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‘Covering the War’ Tops ICC Agenda

The events of September 11 took center stage through intercultural eyes at the 19th Intercultural Communication Conference (ICC). Over a period of three days, February 21-23, the University of Miami's School of Communication hosted its annual convention at its beautiful, lush campus in Coral Gables, Florida. The keynote speakers for this year's ICC were the famous Everett Rogers of the University of New Mexico and Arvind Singhal of Ohio University.

One of the two spotlight sessions was dedicated to "Covering the War in Afghanistan." The session featured Larry Doyle of CBS News; Eason Jordan of CNN International; Mike Kirsch of WFOR-TV, the Miami-owned and operated CBS station; and Jeffrey Kofman of ABC News. It was moderated by Professor Samuel Roberts of the University of Miami. While the journalists agreed that it's extremely dangerous for reporters to be on the front lines, they acknowledged the fact that it's imperative, especially in the case of the war in Afghanistan, since the United States is the primary party involved.

Journalists with any kind of war experience are at an advantage, said Doyle, because even the slightest sounds can alert them to where the danger is. He filled the crowd in on some of the logistical arrangements for the coverage of the war. For example, CBS and ABC shared some of the resources, including a satellite feed and the basic housing arrangement for their staffs. Jordan said CNN was at an advantage because they already had staff stationed in Afghanistan. "We cover the world differently," he said. "We've had people in Afghanistan for the better part of three years."

During the session, examples of live coverage of the war were shown. Also shown was footage of the shared living arrangements for CBS and ABC. The "camp," as Doyle called it, was a basic house built in the middle of the desert, and equipped with phone lines and basic satellite feeds on one side, and sleeping and living quarters on the other. CNN, having been there "very fast," as Jordan put it, and having staff already stationed there, was able to get the Northern Alliance to ship their equipment in a helicopter to where it needed to be. Jordan said covering the war in Afghanistan was the most expensive operation CNN ever went through in its 22 years of age, costing about $40 million, and currently about $5 million per month to maintain the coverage.

The journalists also discussed Daniel Pearl, the American Wall Street journalist who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan. They agreed that what happened was no mistake on the part of the journalist. "You might as well say going to Pakistan is a mistake," said Kirsch. "It's just a risk that you have to take."

Following the death of Pearl, the stations hired extra security from the Northern Alliance locals. While CBS had a few guards who also acted as guides, CNN had a whole armed security crew from the Northern Alliance. The panelists were opposed, however, to having reporters and journalists carry guns. "We are there to observe, not to participate," said Doyle.

Another session featured "The Impact of September 11." The session featured four speakers, presenting on different aspects of the aftermath of September 11 around the world. Ali Al-Hail, consultant to Qatari Radio and Television Corporation, presented on "Negotiating a Cultural Relationship with the West." He pointed out that "Arabs do not hate Americans," but there is a lot that the West needs to understand about the Arabs' part of the world and Islam as a religion. He mentioned that Arabs are frustrated with the American politics of double standards in the Middle East, not only with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also with regards to questions of human rights.

On the same panel, Daniel Paskin of the University of Miami presented a study of reactions of Brazilians to the war in Afghanistan, and how different it is from those of Americans. Rene Jean Ravault, of the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada, presented a paper entitled, "Is There a Bin Laden in the Audience? The Boomerang Effect of Cultural Imperialism." Speaking from a critical cultural point of view, he argued that "the so-called cultural imperialism of the United States has recently backfired while astutely (even if evilly) used by global drug dealers, Mafiosi, and terrorists." The author of this review presented a content analysis of the 9/11-related message boards on "masrawy.com," one of the most popular Arabic-language portals. The study revealed that more than 70 percent of the messages posted between September 11 to 16 showed frustration with American foreign policy in the Middle East, even if they completely condemn the September 11 attacks. The main problems mentioned were the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Iraq. The study also revealed that those who posted messages did not think of Islam as a probable cause for justification for the attacks. Indeed, 25 percent of the messages specifically pointed out that such attacks are against the core spirit of the religion.

Perhaps the most attended session in this year's ICC was the keynote speakers' session. Everett Rogers and Arvind Singhal spoke about the theme of their latest book, "Entertainment-Education: A Communication Strategy for Social Change."

The speakers defined entertainment-education as a means of providing information through storytelling. They showed examples of how effective this strategy is from around the world. A scene from a South African soap opera was particularly interesting. "Soul City" showed how the locals learned to fight domestic violence by means of pot banging. The locals would gather around the violator, banging their pots and kitchen utensils, until the police forces arrive. This simple strategy, created by Soul City, grew to be integrated in the locals' customs, leading to a decline in domestic violence incidents in South Africa.

Another effective example of entertainment-education came from Peru. Simplemente Maria (Simply Maria) is a 20-years-running soap opera about Maria, the simple maid, who educates herself with the help of a tutor, and ends up marrying her literacy teacher. The soap was so popular that on the day of shooting the marriage, 10,000 people showed up at the church to watch the filming and pay tribute to the two lead characters getting married on tape. It is also reported that the military junta changed their cabinet meeting time to watch the episodes. As a result of Simplemente Maria, adult literacy soared in Peru to unheard of levels.

Rogers and Singhal said the roots of entertainment-education go back to Albert Bandura's social learning theory. An idea is formulated, sometimes by accident, gets popular, then some theory is grounded and a formula is produced to create successful programming. Other examples mentioned by the speakers include the Japanese soap opera "Oscean," animation shows in Brazil and South Asia, and rock music in Latin America.

The speakers pointed out that careful planning is required for entertainment-education to be successful. Objectives have to be carefully identified, and cultural aspects of the society have to be taken into consideration. Research should underline the choice of various aspects of the entertainment program, including characters and story lines. And finally, a clear system of reward and punishment should be integrated in the program to promote the prosocial behavior.

The ICC conference was co-chaired by Professors Diane Millette and Tom Steinfatt of the University of Miami. "The conference has become one of the preeminent events for the exchange of scholarly ideas relating to intercultural communication. The keynote presentation by Everett Rogers and Arvind Singhal was especially well received," Millette said. She added, "We're looking forward to an equally successful conference next year."

A photography exhibit took place alongside the conference. The exhibit, organized by Lelen Bourgoignie, was entitled, "The Americas Workshop: Images of Miami Beach by Latin American Photographers."

About Rasha Abdulla

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