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(E) Power of words, images and music
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  03/14/2002 | Politics | Unrated
(E) Power of words, images and music
 
Dear all, 
 
Here is an interesting article on how the US is upgrading its PR capability. Perhaps something Croatia could learn from. 
 
regards 
Sanja 
**** 
Financial Times London 
US focuses on winning propaganda war 
By Miranda Green 
Published: March 12 2002 19:04 | Last Updated: March 12 2002 20:40 
 
While US forces are fighting with 21st century armaments, the government's propaganda warriors have sometimes been using techniques more suited to the cold war. Now the White House wants to see America's public relations operation become as modern and sophisticated as its military technology. 
 
The Pentagon's most high profile contribution so far to the war on terrorism has been the Office for Strategic Influence (OSI) - a unit set up after September 11 and killed off by bad publicity over proposals to spread disinformation via the foreign media. 
 
Rival government press officers have been delighted by its demise, suspicious of defence department personnel. "These people are stuck in the fifties - they know nothing about the world beyond the US," said one. 
 
That criticism seems to be borne out by the Pentagon's account of the OSI's ideas for influencing public opinion overseas - pro-America broadcasts and leaflet drops. 
 
But an energetic updating of America's overall public relations strategy, led by the White House, is now being carried out in parallel to the military and diplomatic moves. 
 
The White House and State Department are considering how to improve the US image in Muslim nations. It is partly about finding the right message and partly working out how to apply the techniques of modern information warfare to the global fight against terrorism. For the message, the buzzwords are "shared values". 
 
Senior public affairs officials believe that at base the hostility is based on ignorance. "Those who don't like America don't know America," says one. 
 
The problem, according to both government strategists and Arab journalists - and confirmed by the pollsters - is that the outside world believes that exported films and television shows give a true picture of life in America: violent, immoral and materialistic, with no respect for tradition or religion. 
 
All three groups have started to talk about how the government could start playing up the "real" America - which means the socially conservative America. Just look, says Gallup, at how many Americans are anti-homosexual and anti-abortion and how many have deeply held Christian beliefs. 
 
According to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, "a lot of the values that we hold as Americans are, in fact, reflected by others overseas, and there is a connection to be made there that we have not effectively made". 
 
One way to break down mistrust may be to bring representatives of the Muslim world's media to the US and let them see for themselves. The State Department has begun an exchange programme for journalists which has allowed, for example, an Egyptian network to follow an Arab US citizen's campaign to be elected mayor of his small town in New Jersey. More such experiments to put ordinary American life on display are planned, some using expatriates and immigrants from the Islamic world. 
 
Meanwhile, more traditional media methods are being pursued but with mixed results. Voice of America is developing a new Arabic radio service, to be called the Middle East Radio Network. 
 
Charlotte Beers, the high-profile Madison Avenue executive appointed by Secretary of State Colin Powell to design advertisements promoting America, has yet to unveil her product. 
 
Ads already rolled out on US television, showing happy Muslim pupils in American schools, were "too sugary" for export: insiders say it is hard to get the professionals to appeal to a non-domestic audience. 
 
The White House has decided to continue the central co-ordination imposed by their communications staff during the Afghanistan campaign in October: the Coalition Information Centre (CIC) is becoming a permanent fixture - probably with an increased role and more responsibility and perhaps more press centres across the globe. Currently, operations are passed from time zone to time zone between London, Washington, and Islamabad. 
 
"We have had short-term success but there is potentially decades of work to do," says Jim Wilkinson, who runs the Washington end. He hopes for a more "comprehensive strategy" to emerge. That, he says, means being constantly aware that each speech, each diplomatic visit, has a variety of audiences who need to be pleased. 
 
The CIC maintains it has provided Arab media outlets with about 100 key "principals" or "talking heads" since October for the allies to explain what the war on terrorism is about. 
 
It believes that one of the ways to re-engage the sympathies of the Muslim world will be to promote the eventual rebuilding of Afghanistan as an improvement in the lives of ordinary Afghans. Some even say that changing opinion abroad should be tackled before the military prosecution of the war on terrorism widens. 
 
 
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