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The complementary roles of U.S. international broadcasting and U.S. public diplomacy

American journalists, writers, scholars, decision makers, and other experts tend to be confused about the relationship between international broadcasting and public diplomacy. For example, in article about President Bush's nomination of Karen Hughes to be under secretary of state for public diplomacy, Fred Kaplan wrote:

November 10, 2006
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The State Department announced Thursday that figure skater Michelle Kwan would become a public diplomacy ambassador representing sports and U.S. values to the world. The 26-year-old five time world champion who vaulted onto the world figure skating stage at 15 is now a graduate student in political science and international relations at the University of Denver, alma mater of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Kwan seems like a good safe choice to represent U.S. values in diversity and sports excellence.

In what can only be described as anti-climactic, Al Jazeera International is starting its English channel broadcasts to North America November 15 with a whimper, rather than the desired flourish. After failing to meet several self-appointed inaugural air dates over the past year, the controversial Arabic TV channel kicked off its service to the U.S. via bottom-tier, off-the-beaten-track delivery services on which Al Jazeera International's audience in America will be miniscule to start.

Worldcasting noted last week the need for that "vision" thing to be injected into America's international broadcasts. It should be the first order of business for those who oversee America's non-military TV and radio programs abroad. Instead, the attention these days is diverted to intramural turf battles that accomplish little to advance U.S. efforts to communicate with international publics.

Events moved rapidly this week at Voice of America. VOA director David Jackson decided to give his managers a heads up, shocking them with the news that he was planning to move on soon That's exactly what happened. Within days the entire VOA staff saw the announcement that Jackson was indeed leaving. The supervisory Broadcasting Board of Governors accepted Jackson's resignation and approved a successor, who would arrive on the job a couple of days after that.

The BBG acted faster and more efficiently than it had in years.

U.S. news media outlets were awash this morning in news about how Alberto Fernandez, a U.S. foreign service officer, described U.S. Iraq policy in less than flattering terms on a major Arab satellite nework. His controversial statement came during an interview program on Al Jazeera, where he admitted that United States policies in Iraq had showed "arrogance" and "stupidity."

The American government's satellite news channel, Alhurra, while still well below the audience ratings of the well-entrenched Arabic TV news channels, appears to be catching on with audiences in the Middle East.

Written with Wang Jian.

In December 2005, famed Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige's latest work "The Promise" opened to tepid reviews from his fellow countrymen. With production costs exceeding $35 million, the film failed to capture the hearts of a traditionally accepting audience. While Chinese have come to expect sub-par films in the past, a more market-driven movie industry seemed to have promise, just not the Promise.

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