Urgent new scenarios for political advocacy and strategic communication
The crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic poses new scenarios and urgent challenges for political advocacy and strategic communication in favor of indigenous peoples.
Servindi, April 14, 2020.- If something is clear in the new context we are living in, it is that indigenous organizations know what to do. Their memory of what works in times of crisis that threaten their existence is leading them to exercise various strategies, not exclusive but complementary to each other, such as the following:
a) Close and control its borders and, from there, try to consolidate its food sovereignty in the best possible way;
b) Demand that the government's social relief policies reach their communities with the necessary speed, quantity, quality, and care.
c) Produce and distribute health communication material in native languages with support from the government and civil society allies.
None of the mentioned strategies is new. What is new for indigenous peoples and their network of allies is not having the usual range of tactics to enforce them: social mobilization, meetings with officials at all levels, sending regular documentation to open administrative and legal processes.
On the other hand, we should consider that indigenous organizations based their organizational capacity on keeping their bases informed and cohesive through face-to-face meetings, assemblies and workshops, which for now are unfeasible and not recommended.
Furthermore, we should not forget that the necessary budget for these face-to-face events was obtained by leveraging funds from workshops for climate projects, on conservation or productive development, and modifying them will take time that the emergency may not forgive.
For its part, in the midst of the pandemic, different sectors are also deploying old and new strategies to take advantage of their political, social, economic and cultural capital and to ensure that the redistribution of public resources for the emergency is channeled to guarantee their own health, while, safeguard their particular interests in a post-quarantine scenario.
Public policies submitted to the media agenda
Which groups or sectors will be the most successful? What will be the priority level the indigenous movement will reach in this inevitable competition?
To answer this question, it is key to understand that a characteristic of the Peruvian political system, particularly marked in the management of Martín Vizcarra, is that the governments over the last 30 years do not have the support from political institutions capable of mediating between the demands of different groups of interest and their own public policy priorities.
Without these instances of interest mediation, what we have is a government that is supported almost exclusively on its levels of popularity, as the only political capital.
In less pressing circumstances, it is common for trusted officials and middle managers in the public sector to prioritize their decisions so they do not affect the government's public image.
Considering the possible damage to their political image, decision-makers often change officials who live day-to-day in instability and who must manage the interests of their sector on their own.
This is exacerbated when the media agenda is focused on monitoring and evaluating the officials’ performance of during the pandemic.
Different interest groups adapt to this scenario and hire strategic communication and public relations firms that offer their ability to place their subject on the "media agenda"; that is, getting there where the only political capital that the government has is at stake to manage this unprecedented situation.
In the cities, organized citizens have learned to move in this scenario and deploy strategies to get their problems to the mass media. They relate with the media as "news providers".
The relationship is so close that many media outlets have journalists who specialize in contacting neighborhood leaders and looking for this type of cases, and they compete for the audience during the high-rating hours: the morning news broadcasts.
Thus, there is a setup where:
(...) the media build public agendas through the selection, ranking and permanent repetition of certain issues that generate interest in audiences (1). (...) Various studies explain the effects of the media on society, whose substantive implications are setting the public agenda in the field of politics and framing politics, its actors and game rules (2).
Peculiarities for the Amazon area
In the Amazon area, various factors conspire to hinder media coverage. One factor is the lack of logistics to obtain affecting images that are "good for television" as well as obtaining timely statements from those affected.
Furthermore, failing to urgently address the problems of this sector of citizenship would have in the common mindset a low political cost for the government. For centralist thinking rooted in the capital, it is a minority population and dispersed in electoral terms, which lacks the influence to press and place its agenda in the mass media.
For these reasons, it is more important than ever to reverse this exclusionary trend and strengthen indigenous organizations, creating scenarios for direct dialogue with key decision makers, where many decisions are defined: the mass media.
Affecting these means will allow the indigenous organizations to be duly heard and included in the emergency committees to implement strategies for health with an intercultural focus, and contribute to channeling aid to the population, at the required speed.
There is an urgent need to make tools such as Storytelling or the art of telling an audiovisual story that connects with users available to organizations; rethink communication for advocacy that should now be channeled almost exclusively through social media or mass media; the production of new digital narratives, media management, etc.
It is also necessary to identify journalists and opinion leaders from the mass media, to interest them in the reasons and seriousness of the situation of the communities in the Amazon, and to provide them with data, contacts, graphic and audiovisual resources so that they incorporate the indigenous agenda in their communication work.
In this regard, it will be essential to articulate the efforts of community networks and media specialized in environmental matters that operate in different parts of the country, so that, in alliance with journalists and influential media based in Lima, they organize thematic campaigns with progressive media and political advocacy objectives.
Campaigns must generate empathy with other citizen sectors, applying multi-channel dissemination strategies, and be articulated with diverse allies within the United Nations System, international cooperation agencies, donors and private foundations.
Important results will only be obtained if indigenous organizations manage to sufficiently influence public opinion with messages that permeate the common ideas that prevail in the media "we are in this together" and "nobody should be left behind".
Certainly none of this will be easy. The mass media make decisions under pressure to compete for audiences, and both public relations agencies and their communications and institutional image divisions have professionals who know the best strategies to present their information as the most valuable.
However, it is precisely because of this that it becomes essential to ensure that the indigenous movement has the same opportunities to access.
Digital communication agencies offer services to put their clients in contact with influencers, intervene in cases of reputational risk and offer design packages to attract attention, which are combined with large investments in advertising.
An aggravated risk for indigenous peoples is that, without the usual spaces for participation, the public-media agenda focuses on the problems of the formal and informal middle classes, who are the mass media advertisers’ main audience because they consume more advertising and have more purchasing power. Many media outlets reserve a content grid designed specifically for this audience, as it is the most attractive for its advertisers.
Therefore, any effort we make to enhance the communication capabilities of the indigenous movement can help save lives. Communication has never been as essential as it is now. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has understood and stipulated:
"55. Provide information about the pandemic in their traditional language, establishing intercultural facilitators whenever possible, allowing them to clearly understand the measures adopted by the State and the effects of the pandemic." Resolution No. 01/20 Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas.
In a scenario of social isolation and immobility, the public-media space has become a field of dispute where powerful interests seek to place their agenda and prioritize it in decision-making in favor of private interests.
This situation threatens to increase the exclusion of those who today more than ever need to be heard and strengthened.
It is not enough to achieve communication from the state to the communities. A true intercultural communication is always a dialogue, not a monologue, and the round trip circuit must be completed.
We are committed to strengthening representative territorial organizations and their ability to question and dialogue with the State, safeguarding their rights and under the scrutiny of all citizens.
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With the COVID-19 pandemic, an unpredictable and changing scenario prevails. However, despite the uncertainty, what urgent measures emerge to help indigenous peoples?