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Floating in the ether: Soft power and Australia\'s international broadcasting

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COMMENTS

21 September 2010 16:53

Dr Richard Grant is the Executive Director of the Asia:NZ Foundation in Wellington. He comments here on a Lowy Institute working paper released this week, International broadcasting and its contribution to public diplomacy, by Annmaree O'Keeffe and Alex Oliver.

The paper is a great snapshot of where things are at on public broadcasting in the region, so it sets the framework well. The case is well made — that is, that Australia needs to do something about its approach to public broadcasting, or risk being lost in the ether.

It seems to me that public diplomacy/public broadcasting is a classic case where market failure exists, so that government intervention is desirable.

First of all, the mantle of protection of the Australian image (the soft power stuff) should be a non-negotiable part of the Government's approach to its place in the region. Second, no commercial company is going to fill the gap because they have no commercial interest in doing so (the one possible exception is QANTAS, but that is in a different field, even if some of what QANTAS does  rubs off in public diplomacy).

The real question to me is — if you are going to do public diplomacy, what is the best means of doing so in the era of modern communications technology' Broadcasting is only one means of exerting soft power, but it is an extremely effective one.

Ambassadors may tweet, and the Foreign Minister may be on Facebook, but it's not the same thing. Broadcasting gets both depth and breadth, which is where one gets one's bang for one's buck. Sure, the broadcaster (ABC in this case) is going to use modern social media as an extension of its broadcasting, but that is to supplement the broadcasting, not to replace it.

One final point. Australia is broadcasting in English (largely). There is a cultural element to this (presentation of aspects of Australian culture), but Australia is in a different space from the UK, France, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands, in that it is not trying to safeguard its place in the cultural/linguistic firmament. This gives Radio/TV Australia a big advantage in that it has no fears about the decline in the use of its language around the world, or even that the Australian diaspora is losing touch with Australia. It does not have to make the we-defend-Australian language/culture argument, and can unashamedly make the we-advance-Australia's-interests argument instead. 

Photo by Flickr user afagen, used under a Creative Commons licence.

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