U.S. Public Diplomacy Event — That’s open to the public!

President Obama speaks to a group

The next public meeting of the Advisory Commission on U.S. Public Diplomacy will explore the goals and challenges of the USG’s Young African Leaders Initiative, established to “spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa” (http://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/yali/).

To learn more and register, consult: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/young-african-leaders-initiative-us-acpd-quarterly-public-meeting-tickets-10604892519

Competence and Soft Power

Putin

I fear this might be one of a dozen Sochi posts this week but I just wanted to try and look at the current media attention surrounding the event in the context of this week’s soft power (henceforth SP) readings.

A lot of the time, when we look at a country’s image abroad, we focus on things such as that country’s foreign policy and stance on human rights. However, I would like to bounce off Nye’s text and say that a state’s competence is equally valuable.

What I mean by this is that morality aside, people are drawn towards states that can provide for their citizens and somehow excel on the world stage. In the case of the United States, it has the world’s largest military, a high GDP/capita and the epicenter of the English-language entertainment industry, among other things.

While I’m still a big proponent of geopolitics and the ‘hard’ elements of power, I would argue that public perceptions of state competence has a great potential to shape interstate relations. Rumblings of a ‘Beijing consensus’ came about to a large part due to the near-collapse of the U.S. financial system.

So back to Sochi.  Putin could have chosen one of so many other ski-friendly places to hold the Olympics but chose a place a stone’s throw from where it went to war with Georgia during the 2008 Olympics. Was this an attempt to show how far the country has come since its embarrassing struggle to put down Islamist militants in the 90s? And what does it mean if the (so far) violence-free games are overshadowed by shortcomings in basics like accommodation and infrastructure?

Using the Media for PD

Condorito_Huaso

Because I am a journalist at heart, I am constantly monitoring and analyzing the media’s role and impact upon every day life, specially in the arena of politics and, lately, public diplomacy. For those of you who were interested last class in the Ecuadorian government’s use of the media to perpetuate its vision both at domestic and international levels, here is a good summary of the situation of the press under Rafael Correa’s regime: http://www.cpj.org/reports/2011/09/confrontation-repression-correa-ecuador.php

The section particularly relevant to PD is under the headline “State media as political megaphone.” Is is the story of how this became the most powerful mediatic apparatus de country has ever had, taking over several previously–private multimedia venues, which he promised to sell later on for “public use” but never did, and investing heavily in new “public venues.” None of the media outlets that operate under the government are public. They act, simply, as the State’s megaphone. In fact, his Saturday monologues are intended to impose his authority over citizens, both those who live in Ecuador and those who have migrated. They are a a large and important percentage of his audience, one that guarantees that his “revolution” is well known in countries such as Spain. I have a close friend who is currently living in Barcelona in an exchange program, and who was recently confronted by a Chilean who claimed to know all there was to know about the country’s political and economic reality merely by watching the “Sabatinas.” Indeed, this is the source of most of the arguments that pro-Correa militants use in their daily lives, and are usually charged with aggressive messages, insults, and a condescending attitude towards those who do not share the values poured from the “Sabatinas” and every other government communication outlet . This is the way the “truth” (the official party’s truth) is transmitted, circulated, and forcefully engrained into people’s minds. And it has been very effective.

The government’s thirst for power through the media is far from over. To the contrary, it is ever more greedy. The controversial law of communication will be the umbrella under which every repressive action will be, and already is, justified. And controlling even more venues to serve as the official megaphone is a big part of their strategy. Over the past week, the controversy lay in the fact that the government supposedly sought to buy the rights of a popular Latin American comic, “CONDORITO”, originated in Chile, to adapt to and circulate with the official newspapers. The outcry and opposition was widely felt through social media, and a representative of the government denied knowing about it or giving permission for that to happen. However, the fact that the intention was there is absolutely telling of the shrewdness this government possesses in terms of communication. Indeed, communication might just be its single and most important policy. Its effect on citizens both within and outside the country is tangible. “CONDORITO” is a representation of Latin American idiosyncrasies, but, as cartoons usually are, remains critical of the abuses of power and the consequences for political, social, and economic development in our countries. Attempting to take hold of that for political purposes is a tremendous act of disrespect to Pepo, his creator, on all of us who genuinely enjoy his authentic comics. That authenticity would vanish if used by authoritarian governments.

“Against censorship, in any media” PD band-aid?

Last night there was an event at AU supported by the French-American Global Forum and Le Monde Diplomatique, discussing “NATO Today: Does Collective Security Work?”  While I won’t know what was said in that room because I had to be in class (if anyone went and would like to tell me what they heard I’d be grateful), I did go down during break and picked up a couple of the free samples of the English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique. The first article that grabbed my attention was titled “Against censorship, in any media,” written by Serge Halimi (online available at: http://mondediplo.com/2014/02/01censorship). It basically criticized the recent censorship measures of interior minister Manuel Valls, placing it in the international context (starting off with freedom-destroying measures taken immediately after 9/11 and still in place “thirteen years and one president later), and in historical context: referring back to a 1980 decree by Charles X revoking press freedom. A decree which newspapers found ways to ignore, Halimi then adds that Charles X’s reign ended in revolution.

Of course this is public diplomacy, and it made me think of ways to attain soft power, and relates to our group’s underlying theme about freedom of speech and promoting tolerance and respect for different cultures and beliefs. The soft power aspect of it is the most important though: as I understand it, it is mostly about international reputation, and as we’ve seen before with Nicholas Cull, actions speak louder than words. So if France wants to maintain an image of the country of freedom of rights etc. reactions like Manuel Valls’ and such publicity around it are rather unhelpful. The strategy of self-criticizing internal policy in a publication such as Le Monde Diplomatique rather than trying to find a convoluted justification behind it seems like marginalizing a politician to cut losses, but how effective can that be and how wide is the actual readership of the English Edition of Le Monde Diplomatique? A rather inefficient band-aid?

Shirley Temple Black: Child Star, Singer, Public Servant

FILE: Shirley Temple Dies At The Age Of 85

 

Shirley Temple Black, the child star whom we know and love has died at the age of 85. Shirley Temple, as she is widely known, was a former child star who danced and sang her way across the silver screen during the Great Depression, bringing smiles and laughter to audiences across the country during a time when smiles and laughter didn’t come so easily.

What few people know, however, is that Black went on to become a public servant. She spent time with the United Nations and two ambassadorial stints in Ghana and Czechoslovakia. According to an article in the NY post (http://nypost.com/2014/02/11/shirley-temple-earned-respect-as-us-diplomat-after-film-stardom/) she was also a charter member and active participant of the American Academy of Diplomacy. Her passion for public service started at an early age. Although she was a former child star and has a hairstyle named after her, she gained the respect of her colleagues and later was appointed ambassador to two countries–both experiencing turbulent times during her appointments. She served both countries well during her tenure.

The purpose of this post is not to recount the laurels of a famous little girl who grew up to become an ambassador. Political appointed ambassadors face a lot more criticism than their career Foreign Service Officer counterparts. The argument is that political appointees are selected because of the amount of money they contributed to the President’s campaign or because of old favors owed, stealing the coveted ambassadorships from career Foreign Service Officers with years of experience. While I do believe that career foreign service officers sometimes get the short end of the stick, I am not against politically appointed ambassadors like Former Ambassador Temple-Black.  American icons like Shirley Temple are perfect public diplomacy tools. Because she lit up the screen during a less than prosperous time in American history, people associate her with a kind of nostalgia and happiness. I am a proud member of Generation Y and I grew up on her movies and still appreciate Shirley Temple curls every once in a while. Likewise, other countries knew and recognized her and associated her with American ideals and values. That, coupled with the fact that she was genuinely interested in public service and took her job incredibly seriously made her the effective ambassador that she was.

Thank you, passenger of the Good Ship Lollipop, for your years of dedicated public service.

 

–Miranda Patterson

Shirley Temple, Actress and Diplomat, Dies at 85

Shirley TEMPLE

Shirley Temple, who charmed the nation as a child movie star in the 1930s and went on to become one of the nation’s diplomats in posts that included ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, has died yesterday at 85.

The Associated Press illustrates that publicist Cheryl Kagan says Shirley Temple Black died late Monday evening at her home near San Francisco. Kagan tells the AP that Temple’s family and caregivers were with her.

In a statement, the family says:

“We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black.”

The BBC also adds, “The actress found fame as a young girl in the 1930s in films like Bright Eyes, Stand Up and Cheer and Curly Top”. “After retiring from films in 1950 at the age of 21, Temple returned to the public eye as a Republican candidate for Congress and as a U.S. diplomat.”

She remained a cultural icon for decades after stepping down from the silver screen. She later received two lifetime achievement awards for her performing career.

In 1972, Shirley Temple successfully battled breast cancer. Funeral arrangements are pending. A remembrance guest book will be set up online at shirleytemple.com.

News consulted: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/11/showbiz/movies/shirley-temple-child-star-appreciation/

Onward in Sochi!

The New York Times carried this

QUOTATION OF THE DAY 

in yesterday’s digital headlines:

“I’d like to think that yogurt could have diplomatic immunity.”

PETER McGUINNESS, the chief marketing and brand officer for Chobani, whose product was bound for the United States Olympic team but blocked by Russia.

Talk about a rich culture (pun intended … http://www.chobani.com/culture/) and the mingling of global capitalism, public relations and corporate social responsibility (http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm367298.htm), diasporic identity-making, and … (fill in with other flavors and interpretations) that constitute the ongoing reconceptualizing of (public) diplomacy.

I will likely be among those drawn to one sort of screen or another to catch some of this winter’s Olympics this opening weekend. And you? It’ll be hard to watch the opening events, and then amazing feats of physical strength and artistic creativity, without considering cross-national cultural diplomacy in the guise of sports. Have a great weekend, wherever it takes you!

Super Bowl 2014 and the Power of Partnerships

‘Invisible’ by U2

For those who watched the Super Bowl last Sunday, it was hard to miss the huge campaign by U2 and Bank of America. During the game U2 have performed and released their new single for free download within 24 hours after the game, while for each download Bank of America donated one dollar to an organization cofounded by Bono in 2006 to combat AIDS. The campaign proved a tremendous success raising $3 Million for AIDS fight.

In light of recent discussion in class about the significance of partnerships, this campaign is a great evidence for growing importance of cross sector partnerships when it comes to raising awareness and/or funds for a cause. It is hard to imagine a government-led campaign of the same scope becoming equally successful. Moreover this is a perfect win-win situation in which both- the Bank of America and Bono significantly leverage their social presence while an important cause is being supported.

Continue reading Super Bowl 2014 and the Power of Partnerships

China’s Cultural Power

chinese new year in londonLast week, I briefly addressed my Country Profile topic in our discussion by including an article that describes one of China’s public diplomacy programs known as the China-Africa Think Tank Forum. This past week, China has made the news once more for the notable increase of diplomacy, or more specifically “soft power,” that is popularizing Chinese language and culture all over the world. In China, the meaning of “soft power” not only carries diplomatic and economic objectives, but a consistent spread and revival of culture takes an unprecedented precedent. Pamment discusses the “diplomatic strategy for exerting influence” as a means of “developing relationships” through different channels, i.e. key media sources in order to reach large publics. He then adds, conveniently enough, a Chinese Proverb which basically says involving others is the best form of perpetuating mutual understanding. At the end of chapter 3, he addresses the topic of “cultural diplomacy.” He describes this area of PD as a way to use culture as a communication tool. China is in many ways capitalizing on its increased ability to promote its culture through not only the media, but the diaspora populations of Chinese people throughout the world also perpetuate the growth of a foreign understanding of Chinese influence.

As China’s economic power continues to grow, this emphasis on culture and language as a means of influencing both foreign and domestic perspectives is China’s way of making itself a more attractive nation. This is important in order to substantiate the increasing number of Chinese public diplomacy programs around the world. For example, there are now more than 50 Confucius Institutes in Africa alone. One of the elemental ways this is down is through the spread of Chinese language. Popularizing the use of Simplified Mandarin not only corroborates public interest in Chinese culture and history, but more predominantly makes China “valuable” in the world’s flow of information. Undoubtedly, these establishments such as the Confucius Institutes are meant to aid relationship-building between the countries; but for China, this is an equally economic endeavor (I’ll get into this further is my following posts on my Country Profile). My blog today was inspired by this article: http://rt.com/op-edge/growing-chinese-soft-power-638/

 

Parlez-vous Français?

FrenchSchoolSystem

According to a recent article in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/nyregion/a-push-for-french-in-new-york-schools-from-france.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0), Spanish and Chinese are the most popular second languages to take up in the United States. Bilingual French programs have taken off in New York City schools. The French government actually spearheaded these programs, which are located in several schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan. However, recent strains on the French governments’ budget has caused them to find other ways to fund these programs. Now, New Yorkers are providing private donations and starting fund-raising campaigns to keep these programs alive. Many people can argue that learning French as a second language is losing its allure and usefulness. If that is so, why has it taken off in this small group of NYC schools.

This form of public diplomacy directed by the French government is actually quite good. Somehow, they have increased the popularity of French  in the biggest city in the United States. By introducing children to French at a young age, they are sharing French culture and reinforcing it’s economic and political ties with people of the United States at a time when Americans have pivoted to Asia. Furthermore, they have gotten the parents and students in the area so excited about it, that the government no longer has to foot a big part of the bill. Parents are fighting to get their children enrolled and raising millions of dollars in an effort to bring more of the French immersion programs to schools in their neighborhood. Although the quest for donations are targeted at more affluent families, the program wants to expand into less affluent neighborhoods  and schools as well.

I’m not sure if there is a desire for similar programs such as this all over the country, but I can’t help but think that location is what is making these French bilingual programs popular. New York City is a hub for immigrants and many non-native English speakers reside there. The families and children of these families who are enrolled in this program are exposed to multiculturalism every day. If you aren’t a French speaker, and you live in a neighborhood with an authentic French restaurant, owned and operated by native French speakers, on every street corner; or come into contact with people from Haiti or parts of West Africa, your interest in French would likely be higher than someone in say South Carolina. In my opinion, in order for cultural public diplomacy initiatives to work, their has to be some sort of interest or advantage to the person in which the program is targeted. Kids who learn French in New York City will not only have more jobs opportunities one day, but they will be able to communicate with the native French speakers they come into contact with everyday. I think France has done well in boosting the popularity of a dying second language in the United States, however, I’m unsure of it’s potential success in other regions of the country.