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

Australian report on international broadcasting and its contribution to public diplomacy

imageDespite the dozens of reports on U.S. public diplomacy, it is actually quite rare to see an in-depth study on public diplomacy, particularly in the areas of government broadcasting. The “too many” reports have often focused on specific cogs without regard to their place in the greater bureaucratic machine that spans the whole of whatever government the agency happens to be in. Even more rare is an in-depth public analysis of the public diplomacy of another country by another country. This week, an Australian think tank, the Lowy Institute, published such a report.

This report, International broadcasting and its contribution to public diplomacy by Annmaree O’Keeffe and Alex Oliver, is focused on the argument Australia’s government broadcasting needs to be taken seriously and properly funded. In supporting this argument, the authors smartly look at how broadcasting fits into the whole of government public diplomacy efforts as well as examines the activities of peer countries.

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Recalling History: Making the Case for U.S. Government Broadcasting

image As Americans, we are detached from our history. True, remaining anchored to the past can hold back progress, understanding what came before and thus the trajectory of past activities that shape today is helpful. As the saying goes, those who fail to grasp history are doomed to repeat it.

Understanding the context of public diplomacy, the institutions, and methods is important. For too many, public diplomacy began in the 1980s when the beginning of recent memory. At a 2009 conference organized by Doug Wilson, now the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, I sat on a “scene setting” panel with Harriet Fulbright, widow of the late Senator Fulbright, Len Baldyga, former Director of the Office of European Affairs of USIA, Barry Fulton, former Associate Director of USIA, and moderated by Bob Coonrod, former deputy director of VOA and former president and CEO for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. (I still don’t know why I was on this panel of luminaries.) Each person told a terrific example of public diplomacy. My job was to wrap it up, so I did. I realized there was a common theme: at one time we prioritized the resources (people, money, and “things”) to identify and engage the right audiences.

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China hosts seminar for developing countries on guiding public opinion and building a national brand

Last month, China hosted an event for Information Ministers from twenty developing countries titled “Actively Guiding Public Opinion and Building up Sound National Image.” According to Sierra Leone News:

The workshop focused on the cooperation and development between the Chinese and foreign media and information department encompassing political, economic, cultural and social aspects.

Participants raised grave concern about the negative media coverage given to developing countries despite efforts of these countries to match up with modern standards.

The Secretary General of the Information office in China, Mr. Feng Xwang said the western media controls the voice of news report thereby failing to report on the social life of the people.  He said Africa, Asia and South America should join forces with China to strengthen their media landscape and bring new opportunities to the media sector.

Vice Minister of the Information Office in Beijing, China, Professor Wang Zhong Wei in his presentation threw light on the rapid development of the Chinese media industry over the last three decades. He said that their media industry has become dynamic, best structured in terms of content and diversity. He said the Chinese information office is ready to embrace collaboration with other media organizations in developing countries to assist in the re-branding of developing nations.

In her contribution, Sierra Leone Deputy Information and Communication Minister suggested the establishment of an African Radio and Television station that would help tell the stories of developing countries better.

[Deputy Information of Information] Madam Saidata Sesay informed her colleagues that her government has recently transformed the then only government mouth piece radio and TV station to a public corporation in the interest of good governance. She appealed to the Chinese Information Office to reactivate the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA)  and to assist in the establishment of a media center which she believed would enhance media development and capacity building in that profession.

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Broadcasting board decides Voice of America can peruse WikiLeak documents

Al Kamen reports that,

Some new members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors were most upset by a column item last Wednesday noting that the IT and security folks at the International Broadcasting Bureau had instructed Voice of America employees to not read or e-mail any of the WikiLeaks material on their government computers (bit of a blow to original reporting).

The issue was apparently that the infrastructure component of the BBG, the International Broadcasting Bureau, or IBB, was dictating the rules of the game to VOA journalists. Fortunately, the brand new Board members authorized the Director of the VOA to “proceed with reporting on the disclosure of classified documents available on the WIkileaks website in a manner that is consistent with the VOA Charter and the BBG’s statutory mission, and to balance this effort with due consideration for the laws and executive orders” on using classified information.

Likely the IBB will take a more appropriate stance in the near future when Dick Lobo, the proposed new director, is confirmed.

See also Kim Elliott’s comments that RFE/RL, a surrogate station not under IBB, was able to report on Wikileaks without constraint.

Congress and International Broadcasting

While the nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors remain in a holding pattern in the Senate, mostly likely because of Senator Tom Coburn, there is good news on the US international broadcasting front. The bill to permanently authorize Radio Free Asia has passed an important milestone.

According to a Senate source, last Friday, the Radio Free Asia bill was “hotlined” on the Republican side. This means there was no Republican opposition to considering the bill for unanimous consent. The next step is to hotline the bill on the Democrat side, which may or may not have occurred before you read this.

See also:

CCTV: China’s soft power in the Middle East

On May 27, 2010, The National published an article about China’s engagement strategy, carried out by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), toward Arab television viewers in the Middle East and North Africa.

Many countries broadcast to the Middle East in Arabic, including France, Russia, and the U.S., but China is different: it broadcasts, from Beijing, to the region in Chinese with Arabic subtitles. Instead of focusing on news and current events in the Middle East, CCTV highlights Chinese culture and the arts. Simply, “…CCTV Arabic aims to tell the Arab world about China.

In his article, Daniel Bardsley further describes China’s strategy, which involves voicing the views of the Chinese government. This approach allows China to “…extend its ‘soft power’ without becoming entangled in the region’s politics,” which reflects China’s non-intervention culture.

Now a world power, China ambitiously aims to be part of the mainstream international media alongside CNN and BBC. This year, China will also reach milestones in its international broadcasting efforts as CCTV Arabic will mark its first anniversary in July and CCTV plans to open news bureaus in the Middle East later this year.

Update on the confirmation of US Broadcasting Board of Governors

The US Broadcasting Board of Governors continues to operate with a minimum of members, just enough for a quorum. The Board currently has four members, no chair, each of which continues several years (from over 3 to nearly 6) past their terms expired. Since March 23, 2010, the six of the replacement slate of eight members have been queued up for confirmation. Two of members, Dana Perino and Michael Meehan, were in a holding pattern pending more questions and answers from Senators.

Last week, it appeared the nominees would be confirmed before the Senate recessed for Memorial Day. Alan Heil, noted expert on US government broadcasting explains the current situation:

The U.S. Senate has begun its Memorial Day recess without clearing any of the eight nominees to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Congress resumes June 7, but a debate Friday over 80 of the more than 100 nominees throughout the US government awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor ended with no action taken. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to a motion by Senator Tom Harkin to pass a unanimous consent approval of these 80 nominees. Among them, the largest block of nominees to a single US government oversight body, the BBG, a number of U.S. ambassadors, appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the Peace Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and several federal district judges. To further complicate matters, as regards the eight BBG nominees, there was no indication on the Senate Executive Calendar that Senator Coburn of Oklahoma had yet lifted his hold on six of them

The BBG is oversees the civilian (non-military) international broadcasting, including but not limited to the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and others.

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Failure can be achieved with one action, success happens over time

Short and to the point observation by Galrahn at Information Dissemination that winning a battle does not mean winning a war.

The Navy deploys hospital ships to other countries, but then turns around and takes a poll to measure success. In other words, the Navy is measuring success based on an opinion of an action.

But opinions also measure perception, and hospital ship deployments do not have an associated strategic communication strategy targeting the population of the country it is servicing, rather only has a blog telling stories in English to the American people of events as they unfold.

He follows with a suggestion of true multiple media engagement (person and radio).

I don’t care how ugly it is, someone should stick a giant radio tower on top of the hospital ships and broadcast the coolest damn DJ you can find that speaks the language of the places the hospital ships go to. If Al Qaeda has a radio station in the Middle of Pakistani Mtns to broadcast their propaganda of hate, why can’t we put a radio station on a ship and send out a message of friendship?

What providing wi-fi or wi-max or even temporary cellular connectivity, all for free? Such broadcasts might be in conflict with the host nation’s telecommunications monopoly, but there are diplomatic ways around that.

Thoughts?