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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VOA on The Daily Show (Updated)

Briefly, opening with “I got a hold of your show on the web and I was so impressed with the heart of it,” Jon Stewart began his interview with Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, two U.S. Government employees – and U.S. public diplomats – behind “Parazit”, a Voice of America program aimed at Iran. The interview, embedded below, followed a brief clip from the show.

Under current law, amended from its original form, if The Daily Show had requested permission from the U.S. Government to broadcast the clip it would have been denied. More on that below.

Two comments. First, kudos to VOA’s Persian News Network’s “Parazit” for the recognition. Jon Stewart said to Hosseini and Arbabi, “you’re like our show but with real guts” and “I’m proud to be considered in the fraternity of humorists that you guys are in.”

Second, Jon Stewart once again went to where little media has gone before: an examination of U.S. Government broadcasting – in this case, with high compliments – for the purpose of increasing American awareness in the same. This right of review, to become aware of what we’re doing abroad and why, to allow media within the borders of the United States access and permission to comment and rebroadcast or reuse material as they – in this case The Daily Show – see fit was the intent of Congress over six decades ago when the law was originally debated and passed. Today, however, it was against the law for VOA to make the material available to The Daily Show under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, as amended. At one time, the material the Act covers was deemed as exempt from requests under the Freedom of Information Act. 

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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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Event: exploring an independent public diplomacy / strategic communication organization

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is convening a non-partisan public diplomacy initiative next week, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense William Perry. The initiative will bring together a broad coalition of high-level experts, practitioners, including members from the corporate and foundation sectors, the think-tank and academic communities, and the Congress, to develop a business plan for the new organization to provide sustained, innovative, and high quality private sector support for US public diplomacy; and identify public and private sources of funding.

The envisioned entity will be non-partisan and transcend Administrations. It will facilitate better coordination and implementation between the government and the private sector while providing the U.S. Government additional capabilities. It “will not encroach” or “undertake the Government’s current [public diplomacy] activities.”

There will be five independent subcommittees under the Business Plan Working Group to be launched at the meeting next week. Matt Armstrong, your blogger and president & founder of the MountainRunner Institute, is a member of this working group.

See also:

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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BBG Meeting

On Friday, August 20, I participated in an off the record conversation with five of the new members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Joining me were Kristin Lord of CNAS and and Paul Foldi of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We met to discuss the status and future of U.S. Government broadcasting. While I cannot get into details, it was clear the Board is very interested in moving quickly to take advantage of clean start, a reset of sorts, for the Board and endeavor to make well-informed decisions to support smart, strategic requirements.

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Recalling History: Advisory Commission tells Congress to Expand VOA

On March 30, 1949, in its first semi-annual report by the US Advisory Commission on Information, the predecessor to today’s Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, recommended an “immediate and broad expansion of the world-wide information program being conducted by the State Department, including the activities of the Voice of America.”

A realistic approach requires that we provide a budget better balanced between the three-pronged program of military, economic and information policy. A budget which contemplates $15,000,000,000 for military, $5,000,000,000 for economic and only $36,000,000 for information and educational services, does not provide an effective tool for cleaning out the Augean Stables of international confusion and misunderstanding. …

It is in the information field that we meet the rival forces head on. The Soviet Union places by all odds its heaviest reliance on ‘propaganda’ spending enormous sums, and using its best and most imaginative brains. Other governments are acutely conscious of the importance of information programs and are spending more in proportion to their capacities than is the United States in telling its story abroad. …

There is a great need for additional regional offices and branch libraries to be established outside the capital cities. The dissemination of American private media abroad is primarily and essentially an informational activity and the responsibility and funds for this activity should be placed with the Department of State, and the activities should not be limited to the countries receiving aid under the European Recovery Act.

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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.

China aims to expand soft power, adds English-language news channel

CNTN.PNGIn 2000, China Central Television (CCTV) launched CCTV International, its 24-hour English-language news service aimed for the global audience. CCTV’s international broadcasting has since expanded to cover news -from a Chinese perspective- in French, Spanish, Russian, and since 2009, Arabic.

On July 1, 2010, China launched another international English language news channel to expand its soft power. According to a July 2, 2010 article from The Guardian by Tania Branigan, Chinese authorities hope the launch of state news agency Xinhua‘s CNC World channel will help promote China’s image and perspectives. Similar to CCTV’s international objective, Xinhua’s president said CNC would “present an international vision with a China perspective.” Currently, CNC world is airing only in Hong Kong and after its scheduled launch of global satellite coverage this fall, it hopes to reach 50 million viewers across Europe, North America and Africa in its first year.

Despite CCTV’s international presence, Chinese officials believe creating competition will raise standards of news coverage. In her article, Branigan challenges this notion and identifies CNC World’s stock footage, dated credits, sparse interviews, and “glimpses of the alternative news agenda that officials want to spread.” Still, Xinhua pledges objectivity and insists: “We are a news channel, not a propaganda station.”