Sunday, October 29, 2006
So more headaches for airline planners and international broadcasters I guess.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Brochure Chaos - the competition for attention
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks.
Today, the final day of WCCD, a lot of time has been spent on trying to come to some final statement or consensus. For most of us, it is clear that broadcasters, IT, donors and development agencies are going to need to work more closely together. Jargon and a lot of competition between agencies in the development world will take some getting used to.
Here are my observations and suggestions for how to move forward after the excellent World Congress on Communication for Development.
The goal was to lay the foundations to ensure communications becomes a central pillar for development projects, rather than an after-thought. In that respect, I think it was a great first step. The fact that the organizers brought together a broad cross-section of practitioners made it interesting for me. Everyone brought a different set of perspectives and disciplines. In total there were 24 thematic sessions, 13 special events and 680 participants, policy makers, academic, grass roots organizations. The log shows around 140 journalists were covering the event. If anyone found it boring, then they came for the wrong reasons.
What did the conference achieve?
Although there was a Rome Consensus issued at the end of the conference, the biggest benefit was the cross-disciplinary exchange between people really on the ground. Too many politicians would have confused the discussion. The idea of having Nobel prizewinners attending was much better. The best speakers had plenty of real-cases to share – especially advice on what works and didn’t work. The fact that people were willing to share their mistakes was a bold move for a conference like this.
The fact that many directors of aid agencies and donors were present was great. I am sure it was an eye-opener for many. Unless they implement policy from the top, it will never empower the ideas coming from the bottom-up.
What needs to happen next?
1. Ideally, we would see a series of regional discussions involving the same broad-cross section of people. These meetings would focus on ways to pull communications higher up the agenda of priorities, especially the communication between agencies on the ground and the people they are trying to assist. But the context and methods to do this are very different depending on where you are. Especially in Africa, there are huge differences even within a region like West Africa.
2. The next phase of regional meetings would start as on-line discussions (using wikis, blogs, and other social software tools) and then turn into a face-to-face meeting. The conversations should have a longer lifetime than the few days when people meet each other. Active participation can be rewarded in the form of grants to meet colleagues face to face.
3. More sharing of good practice (and things that didn’t work) would be extremely useful. I realize that some agencies are concerned that if they share their mistakes, journalists present may create negative publicity in the search for a story. But my experience was that people were willing to be far more candid than I expected - in the workshops rather than in the plenary sessions. In 2-3 years time, there will be enough case studies to make a global meeting like in Rome worthwhile. People learn more from role models with practical stories to tell. It would also be great to hear stories of how partnerships have held up – and what can be done when, inevitably, they come under strain. Does 1+1 always have to equal 2.5? These stories should fit on a few sides of A4. Everyone in the conference was allergic to 50 page justifications which hit the dustbin at airports when you’re trying to go home.
4. I didn’t hear anyone disagree with the premise that communication is essential for any country’s development. How and when that is done needs more study. It is clear to me that ICT and broadcast are rapidly becoming areas where there is overlap. No broadcast station can survive without ICT – it is an essential production and aggregation too.
5. Radio (especially) and TV provide the point to multi-point contact with the community. The clever organizations use such tools to be a catalyst for a conversation inside that community. Broadcasting is not shouting a message – it is finding ways to share it. Broadcasters are becoming more content production houses. There are now plenty of examples of cross-media concepts, where a combination of radio, TV, mobile and web is making a more effective mix.
6. Just as there are different ways of communicating inside a community, so there are different phases in the lifetime of a communications plan. Communication to raise funds and awareness in donor countries is a completely different stream to the task of communicating in the area where an agency is active. And the communications plan for helping immediately after a disaster should go through several distinct phases as time progresses. Otherwise, as people pick up their lives, the information flow does not adapt to their changing needs.
7. Broadcasters also need a clear “exit strategy”, showing at what point they will trust the people they have trained. I heard several complaints about how foreign broadcasters/NGOs were now distorting local markets because their initial goal had been fulfilled. Local broadcasters also need help in working on realistic business models, with or without sustained subsidy. Each solution will depend on the local context.
8. Aid agencies also need to understand how to work with the commercial media sector. In many countries, there is an assumption that the local public/state broadcaster is the natural partner for NGO’s. In some countries, the market share of the government broadcaster has dropped to an all time low – often because of a lack of press freedom and/or transparency. Commercial broadcasters, on the other hand, have a completely different business case immediately after a disaster, when 50-100% of their advertising revenue goes away.
9. The media studies currently being done by various agencies (USAID, BBC World Service Trust to name a few) will be extremely useful in making more practical communications plans. Hopefully, they will be in the public domain.
10. Content is important. But so is the context. Each concept needs to be adapted to fit the cultural context. And the future is broader than broadcasting – what happens in a country with radio and TV is becoming closely linked to a country’s policy on Internet and mobile telephony. It is very important that people think sideways.
11. The community radio sector needs to provide more documented cases of why rural radio can empower a community. Many of the presentations I saw were too defensive and concentrated on how they had built a station and what they were doing with the money. Working from the premise “this community does not need a radio station unless….” is a better starting point.
12. Donors need to have a clearer understanding of the costs involved in making useful, interesting content. Many regional/local stations in Europe cannot produce community news/current affairs programmes without a subsidy from regional or national government. Yet, many donors believe it is possible to do the same in remote parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa. Often, locals come up with ingenious ways of working towards sustainability (acting as a communications hub for the village, offering SMS market info, having shares in mobile phone companies). May be the World Bank can offer prizes to reward those with the best business plan that has been shown to work?
13. Convergence is creating new professions. One emerging profession is the development communicator – someone who understands how the development/donor industry works and has journalistic skills to understand the context in which stories need to be told. You need an overview of the various communication channels emerging in developing countries and how they can interact. That means you need to look sideways as well as forward. I know of no institution that is training in this way. The World Bank and/or Communication Initiative could be a catalyst in this respect – convening rather than doing the training themselves.
14. Practical Point; Make sure that workshop sessions are held in a room with chairs in a circle, not a lecture theatre. The round-table encourages people to see others as equals and it is much easier to communicate. The role of the chairperson is much easier too, as he or she can drive the discussion much better when they are not up on a stage. I thought the quality of discussion after the presentations was better in rooms with a forum layout.
Tape Recorder Collection
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks.
Spent a few hours this morning at the radio museum inside the Vatican Gardens. Filmed a lot of very interesting equipment which forms part of a collection of the last 75 years of Vatican Radio. Check out more shots on my Flickr pages. They are actually stills from a HD camera....actually rather pleased the way they turned out.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks.
Buses left the FAO to take people back to the out-of-town hotel and then on to a gala buffet back downtown. Since, I wasn’t going to spend 2 hours on a bus just to change a tie, I wandered the 20 minutes from the FAO past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the Palace. It is still remarkably warm for this time of year. Great talking with fellow participants from the Economist and Open Media.
Community Radio Discussion
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks.
I went along to a session today on community radio. Held in the Mexico room, it was actually overstuffed with people. It was a shame that the people from AMARC, the world association of community radio, just talked about what they are doing, rather than why they are doing it. There was no real discussion of why community radio was not specifically mentioned in the final “Rome Consensus Draft version”. AMARC Africa’s current management problems didn’t come up, although the crisis is well known amongst donors. AMARC needs to show the clear business case as to why radio is so powerful in keeping communities talking with each other. To quote Bush Radio’s Zane Ibrahim, the best stations are 90% community and 10% radio – not the other way round. I get the impression few community stations are doing follow up research on their effectiveness.
AMREF Student Reporters at WCCD
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks.
The African Medical & Research Foundation is training former street children in Nairobi to express themselves with video diaries. They were having the time of their lives - and asking very searching questions. Hope we get to see the final results.
Great to meet Gordon Adam this afternoon, formerly BBC and now in the broadcast consultancy business, especially in developing countries. He runs Media Support out of an office in North Kessock, Rossshire in Scotland. He's just back from Afghanistan.
Gordon made an interesting contribution to several sessions and submitted a paper on the problem facing this part of the industry.
It is very difficult to find people who are suitably qualified for this type of work in communication for development. Journalists don’t understand development nor do they have the patience to grasp the research methods needed to show long term effects. Development people don’t understand how to communicate and the gang PR go for the hard sell which may work on the short term, but not in the long. The aid agencies understand how to communicate to donor countries to raise funds, but not how to organize camapaigns to help locals who are affected by disaster.
Many of the development agencies do not understand the skill set required to do this kind of job. They don’t want to hire people straight from university because they don’t have any field experience. The aid agencies need to hire more people with practical journalistic experience. There are so few universities that offer courses in this combined skill set.
Steven Sackur prepares for BBC World Debate
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks.
Day 2 at the WCCD conference in Rome started with an interesting insight into the way TV manages forums. It was a “live to tape” recording of an edition of BBC’s World debate series, this time on the subject of press freedom. People were invited to put their questions on a form – four were chosen and asked to ask their question during the programme. So it wasn’t quite like the BBC's Any Questions, where the host has a mix of prepared questions and reactions from the audience. Still, presenter Stephen Sackur is good at getting to the point; he’s firm but also fair. The title "Is a free media essential for development?" was, of course, open to what you mean by free. China seems to be developing quite well thank you without anything like a free press or electronic media. India has a great tradition of freedom of the press, but government TV and radio are a shambles. Sackur had a go at the DG of Nigerian TV Authority, Dr Tonnie Osa Iredia, pointing out that BBC WS radio relays on FM had been taken off the air in Nigeria. The response was that the BBC had not followed the right procedure and that Nigeria was unable to have equivalent access to the Nigerian diaspora living in the UK.
Daniel Kaufmann of the World Bank thought China would actually develop much faster, especially in rural areas, if they had freedom of the press. Press are good watchdogs on corruption. There are good examples in Chile, Costa Rica, and Benin where press freedom is contributing to development. But Kaufmann warned that for every country that sees the light, other countries are tightening the grip. So there may be new players in the last 10 years, but the overall progress is slow.
The programme was useful for the participants at the conference by demonstrating to both broadcasters and aid agencies that a lot of what’s talked about is full of their respective jargon. It brought a clearer focus to some of the discussions later that day.
The show is also aired on BBC World Service radio and Sackur had to record a whole series of continuity links before the mystified audience – presumably so editors can match the acoustics later. In the area of freedom of speech, I am more interested in countries that allow freedom AFTER a speech. A lot of self-censorship still goes on. I also get the impression that BBC World, CNN and CNBC are all watching each other – but ignoring the improved coverage that Euronews is putting out. Their coverage of the “non-Anglo Saxon” agenda is a lot better than it used to be.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
In the production process, computers are now an integrated part of the work flow – the razor blades used to cut magnetic tape are obsolete, being replaced by editing software Having used both, I can tell you I do not miss physically cutting 1/4inch recording tape for second.
In December 2003, it was becoming clear that computer technology was going to play an important role in the advancement any, but especially developing countries. Broadcasters, meanwhile, were talking about freedom of the press, but the whole ICT world was seen as something to do with phones rather than microphones – a different, if not parallel universe.
Last year, the second phase of the WSIS was held in Tunis, Tunisia. It may have been a networking event for some. For many of us, the current state of press freedom in Tunisia – and the ludicrous length to which the Tunisian authorities cracked down on any form of discussion about press freedoms – stalled the discussion. It wasn’t clear from Tunis 2005 what involvement most broadcasters and development agencies would have in future conferences.
That’s why I have been pleased to see genuine progress at a conference put together in Rome by the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and a Canadian based group called the Communication Initiative. It worked because the aim was simply to bring people of different disciplines together to see if the theory that communication is essential for development is really true. After all, some countries like China have managed to grow their economies at remarkable rates but having a very central, controlled media and communications infrastructure? Are there arguments to show that the growth would have been even more sustainable had freedom of the press existed?
Yes there are. China is trying to fight enormous problems of corruption. Since journalists are not encouraged to expose wrong-goings of those in power, the situation is getting worse. In Uganda, on the other hand, Paul Mitchell of the World Bank explained on Wednesday 25th October that
In 1995 for every dollar spent on education by the government in Uganda, only 20 cents reached the schools for which the grants were intended. They then publicised when transfers were made and by 2001, 80 cents of every dollar reached the schools. Targeted communications assisted transparency efforts. Communication empowered people to get the help they wanted and were entitled to.
In short, the audience is up to something. The good news is that people in the broadcast and development “industries” are realisng that technology at its best is a facilitator, or a tool. Successful communications are socially and culturally based, so the context is so important too. ICT has helped some nations to accelerate their growth. But the gap between the have and have not’s is still widening. The right combination of communication techniques could help empower the 854 million people on the planet who count themselves lucky if they get one meal a day. So a lot still needs to be done.
Disaster Communications or Fundraising
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks.
Many of the meeting rooms are named after countries that are members of the FAO. In the Iran room this afternoon I went to a curious session on disaster communications – dominated by US aid organizations.
There was confusion during the session between what is communicated immediately after a disaster to the people in donor countries – and what is communicated to people in the area affected by the disaster. Most of the speakers at the session were busy with communications to the public after a disaster and seem to have two goals – a) raising money. B) raising brand awareness that their organization is actively involved. There were plenty of statements by the aid organizations with how they “use” the media to get the message across. That may have a short-term effect but in the mid- and long term many of those policies are a disaster in itself. The relationship between the traditional media and many aid organizations is frosty, partly because post-Tsunami reports have been exposed in the media that were not complimentary about the way agencies competed against each other. The relationship between most aid agencies and the “new media”, i.e. the blogosphere I would categorize as non existent. If you can’t prove to many of the organizations that you are working for a mass-media outlet, then you’re simply not part of the circus.
Listening to the presentations made me even more convinced of the need for broadcasterswithoutborders.org . No one seems to be concentrating on putting back FM radio services in areas affected by disaster for a period of up to 2 years after the event. Plenty of organizations are looking at disaster impact reduction. I would argue that some organizations like BBC World Service trust are busy with health and welfare programmes designed for areas with mid- to long term information needs. But the information needs immediately after a disaster are completely different. And each country seems to have a different mix of state, public and private broadcasting. Aid agencies assume that immediately after a disaster, radio stations are eager to provide a public service, in the same way the BBC or NOS would do in Britain or Holland. But many of the countries hit by the Tsunami have state broadcasters with little or no market share. Popular commercial local broadcasters are trying to run a business – public service is not in their charter. When crisis strikes, they lose 50%-100% of their income from advertisers, so paying the salaries of journalists over a 6 month period becomes the single focus of the station owners. Aid agencies assume they will not have to pay for airtime – often choosing the wrong outlets based on price rather than market-share. In short, a proper communications strategy to locals in not in place for most countries. Both USAID and BBC WS Trust are working on media profiles of various states which is being made public. I’m curious to see what it will recommend.
For the record, this WCCD defined Communication for Development . . .
• Is, first and foremost, about people and the process needed to facilitate their sharing of knowledge and perceptions in order to effect positive developmental change - media and technology are tools to this end, but not ends in themselves.
• Is based on dialogue, which is necessary to promote stakeholders' participation. Such participation is needed in order to understand stakeholder perceptions, perspectives, values, attitudes and practices so they can be incorporated into the design and implementation of development initiatives.
• Follows the two-way, horizontal model and not the traditional one-way, vertical model of Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver and increasingly makes use of emerging many to many forms of communication made possible through new technologies. Even when used along more unidirectional models (e.g., campaigns), communication needs to facilitate the understanding and taking into account of people's perceptions, priorities and knowledge.
• Gives voice to those most affected by the development issue(s) at stake, allowing them to participate directly in defining and implementing solutions and identifying development directions.
• Recognizes that reality is largely socially constructed. The implications are that there can be different realities (or different perceptions of the same reality) for the same situation according to specific groups' perceptions and needs. Thus the role of development and by extension communication is not to "impose" the correct reality, but rather to foster dialogue to facilitate mutual understanding among different perspectives. Communication for development therefore, respects and works with the different social, religious and cultural foundations of the people, communities and nations engaged in development processes.
• Is contextual. There is no universal formula capable of addressing all situations and therefore it should be applied according to the cultural, social and economic context.
• Uses a number of tools, techniques, media and methods to facilitate mutual understanding, define and bridge differences of perceptions, and take action towards change, according to the particular needs of the development initiative. These tools and techniques should be used in an integrated way and are most effective when used at the beginning of development initiatives.
Amid all the enthusiasm for new technology, let us not forget the role of more traditional media. Radio, and in particular rural radio, which is produced with local audience participation and broadcast in local languages, is a highly effective channel for transmitting information on a wide range of issues to often remote areas.
Dr Jacques Diouf, Director General of the FAO in his presentation to the WCCD.
It is a shame Diouf has to dash off immediately after his keynote. I would like to have heard more examples from him. But he's right and FAO's and the World Bank's support for rural radio is very important that this stage of their development. Independent media should hold governments accountable for their actions in the court of public opinion. The bank says it now believes that building empowered media environments are critical to development. A free flow of information is crucial in the fight against poverty, because it helps everyone share their experiences. Development doesn’t work on its own. It also brings reactions and views from people who donors are trying to help. Journalists need the access to report fairly on issues and the capacity to report in the public interest.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Just spent Friday and Saturday filming DJ's, VJ's and others in the music business at the annual Amsterdam Dance Event, ADE. The music biz may be cut-throat, but I have to say the people in this sector are some of the kindest on the planet. You need passion for music in order to survive - and an ability to operate for 20 hours at a stretch. If you're into dance music, this 3 day event is probably the best time to visit Amsterdam - not only for the conference, but also for the social networking. 2007 is going to be a special year, which is why I've been getting more footage as part of a team working on "The Future Sound of Dance" documentary. We did well - 6 hours of great footage. It seems a lot clearer this year where the scene is going. I'll be shaping the HD footage into theme in November.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The guys at Engadget are reporting that Sony announced late Thursday (today) that it would be recalling a total of 9.6 million batteries worldwide, including 90,000 of its own Vaio batteries. The battery recall has cost the company so far a total of ¥51 billion ($429 million) from July to September. I think it will cost Sony even more. How is Sony going to cope with nearly 10 million batteries coming back - presumably for destruction rather than modification? These things have to go into special chemical waste trucks in the Netherlands. Wonder which company is being hired to handle this disaster and whether they'll tell us what they're planning to put into the enviroment?
Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 comes out of Beta today. I see the competition were clever in bagging www.ie7.com a bit earlier. I'd recommend the new version of Firefox which seems to be more stable. I am still getting errors on some sites, even though I have purged my PC of the beta versions and gone through a 20 minute process of upgrading to the first public release of IE7. Now that my bank doesn't need IE any more, I am considering to dump IE7 altogether.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Audioblogger exits the field. I see that as of November 1st the audio-extension to Blogger software is closing its doors for new contributions (though they continue to host existing audio indefinitely which is nice of them). With people like Godaddy starting to host podcasts at resonable prices, as well as the existance of Skype, the audioblogger business model is never going to make any money.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Google's boss has been wandering around media properties in New York city at the end of the week trying to persuade people that Google is not in the content business. This, of course, is complete rubbish. They search, find and catalogue content. As such, most broadcasters are glad that they exist - and scared that they will build a new EPG of their content. Its all about access.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Friday, October 13, 2006
I see external broadcaster DW in Bonn is experimenting with Octoshape as a P2P delivery system for video (click on the image to enlarge). Problem with most video systems is that they crash when they get busy. Octoshape is a Danish company that has a solution - basically your viewers make the network, providing they down load a small application. Think Skype, but then on-line TV.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Turning in a Model 3 today as the lease is ending. Also changing brands. This car was great to drive, but the software in the navigation system was a nightmare, freezing all the time and only being restored when you ejected the CD-ROM from the player in the trunk. But my main reason for not wanting to continue was the way I was treated by BMW lease...there you are a number (a license number) and definitely not a person. Getting their attention was a nightmare.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Looks to me like there is an orchestrated "let's slam BBC WS" on Richard Sambrook's blog at the moment. Obviously, the audience figures will be the measure as to whether BBC succeeds with its Iranian TV operation. That will be difficult to measure accurately, especially as I guess it will be between 2-4% when it starts up, depending which satellite they choose - probably Hotbird. If it is indeed "Speaking to Iran" it will be as effective as IRIB-TV "speaking to London". If it provides a dialogue, rather than a monologue, it has some chance of success.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Monday, October 09, 2006
So Google snaps up You-tube for a mere 1.65 billion dollars. Doesn't that sound like the failed AOL-Time Warner deal from a few years back. Yes, you-tube has built a community although it still hasn't figured out a proper business model - and if they start forcing people to watch ads in the middle of what they believe is already theirs, You Tube will become the Boob Tube overnight. But this has to be the most expensive mistake in Google's history. The investor webcast doesn't shed much light on the real thinking...
Google CEO Eric Schmidt is asked if Google Video will be replaced. “Google Video does not go away, ever,” he says. YouTube will remain a seperate brand, community and experience within Google. “We want to preserve that,” said Schmidt.
Why for heavens sake?
“In the last 48 hours, we’ve been rushing to create a list of all the integration points with Google,” says YouTube co-founder Steve Chen. Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the first step will be to integrate YouTube into Google’s search functionality.
And recent copyright lawsuits in the wings? No clear answer. I'm glad I don't have Google stock on that one.
“When we looked at the marketplace there was a clear winner in the social networking side of video,” Eric Schmidt says. “And that’s what really drove us to begin the conversations.”
So again, why keep Google video???
Doesn't it seem strange that on the day that North Korea explodes an underground nuclear device, Korea's official news agency KCNA doesn't update it's website? Clearly, this development is not something we need to worry about. Yea, right. I wonder if anyone subscribes to this "service" and pays real money. And why the Japanese tolerate this news agency on their soil? Thanks to Lou Josephs for the tip.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Saturday, October 07, 2006
The DVD of the second series of the Channel 4 comedy series "Green Wing" has arrived here. Looks like a few evenings will be devoted to watching another 8 epiodes back-to-back. The writing of this non-hospital series set in a hospital is truly brilliant. Also appreciate they have several "Directors' Commentaries" on the DVD. They must truly have enormous fun making this lunatic stuff.
Friday, October 06, 2006
You call this number and get a free call to anywhere (in the US). But the catch is that you consent to have the call recorded and possibly put up on this website. Are they exciting to listen in to? No, intensely mundane. Watch this concept disappear quickly. How much are you really saving using a scheme like this?