Wednesday

2018 Press Freedom Index questions India's commitment to democracy

Another ranking and another dismal show! The latest is from the organization "Reporters Without Borders (RSF)" which published it's annual Press Freedom Index for 2018.


The World Press Freedom Index 2018  ranked India at a lowly 138 out of 180 countries surveyed! This was reported widely in India's mainstream media and other publications in Asia. The fact that the largest democracy in the world cannot ensure a free media comes as a shocker to all - a development that also questions the very basis of Indian democracy. It is important to recognize the fact that India ranked 136 in 2017, which was not great in itself and signifies that press freedom has never been easy in India even though the Constitution guarantees it. In 2002, when the report was first released, India ranked 80th, indicating that it has gone from bad to worse in the last decade for independent media in the world's largest democracy (?).



(Press Freedom Index in Asia. Image courtesy: RSF)

In it's report, Reporters Without Borders stated, 
"with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of 'anti-national' thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals." 

The report also took into account the recent murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh and cited India's Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry as the most active censoring agency of 2018.


While this was reported extensively in the Indian press we hope a larger debate takes place that looks into the reasons for the progressively deteriorating press freedom situation in India. With reports such as these out there in the public domain, how do you build a credible counter narrative? Is counter narrative a better idea than introspection on the part of the India state given it's commitment to democracy. 

These are the moments that really calls for character in a public diplomacy program where it becomes a two way process of influencing  domestic politics as well.


The Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled by Reporters Without Borders which is based upon the organization's own assessment of the countries' records when it comes to freedom of the press. Reporters Without Borders is an international non-profit that promotes and defends freedom of the press worldwide. The organization has consultant status at the United Nations and is headquartered out of Paris.

Saturday

Advanced media societies are vulnerable to 'influence' from abroad

Eight years ago, The Public Diplomacy Blog talked about a strategic mismatch between  advanced media societies and the developing ones. The argument we made was that with free and open social media, developed nations with high levels of media penetration, become vulnerable to "influence" from abroad, including from not so advanced media societies.


"Putin used cyberwarfare to poison American politics, to spread fake news, to help elect a chaos candidate, all in order to weaken our democracy"
Friedman further states,
"We should be using our cyber-capabilities to spread the truth about Putin —just how much money he has stolen, just how many lies he has spread, just how many rivals he has jailed or made disappear — all to weaken his autocracy"
The truth is, IT'S NOT THAT EASY!




In the blog post, Web 2.0 in Public Diplomacy - a strategic mismatch, in The Public Diplomacy Blog in 2009, it was argued that,


"...if we look at developed economies like US or Europe, internet penetration and usage are high. So, for lesser countries with the capability and knowhow ... it will be a lot easier to influence Europeans or Americans in a focused way with mass out reach. 

In a way, the strategic advantage actually lie with these countries rather than the developed West when it come to Web 2.0 Public Diplomacy.

Being on the wrong side of the digital divide may be beneficial for these states.

To illustrate further, we all know about Iran "twittering away" few months ago... but these twitterers are very minuscule and do not form the huge popular support base for conservative Ahmedinejad. (Read my blog post "Public Diplomacy & Social Media" in June, 2009.)

For Iran, it is easier to reach and attempt to influence an American audience rather than for US to reach Iranians via Web 2.0. Naturally, the tactics have to be different and a realistic assessment of Web 2.0 potential has to be made for each country."

... and we all know by now that this is exactly what Russians did to the Americans isn't it?  So, it may not be as easy for Americans to undermine Putin's autocracy simply because of the nature of media consumption in Russia. But the Americans did well with their ant-Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, so we would have to wait and see!




Friday

South Korea develops comprehensive Public Diplomacy plan

South Korea never fails to impress us with it's quiet commitment to public diplomacy. While there's lot of talk around the world about projecting soft power, very rarely do we find discussions on South Korea.

The tensions with North Korea aside, the latest that has come from South Korea is that the country has set up clear actionable and measurable public diplomacy plans for 2018 and beyond. South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced today that it has developed the first comprehensive public diplomacy program and constituted agencies to drive and execute the plan. 




We have discussed in this blog earlier as well how relevance, 'measurability' and being 'budgeted for' will become the 3 significant challenges for foreign offices worldwide as they think of public diplomacy. 

If we don't have answers to these, most PD programs will take the easy way out, which in India's case is narratives around Bollywood, food, culture and heritage and the occasional 'sensationalism'. 

South Korea seems to be working to overcome these challenges:


  • The plan has a clear budget commitment of 410 billion won.
  • The plan has 49 tasks.
  • These tasks include 320 culture related projects, 200 knowledge related projects and 190 policy-oriented diplomacy projects


Among various awareness promoting initiatives, the country also has plans to constitute private committees to "correct factual errors" regarding the country. Internally for South Korea, this is the first time PD policy has been integrated with local implementation agencies and central administrative agencies of the government. This is great!

Korea Foundation will serve as the overseer of this program.

We will definitely ask PD practitioners to keep a watch on South Korea.

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