Do not draw conclusions so that the exercise is more open and that the viewer has learned something. The conclusion has to do with the environment or with leaving some with general concern in the viewers, but not close with an absolute truth.
By: PhD. Luis Fernando Gutiérrez Cano and MG. Luis Jorge Orcasitas Pacheco
This installment focuses on the concepts and approaches offered by Dr. Ana María Miralles Castellanos on the debate on television, the criteria for its realization, the importance of this in the generation of public opinion and the fact of being in network how it changes the dynamics.
Miralles was a professor and researcher at the Pontifical Bolivarian University, winner of the Armando Díaz Moncaleano and India Catalina Awards as the best university programs on television, she also participated as secretary of the World Network of Public Journalism, among other positions.
What does a genre like debate intend: to generate public opinion, conversation after being seen or orientation to the audience?
Ana María Miralles Castellanos: I would say that a little of all those they mention, although after having had some practical experience with this television genre, which is quite absent and has been characterized by very scheduled debates where no one wants to argue with anyone, a statement that Pierre Bourdieu had already announced in his book On Television, Anagram, 1997); it also has to do with the "let's take a step".
Once a lady on the street recognized me and said, "You make us think," and I would say that, further down the three characteristics mentioned in the question would be this particular trait. Getting a genre or format like television to make people think would be a great conquest in the genre of debate. So I would indicate that generating public opinion is a process that comes later, but when you confront the viewer with current issues, seen from multiple participants who think differently, you can make people who consume television, by seeing that in a rational, civilized and even friendly way, much more pedagogical.
Why is a format like the debate that brings together as a multiplicity of ideas, not so common or popular on our screens?
Ana María Miralles Castellanos: To refer to Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico or others in Latin America, including Spain, where this type of program is very common, in Colombia no, perhaps from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties the debate has practically disappeared. Well, I would bet on what I worked on in the book The fear of dissent (Gedisa) in 2011, which has to do with the features of our culture, a culture that is afraid of dissent, afraid of contradiction; if we put it in terms of the one who thinks otherwise, this is an enemy, not an adversary, and the enemy must not be heard, it must be eliminated physically or morally.
Therefore, I think that in our culture even one can observe it in class discussions at the undergraduate level, that it was not well seen that a student entered leaving another student badly in front of the teacher or because this suddenly made the consensus falter. I have seen that there is a dependence on consensus, a fear of leaving it, which covers us, which leaves us calm, because in a way we must recognize that manifesting as a dissident entails consequences such as designating that person as conflictive, outside the collective order.
How to appeal to good information and contextualization so that viewers have elements of judgment to form their own opinions?
Ana María Miralles Castellanos: I think that the experience of this lady who told me that the program In Red and Black of the UPB makes us think, is already an indicator that when one takes to a television set people of very different thoughts, that she drew attention to one point: it is not just two points of view, A that opposes B or B that opposes A, but when one tries to open a spectrum considering the limitations that the television genre has of putting on the set 4, 5 people to expose different points of view, even if they are opinions, are crossed by experiences.
Therefore, making these different points of view visible to a viewer is a mixture of information and opinion that is very valuable for the construction of the opinion of those viewers. Many times we said it in the classrooms teaching public opinion, it is not enough with the information to form public opinion, that is one of the great conclusions that I drew with the Citizen Voices project¹. That is one of the ruptures that I raise in the books Journalism, Public Opinion and Citizen Agenda, where I say that it is not enough with information.
Just today, in the information age, people are asking to access the processes of analysis and interpretation and see them in action with people who are not afraid of television, who are not intimidated by confronting others so as not to fall into the trap of some debate programs that were on Colombian television where the one spoke, the other, they didn't even look at each other, each one showed off with his own. This would simply be a dead exposition of what would be a debate.
In this context: What would be those key elements to build a space for audiovisual debate?
Ana María Miralles Castellanos: The first thing I want to remember is that the program In Red and Black, and I make a parenthesis: the name seen from now on was because they were the institutional colors of the Pontifical Bolivarian University and its flag, but it seems to me that it calls a little to the idea that we had from the beginning with the program, which was the debate, because there cannot be only two positions. So, the first thing I want to remember is that we did a very rigorous planning of the program; first, the selection of a topic because you cannot debate anything about which there is no interest; you cannot artificially mount a debate: an issue that represents some conflict, something unresolved by a society, something that is "carving in the shoe".
The second thing is that we, for example, in this debate program, what we did was find that problematic axis and carefully plan the guests because if you select badly, if you censor from the beginning and if you go more for a person who is telegenic, but who does not have so much content, the function of the debate is not fulfilled. For that reason, we had a policy of 'whoever is going to talk about this issue, who hasn't talked about it before'.
Although the list at the beginning can be large and is reduced by the effects of the set, it is tried that different positions are represented so that there is enough illustration. On the other hand, they must fulfill, in addition to the condition of mastering the subject, have been involved in this subject so that they do not opine from outside; in the same way, to be willing to accept rules of the game of respectful and rational discussion so that it does not become a "chicken coop", because that is another of the defects that have been in the supposed debate programs in Spain or also in Colombia, where what there is is a confrontation and becomes an issue of which it shouts the most. It's a terrible thing where there always has to be a victor and a vanquished; someone who has the final say and that's not the idea.
What do you think about the role of accompanying the debate with reports for discussion?
Ana María Miralles Castellanos: I think it is a success and we must recognize the work of the German producer and director who accompanied us in the program, Marco Berger, who guided us in that part. Information plays an important role in public opinion, so we made the whole package, we did not stay only in the information, but we put those little well-researched notes as a provocation, but at the same time as an input to remember.
Therefore, I believe that this production of reports around the subject integrated into the debate, without reaching the prominence only of the informative note, is still an element that I think is important to take into consideration. I would only take care of the extreme as much as possible that it will not have a bias that somehow induces that "closure" of possibilities to look broadly at the issues.
In that sense, the role of the moderator is key to being able to articulate all that: What would be that appropriate moderator to conduct an audiovisual debate that meets those characteristics that we have been talking about?
Ana María Miralles Castellanos: I am going to talk about a key that seems fundamental to me: I believe that whoever manages, moderates or presents a program of this nature should be trained a little in the techniques of deliberation and argumentation; this has a very important theoretical background: there is a very theoretical part and a very practical part. I, for example, had the opportunity to work on the more philosophical issue of what it means to deliberate, which is a word that is used a lot, but it has been vulgarized, that is, we do not know what we are saying when we say deliberate and deliberate is to think and argue, so there is a deep part that is philosophical.
I had the opportunity in the United States to belong to a group where the techniques of deliberation were worked on and we were invited once a year to Dayton, Ohio, to work on the techniques of deliberation, so it was a much more practical vision of how to get someone to talk about how to get them not to monopolize the word and how to take care of that fabric of production of the word. Ultimately, the moderator is a facilitator, he is a person who acts, but who is not noticed to act, who does not have biases, who allows the different voices to emerge and is able to maintain that balance between people in the interventions and also to weave and write down what is collected in the participation of the people.
So on that there is a training that I will not say that is specialization, that one can do a little bit in a self-taught way, but the way is this to know what it is to argue and deliberate. Then get a person who is telegenic, who is not afraid of cameras, who is able to handle the shots and this is already easier to get.
Are we facing a new public opinion that is more enlightened and with a greater number of actors or, on the contrary, has it not evolved?
Ana María Miralles Castellanos: I would say no, she is no more prepared; theoretically it should be because there is more possibility of accessing information, but we all know that the information we have is not necessarily the best. In addition, there are many people sharing fake news and there is the issue of many people sharing what they have not even understood; I think that today more than ever the debate programs and these great interpreters of the present, opinion columnists and this type of debates are justified because suddenly what is most lacking is an orientation, but beware, not orientation to do this, think this, but to open those perspectives of analysis from different positions and perspectives.
The above have to do with the fact that finished truths are presented, we are even in a bigger problem, today I do not believe much in surveys, I think that big data presents us with more and better possibilities than traditional polls or opinion polls; likewise, we need to catch up in trying to transform this data that circulates on the network, how we convert it into information and cooking. In the data there is no information, the data is a data that we have to convert into knowledge. If this were done, we would speak of a new, more enlightened, smarter public opinion. Marta Toledo worked on this issue, what would be a new public opinion in networks?
What would be the role there in that context of social media? How do Facebook or YouTube participate in building public opinion? And how to generate that public opinion from social networks?
Ana María Miralles Castellanos: We have also talked about that in a not so academic way, but in a very personal way, the issue of how the debate has gone from television or practically disappeared from our television and migrated especially to those social media channels. The word that perhaps you are looking for is the emergence of public opinion, the difference between what we understood before by public opinion and what we could begin to understand today as public opinion is that before it was produced, it was built and today what is being proposed is to consider that public opinion is emerging and from where it emerges, it is empirical and there is the role of those social networks that you mention.
The idea for me of public opinion is how to establish opinions, connections between opinions of people who do not even know each other, in threads of conversations, without discriminating by positions of notoriety to those who opine, but through a work of analysis of networks and big data that for me is a form of emergency construction of citizen agendas in an analog way of production; it's about working with artificial intelligence to understand what people are saying without going into judging whether they are wrong or not. Already the difference is very great and the Social Sciences, within which is to produce television programs, train journalists and so on, should catch up in the face of these new forms of emergence of public opinion and in the face of these new forms of knowledge production in the society of the XXI century.
Undoubtedly, a genre such as debate serves to connect citizens with public life and enhance the deliberative capacity of citizens in the face of matters of public interest, whenever the Colombian television law conceives it as a public service, that is, a place for all. The invitation raised by Miralles to link social networks within the analysis of collective deliberation within the context of big data is pending.
*Luis Fernando Gutiérrez Cano and Luis Jorge Orcasitas Pacheco, are professors at the Faculty of Social Communication-Journalism of the Pontifical Bolivarian University. Special collaboration in this edition of the students of the Faculty of Social Communication Valentina Ciceri Tobón, Matías Orduz Machado, Natalia Ceballos Hoyos, Valentina Munera Jaramillo and Isabela Escobar Villegas.