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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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The history of companies is also a history of major impacts of entrepreneurial activities on the environment, cultures and the people involved in them. International organizations and events, like the Club of Rome (1968), the Brundtland Commission (1983), Rio-92, and the Johannesburg Summit (Rio +10), among others, have alerted the global society to these impacts, particularly the environmental impacts. Giddens (1997, 2000), Beck (1997), Lash (1997), Dupas (2005) and other authors highlight the fact that contrary to the thinking of the Enlightenment period, the development of science and technology led to new and diverse situations of risk, including global warming, changes in the ways of relating in society, and impacts that has broken down traditions, particularly those represented by the family and religion.

Today – faced with worsening air, water and soil pollution, deforestation and the extinction of the biodiversity, particularly in areas like the Amazon rainforest and the Brazilian native Atlantic forest, as well as the risk of accidents generated by activities in the fields of atomic energy and genetics (such as the major accident that occurred in Chernobyl, in 1986), among others, and their digital, potentially instantaneous global divulgation -, business policies and actions need to undergo processes of legitimation, produced through participatory processes that need to involve a high number of key players. The legitimation of business activity, before society, is a fundamental condition for sustaining this activity.

Without acceptance of their activities, and without an understanding of their value for society, it will be difficult for a company to effectively carry out its proposals. Thus, it is in communication and its social relationships that these organizations have the main social processes that legitimize and consolidate them in the society and markets in which they operate.

To understand the value of communication and relationships within organizational action, we need to observe the relationships companies have, over time, with the society around them.

For most of the 20th Century, large companies operated in environments in which economic protectionism and political silencing were prevalent. Until the 1990s, Latin American business activity adapted to this context, in which companies, often state-owned, were able to minimize and control their communication and relationships with society, particularly in terms of the scope, structure of the messages and speed of this communication.

In Latin America, from 1960 to 1990, part of this communication control by the majority of companies was based on the restriction of access to the available means of communication used by companies and society in their relationships. Among these media were actions of business communication and public relations, newspapers, magazines and audiovisual materials, characterized, in that period, as unilateral means of communication with low interactivity, little scope and slow speed, administered and operated exclusively by specialists (journalists, public relations and advertising experts) belonging to the company’s staff.

In this environment, the goal of the business media was to disseminate companies’ messages without causing controversies or encouraging other points of view on the messages conveyed by the organizations. The political and technological reasons given, as well as their high cost, prevented the uses of these media by non-specialists, as producers of content.

From the end of the 1980s this situation began to change, under the influence of the advent of democracy in Brazil and in the majority of Latin American countries, and also due to the emergence of new communication technologies, which changed the status of the audience from a simple passive receptor to an active producer of contents, and many of which were detrimental for companies.

541 From the 1990s, business communication has increasingly occurred through digital technological platforms, like the Internet. These new digital media have been characterized, from then to now, by their wide scope, high interactivity and speed of intervention in the social debate, as well as by their use by non-specialists as producers of content and media events. Among the new users of digital media, producers of content are members of non-government organizations, communities and employers, among others.

This use of digital media, in their numerous forms of use, by new users who are not communication specialists, as well as the changes in communicational and relational behavior, have weakened company-focused business communication, with the creation of new protagonists in the communication processes, which became what Castells (2005, p. 53) termed the “appropriation [by society] of the capacity for interconnection by social networks of all types” and which “led to the formation of on-line communities, which reinvented society and, in this process, spectacularly expanded the interconnection of computers, in terms of their scope and uses”.

These new social players were included in the new technologies of digital communication, created interconnections, generated and gave social visibility to their contents and to themselves, questioned and negotiated with the State and with companies, with other organizations, with other individuals and groups segmented by their identities, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and other possibilities. This context of interaction between social players in the digital network, as highlighted by Fuentes (2006, p. 119), leaves exposed Many emperors, previously hidden behind the fig leaves of the Asian, African and Latin American jungles. The universalization of the concept of human rights and the indefeasible nature of crimes against humanity: the case of Pinochet, the Chilean assassin and torturer, taking the law into his own hands, during his dictatorship regime.

Among these new protagonists, who submit their points of view and realities on the digital network of relationships, are the Brazilian indigenous peoples, many of whom come from basically oral cultures, and who have created an ethnosphere 13, where they disseminate and 13 As Nassar (2006) emphasizes, “the Brazilian native Indian is now less of a picture postcard figure. He has already begun to lose that idyllic image, packaged in exoticism, which prevents him from affirming his interests in modern society, and consequently, in the market.

The phenomenon of the Internet, which has interconnected the world, has created, by means of a neology, what we call the ethnosphere: the virtual space in which the minority groups, particularly Native Indians, have expressed themselves. Many, for the first time, now have the chance to publicize their ancient histories, their messages, sounds, claims and products (there is a global market for ethnic goods and services), twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and from any place on the planet. The ethnosphere enables contact with the peoples of the forest, like the Terena, the Guarani, the Potiguara, the Tucana, and the Caiapós, among others. Today, they are also connected with the world, therefore we can learn about their productions, videos and radios, and their representatives, who are writers, journalists, video-makers, without having to leave our homes and travel to the nearest village. In São Paulo, from 17 to 19 October 2006, the “1st Seminar on Native Medias” – an event conceived by the Centro de Pesquisa sobre Opinião Publica na Epoca Digital (Research Center on Public Opinion in the Digital Era) (Cepop) and the History Department of the University of São Paulo, through its Center for 542 transmit messages related to their interests and identities as peoples. Likewise, the new digital media are also used by young people in the urban ghettos of the large Brazilian cities, by countless non-governmental organizations, and by groups belonging to communities organized by gender, ethnic and productive origin, among others.

These changes and technological creations that are influencing organizations are seen in a large number of historical examples, which are notable for the fact that the traditional protagonism of organizations operating in the day-to-day reality of our world has lost its strength, particularly in the implementation of their political thinking. In relation to this traditional protagonism of organizations, Bordenave and Martins de Carvalho (1979, p. 47) present an interesting scenario in which they highlight the prevalence of certain social roles of

organizational members over others, that have been weakened today:

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Proof of the presence of the new protagonisms, which no longer accept the traditional social roles, is the fact that the contemporary State cannot do everything, and in the environment of democracy, negotiates its projects with other elements of society. Due to availability of sources presented in the digital environment, the University is no longer the sole accredited source of production of knowledge. And even in the West, the Catholic Church shares its religious life involving billions of human beings with other religious persuasions. Even in the restricted field of companies, decisions cannot consider only the thinking that takes place within their production lines and offices.

In the digital environment, these new positionings and organizational players – among those coming from the clients, communities, ethnic groups and numerous possibilities – are organized in digital communication networks which, due to their dynamism and possibilities of participation (dynamic of entry and exit of their participants), represent a major challenge for organizations and for their areas and thoughts geared towards organizational communication and public relations.

Studies in Ethnicity, Racism and Discrimination, was organized and coordinated by professors Massimo Di Felice, of the School of Communication and Arts, and Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro, of the Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature and Human Sciences, and included the participation of indigenous authors and video-makers. During the event, part of this indigenous communication in the ethnosphere was presented and discussed. The Seminar showed an indigenous concern with the issues of economic, social, and environmental sustainability, and also citizenship.

543 As D. Williams and Tapscott (2007, p. 32) emphasize, the participation of companies in networks of digital relationships is based on the idea of opening up to a sharing of knowledge.

Alvin and Heidi Toffler (2007, p. 142-142) reinforce the idea of sharing, stating that:

Knowledge is inherently non-rival. You and a million other people can use the same knowledge, without diminishing it or wasting it. In fact, the more people use it, the more likely it is that someone will generate more knowledge based on the ‘original knowledge’.

Based on the digital communication platforms and the society organized in networks, the traditional concepts and tools and professional attitudes applied to communication and relationships have become ineffective. Many of these concepts come from the social sciences and were originally devised to meet the demands of a socially and economically stable environment. Their ineffectiveness was due to the fact that society thought in a mechanist way, its members taking on a single social role, that of passive, watertight receptor (the most traditional) within its function of employee, client, shareholder, unionist, and member of the community, among others.

In the current democratic environment, with its opportunities for social mobility for its members and access to digital medias and unlimited flows of information (Castells, 1999), it is difficult for an organization, in a determined situation, to indicate what is the most relevant social role assumed by a protagonist in its chain of relationships. Digital information and communication technologists pay more attention to the mix of their members than to separating them, creating the potential for a racial and cultural melting pot that is so prevalent in Brazilian daily life.

Faced with this digital mixing, what then is important for the policies and planning of organizations in terms of communicational and relational protagonism in digital networks? In this environment, which is more important to classify from the company’s perspective: the profile of the one generating the message, or the characteristics of the message that is circulating in the digital network?

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