Wendy Feliz Sefsaf
The US government
has devised a plan to repair its image in the Arab World. This
plan includes generously-funded, government-sponsored international
broadcasting, known in the past as Voice of America or Radio
Free Europe. Today, under the guidance of the Broadcasting Board
of Governors (BBG), two new programs have been developed for
the target Arab audience: Radio Sawa and the Alhurra satellite
television network. From a public communications standpoint,
US international broadcasting will have a difficult time achieving
its goal of reaching mass audiences in the Arab and Muslim world
in order to further US public diplomacy because: (1) the research
is lacking, (2) the audience is highly resistant to the messages,
and (3) the strategies and messages lack cultural appropriateness.
summarizes a research project, primarily qualitative, conducted
in the spring of 2004. To our knowledge, it was the first of
what will surely be countless reviews and analyses of the US
International Broadcasting strategies in the Arab world. The
study describes the strategy and critically analyzes the Broadcasting
Board of Governors efforts.
image abroad and most dramatically in the Arab and Muslim world
is declining. In 2002, Zogby International released the Ten
Nation Impressions of America Poll and concluded that US
policy towards Muslim nations was given low marks by those polled
in Egypt, Iran, Indonesia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and
The Press (2003) showed that the US is facing a public relations
crisis in the Muslim world and that their image has been tarnished
in many nations including among NATO allies, in Eastern Europe,
and in Muslim societies.
As a result,
the US government has come up with a plan to increase public
diplomacy programs in the region in order to repair its image.
With these intentions, the US has increased its government-sponsored
international broadcasting efforts, known in the past as Voice
of America or Radio Free Europe. Today, under the guidance of
the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), two new programs
have been developed for the target Arab audience: Radio Sawa
and the Alhurra satellite television network.
The US General
Accounting Office reports that the "approximately $1 billion
nonmilitary budget for US public diplomacy is split almost evenly
between the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors,
which oversees the activities of US government-sponsored broadcasting
overseas" (GAO 2003, p. 34).
broadcasting is not a new public diplomacy technique for the
US government, but it is one that has had many incarnations
since it began in the 1940's. The most recent model is an audience-research-driven
approach targeting mass audiences. This is in contrast to the
traditional focus during the Cold-War on elites and decision
US public diplomacy focused on foreign elites-current and future
overseas opinion leaders, agenda-setters, and decision makers.
However, the dramatic growth in global mass communications and
other trends have forced a rethinking of this approach, and
the State Department has begun to consider techniques for communicating
with broader foreign audiences (GAO 2003, p. 4).
Broadcasting Board of Governors
the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) was formed by the
International Broadcasting Act, and created a nine-member, bi-partisan
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The IBB was originally
part of the US Information Agency (USIA). When USIA was disbanded
in October 1999, the IBB and BBG were established as independent
federal government entities
BBG differs in many ways from the individuals who have run international
broadcasting entities in the past like Radio Free Europe (RFE)
and Voice of America (VOA). The BBG is currently comprised of
individuals from the commercial broadcasting world, including
Norman Pattiz, the founder and chairman of Westwood One, America's
largest radio network. Westwood One owns, manages, or distributes
the NBC Radio Network, CBS Radio Network, the Mutual Broadcasting
System, CNN Radio, Fox Radio Network, Metro Networks, Metro
Traffic, and Shadow Traffic. Another member is Steven J. Simmons,
chairman and CEO of Patriot Media and Communications, LLC, a
new company formed to purchase cable companies in the United
States. The Secretary of State also holds a permanent seat on
stated vision is "to create a flexible, multimedia, research-driven
US international broadcasting system" (BBG Strategic Plan,
p.4). In 2002, the BBG created a new strategic plan for the
agency. The plan, entitled "Marrying the Mission to the
Market," outlines their future plans in great detail along
with a discussion of current limitations.
strategic plan calls for substantive research, including defining,
segmenting, and understanding target audiences. The BBG has
contracted much of this audience research out to InterMedia,
an organization which conducts audience research in developing
countries. InterMedia's clients include many other international
broadcasting groups including the British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC) and Deutche Welle, the national German broadcasting group.
the market challenges cited in the report include: media competitiveness,
lack of branding, poor broadcasting strategies, poor development
of target audiences, dated broadcasting formats, and poor marketing
and promotion. Therefore, they suggest that the various ways
in which they will attempt to address these challenges include
"strengthening our multi-media profile, funding and conducting
research, carrying out marketing and promotion, (and) securing
talented language-qualified journalists, broadcasters and technicians"
(BBG Strategic Plan, pg. 25).
It is clear that the BBG is moving towards reforming the "Cold
War" style of international broadcasting and attempting
to create a hip and modern feel to their programming in an effort
to reach and build a larger and younger audience. One example
of this strategy at work is the two-year-old venture known as
Radio Sawa. Radio Sawa is a 24-hour radio channel broadcast
into Arab countries with western-friendly governments, including
Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait. Based on audience research, the BBG
developed a format that includes trendy western and Arab pop
music. They include 5-10 minute news reports between music to
inform the audience of US foreign policy and world politics.
The BBG recently cited the success of the network by announcing
the results of an ACNielsen survey of Radio Sawa's audience
in several Arab countries. The survey found that "11 percent
of Egyptians aged 15 and older listened to Sawa in the previous
week, as well as 40 percent of Kuwaitis." (BBG Annual Report
2004, the BBG launched a satellite television network called
Alhurra. Alhurra has been called America's answer to the popular
Qatar-based Arabic satellite channel, Al Jazeera. With barely
a few months under its belt, it is hard to say whether or not
it will be successful. Tomlinson, a member of the BBG, discussed
his ideas about the need for US-sponsored satellite television
in his testimony before Congress in February 2003. He stated
that television is quickly becoming the preferred medium for
news in the "Arab World." He believes that by launching
this network the US will "make a major contribution toward
helping the people of the region move away from extremism and
violence and toward democracy and freedom." (Senate Hearing
Testimony pg. 7)
Perspectives on Current International Broadcasting Strategies
contrasting perspectives on the role and future of US sponsored
international broadcasting come from Ambassador Edward Djerejian
and Dr. Andrew Elliott-experienced individuals in public diplomacy
and international broadcasting, respectively. They are also
vocal critics of the BBG's plans.
Edward Djerejian is the director of the James A. Baker III Institute
for Public Policy at Rice University and a lifetime career Foreign
Service officer. He served as US Ambassador to both Israel and
Syria. He also leads the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy
for the Arab and Muslim World. He prepared a report to the Committee
on Appropriations in the US House of Representatives in October
2003. This report was titled Changing Minds, Winning Peace:
A New Strategic Direction for US Public Diplomacy in the Arab
and Muslim World. In the report he describes the potential
challenges of broadcasting into an Arab world that is highly
cynical and suspicious of US motives. Because of this challenge,
he also discusses the need for research.
his point on the weakness of international broadcasting in achieving
public diplomatic goals, Djerejian discusses a recent General
Accounting Office survey of State Department public affairs
officers. In this survey the officers were asked their opinions
on the effectiveness of government-sponsored international broadcasting
in achieving US public diplomacy objectives in their host countries.
The survey found that the majority believe it is either ineffective
or neutral: "neither effective nor ineffective." (GAO,
"US public diplomacy," pg. 61).
(2003) believes the BBG should be required to demonstrate its
worth and effectiveness before gaining additional government
support. He adds that Radio Sawa needs to establish more tangible
public diplomacy objectives, in addition to its goal of building
a large audience. Furthermore, their research should prove that
Radio Sawa can change negative attitudes into positive
attitudes and "move the needle" toward what the State
Department, in its mission statement on public diplomacy and
public affairs, calls "influence" (p. 30).
critic of the BBG believes there should be a separation between
international broadcasting and the State Department. This vocal
advocate is Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott, a 20-year veteran audience
researcher at Voice of America. In a personal interview he discussed
the many challenges international broadcasting is faced with
in the 21st century. He explained his view that the Arab world
is more difficult to influence now because of its access to
satellite television and the internet. He believes the Al Jazeera
and Al Arabiya networks are popular because they appeal to mass
sentiment. He went on to add that the US could best counteract
Al Jazeera with a stodgy, balanced news service, similar to
PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He also believes that the US
should be targeting the elites in these countries and not mass
audiences, as the new board is hoping to do. Finally he shared
his hope that the BBC or CNN would begin broadcasting into the
Arab and Muslim world, as he believes their credibility and
autonomy would allow for quicker success than the BBG could
hope to achieve (K. Elliott, personal communication, April 14,
penned a letter to Ambassador Djerejian in response to his report.
He discussed the BBG's strategy of targeting "elites"
as opposed to mass audiences. He believes that mass audiences
will be difficult to reach because they will not be attracted
to the type of information that will be provided, nor will they
go to the trouble of finding the broadcasts. He notes that there
is a reason why international broadcasting audiences are elite,
which is that "mass audiences are less likely to own a
shortwave radio, tune to a distant medium wave signal, visit
a website, or endure the information laden, entertainment-sparse
content of traditional international broadcasting (Djerejian
letter pg. 8).
also makes an important point with respect to Alhurra's credibility.
He asserts his belief that international broadcasters with strong
ties to governments will not gain mass appeal because of their
inability to be objective. He questions whether Alhurra will
be able to interview and cover the stories of interest to their
Arab audience. He cites a particular event from September 2001
when "the State Department applied pressure on VOA not
to broadcast excerpts of an interview with Taliban leader Mullah
Omar." He also describes a Congressional conference committee
that reported, "The conferees expect that the VOA will
not air interviews with any official from nations that sponsor
terrorism or any representative or member of terrorist organizations,
or otherwise afford such individual opportunities to air inaccurate,
propagandistic, or inflammatory messages. (Djerejian letter
pg. 12) With these limitations Alhurra will quickly establish
itself as a propaganda station. Elliott believes Alhurra's challenge
is "to transmit to a skeptical target audience while taking
its income from a possible meddlesome US government."
believes the BBC has greater success than the US in international
broadcasting because of two important distinctions-consolidation
and autonomy. Elliott is not the first to criticize the US international
broadcasting system as a "jerry built monstrosity."
However, he illustrates the problem by discussing the tendency
of its various components to compete among themselves. For example,
Elliot points out that Radio Sawa, Radio Free Iraq, and the
remnant of the VOA Arabic Service all maintain Arabic-language
websites and that none of these services have links to the others.
The BBG has responded by saying it will address the overlap
that takes place in US international broadcasting.
also raises the critical issue of autonomy. He reports that
while the VOA is required by law to broadcast editorials, the
BBC World Service is prohibited by law from broadcasting editorials.
He goes on to argue that this "contrast between the two
stations in not lost on listeners" (Djerejian letter pg.
and Americans are like ships passing in the night, sounding
their horns, firing their guns, making known their views,
but having no impact on the other. The epitome of this is
the widening gap between Arabs' perceptions of the US and
many Americans' flawed interpretations of those Arab perceptions.
Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon
From a public
communications standpoint, US international broadcasting will
have a difficult time achieving its goal of reaching mass audiences
in the Arab and Muslim world in order to further US public diplomacy
because (1) the research is lacking, (2) the audience is highly
resistant to the messages, and (3) the strategies and messages
lack cultural appropriateness.
BBG has written research into their planning process; however
the type of research they are conducting is unclear, the data
is not shared with other key partners, and its reliability is
unknown. For example, research that the BBG has done has not
been made available to the public or even other State Department
employees. Dr. Elliot noted that "the BBG has never held
a public meeting and is very proprietary over all of their activities"
(K. Elliott, personal interview, April 14, 2004). Additionally
a GAO survey of Foreign Service officers in 2003 showed that
the BBG was not making research available to individuals working
in embassies abroad. When embassy employees were asked, "How
often does your office receive the BBG audience research data?"
29.6 percent reported "sporadically or rarely," 53percent
reported "never," and 15.7 percent reported "no
basis to judge," indicating that 98.3 percent of US embassy
staff have insufficient access to BBG research data.
to reliability, the Djerejian report (2003) reviewed a survey
of Radio Sawa listeners and pointed out that the Radio Sawa
survey consisted of poorly constructed questions that provided
little insight into how influential Radio Sawa is. It asked,
"How favorably or unfavorably inclined are you personally
toward the USA? It found Radio Sawa listeners had more positive
views than non-Sawa listeners. This result was to be expected,
however, since any listener to a US-sponsored station is likely
to be favorably disposed to the United Sates. A better question
would be whether Radio Sawa had changed a listener's attitude
toward America. Better still would be the establishment of an
attitude baseline to measure whether attitudes have improved
and to compare the impact of other media, while controlling
for demographic factors" (pg. 31).
It is not
clear what the BBG is attempting to understand with their research.
Are they trying to deconstruct the target public in order to
understand them, or trying to prove that their commercial broadcasting
strategies will result in larger audiences and increased market
share? Should they not be attempting to asses what the challenges
are in communicating with their target audience and how they
can be overcome? Why are they not conducting research that attempts
to understand what the political, historical, and psychological
environment is in the countries that they seek to reach? One
would assume that broadcasting to Europe after WWII is dramatically
different than broadcasting to the Arab world amidst the current
Iraq Crisis. Yet, without reliable research, the differences
and cultural nuances will continue to elude the US broadcasters.
(2002), a Middle East media analyst, notes the problem with
US and Arab communication today: "Neither the US nor the
Arabs have taken any serious systematic approaches to learn
why there is this gap of misunderstanding and mutual mistrust."
He adds that both sides have been more focused on setting up
media channels for disseminating their messages, than on the
actual 'content of the exchanged messages'" (p. 2).
If the BBG
wants their public communications efforts to succeed, they can
look to Mendehlson (1973) an advocate of in-depth research,
and Hyman & Sheatsley (1947), who also discuss research
to understand the psychological factors that will affect the
success of a campaign. They find that "those responsible
for information campaigns cannot rely simply on 'increasing
the flow' to spread their information effectively" (1947
p. 421). They posit that there are psychological barriers that
must be understood and overcome in order to communicate successfully.
have conducted failed campaigns understand the necessity for
extensive and reliable audience research. Most 21st century
corporations would easily spend one million dollars on research
to safeguard the other millions they spend on their public outreach
campaigns. Why would the BBG not invest a significant amount
of money into reliable research in order to ensure that the
millions they are spending are not being wasted?
research should attempt, first and foremost, to understand the
media environment in Arab and Muslim countries. For example,
how are broadcasters like Al Jazeera impacting their audience
and what does this mean for American broadcasters? This information
would significantly influence their approach. If this type of
research was being conducted they might uncover the fact that
Arab publics are very different from American publics in their
attitudes towards media because most Arab nations control their
domestic media. This control results in low credibility among
its audience. Mohammed el-Nawawy, an assistant professor of
Communication at Stonehill College stated, "I think the
Arab audience are very critical; they have always been critical
of their own media because they know they don't get the complete
picture from their own government-owned media." He also
believes that Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV have done a good job
of covering all sides of issues, which has increased their popularity
and credibility significantly.
If the BBG
had done a better job of understanding the target audience's
feelings and attitudes towards existing Arab language broadcasters
like Al Jazeera before launching their own network, they might
have devised an intelligent strategy of communication and engagement.
Instead, many US government officials have discounted these
networks and taken a hostile stance towards them. Al Jazeera
has become, in its short life, a trusted source of news and
information in the Arabic-speaking region. However, instead
of playing on their field, the US has decided to build its own.
The US launch of Arabic-language satellite broadcasting may
"reinforce a competitive stand vis-à-vis the United
States and the Arab and Islamic world, rather than a cooperative,
relationship-building stance" (Zaharna, congressional testimony,
The US administration's hostile attitude towards existing Arabic-language
media may also be a serious public relations mistake. With over
35 million viewers worldwide, why would the US want to alienate
Al Jazeera? Dr. Elliot discusses Al Jazeera's frustration with
US officials who have not been available for their interview
programs and his frustration with what he believes is a "missed
opportunity to convey desired messages to a ready-made audience"
(pg. 12). Jihad Fakhreddine also notes "it is intriguing
how the Bush administration has failed to realize the opportunities
presented by the pan-Arab satellite stations for disseminating
the official political perspective of the United States"
(The Daily Star).
Kenton Keith, former Ambassador to Qatar also counseled that
"You have to be a supporter of Al Jazeera, even if you
have to hold your nose sometimes" ("Reality Television,"
if the BBG is successful in attracting mass audiences through
the proliferation of catchy programming, it is unlikely that
this consumption alone will get far in altering attitudes and
beliefs about America. One must understand the psychological
barriers that exist, including the audiences' need for consistency
and the high-level of suspicion attached to government-sponsored
international broadcasting. Without a clear understanding of
the barriers and a strategy to address them, the messages will
example of this is found in a study conducted by Smith (1973)
where he analyzed more than one hundred individuals as they
listened to daily broadcasts of international broadcasting originating
from the former Soviet Union. He found that the audience will
reject messages that are contrary to their existing predispositions.
Therefore, with anti-American sentiment running high in these
target countries, it is likely that the US's best efforts will
be discarded as propaganda. Smith also states that "low
credibility" coupled with "audience resistance to
perceived manipulation attempts" makes international broadcasting,
in general, a difficult sell (p. 116).
(2003) consistency theory alludes to the difficulties one encounters
in attempting to change another's mind. If individuals seek
"balance, consistence, congruity or consonance" (1994
p. 182) in their communications, US broadcasting that carries
a mandate to disseminate US public diplomacy messages will likely
not fit with that need. This will result in audience rejection
of the messages.
If at a
minimum, the BBG hopes to attract listeners and change attitudes
by highlighting the positive things about American life like
popular culture and technological and medical advances, it will
probably not be enough to "move the needle" and change
anti-American sentiment in the region. Pew public polls reveal
that "very large majorities of the publics in most of the
world admire US technology. This is the case even among people
with a low regard for the US generally" (Pew Center, 2003).
Although anecdotal evidence demonstrates that some people in
the Arab world are watching and listening-either out of curiosity,
or because the mediums provide music and films that they cannot
get elsewhere-there is no evidence of what this will accomplish.
Anecdotal evidence also shows that the target audiences have
been angered by Alhurra's poor coverage of recent important
issues related to Iraq and Palestine, thus further downgrading
If the US
continues to ignore the values, perceptions, and underlying
psychological factors affecting this target public, it will
continue to implement poor broadcasting strategies that may
not only be missing the mark, but creating unintended, negative
Khouri, executive editor of The Daily Star in Beirut,
Lebanon explains US misperception of the "Arab" world
and the dangers associated with it in an op-ed:
president's intellectual gangsterism ("they hate our
freedom") is simplistic, wrong and dangerous
arguing that our region is troubled and violent because Arabs
and Muslims hate American values, and then attempting to correct
this by launching television, radio and magazine efforts in
Arabic, the US government perpetuates a fatal combination
of political blindness and cultural misperception that is
only going to exacerbate the gap between Americans and Arabs,
rather than close it (p.1).
are also echoed by the BBG's Tomlinson who said he believed
launching Alhurra would "make a major contribution toward
helping the people of the region move away from extremism and
violence and toward democracy and freedom" (Senate hearing
testimony 2003). These dogmatic, ideological statements reflect
a cultural imperialism that is poorly received in the Arab World.
penned an Op-Ed for the New York Times explaining what international
broadcasters should be doing if they want to attract mass audiences.
He believes that foreign broadcasters attract audiences when
they provide a trustworthy alternative to their state-run domestic
media. He believes that touting America's greatness is not what
will attract large audiences, and he "is not aware of any
person huddled by their radios to hear about the achievements
and values of the United States or any other country" (p.
the US's whole approach to communicating with this new target
audience has to be reexamined. As Zaharna suggests, "the
model of one-way communication and image building isn't working."
It also seems that typical American communication styles do
not resonate in this part of the world. For example the constant
positioning of the US, as an altruistic country, kindly trying
to instill democratic values and principles of freedom abroad,
is missing the mark. This positioning must have inspired the
naming of the network Alhurra (The Free One). The name Alhurra
is reportedly being perceived as condescending and hypocritical
by the target audience. These errors could have been avoided
by employing simple message testing techniques. These are a
few among several faux pas that have taken place recently
in US public communications in the Arab world.
when the US does not intend to offend, it may be doing more
damage than good. Cross-cultural training could help to avoid
some of the semantic and stylistic errors the current administration
is notorious for. Zaharna discusses some of these issues and
explains how our "cultural style" may be considered
offensive to an Arab audience. She writes, "President Bush's
penchant for 'speaking straight' may resonate positively with
an American public that values directness. But the Arab public
prefers more indirect messages, especially in public. Thus,
irrespective of the message's content, differences in delivery
style can cause a message to resonate negatively" (Zaharna
explains what some unintended consequences of US international
broadcasting may be. He believes Alhurra will put American values
on display, which will highlight the contradiction between those
values-human rights, liberty, and freedom of speech-and our
foreign policy. He believes that US broadcasting is insulting
to the Arabs and doomed to failure. He states, "Alhurra,
like the US government's Radio Sawa and Hi magazine before it,
will be an entertaining, expensive, and irrelevant hoax. Where
do they get this stuff from? Why do they keep insulting us like
this?" (p. 1).
significant information available in the US about cultural differences
and diversity. There are research firms across the globe and
professional organizations who conduct training in cultural
appropriateness. With these resources readily available to the
US government, these mistakes become inexcusable and dangerous.
the US is unable to design and execute culturally appropriate
public communication campaigns to this region, either because
of its lack of understanding or because of the target audience's
refusal to hear the messages, then another approach should be
writes about the new challenges and approaches that must be
taken in twenty-first-century, post-September 11th public diplomacy.
He believes the US is more likely to achieve success if it "structures
activities in ways that encourage dialogue." Zaharna underscores
his point by stating "nothing in the Arab or Islamic world
suggests that this public subscribes to a one-way, transmission
model of communication. The culture and society are built around
relationships" (Zaharna pg. 6). Most parties agree that
in order for the US to successfully influence public opinion
in this part of the world, it must change the paradigm of the
past and "establish a two-way approach that builds credible
dialogue" and relationships.
believes there are two ways of approaching US public diplomacy
in the Arab World-"relationship-building strategies or
messages and image-building strategies." Zaharna argues
that current American public diplomacy "appears very much
focused on its message and its image." She believes that
a more effective approach would entail "relationship-building
strategies [that] focus on developing mutually beneficial and
reciprocal connections between people and nations" (Zaharna
building is not a new concept for the US State Department. Some
great examples of relationship-building programs in the past
have included student, professional, and cultural exchanges.
The Fulbright Fellowship program has been a tried and true component
of our foreign outreach. They might also consider an increase
in educational, social, and grass-roots community programs on
the ground in foreign countries. Other helpful steps would include
careful restraint and cultural sensitivity towards the Arabs
and Muslims who live in the United States with ties to family
abroad. There is no shortage of ideas if there is, similarly,
no shortage of support for them.
image abroad and most specifically in the Arab and Muslim world
is at an all-time low. The US administration has said, time
and again, they must win the "hearts and minds" of
the Arab public. However, all they have created in terms of
a solution to this public relations crisis is a poorly funded
and thought-out plan of public diplomacy, which includes a healthy
dose of government-sponsored international broadcasting.
study has sought to apply the dominant theories in public communication
to analyzing the Broadcasting Board of Governor's plan and launch
of international broadcasting into the Arab world with Radio
Sawa and Alhurra television. This study finds the BBG's public
communication efforts fall short in three important areas: research,
effective message development, and cultural appropriateness.
research is lacking, not widely shared, and unreliable. Their
messages are not only failing to influence their audience, but
are actually proving offensive to them. They also display a
lack of cultural awareness and appropriateness which is widening,
rather than bridging, the gap between Arabs and Americans.
there is no lack of experts, studies, or information that could
help the BBG design an effective public communications plan
in the Arab world, questions hover. Why are they not doing a
better job? As Henry Hyde of the House International Relations
Committee said, "How is it that the country that invented
Hollywood and Madison Avenue has allowed such a destructive
and parodied image of itself to become the intellectual coin
of the realm overseas?" (Senate Hearing Testimony).
for further research
senator Richard Lugar has argued, "We must resist the temptation
to believe that public relations wizardry alone can fix the
American image overseas." Furthermore, public diplomacy
is pointless while the US administration continues to implement
public policy that is perceived negatively by their target audience.
Djerejian argues along similar lines that "your public
diplomacy can only be as good as your values and policies."
In order to address these issues, further research must be conducted
to understand the relationship between a country's or organization's
reputation and its policies. In a case like this, where US policies
are vastly despised and resented among the target audience is
there really a role for public diplomacy?
questions must be posed, for example: should US international
broadcasting serve as a public diplomacy tool under the US State
Department? Or, should it be allowed to form into an independent
media organization similar to the British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC)? Most people would agree that autonomy is important for
the overall credibility of any media organization. Throughout
the past few years in America and Europe, there has been a great
amount of discussion and debate regarding issues of independence
and consolidation of media. This discussion has been prompted
by changing media ownership regulations in the US and Prime
Minister Berlusconi's loosening of media ownership laws in Italy.
Government or corporate controlled media will always live under
a cloud of suspicion. Therefore, how well can it serve the goals
of public diplomacy anywhere?
also suggested that social capital and civil society would be
enhanced if we spent the millions of dollars earmarked for Alhurra
and Radio Sawa to instead develop a free press in the countries
themselves. Others have suggested that broadcasting C-Span or
PBS programming would be a better strategy than distributing
carefully formulated and scripted news programming with a public
diplomacy mandate. These are all important points that warrant
important area for consideration and investigation is the difficulties
in reaching important regions like Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
Radio jamming of frequencies, refusal of cable distributors
to carry US programming, and blocks on websites, all prevent
the US public diplomacy efforts from reaching the residents
of these countries. Since there will always be limits on access
to these publics, is this the best communications strategy?
The US has no way of guaranteeing that publications will print
their ads or position papers, and no assurances that satellite
networks will carry their networks or make radio frequencies
available to them. They can develop communication products,
but they will never be guaranteed the media to deliver them.
the US, once again, back to the question of whether or not their
current efforts will succeed. Perhaps, as Ross and Zaharna suggest,
a new approach is needed. As Senator Lugar argues, "Successful
public diplomacy is not about manipulating people into liking
us against their interests. Rather, it is about clearly and
honestly explaining the views of the United states, underscoring
the issues of commonality, and expanding opportunities for interaction
between Americans and foreign peoples" or, put more simply,
public diplomacy is, or should be, about "relationship
building" (pg. 3).
Wendy Feliz Sefsaf works at the National Public Radio
(NPR) affiliate in Washington D.C., WAMU 88.5 FM. She recently
received her master's degree in Public Communication from the
School of Communication at American University. She may be contacted
Board of Governors (2002). Marrying the Mission to the Market
Strategic Plan 2002-2006. Retrieved April 1, 2004 from http://www.bbg.gov/bbg_plan.cfm.
P.W. (1983). "The Third Person Effect in Communication"
in Public Opinion Quarterly 47, 1-15.
Edward P. (2003). Changing Minds, Winning Peace: A New Strategic
Direction for US Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World.
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