I personally am having a difficult time discussing the subject of public diplomacy in a way that hasn’t been touched upon either during class yesterday or by my fellow bloggers. But I’ve decided I’ll talk about a practical comparison and how our public diplomacy media outlets could emulate popular media to become more successful.
Television Al Hurra is the US’ public diplomacy channel in the Middle East and, for several reasons, is rather unliked in the region. The primary reason for this is that the intended viewers see the channel as serving US interests alone (as discussed in Philip Seib’s New Media and the New Middle East). Conversely, there are several reasons why Al Jazeera is so overwhelmingly popular – while the majority of this preference relates to it being a “home-grown” product with counterflow views to major Western outlets, another aspect is how Al Jazeera features participation in many of its programs.
By holding large segments of call-in or live audience A&A, Al Jazeera has created a public sphere for the region’s otherwise voiceless people. It is my firm belief that this one aspect of Al Jazeera is one of it’s most positive, and also something that the people in the area appreciate and love. As such, it becomes clear that any outlet trying to compete with Al Jazeera should also feature this type of participation. If Al Hurra were to have discussions, debates, Q&A, and call-in segments, it might increase their popularity because audiences in the region have a proven interest in that.
Furthermore, this would alleviate the problems discussed by Tretheway, Corman, et al – of focusing too much on the message rather than the act of communicating and sharing dialogue. If public diplomacy outlets launched by the United States focused on promoting dialogue between themselves and the residents, some positive outcome would be more likely.
As I examine this concept more, the main block to this process is that, in order to engage in a mutual dialogue, both sides have to be open to discuss and possibly change their viewpoint. I sincerely doubt that foreign policy practitioners, as well as the United States as a country, are seriously interested in changing any aspect or even in learning from the exchange. This brings to light another facet implied by the theorists we discussed – public diplomacy as a shared learning experience. That is what we’re really lacking, and also what we really desperately need to strive for to have a successful, positive relationship.