Morning Report from Washington, DC With ITVS Blogger Lois Vossen

Posted on February 3, 2009

It is snowing here in Washington, DC and we're tucked inside the Freedom Forum at the Newseum for the one-day "Media as Global Diplomat" conference, moderated by Ted Koppel. About 250 people are gathered at the forum to ask key public and private sector leaders how the United States can best use media to reinvigorate its public diplomacy strategy and international influence in order to strengthen efforts to build a more peaceful world. In an age of disruptive and constantly changing period of media, comes an opportunity. 

The morning session began with introductions by Ambassador Richard Solomon and Sally Jo Fifer, president of ITVS. Moderator Ted Koppel welcomed the first panel with the very hip name "Public Diplomacy 2.0: Rethinking Official Media." The panelists include Kathy Bushkin Calvin, executive vice president and COO of the United Nations Foundation; Ambassador Edward Djerejian, founding director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy; Abderrahim Foukara, Washington, DC bureau chief of Al Jazeera International; Ambassador James Glassman, former Under Secretary of State Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. State Department; Andrew McLaughlin, director of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google; and James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute. 

Koppel opened the discussion by challenging the concept of "public" diplomacy and whether or not it is possible for the public to have a positive effect on diplomacy. As the panel continued, the term was defined and redefined by different panelists. The expansive topic led to a vast array of topics. Andrew McLaughlin spoke about the dramatic changes in the media landscape and specifically how any American with a computer and Internet hook-up can speak to anyone else in the world. Twenty years ago, the opportunity for an "average" citizen to do this was non-existent. 

Now, almost every American citizen is possibly a citizen ambassador. Abderrahim Foukara spoke about the history of the BBC (established originally as a propaganda outlet against Nazi Germans). Despite that birthright, people quickly embraced the BBC and continue to trust what they hear on it. McLaughlin challenged the panel to refocus on the real issue with the statement: "Debating whether television should be state funded or privately funded is like arguing if the Titanic should have been government funded or privately funded." Koppel countered, "It ain't the media, it's the message" and then talked about the commandments on tablets with a final thought, "Great message. Lousy medium." Koppel then introduced Oscar Morales Guevara from Colombia via Skype. Guevara recapped how a Facebook posting led to more than 5 million people marching to protest the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 

In addition to the massive support the viral campaign generated inside Colombia, the campaign grew internationally as Colombians around the world joined the cause. Koppel asked the panel to consider if this event was the greatest example of public diplomacy, and if and how it should be replicated? Ambassador Glassman responded by citing examples of continued work in this area including a YouTube campaign. Foukara both supported and challenged earlier comments by McLaughlin by saying it is increasingly true that it's not, "what's on television" but "what's online" and if the Internet had existed long ago, King Lear would have said "My Kingdom, my Kingdom for a lap top" rather than a horse. 

However, illiteracy is still a very large problem in many developing, third world countries and that fact cannot be ignored in terms of how powerful the Internet is right now. In short, television is still the primary media outlet for most developing countries. In addition to bringing in the voice and experiences of Oscar Morales Guevara live from Colombia, Koppel is taking questions from bloggers around the world--the latest being from Bahrain. Be sure to watch the live feed above continuing throughout today! 

-Lois Vossen, vice president and Independent Lens series producer

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