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Matt Armstrong's blog on public diplomacy, international journalism, and the struggle against propaganda

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

Content is king, and credibility will continue to be the North Star of U.S. international broadcasting program producers and reporters in every region of the world and in the United States. As the strategic plan shows, the Board can supply an overarching policy framework. But accurate, objective journalism produced at the broadcaster level is what matters most and empowers listeners in a wide range of settings, from refugee camps in Africa, Tibetan monasteries in India, to large communities of social media consumers in the cities of China, Russia, the Arab world, Iran, North Korea, and in an awakening Burma. Although choices will be painful for all the broadcasters of the West in the years ahead, progress in 2011 toward synergies in America’s world services augur well. Congress, after all, has termed U.S. international broadcasting a national security function. It, along with the administration, the BBG, and the networks themselves, can and must master the challenges. As Edward R. Murrow once said: “Our task is formidable and difficult. But difficulty is one excuse history has never accepted.”

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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