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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Freedom to Connect

By Jerry Edling

“You will not be able to stay home, brother.

You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.” — Gil Scott-Heron, From the album “Small Talk at 125th and Lennox” (1970)

“The revolution will not be televised…but it may be tweeted.” Posted on weeseeyou.com

January 28, 2011

Freedom to ConnectIn some ways, Gil Scott-Heron’s song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was ahead of its time. The lyrics were recited rather than sung, accompanied by congas and a bongo drum, making it either a vestige of beat poetry or one of the first examples of rap. His point, which must be understood in the context of domestic unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the U.S., was that the revolution was not a pre-packaged bit of pop culture, sanitized for your protection and brought to you with minimal commercial interruption by Xerox. The revolution, in his opinion, was real; or, as the final line of the song reads,

“The revolution will be no re-run, brothers; The revolution will be live.”

Little did he know that in the 21st century a revolution of a different sort would be live and it would be televised. And yes, as the quip on weeseeyou.com vividly notes, it would be tweeted. As of this writing, the Biblical land of Egypt is illuminated with cell phone lights and fireworks as mobs with no definable leaders spill into the streets to celebrate the resignation of Hosni Mubarak as president after weeks of protest and unrest. The revolution was televised, and the power to bring those images to the world was in the hands of the revolutionaries themselves.

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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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RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin to Depart for Legatum Institute

imageThe Broadcasting Board of Governors announced this morning that Jeff Gedmin has resigned from RFE/RL. Jeff will depart Prague-based RFE/RL at the end of February 2011, four years after taking the helm. He will leave to become the CEO/President of Legatum Institute in London, “investors in industries, individuals and ideas.”

Jeff told Josh Rogin that it was “the right time to move on because if I’m telling my people to step out of their comfort zone and be open to growth, I have to be able to take my own advice.”

Walter Isaacson, chairman of the BBG, said in a statement, “Jeff’s passion for the power of the truth has been a great inspiration for all of us involved in international broadcasting.” Walter added that the “Board looks forward to Jeff serving as a valuable adviser in the future.”

Dennis Mulhaupt, member of the BBG and chairman of the corporate board of RFE/RL, described Jeff as “an exceptional leader of RFE/RL over the past four years.”

RFE/RL is part of the domain overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors but operates more independently than the Voice of America. RFE/RL was established in in 1950 as Radio Free Europe (RFE). In 1976, Radio Liberty (RL) and RFE merged. Today, RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 countries, as well as maintaining a robust online presence that is underappreciated. According to RFE/RL, it has over 400 full-time journalists, 750 freelancers and 20 local bureaus.

I wish Jeff the best and congratulate him on leaving RFE/RL better and stronger than when he started.

Event: International Broadcasting and Public Media

Checkout this event of potential value at the New America Foundation, “International Broadcasting and Public Media.” The event’s description is promising, as are the panelists (described as ‘participants’ but surely the audience will be allowed to participate as well, right?).

In an increasingly digital media landscape, people across the globe are relating to their news outlets in new ways. The missions of media producers are changing, as technological innovations reshape news networks into communities. The assumption is that U.S. public media institutions and international broadcasters are also transforming themselves to serve the emerging public interests in media. How should these institutions be changing to meet the needs of audiences that expect to engage in news and information, not just passively receive it? Even amid the explosion of information, there are information gaps. If foreign coverage one of them, how best is it produced and by whom?

I will not be there, unfortunately, but below are questions off the top of my head I’d like asked and discussed (are there really ‘answers’?).

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BBC radio in English, Persian, Somali, Urdu now on US cell phones

News and information knows no boundaries. Borders of geography, technology, and language are quickly evaporating as content moves with increasing ease across mediums and political borders.

The latest example of the “now media” environment is the BBC, which just announced the availability of its “live radio broadcasts via mobile phones in the United States.”

The extension of the BBC’s agreement with provider of mobile phone radio distribution in North America, AudioNow, means that now, in addition to BBC Arabic radio, BBC World Service’s broadcasts in English, Persian, Somali and Urdu are now available across the US via any mobile phone without downloads or data services, simply by calling a national access number.

The numbers for the new services:

  • BBC World Service in English: 712-432-6580
  • BBC Persian: 712-432-6583
  • BBC Urdu: 712-432-6584
  • BBC Somali: 712-432-6582

The BBC has a host of different ways to listen to their content.

This week, Walter Isaacson, the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors announced the BBG, and its broadcasters, will transform, becoming customer-oriented and platform-neutral.

It’s helpful that the BBC makes it Somali content readily available to people within the US. Perhaps someone can promote it to the Somali-American community?

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BBG Chairman: customer-oriented, platform-neutral

This week, Walter Isaacson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, gave some remarks (PDF, 41kb) at the celebration of sixty years of Radio Free Europe. Walter, with his long history in the media business and the author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Einstein.

Walter acknowledged the newly appointed Board’s launch of a year-long comprehensive review to remake the BBG into “a great virtual global news service” that would provide reliable reporting across mediums and with social media input from the global audience. This is similar to the trend of major media to incorporate readers and viewers into news development and dissemination. The goal, Walter said, is to become “customer-oriented” but “platform-neutral.”

Some key excerpts of his remarks are below

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The BBG’s Honeymoon: All Work and No Play

The subject of government-supported broadcasting has risen out of seemingly nowhere over the past year. Several high quality reports have appeared, including those by Senator Richard Lugar, Shawn Powers, and the Lowy Institute in Australia. Over at Layalina, I put in my nickel on the discussion with regard to the challenge faced by the new leadership of America’s non-military government broadcasting.

There is a new governor in town, eight of them in fact. For the first time in six years, all of the top jobs at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) are filled. Half of the seats sat empty for up to four years, including the chairmanship for the past two. This fresh beginning provides some breathing room for the BBG, which manages all U.S. government, non-military international broadcasting. The Board is taking this honeymoon seriously: it has already held two meetings and is actively reviewing the state of international broadcasting, before putting its programmatic and managerial stamp on its operations.

I describe in the article the need for the BBG to establish its relevance in today’s competitive information environment of increasingly shallow news, improve relations with Congress, and do its part to empower the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a body charged with providing Congress and the American public insights and recommendations on public diplomacy, including government broadcasting.

Read the whole article at Layalina or download it as a PDF.

Your comments are appreciated.

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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