Public Diplomacy Fall Speaker Series: Philip Seib

The USC Center on Public Diplomacy welcomed Philip Seib for a discussion on international news coverage, media ethics, and new technologies.">

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Philip Seib is the Lucius W. Nieman Professor of Journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is also the director of Marquette's Nieman Symposia, examining current journalism issues. Seib is author or editor of fifteen books, including: Headline Diplomacy: How News Coverage Affects Foreign Policy; The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict; and Beyond the Front Lines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War. His next book, Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America into War, will be published in May 2006. He is the series editor of the Palgrave Macmillan Series in International Political Communication and is co-editor of the journal Media, War, and Conflict.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

12:00 p.m.

Annenberg, Room 207

Event Report

Public Deplomacy Should Employ Methods of Journalism
By Matt Mundy

America is facing a public relations disaster in the Middle East, and public diplomacy initiatives working to alleviate the problem must utilize journalistic methods and resources for them to be successful, said Philip Seib at the USC Annenberg School for Communication recently. "Reasserting the role of media in public diplomacy will be an important step if public diplomacy wishes to remain relevant," said Seib, the Lucius W. Nieman Professor of Journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Important to this incorporation will be determining how public diplomacy relates to journalism and what standards should govern its usage in terms of the objectivity prized in journalism, as opposed to the agenda of national self-interest implicit in public diplomacy, argued Seib. In journalism, the goal is to "find the best obtainable version of the truth," said Seib, while "in public diplomacy it is best obtainable version or best that serves our interests."

Noting Edward Murrows reports from Britain during World War II and the effect that they had on the American public in encouraging them to enter the war, Seib argued that "objectivity itself is not an absolute standard" but leaves room for advocacy journalism, something that public diplomacy should look torwards.

The "relationship between propaganda and advocacy" also plays an important role in these considerations, noted Seib, and it is important for public diplomacy to not be viewed as manipulating the public. This problem has emerged with the U.S. sponsored Al-Hurra channel in the Middle East, which Seib describes as "news with a clear political agenda."

However, propaganda and public relations differ mainly due to the "negative connotations of propaganda," which is "more often regarded as manipulation," said Seib.

For Seib, credibility rather than objectivity should be the rule in public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East, as the "Middle East population doesnҒt care about Western notions of objectivity," but would rather hear their own voices, like they do on al-Jazeera. "In the post-hegemonic era, credibility is going to supersede objectivity," he said.

However, public diplomacy is susceptible to its myriad negative aspects, like disinformation and dishonesty, and "like journalism, [public diplomacy] must be conducted ethically or it will fail," said Seib.


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