Media Responsibility and Learning.

I often cringe when I read what people share on social media. Aside from the inner proofreader that was so necessary as a youth, I run across things like, “TTPS: Illegal entry into T&T is a crime“.

What else is illegal that is a crime? 

If the goal was to make the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service look illiterate – mission accomplished. If the goal was to make The Morning Brew, a local program, look a bit foolish – mission accomplished. And it’s there for all the world to see.

If you watch the video, though, the headline is does not represent what was actually said – a distillation that demonstrates a lack of thought and consideration.

Who came up with this headline, and do they even understand their mistake?

This prompted me to immediately mock it, of course – pondering with a friend as to what else that is illegal might be a crime.

Murder is illegal, so is it a crime?  Littering is illegal, so is it a crime? And so on and so forth – which amused me for a few minutes, but then it struck me:

There are people who may seriously be thinking in that way.

Words have a power all their own, and the way we all learn is not by reading dictionaries but through context.

So yes, I’m picking on this particular headline, which is unfair. In a world where all too often people share without reading the associated link, we’re implicitly showing people how to communicate by example. There could be a secondary school student right now writing an essay that may reach pull the ‘illegal’ and ‘crime’ thing out of their bag unwittingly… only to be openly mocked by an English teacher and their class.

Why? Because they made the mistake of learning from a media headline.

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The Failure To Communicate. [Updated 22 Aug 2018]

Giant cucumbers from Doug and Ariana.
Cucumbers, which are not sex toys, provided here as a neutral image for this article. Use through a Creative Commons License which can be found by clicking the image.

I found yesterday (21 Aug 2018) that I had made an error in this; the Customs Act does in fact have something on obscene materials. The mistake I made was in assuming that they had searchable text. They do not have searchable text in the PDFs they have online, something worthy of note – but not an excuse. Lesson learned. 

When the Great Ban on Sex Toys in Trinidad and Tobago was announced, I was both slightly amused and curious. It’s not that I write about such topics, it’s that I’m human and that Trinidad and Tobago in it’s entirety doesn’t cease to surprise me when it comes to odd things.

You see, there were articles written as if it weren’t a developing story – there was no notation, as an example, that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s Customs and Excise Division website did not make mention of ‘sex toys’. Of course, maybe it just wasn’t updated, but a search of the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette didn’t reveal any new changes either. That took me less than 30 minutes to go through as an uninterested person, not a journalist. And I’m not a lawyer. So it seems to be a spurious claim, one that doesn’t jive. Update: Section 45 l of the Customs Act does mention things that can be related to ‘sex toys’, but not directly. 

The law being quoted is Section 46(g) of the Criminal Offences Act which says: “Any person who offers for sale or distribution or who exhibits to public view any profane, indecent, or obscene, paper, print, drawing, painting or representation may be deemed a rogue and a vagabond and if found liable, to imprisonment for two years.” Update: They were quoting the wrong law in the article. The Customs Act was the appropriate Act to quote, which would have been 45 L. 

It says nothing about importation. Granted, the last group of people I’d want to know what I do with myself would be the government and it’s employees, but the published Acts and Amendments related to Customs and Excise says nothing about sex toys, or anything profane, indecent, or obscene…

So I’m writing this, despite my misgivings about the topic, because to me the topic at issue is not sex toys, but instead appropriate research for an article that is supposed to inform the public. There is a big question here that, sure, Ministers should be able to answer – but they’re ducking it.

Selling the items is one thing. Importing for personal use seems to be quite another.

And while I wouldn’t want to know what the government would tax on sex toys, given how much I paid on a simple book recently, I don’t know that anyone would think it worthwhile – but articles that are about an alleged ban of importation of sex toys doesn’t make sense to anyone who bothers with a short amount of research.

And can someone, please, give a legal definition of a sex toy that isn’t subjective?

This is a failure of the media, in my eyes, though my eyes see the world differently than others. I view the media’s job to inform and question appropriately. The very first article should have been able to say that no one has mentioned the laws related to customs and excise, that the law quoted was about the sale of the items.

This has blaring questions attached that are so apparent that they might as well be painted bright neon pink.

And made to vibrate.

Now, if they start dealing with Internet Enabled… devices… and privacy issues, such as this data breach, I’ll write more about it. But to me, this is all about improper communication from the people we depend on to communicate.  

Where Communication Fails

Communication is the keyIt amazes me how people make things more difficult through communication, enough so that sometimes I wonder if there is a special group of us that talks to ourselves for lack of anyone else receiving on the other end.

Exhibit A.

Last year, here in Trinidad and Tobago, someone asked me to be a reference on a visa application – which I willingly did because I know these people. I was at their house, filled out the form for their granddaughter and thought this was done other than a phone call. There was no signature, just the filling out of a name, address and phone number – as most references are.

Time passed – maybe a week. The grandfather calls me and tells me that they had filled out the old form and that they needed a new form filled out – and so, I told him it was a simple matter of copying the information over. He said that the new document needed a signature, which I was sure was not the case. He insisted, dropped by…

And lo! There was no signature necessary. It was as I expected, the form simply needing the same information that was on the old form, that anyone could have copied over. I showed him that, and he got upset with me. I filled it out anyway. We’re friends.

Why did he get upset? It took some time to unravel that. This 70-something year old man was upset because his granddaughter told him it needed my signature. She’s in her mid-20s, a product of an education system that apparently can’t distinguish between simply filling out a name and actually signing something.

It broke down to a functional literacy failure, something that I’ve found increasingly common.

Exhibit B

I was ordering a breakfast I normally order at a place I am a regular at, from a lady I normally order from and who is familiar with my order. The scene was tense for some reason as I walked in, having nothing to do with me. Yes, I asked, and she would have told me – which is why I value this relationship.

The sound of the AC was buzzing above the register, and the background noise of the busy place was at a high. I hear her say that there’s ‘No ham bacon’.

I’m puzzled by this. “Do you have ham?”

“No ham bacon”.

We go on like this for a few moments. She doesn’t speak up. I’m not understanding what she’s trying to tell me, and I know that she is trying to help me. After a while, it gets sorted out when she finally raises her voice a bit so I can hear over the background noise – when she spoke quietly, her voice was deeper and it merged with the underlying buzz.

She was saying there was no ham, only bacon.

But why couldn’t I hear her? Frankly, maybe I should get my hearing checked – I should get on that – but the other part of it was that she was upset and was making a conscious effort not to raise her voice because she was upset about other things.

This was a situational communication problem. Had we not known each other, it probably wouldn’t have ended with both of us laughing.

Exhibit C

I’d sold a piece of land to someone who was already on it – a simple solution (hack) to a silly problem caused by laws in Trinidad and Tobago – and a year had passed.

Out of the blue, I see this person is trying to contact me on Facebook messenger – by calling me (who does that?). So I message them back, and they message me that they were having trouble registering the deed. A year later.

Now, they had my phone number. After a year, this suddenly became an emergency – which is easy to judge someone on without knowing how their life is, but a year is a long time and I know that the deed registration had to have been done or I would have heard about it from the lawyer, who I do know, and who has done other transactions similarly.

Something wasn’t adding up, and it was already clear that this was a communication error.

I sent them my phone number – they should already have had it. Then they tell me that they don’t have my phone number. I respond that I just sent it. “Scroll up.”, I typed, even as I wanted to scream it.

11 messages and 5 phone calls later, they tell me that they’re at the tax office and can’t find the deed number. And this is where a lack of specialized knowledge created the core communication error – they were confusing the assessment number and deed number up, and finally, after repeating myself a few times, it sunk in. They blamed the government office for not telling them, but based on everything I had experienced with the person…

I was pretty sure that the person just wasn’t paying attention to what anyone had told them, written to them, or tattooed on their forehead. The whole situation showed over and over that they were not interested in finding out what they needed to know to solve their problem. They were happy just annoying people until someone held their hand and guided them to the right solution.

Maybe they were hugged too much as a child. I don’t know.

But this example shows not only a problem with understanding specialized things, but also the joys of dealing with people who do not listen well.

Exhibit D. 

In dealing with purchasing something, I ended up dealing with 3 separate entities who are allegedly working together: A lawyer, the seller, and the agent. During this process, I handed over documents required to the seller.

Their lawyer contacts me. They want me to come up and submit the very same documents to them. I explain that the seller has the documents, and the lawyer tells me that they can only receive those documents if I authorize the seller to release them.

The rub here is that the seller has their own lawyer that, by circumstance, I have to use. One would think that the documents that the seller had would be furnished to the lawyer. The lawyer explains that it’s to safeguard my privacy (nevermind all the photocopies of my IDs hanging around) – but it’s really a process failure.

In the course of a few hours, I get conflicting information from all 3 parties who were legitimately trying to help me around the process failure, which I ended up resolving by simplifying. I only need to deal with the lawyer. What she says is what we go with, in the hope that it all falls together properly.

So this was a conflicting communication error, caused by trying to work around a process failure. I have to wonder how many people get stuck in those loops.

So Many Problems.

This is just a sampling. All of these communication problems, at their core, are human problems. In an age when we can communicate so quickly all over the world – I remember a time when postcards were a big deal – we still don’t communicate well enough to make use of it.

We build things on communication. We build things on flawed communication. Technology is not waiting for us to get it right; it’s a wildfire of acceleration on all fronts.

Take a moment. Take a breath. Listen. Speak clearly. Know of what you speak of. Ask the right questions.

Communicate. The world actually does depend on it, and more specifically, your world depends on it.

Mediation, Media, Social Media, Journalism

El Mercurio newsroom
El Mercurio Newsroom, by JD Lasica.

We use language and communication so much that sometimes we take it for granted.

‘Media’, ‘mediation’ – when we look at these words, it’s all but impossible to note the exact first 5 letters. This is no coincidence. They both derive from the noun, ‘medium‘. Digging further gets you to a Proto-Indian root, ‘*medhyo‘, something you can drill further down into if you wish.

It’s an interesting history in not words, but concepts and thoughts. Medium has been used to describe, ‘intermediate agency, channel of communication’ since around 1600. The basis of ‘media’ and ‘mediate’ is medium. Are they so different in concept?

In theory, no. In practice these days, it’s hard to say.

Mediation

As mentioned before, I took the first level of training in Mediation at the Conflict Resolution and Media Center of Trinidad and Tobago, and after hours I began thinking about the common etymology of ‘media’ and ‘mediate’ which got us to where we are, here. Yet when I look at the two as they are now, through a fresh lens, that seems to be the only way in which they are linked other than through some serendipity.

Mediation is a confidential process that works toward resolution of conflict through communication facilitated by a neutral third party. I did learn a few things.

Media, on the other hand, has come to mean any communication over one or more mediums. Newspapers use paper and literacy, radio uses sound and radio frequencies, television uses sound, video technologies, and sometimes literacy, and the Internet combines all of these to varying extents. ‘Social Media’ is redundant, really, because all media is social – it’s really media that allows easier feedback, and these day, allows things to be shared faster than other forms of media, driven by interests of users.

From Media To Journalism

‘Media’ encapsulates entertainment, education, and news. However, these days, we hear it used in the context of ‘news’ a lot. The lines between entertainment, education and news have blurred with the ‘talking heads’ and the prevalence of bias to sell advertising or simply to keep it. So when we hear about ‘The Media’ in this context, it’s about a specific use of the media. It’s about what we are given as news. And journalism is where ‘news’ is supposed to come from, or where we say it’s supposed to come from.

If you talk to anyone with a point of view, they will say that there is bias in published journalism – be it published in print, on radio, on television, or on the Internet – and that’s where things can get fuzzy. And so does what a journalist actually is. As Mark Lyndersay points out in , “What Is A Journalist?“:

…Paul Richards asked, “Who or what constitutes a journalist and should be protected by this?”

“And more importantly, who should not be considered a journalist?”

The American Press Institute notes, “Asking who is a journalist is the wrong question, because journalism can be produced by anyone.”

As the Institute explains on a series of pages on its website dedicated to considering the role of journalism professionals (report here), the journalist is a “committed observer.”

In 2011, “We Are All Journalists Now” by Scott Gant covered the same issue. It’s 7 years later, and I’m not sure society has changed enough to deal with it sensibly. And if we get into the etymology of ‘journalist’, we find this:

1690s, “one whose work is to write or edit public journals or newspapers,” from French journaliste.

As A.J. Liebling wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” The Internet gave everyone with access to the Internet access to such a press. To publish publicly without a media organization, potentially publishing things less biased by advertisers – but then, to make money, advertising became necessary, and all that happened was the atomizing of the same business model.

What all of this really gets to, though, is an phrase attributed to Edmund Burke, supposedly used in a debate in 1787  when the House of Commons of Great Britain was opened to the press.

Indirect But Significant Influence

There are 2 definitions of the Fourth Estate defined on Dictionary.com:

  1. the journalistic profession or its members; the press.
  2. a group other than the usual powers, as the three estates of France, that wields influence in the politics of a country.

The first definition fit better before the Internet, where there was a more substantial difference between journalists and the general public. The second definition fits better in modern times, where we can all publish. And there you have the link between journalism and the public as it shifts in one definition.

These days, the more popular what you share is, the more influence you have – for better or worse. What others share that you have demonstrates how much influence you have as well – a closed circuit.

Thus, if we can get past definitions of ‘journalist’ and ‘journalism’, words doomed to a period when journalists broadcast instead of interacted, we get back to us all being a part of the Fourth Estate.

But what does this all have to do with mediation? Not that much right now, it seems, and yet, maybe it should. The Fourth Estate is necessarily not confidential, but maybe it could be more neutral. Maybe that’s what they should have in common. Maybe that ‘neutral third party’ should be everyone publishing to some metaphorical public journal. Maybe we should all be facilitating facts instead of regurgitating hearsay – after all, hearsay is heresy.

An informed public, after all, is what I expect from journalism. What I get, on the other hand, hardly seems to fit Journalistic Ethics and Standards. I can’t criticize what happens in the industry, because all I know is hearsay – but I can make a few distinctions that I believe can accepted and agreed upon as truths in the context of journalism aspect of the media:

  • When it comes to the media in the context of news, people need to be informed. They want to be entertained. The two are separate.
  • Publishers are the ‘media’, journalists are not the media unless they self-publish. If they don’t self-publish, they just work for the media.
  • With the atomization of the Fourth Estate, anyone who publishes has a greater responsibility when using their influence.

In these ways and more, we might get ‘media’ and ‘mediation’ to make more sense together when we see those common five letters.