Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Overcoming Cold War Stereotypes"

The Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC) at American University, held a very interesting event on Saturday, April 28: a symposium on "Overcoming Cold War Stereotypes". Given my interest in the subject and the impressive line-up of speakers, it was an event not to be missed.

The title already speaks for itself, but here are some of my observations and thoughts on what was said during the symposium (I really hope that the proceedings will be put online for further access).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New Paper on Russian Public Diplomacy

The readers of this blog know of my special interest in and fascination with Russia and Russian public diplomacy. I have blogged on the subject the most and it was also the focus of my Master's capstone project last year. However, my published papers dealt with other subjects in the past, namely Turkish public diplomacy and Hizballah's media strategy. And now, finally, I have something out there that is more systematic and "academic" on the subject of Russian PD, as well.

"Selective Processing: A Strategic Challenge for Public Diplomacy. An Alternative Approach to Russian Public Diplomacy in the United States." Gnovis Journal, Issue II, Spring 2012, Volume XII

ABSTRACT: The information age has made public diplomacy an integral component of statecraft. In essence, public diplomacy is transnational and cross-cultural strategic communication that aims to inform and engage foreign publics. Yet, developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs) have also made it much more difficult to overcome the cacophony and noise, especially in contexts where the audience is not predisposed to listening in the first place. Therefore, there is a need to approach the challenge through alternative communication strategies, incorporating them into the overall nature as well as specific techniques of any public diplomacy strategy. This analysis looks at the case of Russian public diplomacy in the United States, where, even twenty years after the end of the Cold War and various public diplomacy initiatives, public attitude towards Russia is still largely negative. The paper posits that selective processing of information is a potential explanation and suggests relational and network-based approaches to improve the effectiveness of Russian public diplomacy in the US.

This was based on a paper for a communication theory class I took, and one of the building blocks of my final project. Yet, it is still very much a work in progress. That is especially why I would appreciate any feedback, comments and suggestions.

Image from Demotivated Pictures

See the rest of the Gnovis issue.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"The World Tomorrow": Episode 1

So, Assange's much-anticipated TV show on Russia Today finally had its debut on Tuesday. I guess I'll just cite the (awesome) opening paragraph from The Guardian:
It was billed as Julian Assange's "explosive" TV debut. The choice of word was perhaps unfortunate given that the first guest on Assange's much-hyped interview show, The World Tomorrow, was Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shia militant group Hezbollah.
The Kremlin propaganda channel Russia Today has exclusive initial rights to the show, broadcast for the first time on Tuesday around the world. 

This pretty much reflects the attitude with which it was received by most of the Western media.

No matter what the West thinks of Assange, the show, the hosting TV network or the interviewee, however, this was a significant event for everyone involved. They all want attention, and given the "explosive" combination and all the hype, they were bound to get a lot of it.

Assange wanted to demonstrate - which he barely did - that he can operate outside of his comfort zone. It was indeed a little too awkward to watch... but well, he managed without breaking down in front of the camera. The questions should have been a little better - indeed, I was hoping he'd be more provocative - but  under the circumstances, the event itself was perhaps more notable than the content.

For Nasrallah, and Hizballah in general, this seemed like a great opportunity to make a memorable come-back to the Western media. He hadn't granted interviews to any Western reporters for about six years, but now, his appearance on RT and talking to Assange was clearly meant to send a message. He was guaranteed to get attention from a much bigger number of European and American media, who would most likely sensationalize it (which they did).

He didn't really say much, but he did cover a very broad range of subjects, ranging from Israel, internal Lebanese politics, and Syria to his childhood and religion. Yet again, in this case, Hizballah's initial media strategy priorities - especially in the West - would involve having a voice and a presence, more than anything else. Nasrallah wouldn't need to be promoting a certain view or perspective to a potentially hostile audience, and yet, the airtime he got brought him and Hizballah back to the headlines.

And lastly RT.... which finally got the attention and coverage it was hoping for when trying to get the show in the first place: Since the RT's vision of public diplomacy is rooted in the attempt to counter the Western media hegemony (or, to put it undiplomatically, to stick it to the Americans), this combination of Assange and Nasrallah guaranteed not just sensationalism, but also fulfillment of its objective.

In an ironic and twisted way, this can be said to represent precisely what many in the public diplomacy circles have been calling for: the government (well, RT is as governmental actor here) providing a platform for other actors to interact and engage in dialogue. This was a blunt demonstration of that, perhaps.

It was clear that RT Director Margaria Simonyan was interested primarily in the attention the story got elsewhere. She hyped it up on twitter, asking her followers to guess who the guest was before the show had aired. She said that "Many would be very, very unhappy" about the guest. After it aired, she posted a very excited tweet showing that "The World Tomorrow" was trending on Twitter worldwide. RT got what it wanted, in short.

Nasrallah will be a hard act to follow, but I'm sure they have a similarly outrageous [well, for the intended audience, at least] line-up of "guests" for the near future. Whether there will be as much hullabaloo surrounding it again, is a good question, however. They will have to really try.

P.S. - Apparently, the transcript of the interview was translated into Russian and is now available at the website of RT's host "company" - InoTV.

P.P.S. - To read more about Hizballah's media strategy and their attempts at winning hearts and minds, see my paper in the Journal of International Service.