Video the Changing World

Nancy Thede

Alain Ambrosi

Do citizens of the world have a right to communicate? This question is approached in very different ways by these two books. Global Communication and International Relations takes a macro-level approach and concentrates on the intersection of technology and international policy. Video the Changing World takes a micro-level approach and celebrates locally based activities of grassroots communication organizations. These books complement each other and together they can introduce students of international communication to a wide range of debates, technologies, and perspectives.

In the foreword to Global Communication and International Relations, George Gerbner says that this book is a "tour de force" that will help us to meet the challenges of participating in the making of communication policies that shape "not only our culture and perspectives but increasingly our history and fate." When I first read this endorsement I was sceptical, thinking of the other books I have sifted through with similar declarations that do not live up to their author's promises. I now realize that Gerbner may be correct. This book is intelligent and understandable. It manages to communicate clearly despite the complexity of its task of integrating diverse disciplines, theories, and debates, together with today's rapidly developing systems of communication technology. Frederick's encyclopedic set of references and footnotes alone are worth the price of the book. I agree with Frederick's assertion that his book "is currently the only integrated textbook in the burgeoning field of global communication" (p. v).

Twelve months ago I knew almost nothing about electronic mail. Today I use it to communicate with colleagues around the world and with it I can access international databases that were previously unavailable to me. Almost every day I find that I face new changes in communication technologies and channels. The beauty of Frederick's book is that it provides the macro-level context necessary for grappling with the accelerating changes in our daily lives. It also provides a thorough yet concise history of long-distance communication that supplements a detailed presentation of the competing theories and emerging controversies currently facing us.

As someone who specializes in development communication I am impressed by Frederick's meticulous treatment of issues such as the growing gap between the information-rich and information-poor, the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), the dramatic politic changes at UNESCO, and the role of communication in war and peace. With every issue Frederick provides us with carefully researched and well-documented information from authoritative sources. Some footnotes are even accompanied by e-mail addresses to enable the reader to contact an author or organization directly.

One of my favourite chapters is "Channels of Global Communication," which covers everything from interpersonal communication and language to the transmission of packet data via satellite. The writing never becomes too technical nor jargonistic and people who have never used electronic mail will feel as comfortable reading the chapter as cyberpunks. It also includes useful lists of international organizations involved with global communication, including agencies of the United Nations, international telecommunications unions, international and alternative press agencies, and research associations and training institutes.

Frederick's book is not without problems. One serious problem is the book's limited, two-page discussion of women in international communication. This discussion, unlike the rest of the book, barely touches the surface of the available research and appears as little more that an afterthought. I also found the encyclopedic detail of the book wasted by the neglect to include both a name index and an alphabetically organized bibliography. The publishers missed the opportunity to make it both a textbook and a reference text.

There are some minor but irritating problems as well. A non-American reader will probably perceive the sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle American- centred point of view. For example, Frederick discusses several U.S. organizations and commissions without mentioning their U.S. identities. He assumes the reader will know these organizations and commissions are U.S. entities. Thus, despite the author's anti-imperialist tenor, a bit of cultural imperialism manages to find its way into the book. Canadian readers will note there are few references to Canadian researchers with the exception, of course, of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan. Frederick dismisses McLuhan too quickly, claiming that McLuhan has a "hopelessly idealistic" and "zany brand of media metaphysics" (pp. 119-120). Readers from Newfoundland will likely find more annoyance with the change in their capital's spelling from St. John's to "Saint John's" (p. 37).

Readers from the developing world and those interested in alternative communications will appreciate Frederick's coverage of global communication issues and debates. However, they may disagree with his stated choice to avoid addressing specific communication activities within developing countries and within the world of alternative communications. Frederick leaves us with a macro-level understanding of the issues and positive suggestions for policies that may improve access to communication channels and reduce the gaps between the communication rich and communication poor. However, he tells us very little about the micro-level world in which people are using communication channels today, at the grassroots, to assert their rights to communicate. Frederick helps us to think globally but does little to help us to explore options for acting locally.

Video the Changing World is a diverse set of prescriptions, case studies, and theories that manage to form the synthesis of global and local contexts that is missing from Frederick's book. Compiled from presentations made at a 1990 international symposium in Montreal, called "Alternative Communication and Development Alternatives," the book presents 22 short contributions. Many of the contributors are activists who promote the use of small-format video as a tool for social change and community development. The book divides into four sections dealing with the practice of participatory video, the scope of the alternative television movement, strategies for training at the village or community level, and theoretical discussions on "strategies for a changing world."

Many of the book's contributors support the view that the process that members of grassroots organizations go through in creating media products is more important than the products themselves. Around the world people are working to gain access to the means of communication and are engaging creative processes. As Rafael Roncagliolo points out in his chapter, "The Growth of the Audiovisual Imagescape in Latin America," videocassette recorders and videotape recorders are rapidly becoming commonplace even in the developing world. Video is now a medium that is not only simple to use, but widely accessible to even marginalized people who wish to view and produce. Roncagliolo cites veteran media activist Karen Ranucci's Directory of Film and Video Production Resources in Latin America and the Caribbean (New York: Foundation for Independent Video and Film, 1989) which lists more than 400 non-governmental and independent video producers and organizations in Latin America. In the developing and the developed world video is often a tool for empowerment and organization within community groups, women's groups, agricultural development organizations, and health organizations. The articles in this book support the view that real communication operates horizontally, from village to village in a rural area for example, rather than vertically from authorities to the masses.

Some of the contributions merit special attention. Maria Protz's piece, "Distinguishing Between `Alternative' and `Participatory' Models of Video Production," provides an excellent list of characteristics for assessing the degree to which a communication activity is participatory. She notes that participatory communication activities reinforce existing indigenous knowledge, encourage relationships between lay people and "experts," provide opportunities for the development of analytical skills, empower people with the self-confidence needed to make informed decisions, and enable participants to have as much technical participation in communication activities as possible. Rajive Jain's contribution, "Video: For, by, and with the People," strengthens Protz's arguments. Jain discusses the intriguing example of India's Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) whose participatory video producers are home-based workers, street vendors, and agricultural labourers, most of whom are illiterate.

This book is definitely global in scope. Contributors provide points of view from around the world and the voices of women involved in participatory video are prominent. These characteristics give Video the Changing World a sense of diversity and inclusiveness that is absent from Frederick's one-man tour. For example, Debbie Brisebois describes the positive work and governmental struggles of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation in Canada's north. In an all too similar article, Mokonenyana Molete provides a first-hand look at the activities and struggles of the members of South Africa's courageous Video News Service (VNS). VNS works to strengthen communication between trade unions and other organizations involved in South Africa's mass democratic movement. VNS lately has been providing workshops and organizational support to groups in other African countries. Its work is partially supported by Vidéo Tiers-monde, the Canadian non-governmental organization that hosted the symposium from which this book emerged. Other contributors to the book include: Dorothy Henaut, a Canadian Challenge for Change pioneer; Canadian communication scholar Marc Raboy; Alain Ambrosi of Vidéo Tiers-monde; journalist Vaya Karim Drabo from Burkina Faso; and Brazilian popular video promoters Regina Festa and Luis Fernando Santoro.

Despite the comprehensiveness of Frederick's book, I find Video the Changing World the more interesting of the two. I trust the voices and experiences of grassroots communicators. I find those voices provide more support to the concept of a right to communicate than Frederick's reasoned articulation of communication policy and theory. Video the Changing World captures the feeling of exercising the right to communicate.

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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.