Who’s the ‘Man’? You know – the ‘Man’! Jack Black, School of Rock? The ‘Man‘! What we’re talking about is The Establishment, The Elite, Them – sometimes elusive to pin down and definitively categorise but definately there – that’s the ‘Man’. Yet if you live in certain societies, then the ‘Man’ is very visible – think of Iran right now – or if not so visible, then presenting a pervasive and omnipresent shadow – think of the People’s Republic of China. However, today even the serious ‘Man’, wielding his riot baton or spying on every move, is facing a problem – a serious problem. And at the core of that problem is communicating with its subjects, or publics.
There was a time when government enforcement and counter culture knew their places – the former within officialdom, ceremony, uniform and a conventional media who knew not to rock the boat too much, and the latter in dark, smoky bars (where have they gone?), underground leaflets, Che Guevara t-shirts, folk/pop songs and grassroots communication. It was all so straightforward. But then came the Summer of Love, Winter of Discontent, Punk, fall of the Berlin Wall and loads of other stuff which really messed up the status quo of society and state. And throughout that period there was a growing and rich seam of information, through modern technology (we all think its so now but the microchip began life in the 1960s and zero-G (as opposed to 3G) mobile telephone network kicked off in 1971 in Finland).
With little choice, democracies have rolled with this wave of universally availablable information capability, have even been created as a by-product of it, and democratic governments have had to adjust to the competetiveness of the contemporary information market. But after years of staving it off, trying to eliminate it or simply ignoring it, governments with a less than unblemished democratic credentials are really starting to feel the impact of this ubiquitous wave of communicative ability.
In Iran, much has been made of the effects of a technologically savvy and educated population using digital technology, via twitter, youtube, e-mail and blogs, to make their voice heard by the government. The Iranian government, too late, appeared to understand that they no longer had the monopoly on information via their state-owned outlets. Regardless of the political outcome of the Iranian situation, whether Ahmadinjad and Ayatollah Khamenei retain power or not, a fire has been lit which will have lasting repercussions in how that society is governed. Not least, communication and access to information will be at the heart of Iran’s future. A crackdown is likely but the genie is out of the bottle – empowerment of the counter culture is not going away. In Iran, the ‘Man’ will have to think hard about what to do about the information factor.
And as likely as it is in the short term, crackdown is not an easy option, as China now testifies. After years of developing Green Dam, a compulsory software system to allow a degree of government control over the internet, the government is now wavering. Further, as Al Jazeera reported last week, the Chinese government is appreciating that it has to enter the information ring, not merely block it. The government is taking steps to make its own state-controlled media operation more competitive in the market, making it more attractive and of consequence to possible viewers – it is entering, like in any other democracy, a battle to grab ratings. With some 300 million Chinese online and therefore having a choice over who informs them of what’s going on (and most not referring to Chinese state media), the government is going to try to win them back, not coerce them back. Even if Green Dam does eventually get the green light, this is a major change of attitude by the ‘Man’.
This realisation is ground-breaking. If essentially undemocratic regimes are finally understanding that they cannot control information, then they will have to seek methods of joining the battle for audiences, just as democracies have had to do gradually over the last fifty years. The ‘Man’ is waking up to the fact he is playing a new game with different rules, and he’s going to have to learn fast if he is to survive. The problems are manifest – there is no legacy for playing this game, information structures will have to undergo major transformations, the very game encourages democratic and free market ideologies and the old guard may just never accept or understand the rules. Public relations, public affairs, new media, public diplomacy – these are all big factors in the game, all of which will have to be recalibrated, and dialogical communications must feature as part of a new engagement strategy. The impact will have deep political and socio-cultural consequences. There is historical precedent – post-Gutenberg, it took some time before the pamphleteers of the 16th Century would contribute considerably to the demise of the Ancien regime, the ‘Man’ of the day. Sure, the new game may not bring forth real revolution in the near future – it’s all about playing for the long term – but democratic or not, the ‘Man’ will have to adjust and will also have to accept that some accession of power will be necessary.
There are several regimes out there who are finding themselves at this juncture – they know who they are and we know who they are. In these regimes, the ‘Man’ has a stark choice – adjust to the new game, understand the rules and accept the limitation on state power, or die … slowly.
IS THE PUBLIC INTEREST UNDER THREAT?
MEDIA POLICY RESPONSES TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR RECESSION IN EUROPE
Symposium jointly organised by the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), University of Westminster, and the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA)
Date: 2 October, 2009
Venue: University of Westminster, Regent Str Campus, 309 Regent Str, London W1B 2UW
In virtually every European country, the private media sector is suffering intense economic pressure from the cyclical downturn in advertising and the structural shift of advertising revenue to the web. As a result, corporations are pursuing every avenue to exploit new and existing means of generating revenue, and of maximising the potential of digitalisation. This is having a direct impact on the policy making process at both national and supranational levels as governments and regulatory agencies are coming under increasing pressure to restrict new initiatives in the public sector, to apply the strictest possible criteria to publicly funded media organizations, and to relax overall regulatory oversight of the private sector.
This symposium will seek to bring together scholars and regulators from around Europe to discuss the nature of new policy initiatives being canvassed or implemented, and their repercussions for promoting (or foreclosing) the public interest. Topics of particular interest include, but are not limited to:
· Means of exploiting the “public” to alleviate pressures on the “private” (partnership deals, sharing proceeds of public funding etc.)
· Limits on expansion or interpretation of public service broadcaster remits
· Circumscribing funding opportunities for Public Service Media (PSM)
· Proposals to change or reduce advertising controls or restrictions
· Relaxing restrictions on concentration of ownership
· Proposals to change or relax cross-ownership regimes at local, regional or national levels
· Initiatives and responses at the EU level
There will be three themed sessions and one plenary session consisting of two keynote speakers. The precise themes will depend on abstracts received, but are provisionally designated as
i. relaxation of regulatory regimes and potential consequences
ii. pressures on PSBs and regimes of public funding
iii. ownership, consolidation and threats to pluralism
The model for this symposium will be short position papers of no more than 10 minutes in length designed to prompt cross-national discussion and debate. Our objective is to promote a better understanding of how governments and regulators within Europe are responding to the inevitable pressure to accommodate the private sector, and perhaps to anticipate some of the consequences. The emphasis will therefore be on discussion and exchange.
Our intention is then to select around 10 papers to be written up for an edited collection arising out of the symposium.
PROGRAMME AND REGISTRATION
The symposium will take place from 9.30 to 5.30 on Friday, October 2nd. There will be three sessions consisting of concurrent panels and one plenary session.
Online registration will open in September 2009.
DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS
Abstracts (between 300 and 500 words) addressing one or more of the above topics, and including a brief set of questions posed by the proposed paper, should be emailed in Word-format to <Journalism@wmin.ac.uk <mailto:Journalism@wmin.ac.uk> > by Monday July 6th, 2009. Each abstract must include the presenter’s name, affiliation, email and postal address, together with the title of the paper and a brief biographical note on the presenter.
The selection committee will comprise members of CAMRI’s Policy Group and ECREA’s Communication Law & Policy Group. Applicants will be advised by the end of July 2009 of the outcome of their submissions.
More information will be available in due time on the conference websites:
So you want to study the ‘hot button’ topic of Public Diplomacy? Oh, you mean diplomatic studies, or maybe international relations, or possiblily public relations or communication studies. Oh, you don’t? You definately and specifically want to study the increasingly complex and important subject of public diplomacy? Well, let’s see what we can do.
How about the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Public Diplomacy or an MSc in Public Diplomacy at New York’s Syracuse University(see their enthusiastic students expounding on public diplomacy in the film below)? Then there’s a Public Diplomacy Course at Georgetown University in Wasington D.C. or you could attend Edward R. Murrow School of Public Diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachusetts.
What’s that? You say, the Murrow School appears semi-dormant and some other courses are merely minor elements of wider masters programmes? Hmm, I see.
Ah, anything outside of the US, you ask? In public diplomacy, specifically?
Um, well, let me see. Oh, yes, how about the online course in Public Diplomacy at the Diplo Foundation, Malta? And then there’s … um … well, there’s … ah … well, nowhere else, as far as I know*.
In the old days where diplomats spoke to diplomats and occasionally some PR-type would be brought in to do some outreach thing or media campaign for foreign audiences, it was acceptable that public diplomacy was not on any curricula – a good bit of experience and one would get the handle of it. Globalisation, the information age, technological advances and the spread of democracy have changed all that, and anyone expected to work in public diplomacy can expect a sharp learning curve. Yet as shown above, outside the US, there are few institutions providing that learning at high level, certainly not at the graduate level, preparing students for entering the workforce. One or two week courses here and there, aspects of Public diplomacy in wider studies, the occasional conference and articles published, but not genuine, specific, academic, graduate level learning.
John Hemery, in his chapter on public diplomacy training in ‘The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations’ (Mellisen, J. (Ed), Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), highlights the dearth of real academic education in the field. As ever, the US is learning its lessons quickly, as shown above. But what of the rest of the world? Is it time that nations, such as the UK, examined its personnel requirements in terms of public diplomacy (there are certainly calls for it to taken seriously), and looked closely at any academic approach that may be necessary to prepare its young people for 21st century diplomatic and communication environments?
*Note: Of course, CB3 may not be aware of all academic training available, and would appreciate being informed of other courses.
Heard from Basra: “What on Earth were the British doing here? Wasting their time, wasting their money and wasting their lives.” Not CB’s words, but sentiments expressed by the people of Basra, passed on by a senior and highly regarded BBC correspondent who has spent years reporting from the streets of Iraq. (for the original audio – Radio 4 Today programme at 0738 on 30 Apr 2009)
The British Army is leaving Iraq – an Army steeped in tradition and arguably recognised as one of the best fighting forces in the world. It is, by and large, well respected and has an admirable and solid reputation. Only last summer, IPSOS-Mori polling gave an 80% favourable or mainly favourable (UK only) to the question “How favourable or unfavourable are your opinions and impressions of the British Army?” Fine stuff indeed, and fully endorsed by CB3.
However, reputation is a fickle entity and never guaranteed, no matter how strong your ‘brand’.
The line has often been used that the difficulties and struggles faced by the British military have been caused by politicians (the Labour government) who have sent them on unsuitable missions, under-resourced and often out-gunned. The concept of serious problems within the Army, are not new, as Newsnight’s September 07 programme ‘Broken Army’ proves. And Deep Cut, Royal Navy Iranian hostages, with its own media debacle (not Army but still people in uniform), and abuses of Iraqi prisoners, have also raised eyebrows (putting it mildly!), here and internationally. However, recent media coverage, such as Stephen Grey’s Dispatches – Afghanistan: Mission Impossible?, and several print articles have further eluded to failures within the military itself. While Con Coughlin concedes that the damage to the Army’s reputation is real, albeit of government making, Christopher Brooker is particularly forthright:
“The British Army had entered Iraq in 2003 with a reputation as ”the most professional in the world’’. Six years later it will leave, having failed to fulfil any of its allotted tasks and having earned the contempt of the Iraqis and the Americans after one of our most humiliating defeats in history.”
Now, of course, headlines and op-eds and the occasional documentary do not automatically reflect genuine public opinion but let’s look at a hypothetical timeline over the next eighteen months:
- American money pours into the south of Iraq, infrastructure improves – Narrative in Basra: ‘It’s getting much better now the Americans are here’, possibly reading as ‘the British Army failed’.
- Afghanistan remains slow progress, but the Obama administration wants a good foreign policy win, and points to Iraq – Narrative in the US: ‘We’re suceeding in Basra’ i.e ‘where the British Army failed’.
- Maliki wants to capitalise on sucess in Basra – Narrative:, with American support, the Iraqi government is improving the lives of Baswaris’, read as ‘where the British Army couldn’t’
- Domestically, the Conservatives, wishing to win marginal seats in garrison towns during the general election (remember this is hypothetical), make a campaign push on defence – Narrative ‘We will rebuild a ‘broken Army’, read as ‘the Army is broken’.
- Overall narrative: ‘The broken British Army failed in Iraq’. And a sustained narrative like this may well affect public opinion.
Okay, so that;s all hypothetical, but the point here is, regardless of a failure to resource the Army for its mission and the fact that any chance of success in Iraq was also down to several government agencies who do not wear combat uniform, under the circumstances above, the Army, the most visible of British involvement, may end up taking the hit long after they have withdrawn. The US Army took a generation to really get over the damage that Vietnam did to its reputation, despite its many successes (i.e. the massive Tet offensive was successfully repelled, effectively a massive US victory but was seen as a PR disaster).
CB3’s hope and hunch is that this won’t happen for the British Army. But a recent conversation with a retired British Lieutenant-Colonel, who could not ever see circumstances in which the Army’s reputation would be tarnished, got CB3 thinking. That well earned reputation is not guaranteed, and must be attended to just as much after the event (Iraq) as during it. Resting, literally, on laurels just won’t cut it.
Further, there are lessons here for others. Let’s not forget, other militaries are appearing to limp home from Iraq. They have reputations to think about too.
Interesting snippet caught on Newsnight last night (28/04/09) about energy and climate change issues in the US. Ethical man Justin Rowlatt covered Powershift 09 as part of his series. But the crucial communications aspect of Powershift seems to be that a green activist movement, normally shunned by mainstream governments, is being seen as a method of encouraging and persuading American voters of Obama’s climate change agenda, using activists (seen being trained in how to resist arrest) as ambassadors for a government policy.
Now this proximity of traditional enemies is not new – Shell and BP have taken considerable steps to be seen as green through apparent (and only occasional) connectivity with activist groups like Greenpeace, although emnity is deep and remains for obvious reasons. And there are many political groups who will support political pitches, including that of the incumbent government. But the use of strident activists to promote a government policy against a generally accepted stance i.e. the fossil fuel economy, seems to be a new leap. This is not Astroturf but using genuine activism for policy endorsement.
The circumstances may be unique to the cap and trade issue in the US, but this approach does beg several questions – are there other circumstances where political policy can be matched with vocal activists against a form of accepted, conventional wisdom? And further, are there circumstances in developing and post-conflict countries which can be used in a similar way?
This is not necessarily countenancing covert support to student groups under totalitarian regimes, but where foreign agencies are already engaged (be they UN, NATO etc) do we make full use of grass roots activism (as limited as it may be) to achieve policy goals, or do we still tend to go down the route of mainsteam key leader engagement because it’s easier, more straightforward (relatively!) and more in line with our conventional
Western way of doing things? Are developing embryonic government institutions, struggling with democracy, encouraged to look towards the power of activist groups or are they merely maintaining their traditional opposition towards them? Are they, and therefore we, missing a trick?
After all, most governments have always had difficult relationships with autonomous grass roots organisations, unless, of course, they’re onside already. As ever with trying to improve the performance of public diplomacy and foreign policy communications in a rapidly changing information environment, the above requires some serious unconventional and politically risky thinking.
But that thinking, at the very least, should be done.
In a recent post, Mountainrunner poses the following question:
Which of the below completes this sentence: Public Diplomacy…
- is the same as Public Relations. (PD=PR)
- involves more than the practice of Public Relations. (PD>PR)
- is contained within a larger practice of Public Relations. (PD<PR)
CB3 comments that it’s a question of perspective. As taught by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK, where Grunig’s assessment of PR is an aspiration, PR (or more commonly termed ‘communications’) is defined roughly as using communication (one-way publicity, press agentry and public information and two way assymmetric amd symmetrical communication) to support an organization’s objectives, at the strategic to the tactical levels. It is, or aspires to be, much more than presenting and promoting a cause, but also understanding, persuading and influencing. In terms of ethos and objectives, this points to a high degree of similiarity between PR and PD, although the specific mechanics and publics may vary, and the underlying motives may differ – i.e. a foreign policy goal versus an economic one.
Academic work by Grunig, Signitzer & Coombs, Gilboa, Wang and Yun all indicate a convergence of the practices over the last two decades, although the academic study of the interconnections between international relations and PR leaves much to be desired.
However, it is noteworthy that placing some form of firewall or hierarchy between the two practices can be counterproductive – there are many lessons to be learned in both PD and PR which may enhance the performance of both. And although PR often gets a bad press (especially in the US*), there are many PR practitioners who would be able to serve the needs of PD very well, certainly in the operational and tactical areas.
So, in apiration and ethos at least, PD=PR.
For a more detailed response see CB3’s previous musings.
* Note: However, the nefarious activities of McBride and Draper in ‘smeargate’ are certainly helping to tar the communications practice here in the UK as well. Indeed, CB3’s comments in no way suggests that the PR industry in the UK is in any way better, cleaner etc than in the US.
Every year PRWeek produces the ‘Power Book’ – the definitive guide to the most influential people in Public Relations (CB3 has yet to grace the pages of said publication!). It includes the likes and dislikes of 100 of the UK’s finest – and can be indicative of trends in communications – i.e it’s what the big boys are thinking and saying. Now, there are a lot of people in communications who may not often glance through a corporate PR magazine – especially those in public diplomacy, information operations and public affairs. So, although this will be a little UK-centric, CB3 just thought it would be useful to provide a quick resume of what the PR powerbrokers are really into ….
Most popular politician – some chap called Obama won by a mile. (Nelson Mandela, Vince Cable (if you’re not a Brit you won’t have heard of him – top chap though) and Margaret Thatcher also featured highly.
Most respected journalist – Andrew Marr, followed by Jeff Randall and John Simpson
Top newspapers – FT and The Guardian (both way ahead of third place The Times)
Best online – BBC by far, but Google, Facebook, Guardian Unlimited and Twitter feature in top five.
Best broadcast – Today (BBC Radio 4). In fact, in the top six, various BBC programmes featured, with the only exception being SKY News.
Business or brand to watch – Obama and Apple fought for top space, with Twitter, Aldi (sign of the times) and Google, trailing after them.
Best PR campaign – easily Obama’s presidential campaign (oh, that Obama – not the Irish pub)
Okay, this may be from a UK perspective but it may be somewhat informative for others across the globe as well. So, in a nutshell, if you want to be up with the best, be familiar with Obama, BBC, Guardian, Google and Twitter and you can’t go wrong!