Sunday, November 15, 2009

The New Public Diplomacy

The readings for this week all dealt with public diplomacy in varying capacities. The Powers and Gilboa chapter on Al Jazeera and public diplomacy focused on the new recognition of nongovernmental actors in the public diplomacy arena, especially transnational news organizations. Joseph Nye's piece focused on how public diplomacy can most effectively be used in the modern information age with a special focus on American public diplomacy. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs John Glassman's speech outlines the specific American efforts and visions for what he dubs "Public Diplomacy 2.0," and the Monroe Price refers to these new public diplomacy efforts as information foreign policies.

What really engaged me with the Powers and Gilboa article was that they did a really comprehensive analysis of Al Jazeera looking, as the English brand identity for Al Jazeera goes, from "every angle|every side." It was interesting to me to think that Al Jazeera is trying to portray itself as a democratizing force in the region, but it's subsidized and chaired by a member of the Qatari royal family and Qatar's governmental structure is that of an absolute monarchy. But maybe this is part of what Al Jazeera hopes to change?

Another point that I found interesting in this piece was the separation of news issues between external and internal and how even though the U.S. has been known to portray Al Jazeera in a negative light, American views on what should be done to democratize the Middle East are mostly in-line with Al Jazeera's internal news agenda. The same goes for Arab governments being critical of Al Jazeera's internal news agenda and yet favoring how they frame external news issues, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the way that Al Jazeera has cultivated a credible reputation for itself within the Arabic world and beyond makes it very difficult for American or other Western governments to censor it. It looks very hypocritical for a country, which espouses all these democratic values including the freedom of speech, to call for a news organization to be shut down because of its "slant" in reporting the news.

I also wanted to comment on a common theme that has been mentioned in most of the readings for this week and last. The idea that American public diplomacy and/or international news coverage was much more organized and practiced during the Cold War. Many of the articles in the last two weeks have said things like the world is such a more uncertain place, why has US international news coverage or public diplomacy not increased, or at least remained steady, since the Cold War? I think that the conclusion of the Price reading makes a particularly important point. We are all looking back at the Cold War era now thinking, "Wow! Wasn't it so nice to only have to worry about one enemy? Wasn't it so nice to have a clearly defined objective (wiping out communism)?" I think the one thing that this perspective is missing is that at the time, the events of the Cold War seemed anything but certain or clear, and nobody knew if the public diplomacy efforts were good ideas. Price says "Prior to the Gorbachev era..., the United States... had a foreign policy toward the use of information and media that (especially in retrospect) was clearly articulated and implemented" (363). The (especially in retrospect) is very important in this case. I am not trying to say that it is OK that US media barely covers international news or that it is not important for the US to have developed and cohesive policies of public diplomacy. What I do think is that, as the old adage goes, hindsight is 20/20. The past will always seem simpler and clearer than the present or the future because we already know how things played out. However, when the past was the present, I would think that things probably seemed just as uncertain and ill-defined as they are now.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Marie-
    I actually just wrote something similar in my post, regarding the democratic nature of Al-Jazeera. This was an interesting word choice by the authors, as I hardly view Al-Jazeera as a democratic industry. Though Al-Jazeera does offer a forum for free speech and opinions, I have to wonder: how much of the opinions are filtered to promote a favorable Arab view of world issues? I wonder what the authors had in mind when they cited Al-Jazeera as having democratic motivations?

    This whole notion of democratic motivations is interesting, because that suggests that the Arab world is attempting to appeal to Western media. Yet Al-Jazeera attempts to also appeal to its targeted Arab audience, which, I'd assume, is anti-democracy and the West. How can this media conglomerate manage both tasks? And is it successful?