Media Professionals’ Role in Social Change

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 9:38 am

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The cultural, social and environmental impact of globalization’s effects on the national and international arenas becomes more visible every year with an increased global mass migration, poverty and incarcerated population. Poverty and social inequality are key developmental challenges for the twenty-first century’s world society. In these terms, what is the role that media professionals play in social change?

This question was on my mind while attending the “Prisons and People: A Focus on Women and Their Children” conference hosted by the Portia project at the University of Oregon School of Law on Nov. 20, 2009. In the same week, I attended two keynotes of guest speakers Simon Mainwaring and Rishad Tobaccowala hosted by the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. In both events, panelists envision the future from different perspectives.

Two different worlds united in a disturbing reality.

According to Roy Walmsley World Prison Population List 2006, the United States of America has the highest rate of incarceration population in the world with an incarcerated population of nearly two million people in its prisons.

These statistics and demographic studies bring to light what Scott Christianson a journalist  specializing in the U.S. correctional system and American history calls “…a paradox of a country that prides itself on being the citadel of individual liberty yet imprisons more of its citizens per capita than any other nation in the world.”

In Oregon, there are 36 jail facilities in 36 counties with a rated capacity of 7,666. In 2007, there were 43,732 probationers and 22,658 parolees. According to the 2007 report of the Office of Economic Analysis Report, in Oregon the total prison population has jumped by more than a third since 1999 and the female prison population is growing at twice the rate of the male population.”  Incarcerated people and their families are also one of the many pieces of our fragmented audience.

Coffee Creek Correctional Facility — Wilsonville, OR 97070

The corrections counselor at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Jon Hansen, explained that poverty, physical and mental problems; physical, sexual and emotional abuse; as well as substance abuse issues are the primary set of factors that contributes to woman’s criminal behaviors and the increased of women population in the criminal justice system. Hansen also reported that “96% of female inmates will be released back into Oregon communities,” most of them don’t have a place to go.

Portillo’s story and “A Sentence for Two,” a video of formerly incarcerated mothers tackled issues related of how we as a society deal with “criminal behavior.” Civilization has long ago been fascinated by prisons and panoptic ideas of controlling and regulating behavior. We isolate people, situations and environments that make us feel uncomfortable. We massively store people in jails without understanding that the real problem in is not criminal behavior but other factors including social inequality, poverty and limited access to education.

Accordingto John Berger, an influential radical Marxist art critic, argues in his essay “Ways of Seeing” that “the ways we have learned to look at and understand the world and the images that surround us are the result of a culturally learned behavior that teaches us to see things in the way we do.” Our mediated culture is facing the highest rates of incarceration and a lack of education.  A massive illiterate audience who learn from what they see in the media-saturated environments watching a mediated reality that rarely depicts actual reality.

Feeling this roller-coaster of emotions and receiving shocking data about people in prison and media industry evolution seemed like a a great time to reflect on our future as a society and take a close look at  the  social, cultural and environmental challenges our generation will face. Visualizing my own role  within this mess. I became aware of the aspect that media and communication is in the heart of social change. The School of Journalism and Communication guest speaker’s enlightening ideas resonated with the core of who we, media practitioners, are and what we do.

Tobbaccowala mentioned that “Changing the world is to understand people.” Mainwaring asserted that we are “emotion transportation systems.” These two quotes, reaffirm to me that a media practitioner’s role is to be the bridge that connects government officials, shareholders and community members. We live in a mediated culture, and our industry brings meaning to people’s lives in the shape of music, entertainment, news and advertising.

In this context, I believe that there is a huge responsibility on media professionals to consider social and cultural consequences of a mediated culture. Although nobody knows what the future is going to be like, we all agree that we have to become more human. As Prof. Deborah Morrison called,  “a beautiful irony.”

In our future, according to our panelists Mainwaring and Tabbacowala, technological evolution makes possible “transparency” and gives media consumers “God-like” powers. Hopefully, these futuristic visions will help young media professionals to make possible a more balanced world where corporations support social transformation in our communities by helping to empowering to the less-liked population to have access to education, health care and a sustainable socioeconomic stability.

As media professionals, I believe, we have to care about issues related to human rights, power relations,  media misrepresentation of popular culture and exploitation of cultural stereotypes. I think that the media professional’s role has to evolve to a role of cultural communicator, who is student and teacher. I assume that it is our job to research, learn, understand, teach and communicate the social and environmental impact of the entire process of the products and services we represent. I passionately believe that our individual contribution can empower a long-lasting transformation.

  1. Thank you very much for presenting a thoughtful overview on this topic. It could be a vivid awakening for readers who know very little of the subject.

    Of your own assessments of the given data, I particularly want to comment on the following: “We massively storage people on jails without understanding that the real problem in is not criminal behavior, but other factors including social inequality, poverty and limited access to education.” It appears that many people do not understand; and I would imagine that individuals or institutions with a precious amount of power, when pressed, would inadvertently reveal that they like it this way. And why not? Their exciting position in society would not be possible in an opportunist economy without cheap labor and cheap dumping grounds. So I suspect that there is conscious and subconscious desire for the system, as well as the general ignorance that results from subterfuge.

    I love your description of postmodernism that follows. It is not an obvious direction in which to go, but it keenly relates to the ignorance discussed previously, and reveals one of its sources. Your case here alone is enough proof that focusing on changing your field and other media fields can be one of the most effective ways to help victims possess a voice and a presence in the mainstream consciousness. Postmodernism can thus be used toward positive ends, but it is of course also very dangerous precisely because of that “Godlike” quality. A pessimist like me expects that all powerful things will always be misused, so I have a hard time seeing any of this resulting in something nice, in spite of the best efforts and intentions.

    In general, there are many obstacles to compelling empathy and understanding of other people’s situations and experiences. Karl Marx as well as other writers like Richard Wright picked up on the fact that in industrialization, humans have relationships with things only. It is in this way, as well as through the media, which you have importantly stressed, that all interactions are mediated, so any resulting misery of an action is quite easy to deny, or even to not be known by the actors in the first place.

    {I haven’t been able to bring myself comment publically upon the other entries, because I do not know whether I could productively add to them or do them justice. But since they are thoughtful and engrossing, I want to at least make some general remarks–this blog has good engagement factor. The variety of article types, ranging from introspective to more interpretive reports should keep people coming back for more, because they’ll never know what to expect to learn from each new entry.}

    • Dear Erica: I appreciate your honest opinion about my story and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I feel that we are in the same page. I am sorry I took forever to reply. In a short future, I will become more active with my blog.
      Have a beautiful day!
      Erika Lincango

  2. No problem at all! I only hope that they were helpful. You are so busy beyond the web, that it amazes me that you have a blog, moreso one with entries that are as meticulously thought out as these. Befittingly, all entries are very germane to the real world… At any rate, I’ll always look forward to any updates! Cheers ^.^

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