Thursday, February 3, 2011

RT on US International Broadcasting

With the semester in full swing and with the non-stop Egypt mania, I was about to miss this report from Russia Today TV (from Feb 1) focusing on America's "international" broadcasting (yeah, sorry, haven't been watching it much lately). Although these segments - titled "US Funded Media Fail" - do point out some of the issues related to US-funded foreign channels, I find it more than ironic that RT is the one talking about the failures of broadcast (or how Entman would call it, "mediated") public diplomacy.

Here's the actual report, featuring Philip Seib, Director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy:

To reiterate: the segment brings up some great points. However, let me emphasize a quote from Dr. Seib, highlighted in the actual report:

"The problem that Alhurra has faced is that, as opposed to the old Cold War model when American and Western broadcasts such as this were very much welcomed, the competition is such now within the Arab world, dominated by Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, there really isn't much of an audience outside of Iraq. […] It's credibility, and the Arab audience for the most part wants to hear about themselves from other Arabs."

I mean, what else can one say to Russia Today itself? The Cold War propaganda model or, as Thomas Goodnight put it, the "Controversy Model" is supposedly long obsolete. Yes. What is RT doing in its own broadcasts, then? By this very same report...?

Just days ago I had a prequel to this post, it seems. But then, there's no going wrong with RT, is there? Just when I think there's no way for things to get worse, they somehow manage to prove me wrong. Every time. (Though, I should admit that their "public diplomacy ~ blurry/line ~ propaganda" efforts are getting somewhat more "sophisticated": they cut down on some of the R-Rated content...!!)

The case is similar here, too. The RT producers need to be reminded that the key word in Dr. Seib's quote is "credibility", without which no public diplomacy effort - broadcast or not - can hope to achieve success. (The unfortunate part is that even when RT somehow manages to capitalize on sad events and gain credibility and acknowledgment - as in the case of last week's Moscow bombing - it always manages to undercut all that effort with conspiracy stories, which simply further underscore the perception of RT as a propaganda channel. R.I.P., hopes for credibility in "Western minds"...)

Also noteworthy, of course, is the separate interview they had with Nancy Snow:

Here, focusing on the cost and the "lack of accountability and transparency", I'm afraid RT is raising more questions about itself than about the media story it is supposedly reporting on. I have not yet come across a budget for RT, but it being a "function" of Kremlin's attempted charm blitz, one can safely assume that the numbers are far from being humble.

What is more, with its new broadcasting center in Washington, DC (opened late 2009) and broadcasts in Arabic and Spanish, RT's costs are certainly moving in one direction: up. I'm afraid that is not at all the case with its credibility or popularity, especially among its key audiences: the "Western" public. After all, simply rebranding old models and introducing a greater variety of languages and "beaming" channels will not automatically improve the effectiveness of public diplomacy. In this age, it requires a true cognitive shift.

In short, as problematic as US international broadcasting may be, RT is not lagging much further behind (to say the least). That is why, seeing this story reported by RT - out of the blue - makes it all the more senseless and lame.

Oh well, good luck.

As for Egypt: I'm getting back to what has become "mainstream" coverage - Al Jazeera. But more on this later.


  1. On the topic of credibility, do you see RT's coverage on how U.S. media has gotten progressively worse in investigating stories, as opposed to repeating the preframed message?

    In other news, area pot calls local kettle black....

  2. Well, credibility is all about perceptions, and in that sense, RT certainly needs A LOT Of work... In my last week's post that I referenced here, I mentioned some remarks from an ex-Soviet official. Obviously, they're following all the same tactics now, and obviously, they're not doing great...

    But if you're referring to a specific report here, I most probably can't answer your question :)