A Case Study of Sesame Workshop’s Cleaner, Happier, Healthier Intervention in Bangladesh, India, and Nigeria: Reporting on Exposure and Impact
Dina L. G. Borzekowski
The Cleaner, Happier, Healthier hygiene intervention was developed and tested in 2013, featuring the Sesame Workshop characters. Through broadcast television, four public service announcements (PSAs) addressed washing hands with soap, using a latrine, wearing sandals, and drinking clean water. The main audiences were young preschool children and their parents or guardians.
Research occurred in Bangladesh, India, and Nigeria, exploring the reach and impact of these PSAs. Although low percentages, from well-drawn samples of extremely vulnerable populations in these countries, reported awareness and recall of these messages, such percentages can reflect large numbers of viewers. Considering data from the participating children, measures of knowledge and attitudes were associated with engaging in several of the behavioral outcomes. As well, awareness and recall of the PSA messages predicted “all the time” for several of the hygiene behaviors. In contrast, parents’ reports of PSA awareness and recall were not associated with reports of children’s hygiene behaviors.
Conducting reach studies is extremely difficult, especially in developing countries and communities. Despite the challenges, this study is encouraging. Participants reported seeing the messages, and in several models, this “reach” predicted reports of hygiene and health behaviors. Lessons learned from this case study and research can offer valuable insight into the production of future health PSAs, especially with harder-to-reach populations.
Michael Mackert and Marie Guadagno
Advertising as a field and industry often has a contentious relationship with both health communication and public health due to legitimate concerns about how advertising for certain products, such as alcohol and tobacco, could contribute to less-healthy decisions and behaviors. While acknowledging such concerns, advertisers and their approach to solving communication problems could also provide valuable lessons to those working in health communication. Indeed, advertising agencies are designed to develop creative and effective messages that change consumer behavior—and health communication practitioners and scholars aim to change population-level behavior as well. The perspective and approach of the account planner in the advertising agency—a role whose chief responsibility is to bring the consumer perspective into every step of the advertising development process and inspire effective and creative campaigns—would be particularly valuable to those working in health communication. It was account planning work that shifted traditional milk advertising from promoting it as a healthy drink to the iconic “got milk?” campaign, which positioned milk as a complement that makes other food better—an approach that drove positive sales after years of declining milk consumption. Yet many who work in health communication and public health often know little of how advertising agencies work or their internal processes that might be productively adopted. This lack of understanding can also lead to misperceptions of advertisers’ work and intentions. As an example, one might assume dense medical language in prescription drug advertising is intended to add unnecessary complexity to the advertisements and obscure side effects; instead, advertising professionals who work on prescription drug advertising have often been trained on clear communication—but cannot fully utilize that training because of regulations that require medically accurate terminology that might not be comprehensible to most viewers. Improved understanding of how advertisers can act as agents of change, and increased dialogue between the fields of advertising and health communication, could contribute to improved health communication research, practice, and policy.
Jen Ptacek, Kirstin N. Dolick, and Marifran Mattson
Advocacy can be defined as the systematic process set in motion by an individual or group of individuals to encourage, support, and empower others surrounding a topic in need of change. Individuals may become an advocacy group in support of an issue, such as health care, civil rights, environment, or labor. Advocacy groups often serve as mediators between vulnerable/underprivileged populations and policymakers or decision-makers. The Health Communication Advocacy Model (HCAM) is a tested advocacy model comprising five phases including assembling the team, formative research, message development, message implementation, and evaluation. HCAM also includes a correction loop allowing for revisions of campaign messages. The HCAM is an adaptable model that offers a perspective in which advocacy groups may be considered a dynamic framework for building successful campaigns. Once the advocacy group is established, members can agree upon goals and responsibilities and craft a position statement. The group can then develop messages to reach the intended target audience(s). Target audiences may include legislators, the population affected by the issue, and media organizations. When crafting messages, care should be taken to ensure messages are stimulating, motivational, culturally consistent, resource contingent, and without barriers. Advocacy groups may use a number of channels to send messages through, such as social media, rallies, press releases, and other media outlets. Overall, advocacy groups must address a variety of needs to effectively reach the target audiences and impact change.
Karyn Ogata Jones
Since McCombs and Shaw first introduced the theory in 1972, agenda setting has emerged as one of the most influential perspectives in the study of the effects of mass media. Broadly defined, “agenda setting” refers to the ability of mass media sources to identify the most salient topics, thereby “setting the agendas” for audiences. In telling us what to think about, then, mass media sources are perceived to play an influential role in determining priorities related to policies, values, and knowledge on a given topic or issue.
Scholars have studied this phenomenon according to both object (issue) salience and attribute salience and along aggregate and individual audience responses. The audience characteristics of need for orientation, uncertainty, relevance, and involvement are advanced as moderating and predicting agenda-setting effects. When agenda-setting theory is applied to the study of messaging related to health and risk communication, scholars have reviewed and identified common themes and topics that generally include media’s role in educating and informing the public about specific health conditions as well as public health priorities and administrative policies.
Agenda setting is often examined in terms of measuring mass media effects on audiences. Looking at interpersonal communication, such as that coming from medical providers, opinion leaders, or peer networks, in studies will allow research to examine the combined effects of interpersonal and mass communication. Testing possible interactions among differing sources of information along with assessment of issue and attribute salience among audiences according to an agenda-setting framework serves to document audience trends and lived experiences with regard to mass media, health, and risk communication.
E. Ann Kaplan and Sally Chivers
Age discrimination, long habitual internationally, is now developing into age panic as longevity becomes the norm. People are increasingly living through their 80s and 90s, threatening social systems—not just health care, but also education, transportation, and economics. A by-product of longevity is Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or dementia more broadly, and this the focus of our essay. Five million people in the United States (the greater part women) currently have Alzheimer’s or dementia, and the figure is projected to grow exponentially as the baby boom generation ages. Fear, and other powerful affects, are generated in the aging Eurocentric public through overwhelmingly negative images of dementia. Prominent circulating AD images portray white, middle-class women and men; they are typically cared for by heroic family members, with the occasional, backgrounded appearances of racialized care workers. Such discourses betray a noticeable ageism, together with gendering, racialization, and medicalization of the illness. The reification of neuroscience studies of AD perpetuates understanding of AD subjects as having lost their subjectivity and as a burden to health-care systems. As the politics of care becomes ever more fraught with the increase in numbers of diagnosed elderly people, media discourses take on particular significance. Largely negative, images have obvious implications for long-term care in discourse and in practice. Since improving care depends on how the AD subject is visualized and conceptualized, critical analyses of works dealing with age panic, and especially how it arises in relation to cultural understandings of dementia, are essential. Critiques by humanists and psychologists may contribute to improving care of AD subjects, both in long-term facilities and “in place.” Improved care can contribute to transforming the popular understanding of a dementia crisis, thus addressing the central impetus of age panic. Meanwhile, new films, fiction, memoirs, and graphic arts projects are powerful complements to psychological studies aimed at developing new ways of seeing AD subjects.
Angela M. Lee
The association between audience fragmentation and journalism is an intricate one. On the one hand, the word “audience” refers to an assembly of a group of consumers, such as book or magazine readers, moviegoers, radio or podcast listeners, television viewers, and website visitors, and they are primarily distinguished by the particular media product, genre, or outlet that they choose to consume. Webster stated in 2016 that oftentimes the purpose and consequence of audience research are financial—i.e., book publishers tend to break down their market by readers of different genres, which allows them to better tailor their content and promotions to relevant audiences in order to maximize book sales—and thus the goal of audience research in such contexts lies in finding the balance between capturing the largest number of media users who share similar consumption patterns and the narrowest content clusters—i.e., those separated by topic or genres.
On the other hand, whereas the purpose of audience conceptualization fundamentally revolves around fragmentation, the motivation for journalism in democratic societies is arguably the opposite. That is, if one were to believe, as Kovach and Rosenstiel posited in 2007, that the purpose of journalism is to inform and educate the people so they can self-govern and make better civil decisions in democratic societies, then it follows that the primary objective of journalism lies in serving as many citizens with the same information as possible. In short, the purpose of audience fragmentation and journalism is—in many ways—ontologically contradictory, with the former being more pluralistic in nature.
The topic of audience fragmentation is approached primarily from a commercial perspective, and in the context of the US market. It should be acknowledged, however, that this topic can and has been approached differently, via critical studies and across other markets. The end of this article offers a cursory comparative analysis between the USA and other Western countries to help contextualize findings from the USA in a global context. For those with deeper interest in such other inquiries, the recommended readings provided at the end of this article may offer a good starting point.
It should be noted that one of the biggest obstacles in the study of audience fragmentation, at least in the USA, lies in the fact that large-scale media reports of such data (e.g., those published by the Pew Research Center) often compare apples and oranges (e.g., either using survey questions with different operationalizations as the basis for comparison or reporting on different facets of audience fragmentation in its longitudinal studies, as this article will explain). To this end, this article is a first step in offering a baseline cross-sectional overview of how American audiences are consuming the news in 2018 via analysis of select Pew data files with comparable sampling method and survey instruments.
Evan K. Perrault
Due to their sheer scope in trying to reach large sections of a population, and the costs necessary to implement them, evaluation is vital at every stage of the health communication campaign process. No stage is more important than the formative evaluation stage. At the formative stage, campaign designers must determine if a campaign is even necessary, and if so, determine what the campaign’s focus needs to be. Clear, measurable, and realistically attainable objectives need to be a primary output of formative evaluation, as these objectives help to guide the creation of all future campaign efforts. The formative stage also includes pilot testing any messages and strategies with the target audience prior to full-scale implementation. Once the campaign is implemented, process evaluation should be performed to determine if the campaign is being implemented as planned (i.e., fidelity), and also to document the dose of campaign exposure. Identifying problem areas during process evaluation can ensure they get fixed prior to the completion of the campaign. Detailed process evaluation also allows for greater ease in replicating a successful campaign attempt in the future, but additionally can provide potential reasons for why a campaign was not successful. The last stage is outcome evaluation—determining if the objectives of the campaign were achieved. While it is the last stage of campaign evaluation, campaign designers need to ensure they have planned for it in the formative stages. If even just one of these stages of evaluation is minimized in campaign design, or relegated to an after-thought, developers need to realize that the ultimate effectiveness of their campaigns is likely to be minimized as well.
Jessica Gall Myrick
Celebrities are famous individuals, well known by many members of the public, who appear frequently in media content. When celebrities appear in the media alongside another cause, be it selling soap or promoting public health, the message becomes a celebrity appeal. Celebrity appeals are messages where a celebrity advocates for or is implicitly associated with a target behavior. In the context of health and risk-related messages, celebrity appeals can take the form of public service announcements, advertisements for health and risk-related products, or even news coverage of a celebrity’s personal struggles with a health issue or risky behavior.
Research on celebrity appeals overlaps with the marketing literature investigating the effects of celebrity endorsements on product preferences and purchasing behavior. This work on the persuasiveness of celebrity endorsements demonstrates that celebrities can draw attention to a product or idea, but also that many other factors, like involvement, familiarity, source credibility, and endorser gender can moderate how persuasive a celebrity-based appeal is. Additionally, research on celebrity disclosures of illnesses reveal that these de facto awareness campaigns can elicit emotions in audiences and motivate behavior change. However, media coverage of celebrities has also been associated with harmful effects on lay individuals’ wellbeing, suggesting important caveats for message designers who rely on celebrities to garner attention for a cause or to motivate lay individuals to change their own health and risk-related behaviors. The existing empirical evidence on celebrity appeals and additional theoretical perspectives for understanding their potential persuasiveness provides many insights for message designers.
Celebrity politicians are having a profound impact on the practice of politics within the United States and United Kingdom in the 21st century. With the adoption of social media platforms, celebrity and image candidates have deployed new strategies for attracting constituents. Taken together, the proliferation of celebrity politics and the ubiquity of digital platforms have fostered a unique atmosphere in the contemporary political moment, wherein “outsider” candidates may leverage their fame to launch themselves into the public spotlight. In turn, through their celebrity brands and digital presence both populists such as the U.S. President Donald Trump and left-wing leaders including U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have established an “authenticity” in which they “occupy” a public space to define their candidacies. Consequently, as celebrities and image candidates promote political agendas among target audiences/citizens, it is necessary to reflect upon their significance in election campaigns, policy agendas, and activism.
Amy E. Chadwick
Climate change, which includes global warming, is a serious and pervasive challenge for local and global communities. Communication theorists, researchers, and practitioners are well positioned to describe, predict, and affect how we communicate about climate change. Our theories, research methods, and practices have many potential roles in reducing climate change and its effects. Climate change communication is a growing field that examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Climate change communication covers a broad range of philosophical and research traditions, including humanistic-rhetorical analyses, interpretive qualitative studies, and social-scientific quantitative surveys and experiments. Climate change communication examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Much of the research in climate change communication focuses on public understanding of climate change, factors that affect public understanding, media coverage and framing, media effects, and risk perceptions. Less prevalent, growing areas of research include civic engagement and public participation, organizational communication, and persuasive strategies to affect attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to the climate. In all of these areas, most of the research on climate change communication has been conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Western European countries. There is a need to expand the climate change communication research into other regions, particularly developing countries. In addition, climate change communication has natural links to environmental and health communication; therefore, communication scholars should also examine research from these areas to develop insights into climate change communication.
Sophie Christman Lavin and E. Ann Kaplan
Ecocinema involves the human gaze looking at cinema through the lens of the environment, in a manner analogous to the way feminists provided the cinematic lens of gender in the 1970s. However, as with feminism, enormous differences pertain in regard to how the ecocinema lens is mobilized.
In analyzing films from the late 1800s to the early 21st century, ecocinema studies has evolved to include critical lines of inquiry from perspectives of psychology, feminism, socioeconomics, science, and activism. Research frames used in these inquiries include: setting and landscape in films, ecological analyses of mainstream and independent fictional films, posthuman cinematic representations, transnational and regional, and more recently, trauma in speculative dystopian films. Ecocinema critics analyze films of various types, including Hollywood, independent, transnational, documentary, animated, art cinema, and especially climate fiction (“cli-fi”) films.
Ramachandra Guha’s transnational typology of environmental ideologies will provide a useful starting place for the mapping of different perspectives in ecocinema. Guha distinguished utopian wilderness environmentalism, pervasive in the United States, from the agrarian focus typical in India. Meanwhile, most developed nations utilize scientific industrial methods to exploit the environment. Oftentimes, these latter approaches are grounded in growth economies and are thus in conflict with the unrealistic ideals of so-called neo-primitivism (NP). Neo-primitivism involves returning to simple, sustainable lifestyles within or close to the natural world—lifestyles that do no environmental damage. NP is beloved by many, but the consensus is that it is idealistic to consider going back to this way of life. A film such as Avatar (produced and directed by James Cameron in 2009) addresses the complexity of diverse constructions of nature by providing examples of utopian wilderness ideology that compete with, and are opposed to, the destructive scientific industrialism that disregards and dominates nature without compunction. Other films, such as Amazon Sisters (Sweeny, 1992), Elemental (Koch, Roshan, & Vaughan-Lee, 2012), Into the Wild (Blocker, Hildebrand, Kelly, & Penn, 2007), or Grizzly Man (Beggs & Herzog, 2005), act as simultaneous celebrations and critiques of wilderness ideologies and deal with gender and racial identities, and thus they have been a central focus of ecocinema scholarship.
Although films from all genres have historically engaged environmental issues, it was rarely in a way that made a self-conscious or critical statement about the human impact on the natural world from the perspective of ecological concerns—this is the focus of ecocinema. See for example, Birt Acres’s Rough Sea at Dover (1895), the Lumiere Brothers’ Oil Wells of Baku (1896), Thomas Edison’s Sorting Refuse at Incinerating Plant, NYC (1903), and the British South Africa Company’s Rhodesia To-Day (1912). In the early 21st century, the genre that most often engages with the contemporary politics of climate change is the documentary. Documentaries, such as An Inconvenient Truth (Guggenheim, 2006), Manufactured Landscapes (Baichwal, 2006), Into Eternity (Eskilsson & Madsen, 2010), Chasing Ice (Ahrens & Orlowski, 2012), E-Waste Tragedy (Esteve, Popp, Úbeda, & Dannoritzer, 2014), This Changes Everything (Cuarón & Lewis, 2015), among others, critique human damage to the planet and thus position viewers as ethical witnesses. Such works hope to influence the outcome of our shared anthropocentric future.
The analyses of ecocinema are addressed using two distinct methods—the macro and the micro. The macro method studies how films represent the large-scale processes of earth-based climate systems, and its lens evaluates how films represent climate and environmental dilemmas facing humans as a species. The micro-lens provides enhanced analyses that explore how gender, race, and class figure into the cultural work climate fantasies perform. This lens indexes the ways in which various cultures are often disproportionately impacted by climate systems.1 Oftentimes the macro and micro levels are both incorporated in a single film and reveal the intersection between climate and culture, as seen in Taklub (Trap, Castillo & Mendoza, 2015), a film that portrays Super-typhoon Haiyan and its impact on residents in Tacloban, Philippines. As background to mapping the texts, evolving science discourses will be emphasized as evidence for global warming but with the understanding that this evidence relies on modeling. Although our main concern with this cultural work in ecocinema is how climate change impacts across gender, race, and class, the inequalities revealed also speak to the politics of climate change evident in cinematic treatments of the issue.
Srinivas Melkote and H. Leslie Steeves
The decades that immediately followed World War II witnessed the political independence of most of the so-called Third World from colonization and the birth of the United Nations, marking the formal beginning of development and directed social change to facilitate it. The role of communication in development (devcom) has evolved according to the overarching goals of the development programs and theories during each historical period since then. The process of modernization, in which devcom was initially nurtured, was influenced by quantitative and empirical social sciences theory, philosophy, and methodology; in particular, it had a strong economics orientation. It has been one of the most powerful paradigms in development study and practice to originate after World War II, with enormous economic, social, and cultural consequences. Concepts and theories that articulated the development of Western Europe and North America were used by sociologists, economists, political scientists, anthropologists, and others to generate development models for countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Mass media were accorded a central position in the modernization paradigm. The use of media for transmission of information and for persuasion, derived from World War II–related psychological warfare research in the United States, were transferred to areas such as extension education, instruction, agricultural, and health extension in development. By the 1970s, the concept of development and change expanded to include many more types of social change guided by different theories, disciplinary influences, geographical considerations, and methodologies. Change now included a widely participatory process of social change in a society and included social and cultural aspects besides the economic. While the participatory mode of communication for development programs and activities was a welcome addition to the devcom toolbox, the definitions of participation reflected a wide variety of approaches. In many contexts, the level of participation required by the people was low and perfunctory.
Toward the end of the 1980s, the concept and practice of empowerment expanded upon the earlier objective of participation in development communication models and practice. Broadly, empowerment is a process by which individuals, organizations, and communities gain control and mastery over their social and economic conditions. The concept and practice of empowerment posed a challenge to the identity and practice of development communication. It changed the way communication was conceptualized earlier and used in development and change work. At present, social justice within the processes of development and social change has gained traction and urgency. In the last 40 years, there has been a steep increase in income inequality and individual opportunity globally. Millions of people are still exposed to life-threatening diseases, malnutrition, hunger, and other debilitating conditions, and have very limited access to basic resources, such as education and healthcare. What are the progressive alternatives to the neoliberal model of directed change? What should be the place and role of devcom in alternative approaches? These concerns are addressed by anchoring ideas within a critical theory of social change for social justice.
Ivar John Erdal
Since the mid-1990s, media organizations all over the world have experienced a series of significant changes related to technological developments, from the organizational level down to the single journalist. Ownership in the media sector has developed toward increased concentration, mergers, and cross-media ownership. At the same time, digitization of media production has facilitated changes in both the organization and the everyday practice of journalism. Converged multimedia news organizations have emerged, as companies increasingly implement some form of cross-media cooperation or synergy between previously separate journalists, newsrooms, and departments. These changes have raised a number of questions about the relationship between organizational strategies, new technology, and everyday newsroom practice. In the literature on convergence journalism, these questions have been studied from different perspectives. Adopting a meta-perspective, it is possible to sort the literature into two broad categories. The first group consists of research mainly occupied with convergence in journalism. These are typically studies of organizational changes and changes in professional practice, for example increased cooperation between print and online newsrooms, or the role of online journalism in broadcasting organizations. The second group contains research primarily concerning convergence of journalism. This is mainly studies concerned with changes in journalistic texts. Some examples of this are repurposing television news for online publication, increased use of multimedia, and genre development within online journalism. It has to be noted that the two angles are closely connected and also share an interest in the role of technological development and the relationship between changing technologies, work practices, and journalistic output.
Laura Loeb and Steven E. Clayman
The news interview is a prominent interactional arena for broadcast news production, and its investigation provides a window into journalistic norms, press-state relations, and sociopolitical culture. It is a relatively formal type of interaction, with a restrictive turn-taking system normatively organized around questions and answers exchanged for the benefit of an audience. Questions to politicians are sensitive to the journalistic norms of neutralism and adversarialness. The neutralism norm is relatively robust, implemented by interviewers adhering to the activity of questioning, and avoiding declarative assertions except as prefaces to a question or as attributed to a third party. The adversarialism norm is more contextually variable, implemented through agenda setting, presupposition, and response preference, each of which can be enhanced through question prefaces. Adversarial questioning has increased significantly in the United States over time, and in some other national contexts. Adversarial questioning creates an incentive for resistant responses from politicians, which are managed with overt forms of damage control and covert forms of concealment. News interviews with nonpartisan experts and ordinary people are generally less adversarial and more cooperative. Various hybrid interview genres have emerged in recent years, which incorporate practices from other forms of broadcast talk (e.g., celebrity talk shows, confrontational debates) within a more loosely organized interview framework. These hybrid forms have become increasingly prominent in contemporary political campaigns and current affairs discussions.
Copyright is a bundle of rights granted to the creators of literary, artistic, and scientific works such as books, music, films, or computer programs. Copyright, as one of the most controversial areas of communication law and policy, has always been the subject of political contention; however, debates surrounding the subject have reached new levels of controversy since the 1990s as a result of the new formats of creative works made possible by digital media, and as a result of the new practices of authorship, creativity, consumption, collaboration, and sharing that have arisen in light of networking and social media. Technological change has not been the only driving force of change; social and political change, including changing concepts of authorship, the recognition of the rights of women and indigenous peoples, and the changing structures of international relations and international civil society, have also been reflected in copyright law. Copyright policymaking has become an increasingly internationalized affair. Forum-shifting has contributed to the proliferation of regional and international copyright policymaking forums under the rubric of stand-alone intellectual property institutions such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as well as under institutions dedicated more broadly to international trade negotiations.
Communication scholars and others have contributed extensively to the field of copyright and intellectual property law. Communication scholars have made significant contributions in examining the cultural significance, political economy, history, and rhetoric of copyright, drawing on diverse fields that include cultural studies and critical political economy. Communications scholars’ influence in the field of copyright scholarship has been significant.
The critical study of cultural and creative industries involves the interrogation of the ways in which different social forces impact the production of culture, its forms, and its producers as inherently creative creatures. In historical terms, the notion of “the culture industry” may be traced to a series of postwar period theorists whose concerns reflected the industrialization of mass cultural forms and their attendant marketing across public and private spheres. For them, the key terms alienation and reification spoke to the negative impacts of an industrial cycle of production, distribution, and consumption, which controlled workers’ daily lives and distanced them from their own creative expressions. Fears of the culture industry drove a mass culture critique that led social scientists to address the structures of various media industries, the division of labor in the production of culture, and the hegemonic consent between government and culture industries in the military-industrial complex. The crisis of capitalism in the 1970s further directed critical scholars to theorize new dialectics of cultural production, its flexibilization via new communications technologies and transnational capital flows, as well as its capture via new property regimes. Reflecting government discourses for capital accumulation in a post-industrial economy, these theories have generally subsumed cultural industries into a creative economy composed of a variety of extra-industrial workers, consumers, and communicative agents. Although some social theorists have extended cultural industry critiques to the new conjuncture, more critical studies of creative industries focus on middle-range theories of power relations and contradictions within particular industrial sites and organizational settings. Work on immaterial labor, digital enclosures, and production cultures have developed the ways creative industries are both affective and effective structures for the temporal and spatial formation of individuals’ identities.
Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison
Broadly speaking, cybervetting can be described as the acquisition and use of online information to evaluate the suitability of an individual or organization for a particular role. When cybervetting, an information seeker gathers information about an information target from online sources in order to evaluate past behavior, to predict future behavior, or to address some combination thereof. Information targets may be individuals, groups, or organizations. Although often considered in terms of new hires or personnel selection, cybervetting may also include acquiring and using online information in order to evaluate a prospective or current client, employee, employer, romantic partner, roommate, tenant, client, or other relational partner, as well as criminal, civil, or intelligence suspects. Cybervetting takes advantage of information made increasingly available and easily accessible by regular and popular uses and affordances of Internet technologies, in particular social media. Communication scholars have long been interested in the information seeking, impression management, surveillance, and other processes implicated in cybervetting; however, the uses and affordances of new online information technologies offer new dimensions for theory and research as well as ethical and practical concerns for individuals, groups, organizations, and society.
The six-month-long occupation of the historic city center of Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 became one of the first social uprisings to be thoroughly intermeshed with the creation of old and new media. Graffiti, performance protest, and independent radio proliferated and found its way into the many digitally recorded activist videos shown in community centers, on occupied television, distributed on DVD, and streamed on the Internet. Such media activism attests to continuities and discontinuities with what has been known as “New Latin American Cinema,” that is, the militant and social realist films made in analogue formats that were gaining world attention in the 1960s and 1970s. Oaxaca’s media activism also signals links among diverse leftist social movements and community and collaborative video in indigenous languages from throughout Latin America and beyond. Often called “indigenous video,” these works, like the New Latin American Cinema, have also spawned diverse scholarly interpretations. Although the Mexican student brigades and Super 8 video movement are not usually included in the critical scholarship on New Latin American Cinema, they, too, constitute important precursors for Oaxaca’s media activism and for collaborative and community media in the region. How to understand media militancy and anticolonial struggle, in turn, has changed. These changes reflect technological shifts from analogue film to digital video and the growing impact of indigenous social movements on the political left. Audiovisual militancy has shifted from the denunciation of U.S. neoimperialism and a Marxist-Leninist vision of revolution to broader, more open-ended, antiauthoritarian alliances among filmmakers, anarchists, feminists, indigenous organizations, and diverse other social movements that embrace decolonization. In contrast with anticolonial struggles, decolonization does not necessarily seek to oust a colonizing military force but aims to change colonial relations and their postcolonial aftermath under settler colonial conditions through prefigurative politics.
In the European Union, “television-like” is a legal concept, introduced in 2007 as a part of a political compromise over the scope of the new Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). The European Commission had originally intended to expand the new rules on linear television programming to cover also all new nonlinear audiovisual content services intended for the same audiences online. This approach was objected to by the U.K. government, which saw it as potentially harmful for the growth of the new online media. Although left practically alone in the opposition in the EU decision-making process, the U.K. government managed with the support of the U.K. regulator Ofcom and the U.K. industry alliance to limit the new directive to cover only “television-like” online services. According to AVMSD Recital 24, these services should “compete for the same audience as television broadcasts” while “the concept of ‘programme’ should be interpreted in a dynamic way taking into account developments in television broadcasting.” The vagueness of this concept has left room for very different and even opposing interpretations. A number of national regulatory authorities in Europe as well as the Court of Justice of the European Union argue that parts of some newspaper’s websites can also be classified as video-on-demand services, while Ofcom has systematically excluded all the audiovisual services on the websites of British newspapers from regulation.
Creating a clear definition of “TV-like” content or services is difficult not just because of the vague wording of the EU directive or digital media convergence, but because the whole concept is based on another set of concepts, which definitions are highly dependent on time and context: television, program, and channel as a practice of packaging content into a linear transmission schedule. Early TV was indeed showing radio programming in production, or radio with pictures. From a contemporary perspective, full-length films may seem to be typical content for television, but most of them have originally been made for theatrical distribution. Over the years, audiovisual media formerly known as television has expanded on multiple platforms and its content has also been available in different on demand-type formats for several decades. So depending on your perspective, there is either a plentitude of “TV-like” content services besides the genuine TV or a wide variety of different flavors of television. Currently, it can be argued whether TV is in terminal decline or just integrating with mobile and online media, but it is obvious that any efforts to define “TV-like” content could make sense only as long the traditional, linear type of (broadcast) TV continues to have an important role in our societies and media cultures.
The need to de-Westernize and decolonize communication and media studies is based on criticisms on a dominant elitist “Western” axiology and epistemology of universal validity, leaving aside indigenous and localized philosophical traditions originating in non-Western settings. Scholars of the Global South continue to question a dominant inherent Eurocentric bias that was—and continuous to be—underlying many Anglo-American and European research projects. Scholars warn against a persistent influence of foreign-imposed concepts such as modernity and development, as well as universal assumptions regarding the use of certain categories and ontologies to deconstruct and understand the media around the globe.
While the West is understood more as a center of power than as a fixed geographical entity, de-Westernization asks for a revision of the power relations in global academic knowledge production and dissemination. The most prominent call for de-Westernizing media studies goes back to Curran and Park who, in the early 2000s, encouraged a Western academic community to revise and re-evaluate their theories, epistemologies, methods, and empirical research approaches, especially in research targeting the Global South.
In a similar way, the call for decolonization asks to investigate and question continuing colonial power imbalances, power dependencies, and colonial legacies. It challenges the uncritical adoption of research epistemologies and methods of former colonial powers in solving local problems, as they fail to explain the complexities of non-Western societies and communities, asking for practicing “decolonial epistemic disobedience.” Contrary to de-Westernization aimed at a Western research community, scholars from the Global South have struggled for decades for international recognition of their voices and intellectual contributions to a global academic community. Their ideas draw on post-colonialism, subaltern studies, or a critical-reflective sociology.
Different efforts have been made to address the global imbalance in media studies knowledge generation. However, neither replacing theories with indigenous concepts alone nor being relegated to cases studies that deliver raw data will gain ground in favor of countries of the Global South, as research efforts need to incorporate both local realities and wider contextualization, or the call for a research with a region, not just about or from it. More successful are cooperative South-South efforts, as the thriving scholar networks in Latin America, Africa, or Asia demonstrate.
The de-Westernization and decolonization project is ongoing. Where inequalities appear most pressing are in resource access and allocation, in conference participation, or in publishing opportunities. In this sense, journalism and media studies curricula still reflect largely an Anglophone centrism and a lack of understanding of local issues and expectations. Here, more reflective de-Westernizing approaches can help to lessen the gaps. However, as de-Westernization relies on vague geographical categorizations, the term cannot be the final path to re-balance the academic knowledge exchange between powerful and less powerful actors.