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

Russia Today (RT) expands into San Francisco, claims ratings success in Washington and New York

As the debate over whether Al Jazeera English should be available in the United States continues, Russia Today, the Russian government’s international news channel, quietly makes inroads across the United States. Kim Andrew Elliott, audience analyst at the International Broadcasting Bureau, a unit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, draws our attention to a press release from RT from 11 February 2011:

RT, an international TV news channel, has launched its English-language feed, 24×7, on San Francisco’s major cable provider, Comcast, which brings it to approximately 4 million viewers in the San Francisco metro area.

In the U.S., RT is carried by cable networks in New York, NY; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; and in Los Angeles, CA. …

Nielsen Media research showed RT’s average daily audience in Washington, DC, as exceeding that of Deutsche Welle, France 24, Euronews, and CCTV News, the English-language Chinese news channel. In New York metro, the Nielsen survey indicated that RT’s daily audience exceeds the average daily audience of Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera English and CCTV News.

Almost one-half (42.6%) of RT viewers* in Washington, DC, and in New York, NY,** appreciate RT’s critical take on news of the day, as well as its different stance from the mainstream media, and see it as a reliable alternative. The majority (87%) of respondents consider mainstream TV channels, such as CNN and BBC America, to be partisan. …

RT, an international TV news channel in English, Spanish, and Arabic is carried in the US by cable TV providers in Washington, DC; New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; San Diego, CA; and now in San Francisco, CA.  GlobeCast WorldTV, a satellite provider, makes RT available elsewhere in the U.S.  RT broadcasts 24×7 from its studios in Moscow, Russia, as well as from Washington, DC, in the U.S.  All of its content is available live at www.RT.com.

It is ironic that foreign governments, be they China or Russia or Iran or the United Kingdom, or terrorists, can freely broadcast to Americans – increasingly from studios within the U.S. At one time, such foreign government material was officially considered propaganda. Today, it is only the U.S. Government media that is considered propaganda and off-limits to audiences who request them. Isn’t it time to revisit this?

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Civilian Response Corps: Smart Power in Action

imageThe Civilian Response Corps has a website: http://www.civilianresponsecorps.gov/. From the about page:

The Civilian Response Corps is a group of civilian federal employees who are specially trained and equipped to deploy rapidly to provide reconstruction and stabilization assistance to countries in crisis or emerging from conflict. The Corps leverages the diverse talents, expertise, and technical skills of members from nine federal departments and agencies for conflict prevention and stabilization.

We are diplomats, development specialists, public health officials, law enforcement and corrections officers, engineers, economists, lawyers and others who help fragile states restore stability and rule of law and achieve economic recovery as quickly as possible.

Visit the site and check it out. See the below links for previous discussions on CRC and the State Department Coordinator for Reconstruction & Stabilization (S/CRS):

Nominations to the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy sent to the Senate

The White House announced last night that they sent four nominations for the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy to the Senate. This includes the two the White House announced an intent to nominate in November, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Mr. Sim Farar.

The four nominees sent to the Senate are:

  • Ryan C. Crocker, of Washington, to be a Member of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy for a term expiring July 1, 2012, vice Penne Percy Korth, term expired.
  • Sim Farar, of California, to be a Member of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy for a term expiring July 1, 2012, vice John E. Osborn, term expired.
  • William J. Hybl, of Colorado, to be a Member of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy for a term expiring July 1, 2012.  (Reappointment).
  • Anne Terman Wedner, of Illinois, to be a Member of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy for a term expiring July 1, 2013, vice Jay T. Snyder, term expired.

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Disabling and Enabling Comments on the Blog

For anyone who tried to comment on the blog this week, and I know of at least one person, the comment capability was temporarily disabled by this blog’s hosting service. On occasion, the steady flow of attacks from spammers and others cause the host to disable various scripts (usually but not always the comment script) that support this site to protect the server on which it runs. Several times a year, the attacks (again, mostly but not entirely, spam) amount to a denial of service.

The blog is now fully restored. Comment at will.

Another US Deficit – China and America – Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)The Senate Foreign Relations Committee released its report on the imbalance of public diplomacy activities between China and the United States. Entitled “Another U.S. Deficit – China and America – Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet,” this is the final version of the report I reviewed on 11 February. Commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Ranking Member of the Committee, the report is a unique and necessary review of Chinese Government engagement in America. The report also highlights Chinese obstruction of reciprocity and U.S. Government failure to act, notably in the area of information freedom initiatives.

The timing of this report is critical. It comes on the heels of the recent U.S. visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao. More importantly, it comes at a time when the U.S. diplomacy budget, public and otherwise (is there really any diplomacy that is not in some part negotiated in public?), is under threat in today’s austere budget environment. At risk is the development and implementation of smart policies that, coupled with unfettered access to information to create knowledge, ultimately have a greater and more enduring bang for the buck than the kinetic effect of any smart munition.

Senator Lugar closes his letter that opens the report, a 2-page letter that you should read if you do not have the time or inclination to read even the report’s executive summary, with the hope the report will “stimulate dialogue within Congress.” It certainly should.

Read the report here (1.55mb PDF).

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China and American Public Diplomacy: Another US Deficit

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) will publish another major report on public diplomacy shortly. Written by Paul Foldi, senior professional staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this report focuses on Chinese public diplomacy with the inevitable comparison to U.S. efforts. I was given a sneak peak at the report. It comes at a time when tough talk in Congress on the State Department’s budget could benefit from such an analysis of a country that is both a major competitor and partner across all aspects of national power and daily life.

This report is another in-depth investigation and commentary on a critical aspect of U.S. global engagement. It focuses on the China-United States exchange. This is the third report sponsored by Senator Lugar to reinvigorate public diplomacy. While the other two were on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (6/2010) and the American Centers (2/2009), this report focused primarily on China. The effect serves to expose not only the broad, extended, and expensive effort of the Chinese to engage foreign audiences, it also highlights opportunities and failed opportunities for the U.S.  

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Zhui: U.S. public diplomacy through Corporate Engagement

imageIn the debate over what is and is not public diplomacy, here’s another example to throw into the mix. In 2009, the ad agency for Nike China won an award for its series on Liu Xiang, a Chinese phenom in the hurdles. Liu carried the inspirations of China into the Beijing Olympic games in 2008. In the qualifying heat for the 110-meter hurdles, however, he suffered a severe and debilitating injury. He left the stadium and comments like ““This is such a disgrace for China” followed him. The Chinese government had invested heavily in Liu as a star for China: he was the first Chinese (or Asian) to win gold in the hurdles, with a world record in the 110 at Athens. But now, Liu was done.

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Revamping Public Diplomacy at the State Department (updated)

imageSince the abolishment of the United States Information Agency, the State Department has struggled to balance the need of the embassies with what Washington perceived was needed. This challenge has been particularly acute on the Internet where the resulting mix of information and voices can undermine the very purpose and effectiveness of engagement.

On January 28, I spoke with Dawn McCall, Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), to discuss the recently announced reorganization of the Bureau. IIP is responsible for developing and disseminating printed material, online information and engagement efforts, and speaker’s programs (a kind of offline engagement using subject matter experts). It is half of the operational capability of the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs to engage people outside of the United States.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) completes the other half of the Under Secretary’s toolbox. While most observers like to imagine (or don’t know better) that U.S. public diplomacy is a monolith, the reality is that these two offices are the Under Secretary’s only direct reports. Other cogs in the public diplomacy machine exist within – and report to – the geographic bureaus (such as Western Hemisphere Affairs, European and Eurasian Affairs, and Near Eastern Affairs) and posts in the field.

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