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An unexpected outcome

The New York Times tells us of a new report released on Wednesday regarding America's public relations vis-a-vis the Muslim world.

The United States must drastically increase and overhaul its public relations efforts to salvage its plummeting image among Muslims and Arabs abroad, a panel chosen by the Bush administration has found.
Guess what? An advisory committee set up by the State Department recommends that... the State Department get more money. What a shocker. Has there ever been an advisory panel report -- has there ever been a government report of any sort -- that concluded that a program or agency was adequate and needed no more resources in order to do its job?

While the panel's conclusions don't actually sound that unreasonable, its methodology seems slightly less than scientifically rigorous as a manner of determining public opinion:

We contacted and were briefed by dozens of specialists and practitioners, both here and abroad in the public and private sectors, including non-governmental organizations. We traveled to Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Senegal, Morocco, the United Kingdom, and France. We used video conferencing for discussions with individuals in Pakistan and Indonesia.
Also, the report basically suggests that, regardless of the shortcomings of America's P.R. efforts, the real problem is American foreign policy. So it's not clear how much the suggestions by this panel will actually help.

Interestingly, though, the one specific program attempted by the United States, the "Shared Values" advertising campaign in which the U.S. produced advertisements showing that American society is Muslim-friendly -- does not receive criticism from the panel. (Except for its implementation: the panel found that it took the State Department three times as long to complete the project as private sector ad campaigns take.) The New York Times, as part of its Bush-administration-can-do-no-right, has derided the program for months, and trashes it again in their coverage of this story:

The panel's recommendations — including the establishment of a special White House coordinator for public relations efforts abroad — come at a time when some American officials acknowledge that programs even in the last couple of years have been confused and fitful.

The Bush administration, for example, started a program called "shared values" last year, a series of television commercials showing that Muslims in the United States lead lives of dignity and equal rights. The advertisements were suspended after several Arab countries refused to show them.

Many in the administration were privately critical of the commercials, agreeing with Arab and Muslim spokesmen who said they were irrelevant to Muslim concerns about American policies toward Iraq and Israel.

None of this has anything to do with what the panel said, however. The panel praised the campaign:
In our research, the Advisory Group became especially concerned, not so much about the content of the TV spots but about the protracted process and expense of bringing them to fruition. The process took far too long; flexibility and speed are urgent requirements in this kind of public diplomacy effort. Also, we found that, in some cases, resistance to the advertising campaign at some embassies may have contributed to the inability of the State Department to air the mini-documentaries on government television channels in key Arab countries.

We heard from several marketing experts who believed that advertising was not a good way to spread these messages. We disagree. The campaign was well -conceived and based on solid research.

The panel also found the campaign to be effective:
Indonesia was the only country where a post-campaign survey was done, and that survey produced high ratings for recognition and understanding. For example, the survey determined that 63 million Indonesians learned that “Islam is not discriminated against” and is given equal treatment with other religions in the United States.
The real problem was that the State Department, apparently out of petty bureaucratic jealousy, didn't get behind the plan, thus failing to convince several countries to let the campaign on the air. Supposed allies like Egypt and Jordan blocked the commercials -- even though Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. So yes, fine, create ad campaigns -- but stop coddling Arab dictators. That will do more for the U.S. than reorganizing and refunding bureaucracies in Washington.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 2, 2003 2:31 AM.

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