visible that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) represent the fastest, broadest and deepest technical change experience in international development, also commented by Heek (2018, p. i). ICT and new media are considered as important aspects of development and social change, while reflecting on existing media, the communication context and practices in the previous blog posts of this blogger on the topic: journalism.

Several blog posts have been created to question or wonder about:

  • Whether to trust or not to trust global media coverage? – examining the language of truth or falsity and the information disorder, policy and elements such as the ‘agent’, ‘message’ and ‘interpreter.’
  • The visuals or images used in media representation – whether the images are used and interpreted correctly or abused to create sentiment and affiliation by the publishing journalist or organization, and no ‘visual turn’ is used?
  • The risks and challenges of participatory journalists – also called citizen journalists or activists – who are dismissed or gone missing after being involved in the context or up headed discussion striving for social and/or political change?
  • Or the influence of the increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that speed up the process for finding data to publish news coverage – what possibly affect traditional journalists and what to say about the reliability of the data?

All in all, ”cui bono?”, alias ”who wins, and who loses”? remains the question while analyzing the theme ICT4D, Aid Work and Communication Development but also touching upon topics such as New Media, Activism and Development and Social Media, Datafication and Development; looking at the citizen journalism/ activist aspects as well as AI processes and the speed of datafication developments in this 21st century. Because which actor benefits in this ‘international development’ process – looking at the expanded global journalistic coverage and the active global ‘sound board’ of these online digital communication developments? Who is doing, or thinking, right or wrong?

Report The Abuse

Source: ”Let’s safe Africa – gone wrong”, Rusty Radiator Award winner of 2013 (Radi-Aid, 2020)

Talking about doing wrong or right in nature of the ‘digital world’ including its rapid changes and fluid interactions; there are initiatives like the Rusty Radiator Award and the Raid-Aid Awards – who celebrate the best and the worst development fundraising videos. The aim is to break down stereotypical representations. The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) is a solidarity organization of students and academics in Norway. The Raid-Aid Award is an initiative of the SAIH, who believe that through media, the audience is often presented with one sided and oversimplified representation of countries and people in the global South (Radi-Aid, 2020).  What can be done better according to the Radi-Aid is to avoid a one-sided representation of a single story. Furthermore the target group represented should have ownership and an active role in providing solutions, other than representing a ‘white hero’ principle. Often it is remarked that the people which are portrayed, resonate with the audience in situations and emotions. Instead of feeling of sorry and disconnection from the reality, it advised to create solidarity and connection instead of disconnection (Radi-Aid, 2020).

Looking at the example of ”Let’s safe Africa – gone wrong” (Rad-aid, 2013), it can be said that Rad-Aid tries to award creative fundraising campaigns with a Golden Radiator Award and stereotypical campaigns with Rusty Radiator Award. The video seek to advocate stereotypes and had gone viral on YouTube, circulated on social media and mainstream media among Norway and the western civilization. The question remains if it is ethical to promote advocacy campaigns. Michael is portrayed as ‘the fundraising actor’, who knows exactly how to perform when confronted with Western charity workers. Though with such a development practice with an ethical backdrop, one need to be careful representing such a challenging popular representations and promoting the particular participatory development ethics of donations. The author of this blog feels that careful consideration needs to be done prior awarding or broadcasting the video – before going viral. What are the consequences and effects? What is the aim of Rad-Aid? Yet, the objectives of Rad-Aid are placed on their website; and stated a more nuanced form of information, not oversimplifying half-truths, creating and engaging portrayals in charity ads and people’s understanding of the development world of today. Though, still the author of this blog feels that it is tricky to fight these representations because of the moral intentions of Rad-Aid.

Source: ”Africa for Norway – new charity single out now”, Radi-Aid (2020).

Another example of is the Radi-Aid video ”Africa for Norway”, spreading the contrasting development campaign calling on Africans to donate radiators to Norway. The music video exceeded the expectations of the creators and was viewed on YouTube more than a million times (The Guardian, 2012). The campaign earned media coverage in multiple languages and global media platforms such as the Guardian, BBC and the blog sphere. With the campaign Radi-Aid aimed to create a lasting effect on the way people think, and the way media, organizations and people in general talk about Africa in particular. It can be said that Radi-Aid engages with the field of development ethics that explores questions of good development of societies and has an activist approach – to change social behavior for the better and that there is not a sufficient frame of understanding. Though, it can be seen as Band-Aid, given the context; creating a division between ‘us’, ‘them’, ‘rich’ and ‘developed’, sharing the boundaries of both controversies – focusing on passive recipient dependent on charity.

ICT for Development (ICT4D)

After looking at these examples of Radi-Aid above and examining the previous blog posts on global media representations, image representations, citizen journalism and AI; it can be seen that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) plays an important role in our increased digital world – focusing on information, the capability of technology and the nature of our information systems. It is even remarked that more people have now access to a mobile, than have access to secured piped water or electricity (Mitullah et al. 2016 in Heeks, 2018, p. 1). With Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), one can analyze the contribution to international development, the role of policies and the challenges and questions that arise with the developments and practices that occur. As Heeks stated, ICT4D can be defined as ‘’the application of any entity that processes or communicates digital data in order to deliver some part of the international development agenda in a developing country’’ (2018, p. 11).

Figure: the relation between data, information and knowledge (Heeks, 2018, p. 7)

Referring to the blog posts on language of truth or falsification and the influence of AI systems in journalism, it can be remarked that data can be seen as raw and unprocessed information. Whereas information is data that can be processed to make it useful to the recipient; and knowledge is the information that can been integrated in a coherent framework of understanding in the human intellect. So data and information is used interchangeably because knowledge explains information, and knowledge filters and processes data. Without human intervention and interpretation by transmitting this knowledge there would be no transaction. Since world citizen live in a ‘knowledge society’ as indicated by Heeks (2018, p. 26) instead of ‘information society’ – after the 1980s when personal computer become more a common place; knowledge becomes more valuable than information. The author of this blog argues that arrows in figure should not point information and data but should point in the other direction to information and knowledge – having more and more information and increased knowledge why developments occur and therefore being capable of building a common understanding what takes place in our globalized world – rather than relying on false news coverage, knowing or interpreting that cannot be the case.

Source: viral tweet claimed that swans returned to the canals of Venice (National Geographic, 2020)

An illustration of this mentioning above, is the example of fake news about COVID-19 that occurred on Twitter about animals: that Swans had returned to the deserved Venetian canals, so did Dolphins. Same as a group of elephants who strolled through the village in Yunnan, China. The Tweets went viral on the Twitter, Instagram and TikTok; that the animals were bouncing back, running free in a human less world as a consequence of the measures taken against the COVID-19 crisis. Though this was not true. Since the swans regular appear in the canals of Venice; whereas the dolphins were filmed in Sardinia – miles away from Venice and the presence of elephants was also not out of the norm. The initial Tweets got an exceptional number of likes, due to feel good factor in time of the pandemic – what resulted in a ‘greed for virality’, what may drive to the impulse of misinformation.

In addition, looking at images and citizen journalism aspect of media representations in the authors previous blogs; it can be remarked that there is a more ‘open development’ due to the new ICT-based developments, that enables greater access, participation and collaboration in developments. According to Heeks (2019, p. 29) there is a greater framework for understanding the world. For instance by sharing views with other people, and then collectively build more knowledge. Looking at the COVID-19 crisis in particular, and scientists over the entire world try to share and build their knowledge to create a medicine for the Corona virus to protect and prevent the virus worldwide.

Coming back to the different actors in the international development process, the expanded global journalistic coverages and the ‘sound board’ of who is doing, thinking right or wrong; it remains difficult to state ‘who wins’ and ‘who loses’ and perhaps there is not even a winner looking at the framework of knowledge. The prediction of ICT4D might be difficult to estimate, but it becomes evident that it comes with challenges and risks. It remains tricky to estimate future trends, but technologies and ICT will most likely emerge in the next decade ahead. The author of this final blog post foresees that communication, collaboration and the quality of data and content becomes significantly important; as well as knowledge, open access and open content for development aspect of this phenomenon.

Authors note:

To conclude the blogger of these blogs on Journalism, felt that the different blog posts felt into one theme – discussing elements of ICT4D, Aid Work and Communication Development but also touching upon elements of the other themes including New Media, Activism and Development and Social Media, Datafication and Development. Therefore, the author got a broader view on ICT4D and forms of new media, and the important aspects of development and social change. It becomes clear that ICT can act as an instrument for social change, looking at the emerging online media coverage, the speed of datafication and rise of citizen journalism. Aspects such as activism and innovations in technologies should not be neglected by organizations and governments, whereas policies should be created looking at the aspects of information disorder.

All in all the author can say that she sees the importance of technologies, ICT development and blogger sphere – in relation to the Communication for Development perspective. It remains crucial to examine the developments and the importance of communication in development. Something the author became aware of while working oversees – and being surprised about the information and communication gap, misleading information or ‘not-knowing’ aspect. There is a strong link between ICT4D and ComDev, whereas the author sees the value of this blogging exercise in this particular MA study.

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