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

Blind Ambition

When the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) recently unveiled a new Strategic Plan, it set a brazenly ambitious goal: “To become the world’s leading international news agency by 2016.”

But based on its latest budget proposal, global news organizations like Reuters and AP would appear to have little to fear. To achieve its goal, the BBG, a tiny federal agency overseeing U.S. non-military broadcasters, first plans to gut its existing news operations, starting with the nation’s flagship overseas broadcaster, the Voice of America.

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U.S. International Broadcasting: An Untapped Resource For Domestic And Ethnic News Organizations

Walter RobertsFor anyone interested in the Broadcasting Board of Governors and/or U.S. government broadcasting, I recommend reading this updated report-turned-chapter written by Shawn Powers: U.S. International Broadcasting: An Untapped Resource For Domestic And Ethnic News Organizations (180kb PDF, also available as a Google Doc).

The news media landscape is rapidly changing in the wake of technological progress and the altered ways in which information is received and disseminated require adjustments in the contemporary media regulatory framework. Just as advances in science and health sectors require governments to adjust their laws accordingly, so do advances in information technology. The advent of the Internet, a global infrastructure able to disseminate information instantaneously from anyone to anywhere in the world, calls into question the value of laws written in the first half of the 20th century with the intent to limit the direction of news and information broadcast by particular organizations.

Currently, U.S. public service broadcasting, which is severely underfunded in comparison to the rest of the world, is also legally separate from U.S. international broadcasting, a technical firewall that inhibits effective collaboration between the two entities. As a result, U.S. funded international broadcasting is prohibited from disseminating its journalistic features within the U.S., a legal ban that hinders the use of its significant journalistic resources by both public and private news networks, including a large sector of ethnic media that could surely benefit from the 60 languages that American international broadcasters report in. This chapter argues for further collaboration between government funded international broadcasting and its domestic counterparts–both public and private–and for an adjustment in policies in order to accurately and intelligently adapt to the reality of today’s information ecology. …

It is important to note that international broadcasting from other governments is increasingly available throughout the United States as well. Moscow’s Russia Today is available via the Internet and on cable systems throughout the East coast. China’s state-run CCTV is also available throughout the US and on a few major cable providers. Ditto for Japan’s NHK World, France’s France 24 and Iran’s Press TV. Qatar’s Al Jazeera network, much more controversial than any U.S.-funded broadcaster, is available via the Dish Network for a small fee. Its sister station–Al Jazeera English, which is less sensational and more polished–is available in over 17 million American homes. In January 2009 as tensions rose between Hamas and Israel, it was the network of choice for Americans (via the Internet) for news about Gaza. If Americans can access foreign statefunded broadcasters, shouldn’t they also be able to tune into their own government’s programming? …

As the quality of news, especially international news, continues to decline, and as the domestic news media–both public and private–continue to face financial challenges, there is one untapped resource that remains off of the radar of most domestic news media, despite its long history of providing timely and accurate information: U.S. international broadcasting. Regretfully, few have argued for removing the Smith-Mundt Act’s restrictions in order to facilitate collaboration between the two, despite the fact that it would cost zero additional government resources and likely improve the quality of information produced by both American international broadcasting and its domestic news media. This oversight stems largely from the cultural and political stigma surrounding international broadcasting. The perception persists that it is government propaganda, an impression that, accurate or not, is no longer relevant in a world where information sovereignty is a thing of the past. Americans are bombarded with so-called “propaganda” from foreign governments all of the time. Territory-based restrictions on the flow of information no longer make sense in a world where identities, languages and politics increasingly transcend national boundaries. It is time to adjust our information policies to reflect today’s new reality, and soon, as both the domestic news media and U.S. international broadcasting are falling behind their international competitors. …

Shawn documents the use of BBG media and the availability of foreign government media inside the U.S. as well as debunks the arguments that the BBG is simply a front of U.S. propaganda. Shawn, USC-alum and now an Assistant Professor at Georgia State University, made his chapter available to MountainRunner for publication in advance to its appearance in a forthcoming book edited by Robert W. McChesney and Victor Pickard’s Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done To Fix It (New Press, 2011). This is an update of Shawn’s previous report of the same name.

See also:

Image: Walter Roberts, former Associate Director of the United States Information Agency.

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman

From PR Newswire:

New Sunday Show Arrives in D.C. — Ideas in Action With Jim Glassman Debuts in Washington, D.C. September 5, 2010.

A new show joins Washington’s Sunday morning line-up when Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman, a weekly public policy series on ideas and their consequences, launches in the Washington D.C. television market on Sunday, September 5, 2010. The show will air on two public television stations. Howard University Television (WHUT Channel 32) will air the program at 9:30 a.m. and Maryland Public Television (MPT) will air the series at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings.

Good thing he’s no longer the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs otherwise this domestic communication may be illegal (see bottom of this post).

Summer 2010 issue of Arab Media & Society

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The Summer 2010 issue of Arab Media & Society is available. While I’m sure all of the articles are worth reading, some caught my attention.

The Coming Contenders by Paul Cochrane.

There are 487 free-to-air (FTA) Arabic satellite TV channels broadcasting on Arabsat, Nilesat and Noorsat, in addition to the dozens of ailing terrestrial channels.The region’s media landscape has become saturated, as indicated by the drop in the number of new channels going on air, from 104 between August 2007 and March 2009 to just thirteen during the financial year to April 2010.

When it comes to pan-Arab satellite news channels, there has been no major entrant into the broadcasting arena since the Saudi-backed Al Arabiya, part of the MBC Group, went on air in 2003 in response to the Qatari-owned heavyweight, Al Jazeera.

There have certainly been attempts to contend with the two big players, yet the numerous Arabic-language news channels launched by governments in recent years to win hearts and minds, such as by Britain (BBC Arabic), Russia (Russiya Al Yaum), Iran (Al Alam), China (CCTV) and the United States (Al Hurra), have not drawn the same audience figures.

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Recommended Reading List on Public Diplomacy

Netherlands Institute of International Relations logo.pngThe Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael offers an impressive reading list on public diplomacy. Spanning over 20 pages, the compilation of literature includes articles from a wide range of publications including Foreign Affairs, State Magazine, Hague Journal of Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, journals focused on specific regions of the world, and more. This reading list is part of the institute’s series of compilations of articles dedicated to diplomacy; other topics include Branding; Citizen Diplomacy; City Diplomacy; Cultural Diplomacy; Economic Diplomacy; European level diplomacy and the European diplomatic service; Negotiation, Culture and Intercultural Communication; and Soft power and public diplomacy in (East) Asia.
In addition to diplomacy, the think tank, which advises organizations within the Dutch government, offers reading lists on a variety of topics relevant to international relations including international trade, NATO, articles relevant to geographic regions, conflict studies, and more.

News resources

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Google Fast Flip

One problem with reading news online today is that browsing can be really slow. A media-rich page loads dozens of files and can take as much as 10 seconds to load over broadband, which can be frustrating. What we need instead is a way to flip through articles really fast without unnatural delays, just as we can in print. The flow should feel seamless and let you rapidly flip forward to the content you like, without the constant wait for things to load. Imagine taking 10 seconds to turn the page of a print magazine!

Like a print magazine, Fast Flip lets you browse sequentially through bundles of recent news, headlines and popular topics, as well as feeds from individual top publishers. As the name suggests, flipping through content is very fast, so you can quickly look through a lot of pages until you find something interesting. At the same time, we provide aggregation and search over many top newspapers and magazines, and the ability to share content with your friends and community. Fast Flip also personalizes the experience for you, by taking cues from selections you make to show you more content from sources, topics and journalists that you seem to like. In short, you get fast browsing, natural magazine-style navigation, recommendations from friends and other members of the community and a selection of content that is serendipitous and personalized.

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Al-Jazeera: A Culture of Reporting at in Layalina’s Perspectives

Layalina Productions publishes a new monthly “forum by academics and leading practitioners to share their views in order to explore key concepts in the study and practice of public diplomacy and Arab media.” The third author to contribute is Dr. Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Jazeera Network.

In the final analysis, TV per se is neither a bridge-builder nor a bridge-buster. I believe that the battle to close the gap between nations is often fought in the trenches of political action, not by TV programming alone.

The perception issue between American and the Arab worlds will also be determined by what actions Arabs will take not just in the Middle East but also in Washington, where important decisions are made which affect their region and the rest of the world.

The article is worth your time and can be accessed here.

The two prior essays were:

Niche news aggregators and other monitoring tools

A few news aggregators you may be interested in but may not have known about. You know about Google News, but do you know about: 

Not an aggregator, but worth mentioning:

While on the subject of monitoring, you undoubtedly know about Technorati (which seems to arbitrarily ignore blogs linking to MountainRunner), but do you know about:

  • Blog Pulse by Nielsen to explore trends and track conversations
  • Talk Digger self-described as “the best way to find, follow and enter conversations of the Web”.

Talk Digger is interesting, but if you’re reading this blog it is probably not tracking the conversations you’re interested in. BUT, it’s still worth exploring. Maybe if we ALL jump on board, it will become useful in tracking discussions related to participation in the global information environment.