Category Archives: International Journalism musing

Radio, Free Us?

As a journalism student who had a certain wariness of media agendas beaten into her for the past four years, I cannot help but approach the idea of public diplomacy with caution.  In light of the rough U.S. approach to foreign policy during the last eight years–oh, heck, the last fifty years–anything that rings of “diplomacy” initially piques my interest. I’m disgusted by the history of wars (legal, proxy and otherwise) and subversive military funding.  I am young, and I want another way.

However, words can be just as dangerous as weapons.

Public diplomacy, through the form of radio broadcasts, carries the potential for peacefully winning the respect, if not the acceptance, of populations beyond our borders.  A 2005 article in the Columbia Journalism Review–as well as our class discussion last week–indicates that  Voice of America may come as close to careful journalism as a public diplomacy program possibly can.  In the CJR article, Corey Pein writes,

The thousand-strong staff of the Voice includes serious journalists who are emphatic about the agency’s code, which mandates editorial independence and fair treatment for all points of view. Its advocates see a straightforward journalistic approach as the best possible demonstration of American values in a time when the nation’s popularity is slipping around the world.

On some level, the extent of VOA’s objectivity and story variability must be questioned.  After all, public diplomacy is a euphemism for propaganda. However, Pein also argues that VOA is better than the strain of public diplomacy emerging under the Bush administration.  Even as the VOA English and Arabic programs are being cut, new programs are garnering support from government funding. In particular, Pein focuses on Radio Sawa and Al Hurra. According to critics, the programming of these two stations relies heavily on pop music and shameless propaganda.  While Arab listeners certainly understood the source of VOA’s Arabic program, CJR reports that they find the two new stations unbearably obvious in their propaganda:

Six months after [Al Hurra’s] launch, Tariq Al Humayd, the editor of the pan-Arab paper Asharq al-Awsat, which has shown more sympathy to America’s presence in the region than others, lamented Al Hurra’s sorry state: “We hoped that Al Hurra would emerge as the voice of reason and a source of information and investigative reports at the level of those produced by the U.S. media. The last thing we expected was that the United States would try to sell us its bad goods.” Mamoun Fandy argues that Al Hurra undercuts America’s proclaimed hopes for the Middle East by failing to promote free speech and women’s rights.

This type of public diplomacy will get us nowhere if it continues to be a major part of foreign policy during the next four years. It will only emphasis the perception of the U.S. as a hypocritical occupier, which uses free speech and democracy as a guise for imperialism. That won’t win us any international buddies.

Media Systems

Oh, Vadim, you don’t need to remind me. I was just mistakenly considering 3 a.m. to be a continuation of Sunday evening. After all, this weekend has been the weekend from hell, and I’ll be up for a few more hours, anyway. No news there.

Canada
Primary: Libertarian (privately-owned, market-driven companies)
Secondary: Social responsibility (with the intent of protecting Canadian culture against U.S. imports)

Japan
Primary: Authoritarian (history of public broadcaster NHK dominating the scene with funding from one long-ruling party, and laws prohibiting cross-media ownership)
Secondary: Libertarian (increase in commercial media ruled by the market and funded by ad revenues)

U.K.
Primary: Social Responsibility (content quotas, laws governing trial coverage, publicly funded, etc.)
Secondary: Libertarian (privately funded, for-profit publications with some private broadcast media)

And now a brief divergence to Russia and the media

It’s said that when you learn something new, you suddenly find it everywhere.

I recently finished reading A Russian Diary by Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who was shot and killed at the entrance to her apartment in 2006. The book documents in great detail the erosion of Russia’s young democracy under Putin. Politkovskaya knew that the book would never be published within Russia, yet her tone within the pages is certainly not a plea for foreign help. It is an account of what the Russian press ignores, an expression of frustration with the Russian people.

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an article that also discussed some of the issues outlined in Politkovskaya’s book: political bullying, oppression of the media, and manipulation of the polls. The article was then posted in Russian on a livejournal page called The New York Times in Moscow, which provides space for readers to comment. The comments are being translated to English and posted to the original New York Times page.

The comments cover a wide range of opinions, from outrage at the article’s “propaganda” to affirmation of the article’s accuracy. However, among the posts I’ve read online and the snippets that initially caught my attention in the print edition, one common sentiment reigns supreme. The problems in Russia are problems for the Russians to solve, not for the U.S. to analyze.

One person with the username trzp succinctly wrote, “All of this is true, though why are we being taught democracy by those who are fighting in Iraq and maintaining a concentration camp in Guantanamo?”

A strained relationship between the United States and Russia still remains from the Cold War era. That’s nothing new. Politkovskaya’s book and the online feature of the New York Times article come very close to creating a dialog between the citizens of the two countries separated by distance and reality. Most importantly, both serve as a reminder to ourselves to know the realities of the world we live in. We must refuse to take things on face value. Politkovskaya wrote what she needed to. Who is writing about the erosion of human rights in the U.S.? What are we willing to accept at face value in our own communities? Where and how must we question?