Approaches to Broadcasting in the Middle East

Building and maintaining relationships with foreign publics is an important part of public diplomacy in the 21st century. Exchange programs have long been a mainstay and have proven themselves to be an effective way of forging understanding and cooperation through the sharing of culture. But how should a country seek to share its culture with those who cannot or will not participate in an exchange?

As we talked about in class, the United States’ Arabic language television network Alhurra has not been a hit in the Middle East. People tend to be skeptical of its bias and prefer to watch their local stations. While Alhurra estimates that it reaches 35.5 million people each week, it’s safe to say it has not had the level of impact that had been hoped.

In Joseph Braude’s article, “Radio Beijing in the Middle East,” he details China’s extensive, but fundamentally different, approach to public diplomacy in the region. Chinese Radio International (CRI) may reach smaller numbers than Alhurra (some shows only reach 5,000 people), but in contrast to the US, China worries less about magnitude and focuses on who their programs are reaching. CRI’s shows may reach fewer people, but their audience is far more dedicated to China and is likely to act on their interest in China and Chinese culture.

The entire article is worth a read, but Braude touches on two important points.

  1. China has been slowly working on building its soft power in the region through endeavors such as CRI in the hopes of winning the hearts of Middle Easterners. In the case of Egypt specifically, China’s public diplomacy is working to “prepare the population for a stronger alliance between the two states.”
  2. China focuses on small victories, small audiences, and risk-free experiments whereas the US has a “go big or go home” mentality. Alhurra was meant to span the entirety of the Arab world all at once and as a result it folded under the pressure. CRI however slowly chugs away towards greater understanding and acceptance of the Chinese presence.




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