Friday, November 19, 2010

Public Diplomacy or Propaganda?

When does public diplomacy become propaganda? There’s a fine line and the audience can’t always tell you what their definition is but they can tell you when it’s propaganda. In a close reading of Joseph Nye’s “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” he often references propaganda and cites cases where public diplomacy has slipped into the realms of propaganda. But he never defines propaganda nor fully outlines the circumstances under which public diplomacy becomes propaganda. I seek to give three signs to look for, and for practitioners of the art of public diplomacy, to be cautious of.

The first answer is when actions and words don’t match. Nye explains that no matter how good the packaging and the sell, when a government says one thing and actually does an entirely different thing, the sell becomes only propaganda. He writes, “Actions speak louder than words, and public diplomacy that appears to be mere window dressing for hard power projection is unlikely to succeed.” He goes on to write, “A communication strategy cannot work if it cuts against the grain of policy.” To give a modern example, this is why Guantanamo Bay and the actions at Abu Ghraib have been so devastating to the mission of American public diplomacy. The hard sell was the spread of democracy and freedom while the action was to take away the basic human rights of those who were not American citizens.

Answer number two is when public diplomacy only allows for one point of view or one stance only. Nye describes it as a two-way street. Diplomats must talk as well as listen. Public diplomacy that leaves room for ‘our view only’ will fall flat and will become merely a propaganda tool. James Glassman describes this phenomenon in his Public Diplomacy 2.0 speech as a lecture rather than a conversation.

The final answer and perhaps the most important, is when public diplomacy lacks credibility. Whenever a situation is sensationalized or the facts are stretched makes foreign audiences less receptive to the message. Nye writes, “Skeptics who treat the term public diplomacy as a mere euphemism for propaganda miss the point. Simple propaganda often lacks credibility and thus is counterproductive as public diplomacy.” (101)

The audiences of today’s public diplomacy have a flood of information from which to choose to listen. They can tune in and tune out at will. Now more than ever it is important that successful public diplomacy will be seen as a means of creating long and lasting relationships between countries rather than merely propaganda.


Joseph S. Nye, Jr. 2008. Public Diplomacy and Soft Power. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616: 94-109.

James Glassman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Speech Dec. 01, 2008 to The New America Fondation. "Public Diplomacy 2.0"

Citizen Diplomacy

Joseph Nye (2008) identifies three dimensions of public diplomacy: daily communications, strategic communication, and “the development of lasting relationships with key individuals over many years.” This third dimension is facilitated through scholarships, exchanges, training, seminars, conferences, and media (102).

Nye argues that “effective public diplomacy is a two-way street that involves listening as well as talking […] that is why exchanges are often more effective than mere broadcasting” (103). Additionally, “face-to-face communications remain the most effective, but they can be supplemented and reinforced by the Internet.” The Internet provides a virtual space for people to remain connected as well as build new networks (104).

It is important to realize that though exchange is funded by universities, non-profits, and companies, many programs rely heavily on the support of the U.S. government (105). Nye also mentions how publics are often skeptical of governments, thus it is often more effective for governments to work with private actors. He adds that NGOs “can be useful channels of communication,” as they sometimes enjoy a higher level of trust (105). Indirect public diplomacy can also take place through American companies, which sometimes provide sensitivity and communications training to representatives sent abroad. (However, I would argue that this is not necessarily because they are “public-spirited”— cross-cultural training can increase communication effectiveness and, more importantly, can dramatically decrease the rate of premature return, making the training cost-effective.)

In terms of NGO-facilitated exchange, a good example is the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV), whose mission is “to promote excellence in citizen diplomacy.” Celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, NCIV is the private-sector partner of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). IVLP is a “professional exchange program that seeks to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders. These visits reflect the International Visitors’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States.”

Citizen exchange promotes U.S. foreign policy goals because it contributes to Nye’s third dimension of public diplomacy: “the development of lasting relationships with key individuals over many years” (102). IVLP alumni have included several Chiefs of State or Heads of Government and Nobel prize winners.

NCIV is a national network of NGOs that host these international visitors and design programs. So while visitors may be chosen by governments, the programs are often designed by NGOs that work to incorporate the professional interests of the visitors. NCIV helps facilitate connections between international visitors and their American counterparts.

Nye, Joseph. “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” The ANNALS 2008 616: 94-109.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Effective Public Diplomacy: No Governments Allowed!

Nye's analysis of public diplomacy and the use of soft power to increase globalization reflects a need for nation-states to re-assess the way they communicate with the world. He calls for a bigger focus on daily communication, strategic communication, and creating lasting relationships --all in an effort to project a consistent message to foreign audiences and in turn provoke dialogue between these audiences and the United States.

He notes that actions, not just broadcasting are an effective means of reaching out to others in order to create such relationships. Through student exchange programs and English language teaching opportunities, citizens of different countries have the chance to make close bonds which they then continue via the Internet or other means upon separation back to their home countries. This is an example of everyday people serving as ambassadors, and is definitely a useful form of public diplomacy. JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching programme is a successful example of this effect. Just take a look at their website and you will see a variety of pictures of Americans and Japanese students -happy and having fun. I have a friend who worked with JET as a teacher, and after one 6 month period with the program he decided to stay longer and continue working with JET to this day... that was 2 years ago. He has made so many friends in Japan with people of many different cultural backgrounds, and when he visits the United States he also serves as a bridge of Japanese knowledge to those Americans who have not been to that country.

Nowadays it seems that public diplomacy may be most affective from this approach of people getting to know people. Governments appear to be inconsistent and complex; therefore, everything 'produced' as public diplomacy to be broadcast to the world is automatically stamped as propaganda related in nature. But if a bottom-up approach is implicated, there will be more exchange programs and more opportunities for citizens to branch out and embrace different cultures and peoples. This will in turn enable them to broaden their views on foreign audiences and serve as a mouthpiece for their countries of origin. The future of public diplomacy is dependent on the genuine relationships which are most easily created by everyday people with genuine interests in other cultures; it would appeared that the role of illegitimized governments in the realm of public diplomacy is shrinking and becoming less and less effective.

Nye, Joseph "Public Diplomacy and Soft Power"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Framing and Decontextualization in Wikileaks’ “Collateral Murder”

Though the articles we read for this week focus more on mass media, new media such as Wikileaks can be analyzed using the same concepts of framing and decontextualization.

On April 5th, 2010, Wikileaks released a video called “Collateral Murder,” described as follows:

“Wikileaks has obtained and decrypted this previously unreleased video footage from a US Apache helicopter in 2007. It shows Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen, driver Saeed Chmagh, and several others as the Apache shoots and kills them in a public square in Eastern Baghdad. They are apparently assumed to be insurgents. After the initial shooting, an unarmed group of adults and children in a minivan arrives on the scene and attempts to transport the wounded. They are fired upon as well. The official statement on this incident initially listed all adults as insurgents and claimed the US military did not know how the deaths ocurred [sic]. Wikileaks released this video with transcripts and a package of supporting documents on April 5th 2010 on

In an interview with Julian Assange, founder and editor of Wikileaks, Stephen Colbert says: “You have edited this tape… and you have given it a title… called ‘Collateral Murder.’ That’s not leaking, that’s a pure editorial.” Assange responds: “The promise we make to our sources is that not only will we defend them, through every means that we have available… technological and legally and politically… but we will try and get the maximum possible political impact for the material.” However, he mentions that the site also released the full, unedited version to the public so that people of a differing opinion may analyze it themselves.

But Colbert others have pointed out that the edited version was much more heavily publicized. In fact (as of 11-15-10, 7:30 pm), the edited version had 7,594,756 views on You Tube, while the full 39-minute version had 1,187,767 views. Beyond that, one must also consider the millions of people that only saw clips of the video in television news reports, further decontextualizing the event. Furthermore, how many people have actually consulted the “package of supporting documents” on Wikileaks’ website? [I admit that I myself have not viewed the full version nor read any of the supporting information.]

Interestingly, the full video is posted with the following disclaimer: “Please note: This is a full uncut version of the video primarily intended for research purposes. See [the edited video] for a short and concise version with added context” (emphasis added). The “added context” refers to the subtitles and commentary that are provided to both situate and frame the event for “maximum political impact.” Clearly Wikileaks has an agenda, and the video fails to provide information about what happened directly before the attack, let alone the “political, economic, social and cultural relations of cause-and-effect” (Hafez, “International Reporting,” 35). For example, what might have occurred before the attack that lead the soldiers to perceive the minivan as a threat? The official U.S. military investigation reports that there was a black vehicle in the area that had been dropping off and picking up insurgents. Whatever the entire truth is, it is clear that Wikileaks is framing the tragic event in a way that supports the organization’s idea of “maximum political impact.”

Could “Collateral Murder” be considered an example of what el-Nawawy and Iskandar (2003) refer to as “contextual objectivity” in which the media present stories in a way that is “somewhat impartial yet sensitive to local sensibilities”? “Contextual objectivity” is an “audience-centered bias” where “all media deviate from the standard of objectivity by framing the facts of a given situation in ways that are socially accepted and expected amongst particular audiences” (Powers and el-Nawawy, 268). Yet Wikileaks, as an organization and not a mass media outlet, is not obligated to cater to its audience. However, it does frame its information to promote its agenda and gain the support of the public, which has the potential to influence politics.

Powers and el-Nawawy (2009) discuss how viewers choose to consume news that affirms their opinions rather than informs, and how news media tends to reinforce existing worldviews. As Hafez puts it, “the media follow rather than lead” (54). In the case of Wikileaks, a strict anti-war audience might be more likely to view the video as-is, as it affirms their opinions and provides supporting evidence. Others, whether supportive of the war or U.S. government policy in general, might consider the information untrustworthy and completely dismiss the video without considering the questions it raises. And low-dogmatic individuals (Davies, in Powers and el-Nawawy, 275) might be more likely to question the footage, perhaps reading the supporting documents or finding additional sources if the information presented conflicts with their opinions, as “the open nature of their cognitive systems allows them to see connections between belief and disbelief systems.”


Powers, Shawn and Mohammed el-Nawawy. “Al-Jazeera English and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue?,” in Media, War & Conflict 2009 2: 263-284.

Hafez, Kai. “International Reporting,” in The Myth of Media Globalization. 24-55.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Decontextualization: A Neverending Cycle?

In Hafez' article, "International Reporting," he takes a critical view as to the real effects of international reporting and does not see it as a globalizing factor. He criticizes international reporting by discussing the idea of decontextualization and the idea that it is a result of media consumers' limited knowledge of foreign settings. This immediately reminded me of the case of the capsizing boat in Orissa as described by Chouliarki in her article, "Symbolic Power of Transnational Media," in which she discussed the difference between extraordinary news and ordinary news and the factors that decide how the media will portray events of suffering. In the case of the capsized boat, the media had a short segment on the event, dehumanizing it all, only showing a red dot on a map as the story was told. The media is assuming (and probably rightly so) that its consumers do not have a clue where the Orissa province of India is, making it less important, and making a map necessary. They choose not to make this news event a teachable moment to talk more about the province -it's history or significance, because they assume that the consumer probably does not care. Because the consumer probably does not care, they are satisfied with simply throwing a red dot on a map and quickly telling the story which leaves the consumers no more interested or worried about the region than they were before the broadcast.

Note how this cycle of decontextualization does nothing to increase consumer knowledge or concern, nor does it do anything to affect social movement or aid for the situation at hand. Is this cycle the fault of the media or the fault of consumers? If the media assumes that a story is of no interest to its consumers then why would they report any more on it than they feel they have to? Perhaps the media should take it upon themselves to find more ways to connect these types of stories with its audience. If consumers are only really attracted to cases of suffering that affect people like themselves, then the media could at least use that knowledge to make the effort to report these stories in such a way so that consumers can understand how the suffering of these people could somewhat affect them. The media could also put more effort into making such stories more personal, showing the suffering of the people and devastation even though they may be 'the other.' Upon reading studies of the affects of international news and reporting, it is very apparent that biases and ratings cloud and hinder these forms of media from being a truly globalizing force.

Chouliarki, Lilie "The symbolic power of transnational media: Managing the visibility of suffering"

Hafez, Kai "International Reporting"

International Broadcasting & The Inverted Pyramid

We know that international reporting is important. Not just how much but the quality of the reporting as well. According to Powers and el-Nawawy, the manner of international reporting has the potential “to make international conflicts more difficult to resolve.”(el-Nawawy 2009) This, instead of what could be the ultimate potential of international reporting, which they describe as: “The global news media fostering engagement and understanding between geographically distant and culturally diverse publics.”

How much does this gap between the potential of international reporting and its current reality have to do with how we are training journalists? Writers and reporters rely on the Inverted Pyramid style of writing for newspaper and broadcast, especially in the hard news style. This format top loads the pertinent information so that copy editors can cut paragraphs from the bottom up of the story if the space or time requires it. The who, what, when, where, and why are shoved into the leading paragraph and supporting or flushed out in the second and third paragraphs. The rest is there for support.

So where is the room for contextual background in this format? There’s not, typically. As humans, and throughout most people’s education, the narrative format is the style in which we are used to being introduced to new information. “Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away…” We’re used to the set up first. The background information before we get to the main plot. That’s how we are used to getting drawn into a story.

Thus is the Inverted Pyramid actually hurting international reporting? Are journalists are missing out on the teachable moments because of the style in which they are trained? Particularly on more esoteric topics like international politics or economics, where perhaps national audiences are less familiar with the subject, would a little background information first allow international reporting to grow its audience? Does a story with no context lose its potential audience right away because they have been given no set up? Do national audiences tune out because they have been given no way to relate the story to their own lives or given new information in a narrative format with which they are familiar?

If so, the problem in international reporting has an attainable solution. Change the way journalists are trained. They are all good writers. Give them the room to write tell the whole story.


el-Nawawy, Shawn Powers and Mohammed. 2009. Al-Jazeera English and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue? Media, War, and Conflict 2 (3): 263-284.