Do the Origins of PD Programmes Shape their Long Term Development?October 23, 2011
Earlier this week someone tweeted a link to this story about press conference by Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa president of the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority. He outlines the steps that Bahrain is taking to ‘to project the truth abroad and debunk fallacies and lies’ including launching a new satellite channel and posting ‘media consuls’ overseas. Presumably the driver for this is the negative publicity that Bahrain is attracting over its repression of anti-regime protests.
In looking at the development of national public diplomacy efforts it’s noticeable that countries initiate or innovate in what they do not based on abstract understandings of a changing media and political environment but in response to quite concrete problems. They do so based on their national contexts but also on PD models that exist ‘out there’ – in Bahrain’s case a media city like Dubai and a TV channel like Qatar (see also John Brown’s comment on how China seems to be copying the US)
Sweden provides a nice example of how PD institutions grow out of the attempt to deal with specific problems.. At the end of the Second World War the Swedes saw that the US was likely to be the dominant force in the post war world and that because of Swedish neutrality during the war the US was not well disposed towards them. The identified solution was cultural relations work conducted via a new organization, the Swedish Institute. The study that gave rise to the Institute was referred to at the ‘America Inquiry’ (Glover 2009).
This raises the question of the extent to which origins shape the way that countries practice PD. Once you establish a set of organizations they will be tend to preserve themselves and to develop particular ways of defining problems and addressing them. The nature of the approaches that are chosen grow out of national contexts and ways of thinking about them. The result will be a national PD style one that it may or may not be appropriate for new or future challenges. While we all like to comment on the persistence of the cold war model in US public diplomacy what is really needed is investigation of the extent to which this ‘path dependency’ is actually a more general phenomenon in PD – certainly there are styles at work.