SMPA event examines international broadcasting future

The Public Diplomacy Council and the School of Media and Public Affairs sponsored an open forum titled “International Broadcasting: The Public Diplomacy Challenge” Thursday in SMPA’s Jack Morton Auditorium.

Two panels of international broadcasting and public affairs experts spoke at the event, fielding questions from a packed room of 150 journalists and scholars.

The panel members each spoke briefly on a wide variety of issues that broadcasting outlets face, trying to map the ideal future of international communications with regards to public diplomacy. Experts touched on everything from the benefits of shortwave radio to the Internet’s weblog phenomenon.

Many of the speakers talked about what the Voice of America, the U.S. government’s international broadcasting service with radio and television broadcasts, should do to help improve the image of the U.S. overseas. VOA broadcasts around the world with more than 1,000 hours of programming to 115 million people in 44 languages.

Myrna Whitworth, former acting director and director of programming at the VOA, noted that the Internet can play a large role in moderating dialogue with the rest of the world.

“The Internet is a participatory medium for open-ended conversation.” Whitworth said. “It offers an opportunity for the U.S. to talk with, not at, the rest of the world.”

Karl F. Inderfurth, director of the master’s in International Affairs program at the Elliott School of International Affairs, who also served in the State Department from 1997 to 2001, moderated the first panel and Robert T. Coonrod, former President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and former Deputy Director of the Voice of America, moderated the second.

Founded in 1988, The Public Diplomacy Council is a non-profit organization that advocates responsible public diplomacy. In 2001, the foundation joined with SMPA and ESIA to establish the Public Diplomacy Institute. The Institute’s goal is to promote the study and practice of public diplomacy through teaching, research and publications.

Adam Clayton Powell III, Director of University of Southern California’s Integrated Media System’s Center, described how “virtual cultural exchanges can become a part of international diplomacy.”

Powell’s laboratory integrates publicly available satellite imagery with live Web cams to create highly accurate, three dimensional pictures of various locations throughout the world.

The audience applauded when Powell showed them a moving image of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue with digitally created buildings and live traffic.

Mark Helmke, senior staff member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed out the problems facing the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. agency responsible for all of the government’s international broadcasting.

In Helmke’s opinion, the government should not be in the business of owning television stations. “We just need to explain how our country works to the international community,” he said.

PDI intern Jessica Smith, a GW senior, noted that interested students can still play a small role in improving public communications with the rest of the world.

She wrote in an e-mail after the event, “exploring other broadcasting outlets can help us to gain more perspective on the international issues our generation will have to contend with as this generation retires.”

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