The Peril of Ignoring Domestic Audiences

Whilst scouring the web for intriguing articles concerning public diplomacy, I came across this blog, which is run by the U.N. In this article, the author synthesizes material learned from a conference titled “Digital Diplomacy + Social Good”, which was jointly led by the United Nations Foundation and the Digital Diplomacy Coalition, into eight salient tips for practitioners to better engage their audiences in this new age of technology.

I found that this article addressed several of the major themes of this class, with the first illustrating the evolution that public diplomacy is currently experiencing. Gone are the days where there existed a wide chasm between practitioner and audience as well as the monopolization of the entire process of public diplomacy by political elites. In its stead we observe a more inclusive definition of who a public diplomat is (we all are! All of the suggestions from the blog author can be used by top diplomats as well as common lay people to help influence others) while also recognizing the need for a stronger, more active engagement between practitioner and audience.

Furthermore, I thought this piece, when viewed from a domestic lens, dovetailed quite well with Huijgh’s article about the domestic dimension of public diplomacy. I feel we sometimes can get caught up with how we project ourselves to an international audience to the point we take for granted our domestic audience. This can lead to issues later on, especially since domestic members are potential diplomats in their own right. One need not look far to recognize that the U.S. government, with its series of major missteps including WikiLeaks, the Snowden Incident, and increasingly bitter, unproductive political catfights i.e. 2013 shutdown, is in very much need of damage control with its own citizens. All of the suggestions detailed in the article can be very much utilized by the government to help repair its image with its own citizens. Failure to do so will lead to issues within the international scene, which is best encapsulated by Huijgh’s prescient declaration that “internal legitimacy remains a precondition for international respect.”

China’s Panda Diplomacy

Giant panda bear cub Bao Bao moves around inside the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park January 6, 2014 in Washington, DC Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

China is famous for its pandas. But there are actually quite a few pandas in the United States if you’d like to see them, especially a new baby was just born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. in last August and the baby girl looks like she is getting the right kind of love and attention across the whole nation; however, most of them don’treally live here, at least not permanently. They are on extended vacations of sorts, since China still holds their ownership as part of a lucrative panda lending program.

The newest baby panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington named Bao Bao (means baby). Prior to the new baby, her mother Mei Xiang and her mate Tian Tian had a son named Tai Shan in 2005.  He was the first panda cub born in the U.S. to survive more than a few days and Tai Shan became a crowd favorite. The original agreement between the U.S. and China was supposed to send Tai Shan back to China in 2007, when he was 2 years old.  However, the public requested more time with the little guy and China agreed to extend Tai Shan’s stay for another two years, which allowed him to live in the U.S., when George W. Bush went to China for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In July 2009, Tai Shan’s trip was extended for another six months, by chance or intentionally, when Barack Obama visited China for the first time after he became president.

In January 2010, the two countries finally agreed that Tai Shan would ship off to his motherland before the Chinese New Year. Once again the public tried to keep the little panda in Washington, but the Chinese government eventually recalled Tai Shan, right after the White House spokesman announced that president Obama is going to meet with the Dalai Lama.

Over the past 30 years, panda has always been worked as the most effective diplomat for China in the global market, especially when dealing with the U.S. Certainly, as the new baby is getting the national wide attention, one can tell from Tai Shan’s journey that the new baby is going to give us something more than entertaining, instead, a deep insight forecast on US-China relations.

Why cartooning for peace matters

bonil

This is Xavier Bonilla– Bonil, to his enthusiastic audience. He is a prolific political cartoonist whose insightful work is published almost daily in Ecuador´s most popular non–sensationalist newspaper. Incidentally, this very newspaper, El Universo, has had a particularly difficult time under President Rafael Correa´s government. In 2011, President Correa won a libel suit which demanded a $40 million compensation from El Universo and 3–year long prison sentences for its CEOs and the author of an opinion piece. The object of the defamation lawsuit was an Op-Ed by Emilio Palacio which, the Judge claimed, had no proof for a controversial accusation that suggested the President had direct responsibility for the chaos and deaths that resulted from a police revolt in 2010. The lawsuit catalyzed a wave of alarm for journalists and freedom of the press advocates around the world, concerned that such an arbitrary, unconstitutional measure would set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech in the country. Palacio fled to the US as a political refugee, where he continues manifesting his opposition to the current administration. Correa eventually “pardoned” all of them.

But the fact that he won the sentence spoke for itself about the perilous state of the “free press”– viewed by the government as the opposition– in Ecuador. Before that, and after, worldwide watchdogs had manifested their preoccupation with Correa´s aggressive tone and abuses of power when it came to the media that made him and his cabinet uncomfortable. Last year, a questionable, to say the least, law of communication was approved. It is considered one of the most repressive communication regulations in the entire region.

And last week, Bonil became its first target, and its first victim. In the picture, Bonil holds two kinds of pencils. The one on his right (reader´s left) is a normal pencil, with just a tiny eraser. The one on his left is the opposite– it has the biggest eraser and a fragile tip for drawing. His message is simple. The first pencil is the one all cartoonists– and freedom advocates– should possess. The other one is the one authoritarian governments wish they had. The sentence has ordered El Universo to pay 2% of its monthly profits and has requested a rectification from Bonil, who has said that he will limit himself to placing quotations on his next drawing to avoid the government from accusing him of performing “a deliberate act of disinformation.” The President called him an ink assassin, a lawyer, and a coward, among other names, for depicting another worrisome event from December, when a government-ordered raid on an opposition member´s home took personal possessions under the pretext of investigating robbed documents and hacked correspondence. You can read all about the lawsuit and its context here: http://www.cpj.org/2014/02/cartoonist-sanctioned-under-ecuadors-communication.php

But what I wish to underscore with all this is the importance of preserving the authenticity of freedom in one of its most wonderful, and sometimes most vulnerable, states: humor. Humor is not only a political tool. It is not only meant to preserve the power of the people, of their opinions, thoughts, and feelings, with respect to all governments, not only authoritarian ones. It is meant to make our lives lighter, to improve our days, to make us smile. It is meant to lift burdens, grudges, and stereotypes from our hearts. It is also meant for calling us to deeper reflections about the issues that concern us in our daily lives. Cartoons are the soul of humor, and humor the soul of cartoons. In this relationship lies the broader principle of respect, critical thinking, and freedom. Censoring a cartoonist´s wit, their essence, is plainly ridiculous. But because it is a symptom of the government´s intolerant powerful apparatus, it is much more than that. It is a frightening thing. Specially, it is a heartbreaking thing. The only thing we can wish, for our sakes, as the ones who benefit the most from cartoons, is that cartoonist´s pencils will continue to come in their original shape, and that we will have the courage to fight for them to survive. The good news is that cartoonists don´t just need a pencil to keep their freedom alive. Because cartooning is what they are, it is what they can never cease to be, regardless of any impositions that might come their way. And that is their lasting legacy. They contribute to a more peaceful world just by being who they are and doing what they do. And that is worth preserving.