Monday, February 2, 2009

Arab Media on Arab Media

While defining public diplomacy an academic discipline may be a daunting task, media analysis is not uncommon in the U.S. or abroad. President Obama's recent appearance on Al-Arabiya has sparked discussion across all media outlets on the strategic importance of his choice and exposes a renewed interest in the study of Arab media from not only Americans, but Middle Easterners as well. Abu Dhabi's The National recently published this article on a lecture given by Middle Eastern media analyst Dr. Adel Iskander, also a visiting researcher at Georgetown. Without naming "public diplomacy" or "propaganda," the article discusses the recent shift in Arab media from a local to a global focus. Iskander explains that with Al-Jazeera's creation in 2006, Arab journalists "are becoming far more interested to communicate their own stories to the West." If the desire to explaining one's home culture is a part of formal public diplomacy, is this statement an acknowledgment that Middle Eastern public diplomacy, much like American public diplomacy, is taking on a new design? When we consider part of public diplomacy the credibility of a news outlet, sharing one's personal story must be balanced with keeping a sense of objectivity.

The most interesting statement in the article though comes after the admission that the objectivity of Arab media is always in question. Iskander noted that few stories are published about Qatar, the home base of Al-Jazeera's headquarters. He then discussed the value of the Arab blogosphere. Iskander's assessment explains well why blogs have become such a popular source of information. "Blogging ambiguity is where its strength lies because its everything but objective. It’s the ultimate equaliser."

The New American Foundation posted a lecture on their website given by James Glassman back in December about Public Diplomacy 2.0. In their summary of the talk, the website highlights Glassman's conclusions that due to the success of New Media, such as blogs, "the United States [holds] a comparative advantage over radicalized ideologies that require insulation from criticism." While Glassman's analysis that radical ideologies suffer when exposed to criticism may stand strong, is it only the U.S. that holds the comparative advantage in fighting radicalism with New Media? The objectivity of much of the government-owned Arab media may be questioned, but Iskander's praise for Arab blogging would suggest otherwise. Ideological propaganda may face greater challenges from Public Diplomacy initiatives supported by New Media, but the United States should not be considered the sole combatant of all things radical, nor the sole provider of all things objective.

No comments:

Post a Comment