Thursday, December 2, 2010

Public Diplomacy as the New Wave

Wikileaks has hit the press in a major way with the grand revealing of cables that concern countries and leaders around the world. One of the major questions on everyone's mind is "what does this mean for diplomacy?" With so much "dirty laundry" set out for the world to see, it might be hard to conceive of diplomats having the ability to honestly and effectively proceed on their normal agendas. The solution to this dilemma lies in public diplomacy. As we discussed in class, public diplomacy can have wide reaching, yet subtle effects, many of which may not manifest for years.

The benefit of Public Diplomacy over traditional diplomacy is in its subtle nature. Although many world leaders would love to have the ability to transmit a message and have opinions and beliefs instantly change (the Transmission Model of communication), this simply does not work. Public Diplomacy is more about changing attitudes over time in increments. The most prevalent way that this is done now is through international television and radio broadcasts, such as Voice of America. The method is simple: attract individuals rather than coercing them, through programming that appeals to cultural or societal wants. There will never be a good substitute for original national cultural content on broadcast channels, so programmers should not try to completely push it aside. Coopting values and current interests of a society, while still maintaining some subtle message about the intended goal (even if it is just positive feelings in the content) can ultimately provide a greater payoff than overt messaging. For example, Sesame Street has taken off in South Africa because it tailored the show to the South African audience in all aspects. The ultimate goal of the show, promoting good citizenship, social values, and good life lessons, is intact, while still reflecting the current issues in South Africa.
The US, as a country, has traditionally had a hard time keeping a good relationship with the world at large, partially because it is traditionally bad at subtle forms of diplomacy. The US Government should learn from programs like Sesame Street, if they want to gain true effectiveness and garner global support down the road.


  1. Wikileaks make a strong case for public diplomacy, and transparency in normal diplomacy. These leaks may change the way of diplomacy in days to come. Just as the press plays a watchdog role in a democracy, Wikileaks play the same role in American diplomacy.
    Instead of going after the whistle-blowers, it is time for the U.S. to step back, reflect on its "ways of the empire" and separate diplomacy from outright espionage.
    Just like the Sesame Street in South Africa, the Voice of America (VOA) has recently started special broadcasts for Pakistan and Afghanistan in their local languages which is doing a really good job. A recent survey by Intermedia, a British organization, found that the VOA's Pushto service for Pakistan is the only radio in the region that more and more people listen to.
    In fact the VOA has got more listeners in the region than the BBC radio, which used to be a household name in South Asia. The U.S.'s generous help in relief work when floods wreak havoc in Pakistan was another successful attempt at winning hearts and minds, which is always the aim of public diplomacy.

  2. Hi good post. A question though: Would we consider Sesame Street in South Africa as cultural public diplomacy or something else? The content was localized to South Africa which makes it effective in creating an audience for the show in that region. But is this good public diplomacy or good media business strategy? Or both? The answer isn't entirely clear to me because Sesame Street does get some of its funding from the U.S. government.

  3. What does this mean for diplomacy? With issues of transparency being the main cause for concern, maybe we should look at what we are doing that is making transparency a fear. If your parent sends you to your room, expecting you to be doing homework but instead you are playing video games, but they don't know does that make your actions ok to do? Lets say they sent you to your room but your room is made up of glass walls. Now you have to think about what you are going to do. You have to do the right thing, because everyone is watching. In 1984 (and don't worry, I'm not saying that wikileaks is going to lead us to that extreme) people learned to either do what they are told, or make it look like they are doing the right thing. So the issue is are we going to try to find a way to legitimize what we are doing, or are we going to have to change our entire game plan.

    I am definitely not worried about diplomats being able to 'honestly and effectively proceed in their normal agendas'. If there was honesty involved, there would be no dirty laundry to be aired.

  4. The comment about Sesame Street in South Africa is interesting. This same type of subtlety and playing on the culture can also be seen in many children and adult cartoons in Japan. For example, the cultural values in Japan about the importance of teamwork and the desire to fit together for the greater good are played upon by the use of a pair of superheroes working together, rather than a single hero out to save the world.