Friday, July 27, 2012

Communications Today: The Big Dis-Connect

Eleven years ago, I graduated with a bachelor's degree in public relations. It was the dawn of a new century but it would be one more decade before technology revolutionized the way we communicate.

By the late 1990s, almost everyone in the urban world had a mobile phone. In the same time period, email--which is actually a contraction of electronic mail--has become the favored form of business communications. Within the last several years, social media has become a huge integral part of our everyday lives.

I did not pursue a career in communications. Instead, I spent nine years in retail banking. But today, I am finding the same mass communication issues that frustrated me in college.

Video commercials and visual advertising over-hype. "Shock and awe" always captivate attention but the public never seem to go beyond what they glimpse in less than a minute. "Shock and awe" either numbs the audience or gets them too enraged to be able to think clearly.

Look at the 2012 U.S. presidential race... I became a citizen of the United States in 2011 and have only started paying attention to party politics just recently. I am registered as an unaffiliated voter and I choose to remain so. Political observers have noticed that the fight between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney has become highly personal. Campaign staff appear to be always on guard for anything they can attack their opponent with, even if it is very far from the real truth.

Kony 2012,  a movement that was mobilized by a documentary film about the abuses the child soldiers suffered under the hands of the armies of the Central African warlord Joseph Kony. Rumors, which are hard to prove, say Joseph Kony has already been imprisoned and/or crossed the border from Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It first started as a YouTube video that went viral.

(Viral is a new term popularized by social media. For readers who may not know, viral refers to mostly videos that are shared by Web users so many times that almost everyone in the world has seen it.)

This 30-minute video opened the issue of child soldier to the world. But when the filmmaker was reported to have been caught acting wildly under the influence, the media industry focused on that instead of rescuing child soldiers.

And it gets worst when public health topics are being debated... This past week, Washington, D.C. hosted the largest international AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) conference with 20,000 people in attendance. Stigmas and dangerous myths have stifled strong efforts of the medical community to eradicate the disease. In Africa, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) positive men rape virgin women believing that it would cure them. They remain positive and the poor young girls are exposed to the lethal disease.

Fear is such a strong emotion that its grip can cripple a person and a community. Evoking fear has always been a major tactic used in psychological propaganda. But fear also clouds our thoughts with wrong information and half-truths...

As is observed today, the public relations profession appears to be filled with unethical people. Advertisers make many false claims that almost always blow out of proportion. Journalism ethics seem to no longer exist either. In the world of breaking news, even CNN (Cable News Network)--a very well-respected global news source--can give a false report.

During the Affordable Care Act hearings, CNN mistakenly reported that the Supreme Court of the United States shot down the act when it was the complete opposite. For no discussion was being heard out of the court chambers, CNN was basically interpreting predictions made by politicians and experts instead of announcing the actual court decision.

Even with all the new technology that allows us to keep up to minute news, we still have not been able to get the truth across. We are bombarded by false propaganda and misinterpreted facts. We must find solutions to hold communications professionals accountable. I renew my passion for the communications industry with a strong resolve to uphold the truth; and maintain my integrity based on a principled journalist's code of ethics.

The journalist's role is a public service role. He/she is giving account of issues and event that affect his/her audience. The task is to inform them with valid information. This means that the journalist must check facts and the credibility of his/her sources. He/she should not over-hype anything in the news story. Nor should he/she de-emphasize the seriousness of the situation. This does take a delicate balance of tact, honesty and integrity.

All communications professionals, just like me, must remember that we are truth-tellers not fiction writers...

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