Friday, April 15, 2011

Paper: The role of global media and how governments can strengthen Australian–Indian relations through strategic communications

The following is an abstract of a paper I recently presented at an international PD conference  - "Public Diplomacy in Theory and Practice: Culture, Information and Interpretation in Australian-Indian Relations" - at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on April 8th. Do email me your observations/critiques, if any.


An analysis of the role of global media and how Governments can strengthen Australian–Indian relations through strategic communications

Australian-Indian relations were severely tested recently over unprovoked violence against Indians in 2009 and early 2010. The issue revealed the central role of media in international relations today. Indian newspapers - Mail Today, The Times of India etc., - aggressively reported on the issue and made the Australians defensive, and, Government of India to react as per media’s analysis of events. This reflected a lack of
 - Media relations strategy &
- Realization by both governments about pervasiveness of “conversations in media” today.
This paper argues how governments need to be imaginative, strategic and adopt a campaign approach to media relations when it comes to public diplomacy.
Be it the angry rebuttal by Victoria Police or India’s foreign minister’s veiled threats to Australia, the official reactions lacked direction. The problem was further exacerbated by inherent limitation in government communications which are mostly “one way” and seen as “less credible” and “defensive” vis-a-vis media in democracies. Besides, both governments failed in communicating effectively to domestic audiences on the issue. The solution lies in governments understanding role of
- Global media relations,
- Diverse players in a “conversation economy,” and,
- Adopting a “campaign approach” with tools used effectively by the private sector 

There is a convergence of strategic interests between both countries. Bilateral relationships, trade, people to people contacts have never been so good. Both have an interest in the stability of Asia and preventing Chinese dominance of Asia.Keeping in mind the synergies, it is a cause for alarm when The Times of India recently reported that there has been a 46% drop in the number of student visa applications to Australia.While certain sections in India may feel vindicated, it holds significant implications when it comes to building a strategic partnership with Australia as student exchanges are a key to building “generational flesh and blood linkages.” Hence, it is important for governments to shape the debate successfully in the media to encourage people to people exchanges.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Public Diplomacy and 'national rhetorical competence'

An interesting article in the People's Daily Online quoted head of the Foreign Affairs  Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Zhao Qizheng, that China needs to enhance its "national rhetorical competence." The article stated,
"Speaking at a meeting on Thursday, he (Zhao) said senior officials in China are now more aware of the need to communicate effectively with the rest of world. Stressing on the importance of enhancing "national rhetorical competence" - the ability Zhao said is highly important to express the country's unique features effectively, and it is the key to successful public diplomacy, he added."
This is an interesting piece given its focus on 'words', 'expression' and 'conversations' as being crucial to any PD program. The same article quotes China's Vice Foreign Minister, Fu Ying as saying that, 
the job of talking and expressing oneself through public diplomacy has an integral role in China's future development. "We have been doing well on the development front, and we are facing an even better new decade. Now we need to talk better, to make our messages clearer to the world. That can not only help form a better environment, but also boost the nation's confidence," she said.
The Chinese apparently are working on the messaging - tone, semantics etc apart from just 'laundering information.' The focus it seems now is how does China express itself? How does it talk to the rest of the world that would enhance its influence in the global stage? In human history, this period will be seen as the  'age of conversations' and the Chinese are right in recognizing the need for 'national rhetorical competence'. As Zhao said,
"China cannot always be the gentleman who works more but talks less in the present world flooded with information."
 Suggestions/Critiques welcome.


-- Madhur

Saturday, April 9, 2011

There's more to social media than Facebook and Twitter!

I was at an international PD conference yesterday speaking on the "Role of global media and how strategic communication can strengthen Australia-India relations." This was at an international conference - "Public Diplomacy in Theory and Practice: Culture, Information and Interpretation in Australian-Indian Relations" - organized by the Alfred Deakins Research Institute, Australia and Rajdhani College, Delhi University, India. The conference is being sponsored by the Australia India institute and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India. 

During my talk, I emphasized the role of conversations in shaping perceptions today and the potential of social media. It was interesting to field lot of questions, after my talk, that bordered on cynicism towards social media and the sphere of influence of web enabled platforms. In this gathering of academics and policy wonks, what I could not help notice was that social media was broadly understood to be 'Facebook' and 'Twitter,' and, the limitations of the these two social networking platforms to influence and engage. 

Conversations in social media do not necessarily happen on these two platforms. There are numerous other areas where debates are being shaped, opinions formed and perceptions created. Simplest example, that comes to mind, is the space for reader's comments on news websites. This is where people take action on news, engage in debates and express opinions. Consider the article below that generated 477 comments on the issue of violence against Indians in Australia. This is The Economist and not even a newspaper from Australia or India. This is an example of social media enabled conversation that can shape perceptions. How do we manage such conversations?




Regrettable facts

Thuggery mars a burgeoning friendship

Australia and anti-Indian violence

See article

Readers' comments

Reader comments on this article are listed below. The 15-day commenting period for this article has expired and comments are no longer being accepted. Review our comments policy.

1-20 of 477

EliasX wrote:
Jun 18th 2009 4:48 GMT
The Economist, like other media, fails to mention what kind of Lebanese-Australians are apparently attacking Indians in Australia.
Officialdom calls this a “law-and-order” issue, and the Indian press rants about “racism” in Australia. No one, it seems, is asking what kind of Lebanese these assailants are.
Are they Christians? Or, more likely, are they Muslims? The Indians are mostly, one would assume, Hindus. Maybe this is a religious issue? Muslims, given Islamic tenets regarding polytheists and idolators, have a long, sordid, intolerant, and murderous history of “Hinduphobia.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Measurement and evaluation of Public Diplomacy

As India's Public Diplomacy Division brings structure and strategy to Indian PD efforts it is also important for the PD division to have systems in place that can evaluate these efforts. This is not easy. The U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication (2007) is a comprehensive document that sums up the importance of evaluating PD. In acknowledging the difficulties involved in evaluating PD efforts, the document states,
"As Edward R. Murrow once observed, no cash register ever rings when a mind is changed. The impact of information and education programs that touch the emotions, beliefs, intellects and allegiances of diverse audiences around the world is often difficult to gauge, especially when any public diplomacy activities may only produce long-term, rather than immediate, impact."
There are some obvious difficulties associated with measuring PD. Some obvious reasons are:
  1. The gestation period for results of PD efforts tend to be long
  2. Mostly the desired outcomes, measures and concepts tend to be intangible
  3. What derives from the above is the fact that it is difficult to achieve the 'cause-effect' relationship It is difficult to ensure continuous, sophisticated 'tracking' as it is done in communication campaigns. The reason maybe lack of tools, large sizes of samples and databases in terms of numbers as well as spread etc
  4. This in itself makes it a very time, labor and cost intensive process

Nonetheless it is important that evaluation is given a priority to ensure dynamism in PD strategy. According to Prof Eytan Gilboa, Director, Center for International Communication at Bar Ilan University, 10% of PD budget should be dedicated for evaluation and evaluation efforts should be a built in component of any PD strategy.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

   
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