From Propaganda to Public Diplomacy

In 2008, Joseph Nye wrote a piece entitled “Public Diplomacy and Soft power” published in the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Nye wrote about influence and power vis a vis the act of persuading—winning people over without the use of force. His article was written in the context of 9-11 and the war of terror. His article provides us with an in-depth look at government to public communications and looks at how culture and cultural institutions play an important role in establishing influence. This article is important for several reasons in a discussion about Public Diplomacy in today’s context—or more importantly, in today’s Asian context.

To engage, not propagate.

Unlike propaganda, public diplomacy, to Nye, has a genuine interest to engage its audience and to build a lasting relationship with its audiences. This relationship is to translate into an environment that is favourable for the publics to support whatever policies that the government is trying to promote. Many Asian countries are new to this idea of Public Diplomacy and especially how to engage the media in a meaningful way. Many “local” publications are state-owned. Yes, you can say that they are tools of propaganda. And therefore it also affects the way journalist and news makers interact.

The Journalist – News Maker Relationship has changed.

The journalist – news maker culture here is one that one where news makers are used to (and expect) be treated in a certain way. So now, as Asia rises and take centre stage in global politics, they have to learn to engage with the media in a more meaningful way. Asian governments and news makers will now need to “win over” or “influence” the publics (especially if it was dealing with the publics of a foreign country) rather than to assume that they are in a position of power once they are behind a podium addressing the masses.

[Side bar: indirectly, China’s heavy censorship laws on movies and the media has indirectly created an environment conducive its cultural industries to flourish and establish a certain influence over the rest of the world. Think about how nowadays, we see more Asian faces in Hollywood movies. And more importantly, the Asian actor is given iconic roles rather than the “Foo Man Choo” bad guy roles.] Even a country like Singapore, is also catching on to this idea and funds are being consciously channeled to the media industry to develop its soft power through the movies.

But having said that, Asia, Asian news-makers and policy makers have a long way to go to build its soft power influence in the world. We are currently behaving like a nouveau riche, still a bit rough on the edges.

[Photo credits: Roman Harak @ Flickr]