Mediated public diplomacy is messaging, image control and relationship building through third-party media. This style of public diplomacy is effective, efficient, and greatly important in the Middle East and North Africa.
First, it is important to note that the U.S. has established media in the Middle East and North Africa on which it can conduct public diplomacy; Radio Sawa and Al Hurra television. However, these media have little credibility in the region, and thus far have not improved views of America (el-Nawawy, 2006). Radio Sawa and Al Hurra continually ask people of the region to take the effort to listen or watch an American-sponsored medium, as opposed to a native medium. This is problematic when the audience may already be skeptical of, and experienced with, state-sponsored media and the U.S. in general. It would be much more reasonable to find the publics the U.S. wishes to reach where they already are: regional media.
Al Jazeera has emerged in as the most influence medium in the Middle East and North Africa. By simply being a satellite television station, Al Jazeera has already challenged the control on the flow of media that Arab states traditionally had (Lynch, 2006). It’s most popular format is the debate between strong advocates on either side of a sensitive topic. This is not only highly entertaining, but it has created a cultural acceptance for civic discussion and disagreement is a prerequisite for multiparty democracy. (Id.). Of course, as the Hostile Media Effect would predict, Al Jazeera has been charged as being a propaganda piece for everything from the West to al Qaeda. (Id.). The U.S. simply must be an active participant in this conversation. Al Jazeera, Al Arabia, and other regional networks garner the lion’s share of viewership in the region—and the U.S. must meet the publics where they are, not where the U.S. would like them to be. While quasi-independent regional media in no way suggests the sprouting of liberal democracies throughout the region, the cultural needs for acceptance of opposition and the desire to project political opinions may go a long way in establishing Arab democracy, which has been a long-time goal of the U.S (Lynch, 2006). The U.S. should support such media by buying ad space and sending guests to discuss, debate, and explain key aspects of American life and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. This is mediated public diplomacy.
While mediated public diplomacy seeks to address the publics of the region where they already are viewers, it will require extensive training for the individuals who will appear on such programming. These media operate in local languages, such as Arabic, not in English. The subtleties of language and cultural must be understood in order to properly and accurately explain policies and values without mistake or misunderstanding. Indeed, those representing the U.S will likely be faced with antagonistic hosts and audience skepticism (Sheafer and Gabary, 2009). The best way to do this effectively would be to engage in extensive, regions-specific training and to utilize the diaspora communities already here in the U.S. This will show the publics of the Middle East and north Africa that Americans care about learning their language, culture, and customs, and that their relatives here in the U.S. are appreciated, accepted, and represent America just as much as anyone else. Compared to the exchanges discussed above, the impact of mediated public diplomacy is largely short-term. Policy decisions can be explained quickly and as events unfold in the region.
And in the end…
In this post series I recommended that the US Department of State concentrate new funding and resources on two areas, one long-term and one short-term. The long-term policy focus should be on sending Americans to the Middle East and North Africa to engage in educational exchanges as well as professional and development support. This will result in long-term relationships which will create benefits for years to come. The short-term policy focus should be on mediated public diplomacy: traditional public relations, crisis management and marketing of the United States by Americans on popular regional media. This will expose the publics of the region to U.S. policy explanations and Americans who know and understand their language and culture. While other current public diplomacy efforts in the region should be maintained, these foci present the U.S. with the most efficient forms of American advocacy in the Middle East and North Africa. Thanks for reading!
el-Nawawy, M. (2006) US public diplomacy in the Arab world: The news credibility of Radio Sawa and Television Alhurra in five countries. Global Media and Communication.
Lynch, M. (2006). Voices of the new Arab public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East politics today. New York. Columbia University Press
Sheafer, T. and Gabary, I. (2009) Mediated Public Diplomacy: A Strategic Contest over International Agenda Building and Frame Building. Political Communication.