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“Check” The State Department Makes its Move

The New York Times article, How the Kremlin Harnesses the Internet, is a piece over how the Russian government stealthily patrols the internet, by not explicitly censoring, but rather, by “targeted so-called denial-of-service attacks, with most of the site’s visitors receiving a “page cannot be found” message in their browsers.”

The Kremlin has been a great player in working with the internet to accomplish its mission both in blocking communication and in disseminating information. The United States struggling to keep up, has recently decided to step up its game . Recently, the Broadcasting Board of Governors published a piece this week about the Department of State’s (DoS) use of social media to respond to Putin’s propaganda machine. While the article focused heavily on The Obama Administration’s lack of financial support to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) it was an interesting piece highlighting the change underway at the DoS.

An excerpt from the article reads, “BBG Watch has learned that the Obama Administration is taking about half a million dollars in emergency extra funding to the BBG. . . It is needed to effectively counter Putin’s propaganda through multimedia outreach.” The article goes on to state that, “The State Department and the National Security Council have surprised many observers by their quick response to the crisis in Ukraine” and that “Susan Rice and Richard Stengel deserve credit not only for realizing early on that President Putin was engaged in what Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt has called “a massive propaganda war,” but also for mobilizing the NSC and the State Department staff and resources to provide quick responses to false and misleading claims pushed by the Kremlin.

The BBG’s praise of recent State Department tactics, bring to mind public diplomacy scholar Pammant’s arguments for the usage of new media platforms as a way to “exert influence and develop resources.” Pammant states that if an If the State Department is able to use social media tools as a way to advance policy goals in a way that is authentic it will need a network of relevant actors as part of their communication effort.

It is a big leap for the State Department to become more responsive in providing news and information from the United States to Russia, Ukraine, and many other nations in the region. But this is just a first step, many more will need to follow in order to keep the Department of State a relevant player in the game.

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.

Transforming Arms into Art

Transforming Arms into Art

Throne of weapons. © Kester 2004

Throne of weapons. © Kester 2004

After the Mozambique civil war, millions of weapons left in the country. In 1995, the Christian Council of Mozambique started Transforming Arms into Tools project, which offered people farming equipment and tools in exchange for guns. Then a group of Mozambican artists turned them into sculptures.

I wonder this is a part of the ‘new’ public diplomacy Pamment describes.

Firstly, it says the project is supported by the Mozambique government. Exhibitions of the sculptures were held in twelve countries. Furthermore, I found that an exhibition came to Japan last summer, which was realized by a Japanese professor of African studies, who learned about this project and asked the artists to create new artworks to display.
In the BBC website, Carey from British Museum says the sculpture speaks the will to “overcome violence through practical and creative means which resonates with people at a personal and collective level.” Also, the article describes the sculpture, “unusually for such a commemorative piece,” it “speaks to us of hope and resolution.” Moreover, an audience of the exhibition made a comment on the website that he was so impressed that he’d like to help teach people to make sculptures in Africa.

According to Pamment, while the ‘old’ public diplomacy has been a “one-way flow of information”, a ‘new’ public diplomacy” is “two-way engagement with the public.” He also mentions that audiences are now “active and greater emphasis is placed on how they make meaning and how they feed back into the communication process.”

This project seems to have been quite successful in physically transforming the weapons into artworks, and changing the negative image of violence into peace. The project also generated two-way engagement of the public, which eventually brought new artworks to Japan, and might bring an audience to Mozambique to teach people to make sculptures.

Emi

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Other related articles I referred to:

-“Transforming Arms into Tools”, ALMA,

http://www.almalink.org/transtool.htm

-Mescla, the website of a furniture designer Carla Botosso, who have been involved in the projects.

http://www.mescla.dk/projects.html

-The article about the exhibition of the sculptures in Japan

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201307110071

-“A History of the World: Throne of Weapons,” BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/97OnxVXaQkehlbliKKDB6A