To begin, I'll just share a post from today, hoping to start a discussion. Would appreciate thoughts, insights, and comments!
As we started the new class on Public Diplomacy this semester, the first couple of sessions and readings were - of course - devoted to the discussion of the (hard-to-define and often ambiguous) differences between "propaganda" and "public diplomacy". I won't be reproducing the entire discussion here. Instead, I wanted to raise the question (and hope to get insights from the readers of this blog): which category would this Voice of America program belong to?
Courtesy of The Washington Post, December 31, 2010
I never watch or follow VOA Persian (primarily due to my non-existent Farsi skills), and I heard about Parazit only recently. Yet, it seems to have gotten quite a lot of attention from mainstream American media lately, so much so that Jon Stewart himself ("the Prophet" of satire, as Parazit's creators called him!) hosted them at his Daily Show last night.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Kambiz Hosseini & Saman Arbabi Extended Interview|
There's no denying, political humor and satire is a whole different animal. The case of Iran itself, is very... difficult, for the lack of a better word. The limitations on freedoms and the strict regulation of speech make the production of such programming within Iran practically impossible. So yes, in that sense VOA Persian is "breaking" taboos and raising legitimate questions.
But the way it is done, the language and symbolism used, as well as its method - the appeal to emotions and indirect influence through humor - seem controversial to me. Moreover, one should not forget the fact that this is a part of a country's international broadcasting, paid for by American taxpayers and targeting the public of the very same government the show so vehemently attacks.
That is why, as much as I appreciate VOA's work in bringing uncensored and more objective information to the Iranian people, I'm finding it hard to define such programming in any terms that do not involve references to propaganda, in some shape or form. After all, the difference between propaganda and public diplomacy is based on the "element of morality" and, more importantly, on one's perspective. The former aims to tell people what to think, while the latter supposedly informs, raises questions, and suggests what the audience should think about.
So, what do you think?