School of Media and Communication

Phil Taylor's papers


US PD in Arab & Muslim World by C Beers

U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim Worlds

Charlotte Beers, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Remarks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Washington, DC
May 7, 2002

As I reviewed the distinguished scholars, researchers, journalists and diplomats in this audience, I find myself wondering why I'm not in your audience -- notebook in hand -- ready to listen. So my great interest in being here is to take part in the discussion to follow.

Let me get right to the issues that interest us greatly at Public Diplomacy at the State Department today:

The fact that in the volatile information revolution, the U.S. has a smaller and smaller voice;
The quality and content of this information does not always, or even usually, lead to knowledge or discernment. Rather the world and, especially the Middle East, is full of conflicting ideas, biases boldly told, rumors that harden into "truth" overnight, and curiously, a real lack of relevant information;
The resources we have to get heard in such a crowded universe in a full-context way have been substantially reduced over the last 10 years in Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs;
The clear recognition that the inevitable bottom line of any communication is: "just because you say it doesn't mean I believe it -- or even hear you." This understanding requires a whole new set of skills in communication;
The communication channels are bewildering: short-wave radio in non-TV-developed markets in contrast to sophisticated, sensational satellite TV; to cell phone messages; to chat rooms; to newspapers, magazines, and puppet theater; to more tried and true channels like exchanges, speakers, officials, and to Web sites;
What's the message? Who's the messenger? And where can it be delivered and on what timeline?
These are daily burning issues for us. We've laid out four very broad strategic goals, designed to guide us over the long term.

The first is to inform our many publics of the content of U.S. policy -- accurately, clearly and swiftly;
Next, re-present the values and beliefs of the people of America, which inform our policies and practices;
Third, define and provide dimension to the role that democracy plays in engendering prosperity, stability, and opportunity; and
Fourth, communicate our concern for and support of education for the younger generations.
On our first priority, I would rate our ability since 9/11 to get up to speed, to inform the international world swiftly and accurately about the policies of the U.S. government in this challenging time as very good. Beginning September 12, we produced every key government speech and policy statement in six languages on the day of publication and in up to 30 languages by a few days later.

Our officials made themselves readily available, so that we averaged interviews at the rate of one per day. We needed to respond live, in Arabic, when Al Jazeera showed such an affinity for bin Ladin's testimonial, and Ambassador Chris Ross provided such a counterpunch.

We coordinated with the White House and Department of Defense to create special media centers to cover a rolling news cycle and gain a rapid-response capability. As a result, the U.S. led the world in support of a role for Afghan women in the new government.

We quickly mounted media tours to the U.S. for foreign journalists, particularly Muslim. We refocused the exchange programs of our Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to the Middle East.

Even so, the distortions, the outrageous myths and lies surrounding the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the consequences of the war on terrorism, prompted us to search for a way to tell our story -- and that of the coalition -- in a truthful context.

We needed pictures, not just words. We needed to show the web of al Qaeda visually. I asked for a four-color, emotionally arresting, and deeply involving telling of the facts. This booklet, "Network of Terrorism," was released on November 6. It demonstrates a remarkable capacity on the part of the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP).

This product became the most widely distributed public diplomacy document ever produced. Now in 36 different languages, it has been seen by many and usually varied audiences -- Japanese Diet members, Beirut Airport guards, boarding schools in Jakarta, and as a insert in publications like Italy's Panorama and Kuwait's al-Watan. We then purchased a full insert in the Arabic edition of Newsweek -- a first for the State Department.

Out of this experience, we developed some specific criteria for future programs.

Convey the emotional as well as the rational;
Put all messages in context of the audience;
Enlist third parties for authenticity; and
Magnify a good result.
An impressive example of fulfilling all of these criteria was delivered by the team in ECA when they arranged to send stunning photographs of Ground Zero by Joel Meyerowitz to open in 20 countries. By the first-year anniversary date of 9/11, this exhibit will have opened in 60 cities.

To increase relevance and broader interest -- that "context" we were looking for -- the exhibit in London, for instance, showed pictures of the Blitz in World War II. In Santiago, Chile, Captain Daley of New York Engine Company No. 52 met with local firefighters with hundreds of school children in attendance. In every case there was extensive media coverage. What I appreciate so much about this program is that it gives us an audience beyond the government officials and elites -- the young and people in smaller towns as the exhibit travels to cities around these countries and reaches others through very good press coverage. That's what we mean by magnifying the results from a single event.

But what are we going to do long-term -- to close the gap that's widening everyday between the U.S. and the Middle East? It's the perceptions of policy. It's the way our polities are perceived. Especially now, the evolving complexities of all the players in the Middle East conflict overwhelm any other communication. However, I firmly resist the recommendation that we hold back until there's a more stable environment. It's true there are moments when any voice talking about values or beliefs will not be heard. But far more dangerous is silence. Or letting others speak for us exclusively.

In no other time has the issue of religious faith, religious tolerance been more important to discuss. Besides, among the many divergent views that stimulate the passions of the American people, our belief in the right to worship, to worship differently, or not at all, is among the beliefs we hold most strongly. That's why it's so frustrating to be called faithless.

The way to open a door so firmly closed - as we learned in years of message-building in advertising -- is to know and like the audience. Talk from their point of view, not yours. Think in terms of the "response wished for" not " what you "want to say." That's why we turned to the story of "Muslim Life in America." It first appeared on our Web site. Then we produced it in Russian for distribution as a booklet. Now its appearing in documentaries intended to air on Middle East TV programs and radio. We're working with a partner organization, Muslim-Americans for Understanding, which will arrange speakers and events and visitors here.

And we have ambitious programs ahead. One of them is a program we call "American Rooms." We want to design and install multimedia rooms in partnering institutions in selected countries. The American Rooms are more portable and efficient and use virtual reality to offer a wider exposure to American beliefs and values.

At the same time, let's not forget that exchanges are the "bread-and-butter" -- the very center of --public diplomacy. Coming from the private sector, it's hard to find anything comparable to the sheer productivity of our Fulbright and International Visitor (IV) exchanges. The $237 million we will spend in 2002, for some 25,000 exchanges, is magnified by the 80,000 volunteers in the U.S. and matching support from many countries like Germany and Japan. Considering that some 50 percent of the leaders of the International Coalition were once exchange visitors, this has got to be the best buy in the government.

In conclusion, let me note that the emergency supplemental funding for 2002 will be used to magnify the benefits of these exchanges, through, for instance, an alumni data bank. No worldwide bank of names and addresses exists of those foreigners who have participated in a U.S. exchange. Tens of thousands of Muslim exchange grantees and 700,000 grantees worldwide have visited the U.S. in the past 60 years and have become emissaries for the values we share in common.

Thank you.

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