The CSS Blog Network

Don’t Send Your Messages into a Media Black Hole: Communicating about Risk in the Information Age

Danger-sign in the water. Image: Matthew/Flickr

Whether a natural hazard turns into a disaster largely depends on the level of human preparedness. The recent, devastating earthquake in Nepal illustrates this point, where a lack of prevention and mitigation measures pre-disaster contributed to high disaster vulnerability, with terrible consequences for the local population. Communicating to the public about the risks of natural hazards represents a major function of disaster preparedness and resilience. Yet, many efforts to step up communication with the public about risks end in a “media black hole” because they are not properly tailored towards their target groups. » More

Everyone in India speaks English… Right?

Is the English language losing clout in India? photo: Gregory Melle/flickr

A recent BBC article takes up the debate that has been ongoing in India on whether to teach English in schools and colleges. The issue is like a double-edged sword. In a trend towards “Indianization”, many schools and colleges are putting increased emphasis on teaching and even academic writing in vernacular languages. Yet those schools and colleges that teach exclusively in English are often considered of higher quality, and the students of these institutions are privileged because they can get better jobs, rise in social status and get a piece of the cake of India’s tremendous economic growth. Such is the role of English as a social divider that there are plenty of politics involved in preventing the lower classes and castes from learning it.

When the (British) East India Company first came to India, members of high castes became intermediaries between the British rulers and Indian society at large. They were privileged and acquired good positions during the British rule. Today, those who are proficient in English are privileged because they can get one of the numerous jobs created through the outsourcing of services from the western world to India. Knowing English is a crucial skill on the Indian labor market. Even university graduates can’t hope to get a decent job if they don’t know English, which is one reason why educated unemployment is so high.

Though English has become part and parcel of Indian society, the impression in the West that “everyone in India speaks English” is simply wrong. There are 22 constitutionally recognized languages in India. And while India has two national languages for central administrative purposes, Hindi and English, it is Hindi that is the national, official, and uniting language of India. English is an associate official language, useful in particular because while Hindi is spoken and understood in most parts of North India, this is not the case in the South.

Apart from being the glue that holds the large bureaucracy together if all other languages fail, English is popular in the Indian parliament, judiciary, in the media, business and of course in the world-famous Indian IT industry. Generally, the growing role of the internet in all these fields has only contributed to the popularity of English as a lingua franca. English has also made its way into the ordinary language of people who would consider themselves non-English speakers or are illiterate: Time kya hua, bhai? (What’s the time, brother?); aaj date kya hai? (What’s the date today?); kya tum school jaate ho? (Do you go to school?); or, election kab hai? (When is the election?) etc. » More

A Little Advice: Four Tips for BP

Doh! Photo: striatic/flickr

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln or the local neighborhood drunk. Take your pick.

The saying above has saved me from making an dang-blasted idiot of myself numerous times. I strongly recommend that the higher-ups at BP adopt it.

In the latest from the BP School of Disastrous (word intended) Management, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg pulled his tea and crumpets away from this mouth just long enough to shove in his foot and emit this howler: “He [I guess he means CEO Tony “I-Want-My-Life-Back” Hayward] is frustrated because he cares about the small people and we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care – but that’s not the case with BP. We care about the small people.”

The small people?

This gaffe came yesterday as Svanberg attempted to issue an apology for the largest offshore spill in US history as he was leaving a White House meeting with US President Barack Obama. He said “the small people” not once, not twice, but three times.

See for yourself here.

Already, Svanberg’s comments are making the rounds.

Any head of any organization who knows anything about US culture should know that using “small people” or “little people” won’t win her or him any gold stars.

Svanberg’s gaffe is taking the heat off of Obama, whose Tuesday speech about the Gulf disaster has been pegged as, well, disastrous.

I have no idea who is advising BP in crisis control, but I’m willing to offer a couple of common sense tips for free.
» More

Caution To the Wind: Engaging Terrorists Online

Photo: Jiva/flickr

Photo: Jiva/flickr

There has been a bit of a buzz in the counter-terrorism (CT) blogshere during the past month due to two notable exchanges between bloggers and prominent members of violent non-state groups that utilize terrorism and other means of political violence.

In one example, John Robb, author of the Brave New War and the Global Guerillas blog was recently contacted by Henry Okah, an arms dealer who has supplied arms to militants in the Niger Delta and assumed various leadership roles in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a group based in the Niger Delta that has, since 2006, launched sustained attacks aimed at the energy sector.

Robb, who has written about Okah on numerous occasions and identifies him as a guerrilla entrepreneur, did not go into detail about the exchange with Okah except to say that he asked to meet with Robb in person. One can assume that more info will follow as the exchange develops.

In another instance, Australian Leah Farrall, currently an academic and author of the All Things Counter Terrorism blog, was also contacted by a well-known figure – Abu Walid al Masri, a senior Arab Afghan adviser to al-Qaida and the Taliban and author of numerous books in Arabic relating to Afghanistan and al-Qaida.
» More

Risk Communication in Security Policy

CSS Analysis no 62

CSS Analysis no 62

Researchers from the ISN-supported expert community on crisis and risk have just published a new policy paper.

According to Myriam Dunn Cavelty and Jonas Hagmann, the concept of risk communication has so far been applied almost exclusively in the context of technical and environmental risks.

They show how the concept can be useful for foreign and security policy, too.

You can download the paper here.