Category Archives: Uncategorized

Media, culture and Azerbaijan

This afternoon I attended a brown bag lunch lecture at the World Bank on mobile technology and access to information. It was put on by Intermedia, an organization here in Washington DC that does amazing work on media research. (If you haven’t yet, you have to check out Audiencescapes).

There were at least half a million things I want to blog about in this presentation, so I’m sure you’ll see this referenced quite a bit in the coming days/weeks.

Although the presentation was about the increase of mobile technology and how it might be more integrated into various projects, the speaker, Dr. Gerry Power cautioned us not to forget about radio. In Africa, in particular, radio is still a major source of information, and to ignore it would be foolish. Mobile may be the fun thing to talk about now, but convergence is a more realistic solution.

But when I think of convergence, I think of old stodgey journalists finally learning how to blog. I guess I’ve been seeing it from the print/broadcast practitioner side of things. As opposed to the mobile producer side of things. But convergence, as Dr. Power’s hinted at, is more than that – its the sharing of content. Not only for the broadcaster’s sake, but for the mobile practioner’s sake, too.

A good example of this can be found in Azerbaijan and Armenia. State-owned media in both countries make it pretty hard to get any peace/reconciliation programming broadcast. So pieces that are originally created for television are instead getting audiences online.

Onni Krikorian, blogger for Global Voices, has been writing a lot lately about various media projects aimed at improving relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. He does an excellent job describing the projects and the media pieces themselves, so I’ll just post his links here. These are highly produced pieces that aren’t being broadcast via television, as intended, but instead are making it into homes via the internet and mobile.

Armenia-Azerbaijan: Dialogue through Film

More Dialogue through Film (one of my favorites is on this one- check out the film called Download)

and Backseat musical musings….and ethnic conflict

And of course, because its on Global Voices, the conversation going on after these posts are equally interesting.

There seems to be a lot of activity in media for change in the region. The very reason I became interested in Azerbaijan was because of a job posting for a media and social change project in Baku. (It made me realize how much I don’t know about the region!)

Its definitely a region I’ll keep watching…


How to get people talking about condoms, in 4 easy steps!

The BBC World Trust is wrapping up a large public health campaign in India in an effort to curb HIV infections. The year long multimedia campaign began in December 2007 and has been running in 4 states. Its objective is to “make condoms more socially acceptable and improve the image of the condom user as a smart and responsible person.”

The campaign included four stages:

Stage 1- A Contest

A riddle was  distributed (via radio, tv, billboards and buses, etc) and people were encouraged to call in with their answer. Then one of the people with the correct answer would win a free cell phone with paid air time!

Nearly 400,000 calls were made by people attempting to answer the riddle, and 25 winners were randomly selected and won a camera phone with paid talk time. According to the BBC World Trust’s impact evaluation of the phase, the campaign reached 52 million men in just 3 weeks.

Stage 2- Changing sport

The second phase of this campaign came in the form of tv, radio and print ads, which integrated local culture with the message. The ads depict a kabaddi match, a team sport where chanting the word “kabaddi” during play is part of the game. In the ad, our hero wins the match by chanting “condom” instead of “kabaddi.” The ad also places more emphasis on an animated parrot, who appears throughout the campaign.

Stage 3- Ringtone

The objective of this phase was to show social support for condoms, and it used a “condom a cappella” ringtone to do it! The ringtone can be downloaded for free on the website or through an SMS shortcode in India, and it was promoted through several platforms incuding websties, online games, mobile advertising, as well as tv and radio ads. So far more than 675,000 download requests have been processed, and the website has received over 3.5 million hits. The tagline “the one who understands is a winner” is further reinforced in this phase.

Stage 4- What’s in a name?

This final phase comes in the form of a tv ad (on both broadcast television and in cinemas), and introduces a puppy named…what else? Condom.

The campaign ends this month, but already its producers say it has reached over 100 million men and women in India. A full impact evaluation report will be available in mid-2009.

How wars end

How will the war in Iraq end? Before the economy became front and center, this was the chief question on most of our minds. As the war approaches its 6th year, the question becomes even more pointed. In one of my all time favorite radio programs, The World, Jeb Sharp looks back through history to see how wars end. In this multi-part series, Sharp shows us wars don’t end quite the way we imagine they do. And sometimes they don’t end at all.

Trippi and Kanter and Leyden, oh my!

Today I get to attend the New Politics Institute’s forum called New Tools, New Audiences.

The event is all about how web 2.0 tools is being used in politics. There is a great collection of campaign people, techies, and every shade in between.

There will be breakout sessions on social networks, video, mobile and more, and I’ll live blog as much as possible.

Click here to follow along and participate.

The two things we’re never supposed to talk about…

Politics and Religion come together today in an event at the Center for American Progress. “From the Pulpit to the Polls; The Role of Religion in Politics” will be held today a 12:30 (Eastern). I’ll be live blogging from the event –

you can follow along here.

Make sure to post questions and comments! An “instant replay” will be available after the event ends (at 2:00pm).

Featured panelists include:

E. J. Dionne, Jr, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, syndicated columnist, and author of Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right
Amy Sullivan, Nation editor at Time magazine and author of The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap
Jim Wallis, President and Executive Director, Sojourners, and author of The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America

Human Rights and the Election, Part 4:Getting your issue in there

Of all the questions posed to presidential candidates, only 5% are about human rights.

That’s according to a report recently released by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. But of that 5%, Darfur was an issue that was repeatedly addressed. In fact 23% of the human rights questions posed to Democrats were about Darfur, ( only 0.7% of those posed to Republicans)

So why does Darfur get all the attention?

Because its coming from the electorate, according to Gayle Smith, co-founder of ENOUGH!. “I’ve worked in Africa for many years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Coby Rudolph, National Outreach Coordinator for the Save Darfur Coalition said they’ve approached the presidential campaign with several goals:

  1. Inject Darfur into the dialogue in the presidential campaign. Opportunities for this came from debate, forums and the media. For example in Iowa, Save Darfur hired a full time organizer to engage political reporters, mobilize activists to ask specific questions about Darfur, and on caucus night, people across the state of Iowa took platform planks into the caucuses to get Darfur into the party platforms.
  2. Influence the specific policy positions and priorities of the candidates. Save Darfur came at this with the reality that one of these people will be the next president of the United States. So they have already begun targeting the candidates on what their policies toward Darfur will be. One media example of this would be a billboard ad in the New Hampshire airport. When candidates got off their planes, they saw a billboard with a photograph of a young refugee girl. The text read, “You’re running for president. She is running for her life.” Save Darfur also took out full page ads in several newspapers (especially in Iowa and NH) with signatures of activists and those concerned about Darfur. Signatories included congressman Bruce Braley, religious leaders, and other grasstops.
  3. Inform voters on candidates’ positions. Save Darfur activists have tracked candidates’ statements on Darfur and posted them on their website. They also invited each candidate to post a short video with their statements on Darfur. Those who have not submitted a video have a link next to their name where site visitors can ask them for their views on Darfur.
  4. Mobilize local activists. The presidential campaign has proven to be a great way to engage activists and volunteers, because they can break things up into manageable goals. Rather than try to solve all the problems of Darfur, volunteers and activists can focus on tangible results, such as reaching specific candidates, influencing campaigns, getting certain questions asked in debates, etc.
  5. Demonstrate a constituency of conscience.
  6. Influence the current administration and congress. Save Darfur has not forgotten that things can be done now, before the next president is sworn in.

So how about you- what human rights issue do you care about?

Is it being addressed by the candidates?
Do you know how the candidates feel about that issue?

Have you talked about it with people you know?

Human Rights and the Election, Part 3: Obstacles and hope

In a recent report, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, found that only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights. A panel was put together to discuss these findings, and in this 3rd installment, I’ll share what Gayle Smith, co-founder of ENOUGH! had to say.

“It is sad, but true,” she started, “that human rights do not make good politics, certainly in a campaign environment.” But, she added this could be changed.

But before we can change anything, we have to understand why we in this situation now.


The American public has 2 impediments when it comes to human rights – 1) indifference, 2) they believe it is intractable. The good news is that people are less indifferent that they have been in the past. But the bad news is they still think these problems can’t be changed.

And you won’t find a candidate who will say, “I’m going to solve these problems.” They just can’t risk it.

Time Frame

A second problem is time frame. Human rights crises take a long time to resolve. When you compare that to a administration cycle (4 or 8 years) and especially in a campaign cycle, they are just not compatible. “It’s a process, and its hard to campaign around a process.”


Human rights is presented as a stand alone issue, but in reality it is part of many issues:

  • the opinion of the US in the world
  • stability
  • security
  • democracy
  • intervention and the use of power
  • international cooperation
  • engagement with the rest of the world

The human rights advocacy community should work on integrating their messages into other issues, Smith suggested.

Cohesion (lack of)

There is no perception of an articulated constituency. And in the election debate, candidates have to balance between being strong and soft. Human rights is perceived a soft (Carter was often thought of as soft and naive). After 9/11, the pressure for the president to be tough is even higher. The candidates feel that pressure.


“Our media covers human rights in a way that injects it into the debate, but they fail to ask the really hard questions,” Smith says. “Like about the trade-offs between rights and stability.”

What can be done?

So what would it take to change things? Three things:

  1. A change coming from the electorate. “Darfur is as high as it is [in the report] not because of the media or the policymakers, but because Americans have kept it on the agenda.
  2. Soft power/smart power – “the notion that we need a set of tools and approaches in foreign policy that extend beyond the military”
  3. A shift in values – “From values as a matter of personal choice, to values as an expression of solidarity and citizenship.” Some of this, she pointed out, can be seen now in some religious communities.

We used to think of human rights as an issue that other countries had to deal with, but unfortunately, Ms. Smith pointed out, human rights is an issue we now face at home.

Human Rights and the Election, Part 2: Are We Compelled Enough?

Its not likely that you would find a presidential candidate that is against human rights. So why is it that human rights issues take such a backseat in presidential campaigns?

The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) found that so far, only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights issues. Earlier this week CAPAF hosted a panel discussion and released reports on its findings concerning human rights issues in the campaigns.

In this second of four postings about the discussion, I’ll focus on the comments of Gary Haugen, President of International Justice Mission. (Click here to read the first post of this series.)

Mr. Haugen started off with a reality check. The typical American voter does not care deeply about these kinds of issues. “It will actually take a long time to shift the thinking of the American people who will do the voting to actually care deeply about these issues. And,” he continued, presidential campaigns are “a reflection of what Americans care about.”

But its not just about caring. Its about caring enough.

“They [human rights battles] are really very much a fight- between those who are perpetrators of these abuses and those who want them to stop. And the most fundamental thing we have to remember is that a fight always comes down to a question of who is most committed. And perpetrators of human rights abuses are extremely committed to what they are doing, and it is an utterly unfair fight if those who are trying to stop the abuses are not equally committed.”

So where does that commitment come from? Mr. Haugen says that in elections, when leaders speak about human rights, they come from one of three perspectives:

-They believe it is a compelling national interest- “this matters because it affects us”

– They believe it is a compelling national value- “this matters to us morally”

-Or, they have compelling personal visions or identities.

These could all be sources of inspiration that would cause us to be committed.

But many politicians are wary of speaking about human rights issues. Especially in an election campaign – to do so could politicize the issue, then they find themselves working against an issue simple because their opponents are working for it.

But, he says, we shouldn’t shy away from asking the candidates questions and bringing up the issues during campaigns. In fact doing so could be helpful in three possible ways:

1) First of all one could get a candidate to promise action. Haugen called this “memorialization of a commitment.” If a candidate promises something during a campaign, they will be reminded of it later in office.

2) Bringing up a human rights issue with a candidate can sometimes reveal a competitive advantage. One might expose a creative idea, or bold approach that distinguishes s/he from other candidates.

3) Conversely, one could expose a political vulnerability. By bringing up an issue and explaining to the candidate that his/her constituency is concerned about this, one can expose a vulnerability that may be significant to voters.

So for Haugen, there is a delicate, but predictable, balance between discussing human rights, and the getting the public will to do something about it.

Human rights and the election, Part 1:Is a Human rights president a weak president?

Its not likely that you would find a presidential candidate that is against human rights, and certainly during this election year there are plenty of human rights issues to be concerned about:

  • Darfur, 
  • Guantanamo, 
  • the International Criminal Court, 
  • torture
  • …just to name a few. 

And there is no shortage of opinions on what to do about all of these issues.So why is it that human rights issues take such a backseat in presidential campaigns?The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) found that so far, only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights issues. Earlier this week CAPAF hosted a panel discussion and released reports on its findings concerning human rights issues in the campaigns.In the next few posts, I will present what each of the panelists had to say on the subject. Feel free to comment! It should also be noted that this was not a partisan event – its was strictly a look at how human rights issues are addressed in a presidential election.  Karen De Young, associate Editor for the Washington Post was the first to speak, and she gave an overview of human rights in the context of the past in various presidencies. “There has been a long strain of exceptionalism in US reluctance to criticized when commerce or strategically important countries have been involved,” she continued. “Commercial interests have continued unabated as an influence on human rights policies, and the threat of communism has been replaced by the threat of terrorism.” “But I believe on balance, in varying degrees, for self interest and altruism, for conservative reasons and liberal ones, in fits and starts, and ups and downs, the United States for many years had a legitimate claim to being considered a positive force for human rights in the world. And it was recognized as such. Others criticized it, sometimes legitimately, sometimes not. The death penalty is something abhorred by our closest allies, our massive prison population is justifiably denounced, a favorite Soviet response to US human rights criticism was to point out the historical treatment of people of color…”The difference now, is that the United States is not only accused of failing to live up to its high ideals, cutting corners and putting strategic and commercial interests above human rights concerns; it is accused of intentionally violating many of the very specific rules of decency and law for which we have long criticized others: torture, secret detention, suspension of legal rights, disdain for international treaties and conventions.”In the current election, Ms. DeYoung says, free trade will continue to be a major discussion. She believes there are economic arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. The next president like those before, will have to find that balance – and it won’t be perfect.”Despite our belief that we have the responsibility to feed the hungry and protect the abused, we’ll never do enough to help people in places like Darfur,” she continued. “We’ll always be straddling the fence to some degree.”All of the current candidates, she points out are against torture, but none of them can agree on its definition. Everyone is against human suffering such as that in Darfur, but “history has shown many times over that when faced with the very real tensions between competing priorities in office as opposed to on the campaign, we simply don’t know what a president is going to do.””But the arguments are important and we all need to continue to press our government and our candidates to use US power and resources to express our better self as a nation.” 

Book Review: The Joys of Motherhood

The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta

I picked up this book because it is listed in the reading material for the MIT Open Course Ware‘s class, Gender, Power and International Development. I am slowly working through this course and would love to hear from anyone else who has gone through it, either on campus or online.

From the inside flap:
“After a childless first marriage Nnu Ego, the daughter of a Nigerian chief, is sent from her village to Lagos to marry Nnaife Owulum who works as a laundry man for an English couple. Nnaife is a weak man and the adjustment to urban living is a painful one for Nnu Ego. Her life becomes an unceasing struggle to maintain her family. Through periods of extreme hardship and deprivation, amid more intense by Nnaife’s absence during WWII, Nnu Ego is sustained by the bright future she anticipates for her children when they will be able to support her. However, the traditions she has fought to uphold and the family ties she has always honored are but an anachronism for her children:Nnu Ego is forced to live out her days alone.

‘The Joys of Motherhood’ is more than just a story of Nnu Ego and her family, however. We see Nigeria as it tries to catch up with the twentieth century, a Nigeria rocked by colonialism, WWII, and the general encroachment of the modern western world on a traditional African one. [It] has a startling immediacy and an ominous significance for us all.”

My $.02:

I found this to be a very interesting and enlightening read. There are many books that will give you an idea of what colonialism looked like in Africa, but this gives a rare, on the ground, inside look from a woman’s perspective. Nnu Ego is fiercely fighting to preserve her culture- not because she has some psychic ability to see into the future and recognize the necessity of preservation. She does it because that is what she knows. Many books set in colonial times present characters with an unusually astute sense of what is happening to their countries and cultures. But this rare insight is really just a result of the author’s benefit of hindsight. Buchi Emecheta artfully avoids this anachronism – her characters react to what is happening to them and their society based on what they know, not on what WE know. The result is a very real look at how it was to live in this time and culture.

This novel also give one a very interesting look at gender issues- both for men and women. In Nnu Ego’s hometown of Ibuza, polygamy is the norm and a woman’s worth is directly related to her ability to bear children. These customs are obviously confining and Nnu Ego struggles with them throughout her life. But the men are also bound by their cultural expectations and changes that colonialism and independence bring further complicate these gender roles.

The Joys of Motherhood is an excellent introduction to Nigerian cultural and politics. Of course, the land of 250 languages can’t be summed up by one woman’s experience, but this is a good start. It has certainly peaked a curiosity in me to learn more about Nigerian history, cultures and politics, and I already have a stack of books to go through. Nigeria’s problems continue today and understanding the history will only help one understand the current issues. I look forward to learning more. I highly recommend this book, and I’d wager that if you read it, your interest in Nigeria will be peaked as well.