Binacom started in February 1990 when Efrain Avila gathered a team of professors and students in the San Diego-Tijuana border cities to discuss ideas of ethics, reporting techniques and cross-border concerns during regular meetings.

On September 28, 1990, Binacom held its first encounter. The encounter was a one-day conference held at the city’s Casa de Cultura hosted by Iberoamericana Tijuana, with over 200 professors and students from San Diego, Tijuana and Mexicali.

Six months later, another encounter was held at San Diego State University to discuss common interests between the United States and Mexico. These interests include topics like barriers of communication, the need for a broad education of Communication Studies, the skills and responsibilities required in communication, and the different roles the government of each country has on the media.

The encounters, held every six months, were set up as a place for scholars to discuss the importance of communication to individuals, the community, the nation, and the world about cross-border affairs.

This article was written by two founders of BINACOM after the two encounters

Binational Communication Education

By Efraín Avila 
Iberoamericana University Noroeste


Barbara Hartung 
San Diego State University

High technology recently has brought scenes of the Persian Gulf war into homes in Tijuana and San Diego where instant images were bleeped on the television screens. A common image was shared through communication. Yet many Tijuanans and San Diegans, although they live as neighbors in a combined metropolis of four million, have few shared experiences at the local level. The tall green fence at the San Ysidro/Tijuana border is symbolic of the giant division amongst people–slowing and frustrating the flow of human understanding and respect. The artificiality of keeping people from travel and work and socialization is particularly clear at the point where Mexico and the U.S. overlap. Although we live in close proximity, many Tijuanans and San Diegans do not travel into each other’s neighborhoods, do not speak the other’s language, do not understand the motivations of the other’s people, and in some cases–perhaps most disappointing of all–do not care much about what happens on the opposite border.

For those who do care, and wish to build bridges of respect and understanding, it becomes obvious the communication systems of the two communities hold the key to change perceptions. For what is broadcast and printed in the mass media of the two countries etches an image that is strengthened over time. If the image is negative, the detrimental effects of misunderstanding and mistrust are more deeply ingrained. This has, all too often, been the case.

But, some suggest, just the opposite could happen. Positive images could, over time, change perceptions, leading to a more informed and enlightened view about each other. Those who help train the young men and women on both sides of the border to write and broadcast are in a particularly challenging position because their students can either perpetuate misunderstanding or establish a shared respect through the flow of words and images.

Colleges and universities on the border acknowledge the potential they hold for building bridges through communication, and many acknowledge the need to think globally and underscore international efforts of faculty and students to share and learn. Mexican university faculty have perhaps most clearly articulated the complexities and the challenges for communications academics. Communications professors at the Autonomous University of Baja California in Mexicali have explained their philosophy in this way:

Communication builds the social framework which is essential anywhere people have had to create and maintain lasting relationships. The properties of the communication networks established, their structure and efficiency, determine to a large extent the chances for alliance building and the possibilities to reduce tension or solve problems.

At the present time, due to the rapid pace of mass media and the worldwide network of communications of many kinds, communication has taken on global dimensions. Countries and peoples are no longer isolated from one another. Each nation partakes daily in the reality of others. Global interdependency is growing deeper and stronger.

The young people of today inherit this world. It is they who will draw upon their professional training to work towards resolution of problems and to extend the complex consciousness that communication creates for humanity.

Communication plays a fundamental role in reducing the imbalances created in international interdependency, imbalances created by misguided visions or elaborate tensions between countries.

Thus it is important to note that communication, as such, binds knowledge together and connects people with the memory of their collective roots as well as their own national identity.

In a related discussion, Iberoamericana University Noroeste’s Efraín Avila suggested the need for binational cooperation in communications education on the border. He explains his thinking in the following:

In our time and space in history, we cannot think of studying and communicating reality by only one viewpoint. Reality has become so complex that we need to be helped by others, sharing the same moment, in order to understand it, first, then by joining criteria, analyzing the data and criticizing so we can transform the reality. The University is a point of reunion of such knowledge, where we can freely express our reflections and intellectual restlessness and where by listening to each other, we can begin to draw pathways which can change our perspectives and methods of interpreting reality.

We who have selected communication as our career made a commitment with truth such as we perceive it, but we also made a stronger commitment with our societies and that is to listen to other cultures, other ways of life so that we can enhance our own by learning of their experiences in triumph and in defeat.

If reality is complex and the commitment is strong, it follows that we can become over-anxious in our work, that we can say things without listening to what we say; the result is without filtering through analysis the message that we communicate to our audience,producing only a unilateral transmissionof reality, which is not, in a strict sense, reality. The transmission of what is happening can only be reached by a team effort and, in these border cities, team effort should be enriched by a bicultural endeavor that tends to reach a universal understanding that communicating is educating and that educating without a universal perspective can only arrive at a first level of knowledge.

It was this thinking that led Avila in February of 1990 to call a meeting of representatives of his university, Mexicali’s UABC,Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Grossmont College in El Cajon, and San Diego City College and San Diego State University in San Diego. These communications teachers discussed the idea of meeting regularly to learn more about communications from the vantage point of the other country to enable them to share this knowledge with their students. After several initial get-acquainted sessions, Avila proposed that a conference be presented,hosted by Ibero in Tijuana. As a result over 200 students from Tijuana, Mexicali and San Diego County universities and colleges attended a one-day conference at the city’s Casa de Cultura on September 28, 1990. Morning and afternoon panels featuredprofessional journalists from Tijuana and San Diego who talked about ethics, reporting techniques and special concerns of covering the border. Inquiring students had the chance to question journalists in lively discussions. Students also shared their work in breakout sessions where one-on-one dialogue was particularly beneficial to the students and faculty. In addition, an evening session preceding the conference was called where academics discussed their various communications programs and approaches to educating communicators.

A similar format was followed six months later at SDSU where about 200 students and faculty gathered. Plans are to present a student conference annually.

Out of these two encounters, as they were called, certain issues have appeared. The discussions have often focused on the common interests rather than the differences in the two countries’ media systems. Some of these have included:

  1. The need for commitment to communications in order to be successful. Most communicators face many barriers including societal pressures against changing the status quo, as well as long hours and limited income in comparison to those in other professions.
  2. Communicators need a broad education encompassing the skills of communication with emphasis on writing that will produce powerful language and clear expression. Equally important is the study of history, economics, politics and government, health, the arts and sciences in one’s own country as well as in one’s neighbors.
  3. The responsibilities of the communicator are important and should be taken seriously by fledgling and veteran communicators. The effects of communication on the individual, the community, the nation and the world are worth careful consideration in schools of communication.
  4. Communicators need to be skeptical about people and institutions, guarding against allowing special interest groups to commandeer the mass media or slant the news to their benefit. Schools of communication concentrate on developing questioning minds in students and the ability to interview subjects by asking thoughtful, penetrating questions.,
  5. The need to keep a distance from government to avoid government control of expression is a concern of communicators worldwide. The watchdog role of the mass media takes on different characteristics, depending on the laws and values of the country, although both Mexico and the United States subscribe to the media’s important role here.
  6. Creative thinkers need to be fostered in communications schools where those who will set the media’s agendas are educated to make fair, accurate and perceptive decisions that will inform their communities of the day’s events in the context that gives meaning to the information.
  7. Faculty for communications schools come from the media themselves. On both sides of the border experience in newspapers, television, radio, film direction and production, public relations, and advertising are considered important prerequisites for teaching in the classroom. Schools often hire adjunct faculty from the staffs of the mass media.
  8. Schools on both sides of the border are concerned about finances, or the lack thereof. Funds for facilities, equipment, libraries and faculty are always in shorter supply than administrators would like.

Other more philosophical issues that are expected to be considered in future discussions include how journalists’ beliefs are developed, the effects of history on the development of mass media in Mexico and the U.S., laws in the countries affecting the mass media, and relationships of government and the military to the mass media.

The challenge, then, is for communications teachers on both sides of the border to encourage students to understand and learn about the other’s history, politics, economics, laws and societal and personal values so they write in context, accurately and honestly reflecting truth as seen in another’s eyes, and mind, and heart.

How long this will take, we do not know, but a small group of communications teachers are deeply committed to the task and are taking those first steps. We are excited and enthusiastic about our challenge because we feel it is eminently possible for neighbors to live in harmony.


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