Monday, September 7, 2009

International Communication: How Far Can We Reach?

The historical context that surrounds international communication lends itself to a causal interpretation in regard to the “reach” of communication and its perceived effectiveness.  It seems intuitive that the farther that a communication medium reaches, the more successful the empire becomes.  As Thussu notes, this is seen quite clearly from the early days of the Roman empire to the more common advent of the telegraph and even within the business context of modern-day commerce.  In each case, communication that reaches the farthest corner in the most efficient manner is unequivocally the more successful enterprise.  Even prior to reading Thussu’s article this notion seems intuitive and I was hard-pressed to imagine a case where this structure of communication could falter.

The case study that Thussu provides regarding the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment was by all accounts setting up to be another concrete example of how innovative methods of communication will yield successful results.  However, in the SITE example, this is not the case.  The experiment proved to be a failure and I, along with what I assume to be quite a few Indian Government and UNESCO personnel am left frustrated and confused.  Why did this experiment fail with the population in rural India?  It was an an innovative communication technique laced with relevant information, in appropriate languages, that could be assumed would be helpful to the targeted population.  This was not simple propaganda as has been used in many other (successful) examples- this was information that could help farmers yield better crops and help children become more educated.  Yet the “results were not very encouraging” (Thussu, p 29).

I am stricken by the failure of this specific example because of the implication that context and community play potentially determining factors in its result.  As a Westerner, this example seems to be set up in an appropriate manner with an admirable objective and ethically stable motives.  Its failure can only point to the intangible variables within the construct of the experiment and will hopefully yield insightful results as it is (has) been studied more closely.  Is there a certain level of evolution needed for high levels of communication to be successful?  As these rural communities had little form of communication prior, perhaps utilizing such a technologically advanced medium produced a level of distrust within the population.  Without the ability to identify with the programming, these villagers were unable to transfer the communicated lessons into their real life work.  I can only speculate as to where we can improve in using communication for developmental purposes and I look forward to investigating more cases similar to the SITE.

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