Space did not permit me to make several points in today's article, "Winning the Propaganda War," so I offer them here:
- Muslims preferring news from their coreligionists fits a larger pattern of distancing from non-Muslims that reverts to the Koran itself.
- If Muslims won't pay attention to Western information, why would they pay attention to Western values? The former is intended for everyone but the latter focuses on moderates, liberals, open-minded, and curious Muslims. Western media cannot compete in a popularity contest but they have a message for those Muslims who are aware and thinking.
- There is one Muslim population interested in American and other Western information, being the Iranians. Having endured a totalitarian regime for over a quarter-century, Iranians hunger for reliable news, political moderation, and Western popular culture rather along the lines of their Soviet-bloc predecessors.
(December 27, 2005)
July 17, 2006 update: Mohammed el-Nawawy, a communications professor at Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., has published an article, "U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Arab World: The News Credibility of Radio Sawa and Television Alhurra in Five Countries," in the August issue of Global Media and Communication. In it, he reveals that a survey of 394 Arab college students in Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and the Palestinian territories shows that "the students' attitudes toward US foreign policy had worsened slightly since they started listening to Radio Sawa and watching Alhurra," the radio and television stations, respectively, sponsored by the U.S. taxpayer to the tune of $78 million a year. El-Nawawy concludes from this: "No matter how savvy [the U.S. government's] public diplomacy efforts ... they will be ineffective in changing Arab public opinion if that public is dissatisfied with U.S. policies on the ground."
David E. Kaplan of U.S. News & World Report followed up the story. Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees Sawa and Alhurra, replied thus:
It is astonishing that a flawed study such as this would appear in a peer-reviewed journal and looks more like a conclusion in search of a reinforcing study instead of the other way around. It does not meet the universally accepted standards of international media research. Its sample is too small, it is skewed by population with nearly half the respondents identified as Palestinian, and some of the respondents were not even listeners or viewers.
To which el-Nawawy replied:
I did not have a predetermined agenda. … But I expected the BBG to be unhappy with the study outcome. ... I just thought that it would have been beneficial to work together to try to strengthen the U.S public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East instead of criticizing a study which simply conveyed the opinions of a sample of Arab students who were available to take the survey at the time.
Comment: While entirely sympathetic to Tomlinson's impatience with what appears to be a shoddy piece of research, I have a sneaking suspicion that el-Nawawy is on to something, as explained in my article, "Winning the Propaganda War."
Mar. 31, 2010 update: Here's confirmation of the third bullet point above, that Iranians are the only Muslim population that hungers for "reliable news, political moderation, and Western popular culture": The mullahs in Tehran have started systematically jamming foreign media broadcasts from Hot Bird 8, Europe's largest television satellite (which also carries the Voice of America). To the best of my knowledge, no other regime in a Muslim-majority country feels impelled to jam Western signals.
Related Topics: Media, Radical Islam, US policy
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