Monday, March 28, 2011

State Department: ATM for the BBC?

The title of this article caused me to raise my eyebrow and comment, "Wait, no, for real?"

Which is exactly why we should always read more than just headlines, and why I should probably put fewer acronyms in the titles of my posts (okay, or maybe just this one).

At first glance, the BBC wants funding from the US Department of State. Why in the world would the United States fund a British Broadcasting....Corporation?! Funding for public broadcasting is already being cut in the US, NPR being the latest organization to come under financial scrutiny (to editorialize - unfairly so). And what in the world does this all have to do with public diplomacy?

Well, first of all, it's not the producers of Doctor Who that are searching for stateside financing. It's actually the BBC World Trust, a charity which in reality receives very little money from the BBC itself, and relies on funding from the DFID (Department for International Development), the EU, and other development agencies and organizations. The purpose of the BBC World Trust is to "use media and communications to reduce poverty and promote human rights, thereby enabling people to build better lives."

Is the public diplomacy relationship becoming clearer? No? Still out of focus?

The cynical view is this: a British organization shows people who to make their lives better, the people whose lives are made better therefore like Britain. That's either cynical or the bottom line, maybe both. And probably the harshest way to make the connection.

Public diplomacy, while primarily about improving a country's image abroad, also connects to development. A country that wants to pursue a successful public diplomacy strategy will engage in a two-way discussion and exchange of values, rather than just a monologue proclaiming greatness, and everybody should want to follow that country's values because, obviously, they're ~the best~. I look at public diplomacy like selling a product - don't just tell me I should buy a product because I need it. I know what I need, and I don't need a Snuggie or a car that talks to me (drove one that did an automated voice thing, and it really freaked me out - never again). But tell me WHY I need something and how I can work with it to really improve my life? There's a better chance of me being sold on the idea.

The BBC World Trust is taking the latter approach. As a charity, is its stated goal to improve the UK's image? Of course not. But it has the BBC name attached to it, which means that it is always going to be associated with the UK.

Where was I going with this before I got sidetracked by weird analogies?

Oh, right. Bottom line: the State Department can spare a few dollars to help out the BBC World Trust. And considering the US approach to public diplomacy...well, it would make this country look good as well, so I'd imagine that to be reason enough.

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