State Department sets up rapid response operation

WASHINGTON: The US State Department has set up a rapid-response office dedicated to countering international news reports about the US in the Middle East and the Muslim world that diverge from the ideas and values the Bush administration is seeking to export.

WASHINGTON: The US State Department has set up a rapid-response office dedicated to countering international news reports about the US in the Middle East and the Muslim world that diverge from the ideas and values the Bush administration is seeking to export.

The office monitors global news stories and distributes a one-page report each morning to administration officials and policy makers in Washington.

"This has already proven to be an effective early warning system that helps us respond quickly to misinformation or emerging stories," said Karen Hughes, the State Department's undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, speaking before a November 10 hearing of the House Committee on International Relations.

Hughes said her office is providing the tools and guidance to help ambassadors and public affairs officers become more vocal on major issues and do more speeches and TV interviews. "We're proceeding with plans to set up regional public diplomacy platforms to expand our TV presence and make programs, such as our speaker's bureau, more targeted and strategic," Hughes told the committee.

In particular, the State Department is developing a platform to get regional Arabic speakers to speak on behalf of US interests on the Al-Jazeera TV network. Despite complaints by the Bush administration about alleged distortions on Al-Jazeera, Hughes said she has argued that the network "reaches a wide audience, and I feel that if we're not appearing on that station, we're missing an opportunity to communicate with a whole lot of people."

Alvin Snyder, a former executive with the US Information Agency and senior fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, welcomed Hughes' comments about al-Jazeera. "The fact that the Bush administration understands that its best conduit to reach the Arab street is Al-Jazeera opens potentially rewarding new pathways for American public diplomacy abroad," he wrote in an analysis of her testimony.

The State Department also has launched a technology initiative that involves making greater use of web chats, streaming video, and text messaging to amplify the government's message and make it relevant to younger audiences, she said.

Many public diplomacy experts, including the State Department's Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy, have recently recommended the creation of a private foundation to strengthen the government's partnership with the US private sector.

Such an entity could make grants to produce TV programs for international audiences and fund translations of American literature, Hughes said.

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