Officials in charge of U.S. information
and "public diplomacy" efforts have appealed to Congress to support expanded
broadcasting and "outreach" programs to counteract anti-Americanism, particularly
in the Middle East. The officials testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
The testimony came amid a continuing review of U.S. "public diplomacy" and
its effectiveness since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Margaret Tutwiler, recently-appointed as Undersecretary of State for Public
Diplomacy, said U.S. information efforts need to be more focused. "We need
to continue to focus and deliver meaningful programs and activities in those
areas of the world where there has been a deterioration in the view of our
nation. That deterioration is, of course, most stark in the Arab and Muslim
world," she said.
Republican Congressman Christopher Shays, chairman of the House subcommittee,
cited findings that show the United States has not been able to get its messages
across, particularly in the Middle East. "Nowhere is our stunted reach into
the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims more obvious, or more perilous, than
in Iraq. All public diplomacy in the region today should be keenly focused
on persuading Iraqis and their neighbors [that] we are there as liberators,
not occupiers," he said.
Mr. Shays and other lawmakers have been increasingly critical of how U.S.
public diplomacy is carried out, from the work U.S. diplomats do overseas to
radio and television broadcasting, saying these efforts have failed to change
attitudes toward the United States, particularly among youth in the Middle
Some of this criticism has focused on Iraq, where a public communication
campaign managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has been plagued
Where broadcasting is concerned, two members of the Broadcasting Board of
Governors, which oversees U.S. international broadcasting, said newer programming
such as Radio Sawa in Arabic, and Radio Farda for Iran, have proven effective.
Board Chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, referred to an even newer effort due to
be inaugurated in coming days, the Middle East Television Network. "Our competitive
edge in the Middle East is our very dedication to truth, and free and open
debate, and we will stand out like a beacon of light in a media market dominated
by sensationalism and distortion," he said.
At the same time, Mr. Tomlinson noted that spending for U.S. international
broadcasting declined by 40 percent between the end of the Cold War and the
September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Another board member, Norman Pattiz, says the media environment in the Middle
East demands bolder and more creative steps aimed at counteracting disinformation
about the United States. "In the Middle East, we are very unpopular. There
is a wide variety of news organizations and they believe they are getting plenty
of information but that media environment is characterized by "hate-speak" on
radio and television, incitement to violence, disinformation, government censorship
and journalistic self-censorship. So it is within that environment that the
Arab "street" gets its opinions not only of U.S. policy, but of our people,
our culture, our society, of all things American," he said.
Although Radio Sawa is extremely popular in the Middle East, Mr. Pattiz has
acknowledged in the past that it is not yet clear to what extent the new programming
has produced significant changes in views about the United States.
BBG Chairman Tomlinson says the "firewall" that is supposed to shield the
journalistic and newsgathering functions of U.S. international broadcasters,
such as Voice of America and others, from U.S. government interference must
be maintained. "We believe it is important to maintain the strength of public
diplomacy, and the traditions of international broadcasting. I'm convinced
that we will not be successful in our overall mission to delivering our message
to the world if we fail to grasp that these are two independent spheres and
they operate according to two sets of rules," he said.
Recent cutbacks announced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, including
the end of VOA transmissions in 10 East European languages and reductions in
others, have prompted renewed concern that focusing on the Middle East is weakening
the VOA's overall role.
The Broadcasting Governors say budgetary realities and shifting priorities
made the cuts necessary.