Monday 27 Jun 2022 | 11:58 | SYDNEY
Monday 27 Jun 2022 | 11:58 | SYDNEY

Public diplomacy: Means and ends


Malcolm Cook

23 September 2010 16:26

I read Annmaree O'Keeffe and Alex Oliver's report (which Richard Grant has recently blogged on) with great interest. My own career has been shaped greatly by public diplomacy (I received a full scholarship to study in Japan) and I had the pleasure of watching my first ever Wallabies game in Manila on ABC Asia Pacific in 1999 as part of my cultural awareness preparations for my pending move down under. I also watched my first AFL game and remember quickly becoming dizzy and confused. 

The report triggered three thoughts:

1. Any field of significant taxpayer expenditure, especially a foreign policy one that can only be evaluated 'like a forester going out to measure how far the trees have grown overnight, without a ruler', is one that should be approached with a hefty amount of caution, given that governments face unlimited service demands and serious funding limitations.

2. The report echoed the confusion for Australia inherent in the term 'our region'. When it comes to the South Pacific and PNG, I can buy that Australia's public diplomacy goal is 'to provide credible alternative sources of information and ideas, particularly to nations which may have insufficient resources to support robust independent media'. Australia is the major power in the South Pacific, and has deep interests in the region's development and how it views Australia.

We are not a major power in East Asia and have much less ability to influence the trajectories of these societies, societies that have a much broader selection of media choices. If I remember correctly, ABC Asia Pacific was channel 50-something out of the 70-some on my cable TV package in Manila, and I only discovered it after I knew I was coming to Australia and thought I should learn something about my next home. I was a regular watcher, though, of the BBC, CNN and many Philippine news sources, all of which came well before ABC Asia Pacific in the channel listings.

3. Maybe AusAID might be a more reliable funder for the Australia Network and Radio Australia than DFAT and the ABC. While DFAT's budget, and particularly its public diplomacy one, has been having a tough time of late, both major parties in Australia are committed to boosting aid funding significantly.

Photo by Flickr user Stef Ming, used under a Creative Commons license.