Archive for January, 2012


Press TV and the Regulation of International Broadcasting

January 30, 2012

A quick comment on the decision of OFCOM the UK communications regulator to revoke the license of the Iranian international  broadcaster Press TV  A lot of  contemporary international broadcasting depends on platforms  (VHF radio, cable TV, national satellite TV) that are under the control of the country they are broadcasting to.

This creates a double problem. The international broadcaster is subject to a regulatory regime that is primarily designed to enforce national broadcasting priorities. This creates the risk that the international broadcaster will fall foul of their license terms.  On the other hand an effort by the regulator to enforce license terms will like be perceived as a political action not as a regulatory.  Press TV has pointed to British and American government concerns about its operations in the Cablegate files which record a meeting between the US Embassy and the Foreign Office

¶4. (S) While lodging complaints at the ITU has symbolic value, Turner said her government recognizes the body has no enforcement authority. Therefore, HMG is looking at other ways to address the issue. HMG is exploring ways to limit the operations of the IRIB’s Press TV service, which operates a large bureau (over 80 staff) in London. However, UK law sets a very high standard for denying licenses to broadcasters. Licenses can only be denied in cases where national security is threatened, or if granting a license would be contrary to Britain’s obligations under international law. Currently, neither of these standards can be met with respect to Press TV, but if further sanctions are imposed on Iran in the coming months, a case may be able to be made on the second criterion.

¶5. (S) In the immediate term, HMG plans to lobby the French government to approach Eutelsat and press it to drop IRIB broadcasts from the Hotbird satellite. The IRIB broadcasts several channels from the satellite, both domestically (even most terrestrial TV channels in Iran are dependent on a satellite and repeaters) and internationally, so it is an important source of income for Eutelsat. While it would be unlikely for the company to agree to drop the IRIB broadcasts spontaneously, Turner believes it would be susceptible to an approach by the French government because of the cover it would gain from complying with an official government request. HMG would appreciate USG engagement with the government of France on this issue.

It could be argued that the operations of Press TV should be treated in political terms for instance by insisting on reciprocity in the treatment of international broadcasters. Press TV should be restricted in its operations as long as Western broadcasters to Iran are jammed.  Of course Iran is more bothered by the operation of Western broadcasters than the other way round and presumably wouldn’t agree to such a deal.

There’s an interesting mismatch between the international politics of the issue and the efforts of Western countries to depoliticize communications policy.  In the wake of the UK action there voices are being raised in the US about the actions of Press TV and other Iranian state funded broadcasters in the US.


Public Diplomacy and Political Warfare: Part 2

January 26, 2012

From the set of notes that I’m accumulating on the topic I rather regret opening the can of worms marked political warfare but here’s a thought to inch things forward a little.

Although the PWE  document that I linked to in Part 1 talked about political warfare during wartime the resonance of the idea in twentieth century international politics emerged from the blurring of the distinction between war and peace.  Particularly with rise of communism and fascism political warfare was understood as the continuation of war by political means, with the end being the overthrow of the enemy.

One theme that is found in Henry  Kissinger’s writings (eg 1957, 1979)  is the problem of international relations in a period  of ‘revolutionary international relations’  where the states-system lacks shared standards of legitimacy.  Peacetime political warfare emerges from this contestation of  legitimacy.

In a recent book John Owen provides additional context for this.  He looks at patterns of forcible regime change in the period since the sixteenth century and argues that we can see waves of regime change. These  are tied to ‘transnational ideological networks’  (TINs) that promote different models of legitimacy.  These networks are symbiotic with states and seek to influence their actions.  He identifies four main waves of contestation;   around state and religion 1510-1700, between absolutism and liberalism 1770-1870, the contest between Communism, Fascism and Democracy, 1910-1990 and between Islam and the state from 1923.  Regime change occurs as different TINs use states to overthrow foreign governments and as non-TIN regimes strike back.

Owen concludes by looking at the possibilities for future waves of regime  change. He examines the possibility of  struggles involving a Hugo Chavez inspired Bolivarist movement and an authoritarian capitalism network.  He is sceptical  about an authoritarian capitalist network arguing that it lacks an   ‘unifying ideology’.  But what he does see around the post-communist areas of Eurasia is ‘one of the most robust and well funded sets of TINs in history’ that is the ‘[l]iberal governmental organizations, linked to the European Union and United States’, that seek to spread liberal modes of governance.  In Owen’s view  the possibilities for forcible regime change stem from the conflict between a liberal democratic TIN and authoritarian capitalist states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.   From this point of view the complaints that authoritarian regimes make about being under attack from the West and its democracy assistance industry are correct.

The PWE document makes the point that there are different modes of acting towards friends and enemies

The attitude to the enemy and to his subject peoples is belligerent; the attitude to friendly and still independent peoples is persuasive. One is disruptive behind the lines of the enemy; the other is conciliatory in the councils of our friends. One requires the mentality and techniques of subversion; the other, in open relationship, means frankness and information. The one seeks to destroy the confidence of the enemy; the other seeks to win the confidence of friends.

The PWE paper also makes the point that action towards friends and enemies make use many of the same communication techniques.

Contemporary Western public diplomacy  in some parts of the world it has elements of both these approaches.  Diplomatic practice has long experience in dealing with policy ambiguity so this is more of an issue for the academic effort to build a better understanding of public diplomacy.   Conceptually we need to manage the coexistence of two modes.

In a later post I’ll come back to see whether the concept of political warfare can help to elucidate the proper place of ‘strategic communications’ in the range of foreign policy instruments.

Kissinger, H.A. (1957) A World Restored: The Politics of Conservatism in a Revolutionary Era. London: Victor Gollancz.

Kissinger, H.A. (1979) The White House Years. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson/Michael Joseph.

Owen, J.M. (2010) The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change, 1510-2010. Princeton, N.J: Princeton U.P.


Fake Rocks and Democracy Support in Russia

January 19, 2012

Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff  has admitted that Russia’s espionarge allegations in the 2006 Fake Rock Affair were true.  Details are here.

What readers of this blog may find particularly interesting are the comments by Tony Brenton, the British Ambassador at the time, speaking on The Radio 4 Today programme this morning. He makes the point that one of the embassy officials implicated in the incident was also responsible for support for Russian NGOs including human rights organizations and the result was that the Putin Regime used this as pretext to attack foreign supported organizations.

I suspect NGO liaison looks like an ideal cover for an intelligence officer but it also means that if your intelligence activities are compromised so are all your contacts.

I’ve commented before that dealing with undesirable foreign PD is a neglected topic – could be an interesting paper there.


The Obama Administration and Democracy Diplomacy

January 16, 2012

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have just issued a report by Thomas Carothers, Democracy Policy Under Obama: Revitalization or Retreat that looks at the place of democracy promotion in recent US foreign policy.  The basic thrust is that while the Obama Administration came to office inclined to deemphasize democracy under the force of events they have take on a greater prominence

As popular uprisings spread across the Arab world in 2011, the administration faced its most important and high-profile democracy challenge. While the advance of political change in the Arab world could be a watershed moment for the region, it also threatens to jeopardize various American economic and security interests. The U.S. policy response has been correspondingly mixed, combining support for democratization where it appears to be occurring with a willingness to continue close ties with seemingly stable authoritarian governments.

The Obama team’s overall engagement on democracy support is multifaceted and significant, and is rooted in a set of guiding principles that have helped revitalize the U.S. profile on the topic. At the same time, the administration downplays democracy and human rights in a number of nondemocratic countries for the sake of other interests. This inconsistency represents a familiar pattern rather than a change in U.S. policy.  The difference is that today, in response to growing multipolarity, the United States has moved away from any single, overarching foreign policy narrative rooted in the idea of remaking the world in the image of the United States.

The democracy agenda creates a need for traditional diplomacy – high level interventions in support of democracy – but also a range of public engagement activities that involve aid  agencies and civil society actors.  This is an area where the distinctions between diplomacy, public diplomacy and development become extremely blurred.


Political Warfare and Public Diplomacy: Part 1

January 11, 2012

Over the past few months one piece of terminology that has popped up in conversations around the Institute is ‘political warfare’ .  In this and  the follow up I want to explore the utility of this idea for contemporary studies of public diplomacy.  An awareness of the history not just of the term but the institutional implications help to cast some contemporary issues into clearer focus particularly the rise of ‘strategic communications and Matt Armstrong’s complaint that ‘American public diplomacy wears combat boots’ .

As public diplomacy develops in the academy we are tending to place greater weight on public diplomacy as aspect of diplomacy but I think that this creates a danger of missing the way that the requirements of communications around conflict affect the way that national external communications are conceptualized and practiced.

As a starting point  what is Political Warfare?  From a 1942 memo from the British Political Warfare Executive: The Meaning, Techniques and Methods of Political Warfare.  This is one of more historically informed and nicely written government documents that you are likely to come across.  The PWE was the  Second World War  organization responsible for propaganda to enemy and occupied countries.  It had responsibilities for coordinating white, grey and black propaganda.  Political Warfare is sometimes seen as the equivalent of Psychological Warfare in the American lexicon.  The memo describes he motives of political warfare

In terms of foreign policy, when the normal channels of diplomacy are blocked, political warfare becomes the instrument of appeal to the people within enemy or enemy-occupied countries. It is also the indispensable adjunct of Economic Warfare, since, when the limits of blockade and other direct economic action have been reached, one means (apart from air bombardment) of exacerbating that blockade, is through political warfare action. Political warfare is inseparable from the strategy of the three Fighting Services. Its primary object is to destroy the foundations of the enemy’s war machine as an auxiliary to military action; it is in fact the Fourth Fighting Arm…

Britain’s Political Warfare Executive is concerned only with enemy and enemy-occupied countries as distinct from the Ministry of Information which deals with domestic and Neutral populations and with unoccupied Allied territories (i.e., China, Russia, U.S.A. and South American allies). This dispensation arose from practical experience and expediency, but the distinction is a logical one. The attitude to the enemy and to his subject peoples is belligerent; the attitude to friendly and still independent peoples is persuasive. One is disruptive behind the lines of the enemy; the other is conciliatory in the councils of our friends. One requires the mentality and techniques of subversion; the other, in open relationship, means frankness and information. The one seeks to destroy the confidence of the enemy; the other seeks to win the confidence of friends.

(vii) To clarify this distinction, it is necessary to define (a) Publicity, (b) Propaganda, (c) Political Warfare.


(viii) Publicity is the straightforward projection of a case; it is the build-up of a picture in the mind of the audience which will win their confidence and support. It is information which we want them to have, but also information which they want to have. It seeks to create the right impression and to remove the wrong impression. Its object is mutual goodwill. It is the presentation of the evidence, leaving the judgment to the audience. It is succinctly, as the Americans expressed it in their original information organisation: “Facts” and “Figures.”


(ix) Propaganda, on the other hand, is the deliberate direction, or even manipulation, of information to secure a definite objective. It is an attempt to direct the thinking of the recipient, without his conscious collaboration, into predetermined channels. It is the conditioning of the recipient by devious methods with an ulterior motive. Propaganda emphasises those facts which best serve its purpose. It creates the atmosphere in which the audience is most susceptible to suggestion. By power of suggestion, which in favourable circumstances becomes instruction, it secures positive action.


(x) Political Warfare employs both publicity and propaganda…

There follows a more detailed discussion of Political Warfare that concludes

(xv) Political Warfare could be described as “Propaganda in battledress” in the sense that it has to convert propaganda into a striking force and to ensure that, at the right moment and under proper discipline, ideas and emotions are translated into action. It must, psychologically, disarm the enemy. It must instil into the hidden armies behind the Axis lines not only the spirit of resistance to the enemy, but the will to strike down that enemy. It is this emphasis on its fighting service function which makes it necessary to distinguish Political Warfare from the “propaganda” it employs. It is this characteristic of Political Warfare which is still not clearly understood and which, while it retains an identity distinct from the Fighting Services, makes its close association with these Services of paramount importance. It is its balanced relationship between the three Services, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Economic Warfare and the other agencies which are operating against the enemy, which is the justification for the separate existence of the Political Warfare Executive.

In a following post I will argue that political warfare as a mode of operation where ‘normal channels of diplomacy are blocked’ is  stil around and in thinking through what public diplomacy means in contemporary international relations this conflictual application of communications needs to be kept in mind.


Hu Jintao and Cultural Construction in China

January 9, 2012

The journal of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party recently published a speech by Hu Jintao on the development of China’s socialist culture, its cultural industries and its ‘cultural soft power’.  There’s a translation here – whatever the changes in China Communist Party rhetoric hasn’t changed: ‘we must implement the Party’s mass line’ etc.   Stephen Walt characterizes this as the party’s war on Harry Potter.  Part of this is the apparent internal threat implied by foreign culture but also the damage to China’s international position by its own lack of cultural industries that can compete.  Reading Hu’s speech the biggest problem seems to be the mismatch between the economic development of contemporary China and its cultural development (read legitimation of rule by the Party.

This emphasis on socialist culture is seen to be of the factors behind the current clampdown on  entertainment culture to accompany the assault on political dissent.  The government has ordered TV stations to reduce the amount of entertainment programming that they show and to encourage socialist values.  Getting rid of programmes like Super Girl is equivalent to banning X Factor in the UK (insert name of mega popular programme where you live.)

I think that notwithstanding its controls on media and the ‘great firewall of China’ the Communist Party is overestimating its ability to shape Chinese culture.  The history of  20th century ideologically driven regimes (and propaganda more broadly) shows that entertainment is a persistent problem because in general  people would prefer to be entertained than educated.  The Nazis, The Soviets, The Saudis (and Lord Reith of the BBC) were all forced to modify their cultural offerings by the fact of competition with foreign broadcasters.  In each case the direction of movement was towards more entertainment in an effort to hold on to their audiences regardless of restrictions on reception of foreign broadcasts.

The point has sometimes been made that the ‘great firewall of China’ is not a massive obstacle to determined netizens but relatively few people are motivated to overcome the obstacle.  You wonder whether taking away entertainment programming will provide a stronger incentive to look for foreign material or for Chinese citizens to make their own.  It will be interesting to see how long it is before Super Girl’s younger sister returns to the screen.