Image credit: Tracy Seed - Photo: 2018

A New Book Shows Ways to ‘Decolonize’ the Minds of Asian Communicators

By Kannan Salazar

Mindful Communication for Sustainable Development: Perspectives from Asia
Edited by: Kalinga Seneviratne – Lecturer, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. February 2018 | 372 pages | SAGE Publications Pvt. Ltd. Electronic version: £38.00

BANGKOK (IDN) – The book tries to wean away the reader from the old paradigm of development communication, which was designed to “educate” the peasants to abandon their traditional ideas – such as subsistence farming – and embrace a consumerist lifestyle. With its subtle promotion of sufficiency economics and the use of modern communication tools with a traditional leaning to spread the message, this book in fact tends to go back to tradition, but make it relevant to the 21st century.

As the preface to the book says: “The word ‘development communication’ was coined where the communicator was supposed to wean away the peasants from their traditional lifestyles into a more consumption-oriented society. So tradition became old fashioned and greed became development/modernization. The East was supposed to embrace West’s wisdom and discard their mythologies. But today, in the second decade of the 21st century, Eastern ‘mythology’ is becoming modern wisdom. Mindfulness is today the biggest fad sweeping across the West, particularly the U.S. – we in the East have known this as Vipassana Bhavana for the past 25 centuries.”

In the past two decades, mass communication teaching institutes have mushroomed across Asia, but, over dependence on American textbooks, educate Asians to adopt Western ideas uncritically. This book is therefore a welcome input to ‘decolonize’ the minds of Asian communicators.

It provides a plurality of viewpoints and pathways to adopt mindful communication methodologies to assist in promotion of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with chapters “designed to introduce new ways of thinking in terms of communication theory and methodologies bringing in ideas and concepts from Asian philosophy emanating from Buddhist, Hindu and Confucius thought,” as the preface states.

In the first chapter, Kalinga Seneviratne explains the concepts of mindfulness and its application to modern development communication drawing from Buddhist, Hindu and Confucius philosophical concepts. He discusses an Asian paradigm of development communication drawing from ideas of the late King of Thailand’s ‘sufficiency economics’, Bhutan’s gross national happiness and even Filipino Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen’s critical ideas on consumerist development.

In chapter 2, a former journalist and now a Thai Forest Monk Phuwadol Piyasilo, takes a critical look at mindfulness without its spiritual leanings – as that practiced in the West today. He argues that the real essence of the practice is to focus your thoughts on the present and remember the past, but it needs to lead to the development of compassion and loving kindness to all beings. That would lead to a more sustainable and humane development strategy.

“In Buddhist teachings we focus a lot on suffering,” he notes. “So being Buddhist and putting these practices into the communication process, we can look at how we analyse suffering and help other people to reduce their sufferings…so this is something we can contribute to making communications better. Not promote more conflicts and sufferings.”

As stated by many of the authors, the book is also an attempt to wean away Asians from the adversarial style of communication and journalism that has been borrowed from the West, and the development a more cooperative and harmonious style of communication. Sulak Sivaraksa argues in chapter 3 that mindfulness should not be misused to lead to wrong livelihood against the teachings of the Buddha. Besides, such training should be used to understand and challenge what he calls the “structural violence” of the global and local economic systems.

In chapter 5 Korean Professor Kwangsoo Park discusses the Tao and Confucius ideas of journalism, where he also refers to the injustices of the global economic system and the need for journalists to bring in new “ethical values” to the practice of journalism, especially in reporting economic issues.

“A goal of journalism is to stimulate harmony among people by encouraging them to celebrate diversity while at the same time realizing the common thread that connects them all,” he argues, adding: “When Confucius discussed ambition with his students he did not suggest that higher your ambition the better.”

Sri Lankan academic, Sugath Senarath argues in chapter 14, taking a Buddhist perspective that good governance is more than economic development, it should also lead to moral development. Such moral dimensions require the journalist to analyse how power is exercised once it is acquired. This he argues is mindful journalism.

In chapter 7 Indian academic Sanjay Ranade explores Hindu values in journalism. While discussing Indian narratology and the theory of ‘Rasa’ he explains how these traditional communication methodologies could be utilized for sustainable development communications.

In chapters 8, 9 and 10 Thai communicators Jirayudh Sinthuphan, Suppapron Phokaew and Pipope Panitchpakdi discuss human centric journalism, creative research methodologies, deep listening techniques and a ‘Kalama Sutra’ (charter of free inquiry) model of new journalism.

In chapter 12 Bhutanese communicator Dorji Wangchuk discusses ‘middle-path journalism’ taking the Bhutanese media as a conceptual framework. In an interesting chapter, Japanese researcher Kanako Watanabe explores the understanding of silence in how Japanese communicate as a mindful communication strategy. In another interesting chapter, Nicolas Verstappen, a Belgian academic working in Thailand discusses how he uses comic arts as a communication tool with his Thai students.

In bringing a Catholic perspective to mindful communication, Filipino academic Evans Rosauro I Yonson discusses in Chapter 13, how Ignatian Pedagogy is applied in the education and practice of development communication at his university in the Mindanao island of the Philippines. Another Filipino communicator, Therese Patricia C. San Diego, applies mindful communication concepts to researching and analyzing the reporting of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs in the local media. Her findings may have some lessons for Western journalists as well on how to report with a human-centric approach.

In chapter 20, a similar approach is adopted by Malaysian academics Azman Azwan Azmawati, Chai Ming Hock , Raqib Sofian who used mindful communication concepts in a study of Malaysian news reporting with respect to a number of case studies that reflect the country’s multicultural society. And in chapter 22, Emi Hayakawa explains how Buddhist concepts are used in reporting events by the Buddhist True Network (BTV) in South Korea. She calls this the ‘Bodhicitta path of journalism’.

Seneviratne argues in the concluding chapter that to develop a new Asian sustainable communication paradigm, “it is imperative that we challenge some of the existing western-centric communication theory” and explore ways of how to monitor exercising power – even facilitated by the media – rather than playing an adversarial role of a watchdog. As Panitchpakdi notes in chapter 10, “news has to be critical, but being critical doesn’t have to be confrontational. Being critical is looking at it objectively but the approach of doing it doesn’t have to be negative”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 March 2018]

Image credit: Tracy Seed

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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