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Egyptian-born Dina Habib Powell says America must listen if it wants to be understood abroad. But first she must get people to listen to her.


This op-ed piece was originally published on the Daily Star on June 28, 2005. The Daily Star is published in Beirut, and it is the "insert" paper that comes folded inside every copy of the International Herald Tribune published in the Middle East (except Ha'aretz in Israel). -- the Editor

So Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is not Iran's new president. That result must come as a particular surprise to anyone who tried to follow the campaign by light of the Western media.

It's time to reinvent U.S. government international broadcasting - again. But this time, let's get it right and privatize this operation.

What's hot in public diplomacy?
Answer: C-SPAN, but of course.

What's not?
Answer: Everything else.

An exaggeration, perhaps, but there's no denying that the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN), which provides gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress, press briefings, newsmaker speeches, public policy discussions, and much more, is mentioned more than anything else nowadays by those recognized as in the know who are trying to help "fix" America's lagging public diplomacy effort in the Middle East.

So now we are told that Mark Felt may not have been Deep Throat after all.

The watchdog group Accuracy in Media (AIM) quotes a Watergate scandal expert, Joan Huff, a Montana State University history professor, as saying that this is all "an orchestrated publicity stunt on the part of the (Washington) Post" to publicize Bob Woodward's new book.

There's a boom in the popularity of Arab songs on the most successful channels in the Middle East. The digital music marketplace is very technically advanced, and U.S. government broadcasting isn't keeping pace.

Apart from the news channels which carry on the war of ideas, many in Arab countries would rather watch video clips of Pussy Samir, a singer/dancer, and Boozy Samir (no relation perhaps, but also a singer/dancer), on the "Melody Hits" satellite channel and website, among many others like it.

Dead Sea, Jordan - 23 May 2005

When I was younger I occasionally tagged along with my father at conferences in Europe where East-West security issues were discussed. Dad taught me two especially important lessons during this time: 1) find a seat on an aisle near the back, that way you can slip out quietly if things get really boring; and 2) all the really interesting stuff happens during the coffee breaks, at meal times and (especially) in the bar.

We are being told how very "personal" communication is to become, with carefully-coiffed 60-second video messages containing content just for you or me, downloaded to our picture cell phones, or personal digital assistants, PDAs -- the instruments, not the individuals.

One might wonder where U.S. public diplomacy fits into all this? Right now, it doesn't appear to be a good fit overall.



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