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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

North Koreans Quietly Open to International Broadcasts

By Alan Heil

(This post originally appeared at The Public Diplomacy Council.)

For well more than a decade, Korea experts who specialize in international media have been examining the impact of foreign broadcasts and DVDs on users in North Korea. They have done so through a combination of in-country surveys and debriefings of defectors from North Korea, refugees and travelers abroad. In annual reports, Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders invariably have ranked that country as having the “least free” media in the world. Yet the curtain of near total silence appears to be opening as never before in North Korea.

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Whisper of America?

By Alan Heil

Under the Obama administration’s proposed FY 13 budget, the potential damage to the nation’s flagship publicly funded overseas network, the Voice of America, would be unprecedented if Congress approves it.  Contrast the reductions:  VOA faces net cuts totaling $17 million, compared with a reduction of $731,000 for its sister network, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The Voice of America, now in its 70th year, faces a far larger reduction, proportionally, than either the U.S. international broadcasting administrative support bureaucracy or collectively, the four other networks in the system.  They are:  RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Network, and Radio-TV Marti.  Cuts of VOA staff who actually put programs on the air are the principal targets of the cuts, across the board.  Such hemorrhaging must be halted if the free flow of information from America to the world is to be secured for the millennial generation so curious about our nation and its role in the century ahead.

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All Quiet on the Western Front: a look at the Five-Year Strategic Plan for U.S. International Broadcasting

By Alan L. Heil Jr.

This article originally appeared at American Diplomacy. It is republished here, slightly modified, with permission of the author and American Diplomacy.

As the Voice of America marks its 70th anniversary, what lies ahead for all of the world’s publicly-funded overseas networks in the year ahead? For Western broadcasters collectively, 2011 was the most potentially devastating year in more than eight decades on the air. Now, because of fiscal uncertainties in their host countries and rapidly evolving competition from both traditional and new media, they face huge cuts in airtime and operations. Can America step up to help fill the gap? A new strategic plan for U.S.-funded overseas broadcasting charts a possible path.

Over the years, the government networks in Europe and North America have offered a window on the world and a beacon of hope for hundreds of millions of information-denied or impoverished people on the planet. They have done so by offering accurate, in-depth, credible news, ideas, educational and cultural fare, consistent with Western journalistic norms and the free flow of information enshrined in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. The broadcasts have enhanced America’s security, and even saved lives. They helped foster a largely peaceful end to the Cold War.

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A New Kind of "Static" for All Media

By Alan Heil

"New media and old media converge to become now media."  That maxim, so persuasively articulated by 21st century public diplomacy guru Matt Armstrong, has now become real in a Voice of America Persian language television program called Parazit.  That virtual Comedy Central to Iran airs a half hour every Friday evening, and features a pair of comedian-satirists named Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi.

Parazit means "static" in Persian, and VOA audiences can’t seem to get enough of it because its targeted treatment of Iranian political figures and political practice are a welcome relief from the tiresome monotony of state television in Iran.  Last month, about 19 million people visited Parazit’s Facebook page to get a taste of its irreverent humor.  Over the past six months, the program’s popularity has surged to unprecedented heights.  Not only does it attract many of VOA’s 15 million regular viewers to its Persian News Network (PNN), it has caused an enormous surge in the number of VOA’s Parazit Facebook friends (now close to 300,000 people).  In the last month, Facebook recorded more than 20 million impressions on Parazit’s page.

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