Friday, May 14, 2010

On the Radio

"A radio brought the world together, he said very often. Anything that brought the world together he called a blessing." -- Chaim Potok, The Chosen

I've been celebrating the semester's end by reading non-academic books, and the quote above caught my eye yesterday. As the number of global Internet users approaches two billion, it's easy to forget how many people around the world still lack access to Internet resources. For many people in many countries, radio is still the most dependable source of news and information.

However, as I've noted before, U.S. radio broadcasts aren't always effective tools of public diplomacy. Radio broadcasts should strive to increase U.S. credibility; provide accurate, objective reports; gather accurate information from broadcasting regions; and actively engage with the residents of broadcasting regions, demonstrating a desire to learn as well as inform. Too often, U.S. programs have been dismissed as propagandistic tools of the government.

U.S. broadcasters operate in an increasingly competitive information environment, particularly in the Middle East. If the BBG were to demonstrate its commitment to free speech by emphasizing the importance of interaction, increasing opportunities for call-in shows and debates and other activities that allow the audience to contribute to content-generation, could it improve the reputation of its programs? Or is their connection to the United States a hurdle too big to overcome?

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