State Department Launches TV Studio

, Emmanuel Opati, Leave a comment

Given the increasing negative perception of the world towards the United States, the Department of State has created a new Television Studio to improve America’s image as a tool in public diplomacy.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation this week, Ms. Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Department of State, said, “we have invigorated our public diplomacy by fusing policy and public diplomacy and creating new tools by which to effectively operate in these two short-term/long-term frameworks.”

This comes amidst concerns that positive views of United States have been declining in the last six years giving rise to anti-American sentiments around the world. According to Pew Research, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. declined in Germany, from 78% in 2000 to 3% currently. Similarly, positive views of the U.S. held by 9% in Turkey and 15% in Pakistan, with similar trends in France and Spain.

It was noted that most people in these countries held positive views of the U.S. at the start of the decade. The research also revealed that “more than 70 percent of non-Americans say that the world would be improved if America faced a rival military power, and about half the citizens of Lebanon, Jordan, and Morocco think that suicide attacks on Americans in Iraq are justified.”

Dr. Edwin J. Feulner, President of Heritage Foundation noted that “today, America has a peaceful message yet we are doing some harm to the nation and to our own credibility by not effectively advocating for ourselves. This manifests itself in many ways but especially concerning the war on terror.” “The U.S. must develop a strategy that reflects our current position in the World that utilizes dynamic new ways to deliver information to individuals and to articulate the ways we want to be perceived,” he added.
Quoting the 9/11 commission report, Feulner said “if the United States does not act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world, the extremists will gladly do the job for us.”

U.S. government agencies have been criticized for lack of vision, coordination and leadership in their communication efforts to audiences abroad. It was however acknowledged that “efforts in the last two years of the Bush administration have intensified greatly and we have seen improvements in the public diplomacy arena,” said Helle Dale of Heritage Foundation.

Graffy noted that “many view the strategic communications of the Cold War as the solution to our public diplomacy challenges today.” But unlike the Cold war where “we fought an enemy that used power to exercise totalitarian control,” the new battle, she said, is a “battle of ideas.” “In most of the rest of the world, what we are doing is fighting for space in people’s ears and, more importantly, their minds,” she added.

She said that the top priority of the Bush Administration’s second term has been to elevate the role of public diplomacy, and that as a result, there are media hubs in Brussels, Dubai and London, a new TV studio that is now completed and the first broadcast took place last week, and there is a 30% increase in U.S. Government officials on television. The emphasis is on “getting visual,” she added.

However, Dale argued that “it is unfortunate that we have spent so much of our efforts on hard power while sometimes neglecting the impact of soft power in communication on audiences abroad.”

Michael Doran, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy at the Department of Defense said that “if you look at the successes that we have had in Iraq, success there wasn’t really a success of arms, it was a success of enlightened understanding of the challenge in Iraq.”

He said that because the war was people-centric, it was a perception and information war and “the first goal was to provide security to the population.” He added that the lesson from that is that “we need to counter Al-Qaeda’s claim that we are at war with Islam and we need to project the best side of United States to the global audience.” “The second thing we need to do is to attack Al-Qaeda’s brand,” he said. “We need to make the world public aware of Al-Qaeda’s intimidation and the intolerance,” he added.

It was also noted that the long-term goal should be to build relationships with Muslim countries through cultural diplomacy, sports diplomacy and student exchanges.

Emmanuel Opati is an intern at the American Journalism Center a training program run jointly by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.