Selection and commentary by PDC members and authoritative experts in the field
Tuesday, January 4th 2011
Since he passed away December 30, much has been written in tribute to Barry Zorthian’s stellar role as the chief U.S. diplomatic and military spokesman in Saigon in the mid-1960s. Much less heralded: his legendary and still significant contributions to U.S. civilian overseas broadcasting and public diplomacy generally.
Barry was a giant in the field. He was a key mover and shaker as program director and news director of VOA in the 1950s and early 1960s --- the decade of the Voice’s great renaissance following the McCarthy hearings. He was among the co-authors of the VOA Charter, which persists to this day as the navigational North Star, program-wise, of all our overseas broadcasts. The Charter (Public Law 94-350 and 103-415) is reflected, nearly verbatim, in the principles set out in law for the content of all the networks: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), the Middle East Broadcast Networks (MBN, Alhurra and Radio Sawa), and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti), as well as the Voice.Read More
Tuesday, January 4th 2011
Two expatriate Iranians are attracting big television audiences in their home country with a weekly Voice of America comedy program, “Parazit,” that satirizes the ludicrous aspects of life in Iran. Not what some might expect to find in the VOA’s carefully designed arsenal, right? “Frankly,” as VOA’s executive editor says, “Parazit doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of VOA programming. But it does go to the mission of informing and engaging our audience.” And it holds nothing sacred. If Ahmadinijad’s chief opponent was in charge in Tehran, says one of the program’s creators, “we’d go after him.”
According to the Washington Post, “Parazit” is one of VOA’s most popular programs. Posts from its Facebook page were viewed 17 million times in December alone, the paper reported, and the program’s You Tube channel gets 45,000 hits a week. In satiric impact, the program has been compared to Jon Stewart‘s ”Daily Show.”Read More
Monday, December 13th 2010
In the recent modest flap about “exceptionalism” with regard to American Inimitability, President Obama may have it roughly right: that most people, not just superpatriots, probably see their own country as at least somewhat “exceptional,” simply because it is the national context they know best. And, sure, our politicians (and our ideologues) often describe the US as a singular nation to gain or maintain domestic support.
However, as a Foreign Service public diplomacy officer who represented his country on overseas assignments (my default position), I always personally took exception to the idea of expressing any overt “exceptionalism.”Read More
Wednesday, December 8th 2010
Last week in Jakarta, Under Secretary Judith McHale cut the ribbon on @america, touted as a new U.S. cultural center in Jakarta. Offering access to American-designed technology from its location in a suburban shopping mall, the center is designed to host programs and events for young Indonesians. Is there anything behind the ribbon cutting?Read More
Tuesday, December 7th 2010
If the notion of American exceptionalism was ever valid, no real reason to believe in it has existed for some time. Incredibly, some still take the concept seriously. Our decline in strength and purpose began years ago, largely ignored by most of us. So did any basis for feeling unique among nations. Crises like the current one only make this agonizingly apparent.
But our present condition was probably always in the cards, even if we hadn’t spent decades exhausting our wealth, undereducating generations of our children, mismanaging our hard-won place in the world, and refusing to continue building a mature society anchored in justice and morality. Throughout history, after all, other nations have had the strength and talent to rise to greatness and, for all sorts of reasons, declined from it.Read More