Return of the Ist Quadrant of Public Diplomacy
In her excellent articles entitled “The Fourth Quadrant of Public Diplomacy,” and Going for the Jugular R.S. Zaharna describes how relations between the state and public must be taken into consideration in “strategic PD options.”
Zaharna describes Quadrant I as the traditional view of public diplomacy with the state as the actor (State based) promoting state goals (state centric). Quadrant II still maintains state control but must touch the needs, interests, and goals of the public (public centered) for the message to resonate. Quadrant III described the public as the actor or initiator of messages (public based) designed to resonate with the State (State-centric) to move it to action. Finally Quadrant IV describes public initiatives designed largely for public consumption. In her article, Zaharna labels the rise of the non-state adversary as a wake up call for public diplomacy practitioners. I would like to focus on Quadrants I and IV in the next two articles. In Quadrant I the State adopts an assertive posture, whereas in Quadrant IV it is non-state actors.
The tools of social media have enabled non-state actors to reach audiences unimaginable in the pre-Internet age. With the powerful media tools of the I-phone at virtually everyone’s disposal, everybody can and occasionally does become a reporter even if inadvertently. Witness the media attention to police cam or private citizen videos of people being shot to see how difficult it is for authorities to maintain control of the narrative. Citizen-based reporting then can challenge the state’s version of a story whether it be the use of police force in the U.S. or behavior of politicians who thought they were addressing private groups.
Yet there are many countries including Russia and most recently Turkey where citizen reporters or even reporters in the mainstream press challenge the government version of events at their own risk. Witness the taking over of the management of Koza İpek Holding by a group of trustees appointed by the Turkish government, which resulted in the dismissal of dozens of journalists and the transformation of the holding’s media outlets to government mouthpieces or the prosecutions and detentions of large numbers of journalists. Or within Russia where Freedom House describes the gradual transition of media supporting government policies to actively participating in its ‘information war.’ A recent Freedom House report describes two new laws which restrict freedom on the Internet. Federal Law 398 allows the government to block websites which contain ‘extremist’ elements (a rapidly growing category) while Federal Law 97 requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily viewers to register as media outlets with all the restrictions that implies. Meanwhile large numbers of journalists are prosecuted for defamation and are actually physically assaulted. The news agenda and editorial policy of media outlets are set by the government and more than 90% of Russians have state run television as their main source of information.
RT Images of supposed U.S. mercenaries in Ukraine (it turns out the image was actually from New Orleans), divert attention from the fact that Russian soldiers are in Ukraine. RT reports that Ukrainian forces consistently break the cease fire, or that MH 17 was shot down by a Ukrainian missile or aircraft go largely unchallenged within Russia itself. Looking at Quadrant I, one can see that these stories are a Russian state-initiated and controlled project with an audience that largely lacks an alternative source of information. It is no surprise then that within Russia itself 88% of the populace according to a June 2015 Pew Research Center poll trust Putin to do the right thing in world affairs and 81% hold an unfavorable view of the U.S. Looking at the Russia internal dynamics at least, it appears extremely difficult to penetrate the media landscape and influence public opinion on key issues such as the Ukraine.
Strong claims have been made that the Internet and digital media are irresistible forces for democratization. In fact, as we have seen in the cases of suppressive regimes, states can use the very tools that supposedly foster empowering the public to quash dissent. As T.V. Reed and others have written, undemocratic regimes can use the trail left by on-line communications to pursue, harass, imprison, and even kill dissidents. One salient example of the use of Internet as a double edged sword is Iran, where the security forces and a newly constituted cyber police unit was able to monitor personal computers in homes. The regime also issued new rules requiring Internet Cafes to install cameras monitoring Internet users and forcing the cafes to collect customers names and contact information for a period up to six months. Ultimately the green Twitter revolution was crushed through these strong arm tactics, which have been described as a high tech inquisition.
In an excellent article entitled “Hijacking Soft Power,” Chris Walker writes that while China has expanded Internet access to hundreds of millions of users, it has also enacted laws stipulating up to a three year prison sentence for certain categories of messages and reach deemed defamatory. Walker cites Freedom House reports indicating that 15 of the 18 MENA countries are less free than they were 10 years ago. Many countries are using a combination of Internet technology, censorship, and propaganda to impose their own version of reality. As Walker states, these suppressive regimes are learning from each other and refining their approach to dominate the media space.
In short, one must enjoy a minimal amount of freedom of speech to effectively challenge the State as outlined in Quadrant IV. In environments allowing a freedom of speech, social media tools can indeed be an overpowering force with a voice and set of arguments closer to the people than the governments they may target. The next blog will give some examples of successful applications of Quadrant IV.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.