Vladimir Putin is obsessed with cinema’s potential to sway hearts and minds. Over the past several years, Russia’s paramount leader has been tightening the screws on his country’s film industry. What is most remarkable about Putin’s move is not his power grab per se, Radio Free Europe’s anxiety-laden reportage in late December notwithstanding.
When awake with jet lag in a hotel far from home, the traveler naturally turns to the TV remote. So it was for me in Moscow this week, when a few absent minded clicks brought me face to face with Russia Today (RT)– the English language news channel and flagship for contemporary Russian public diplomacy. The channel did not come highly recommended. It had raised eyebrows with recent magazine advertisements adorned with a portrait of Stalin holding a quill and that caption: “Stalin wrote romantic poetry” and the tag line “Proud to be different”.
Since September 11th much of our nation's public diplomacy efforts have been focused, appropriately enough, on the Middle East and the Islamic world. However, while much energy and attention has gone to improve understanding of America and its policies in those regions another important sphere has been neglected. The Russian government is now clearly conducting a concerted effort to indoctrinate its people, particularly its young people, in anti-Americanism. America is hardly the Kremlin's only target. Indeed, the list is a long one -- Georgia, Ukraine, Estonia, Britain, etc.
Joshua Kurlantzick, in "Can Public Diplomacy Counter Resource Nationalism?," paints a rather alarming geo-strategic picture for the United States. The recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization showcased the warming relations between oil-rich Iran and Russia with the budding super-consumer, China.
Earlier this year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in China -- and quickly made himself at home. The occasion was a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional group linking China, Russia, and Central Asia. During the summit, Ahmadinejad seemed to be everywhere. He posed, arms linked, with Russian and Chinese officials, who said nothing as he called for "impartial and independent experts" to investigate whether the Holocaust happened. He delivered a major address broadcast on Chinese state television.
To be or not to be -- A 'Re-Jiggered' U.S. Information Agency
That is the question, or one of them anyway, as to how America's public diplomacy efforts may be ratcheted back up to speed.
The latest international television satellite channel, Russia Today, debuted this week, after securing a bank loan of $30 million to cover start up costs. It will broadcast in English, as do satellite networks from the BBC, the Chinese government, and the proposed Al Jazeera channel. The satellite news bandwagon is getting more crowded all the time and English will be the language of choice as new channels develop.