Trylon Communications  - April 2004

Middle East PR Challenges

The inability of the U.S. to effectively reach out to Middle Eastern countries is at least partially hampered by the lack of skilled PR and media relations people working for the government, according to a key commissioner of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

Harold Pachios, who served in the Johnson administration as an associate press secretary, noted that “the apparatus of public diplomacy at the State Department has proven inadequate, especially in the Arab and Muslim world,” when he addressed a committee of the House of Representatives recently (see transcript).

Pachios said that a key obstacle to achieving both short-term and long-term objectives is diplomats’ lack of ability to address issues in the native cultures of the countries they are trying to communicate with.

He specifically cited the need to develop a core group of effective communicators skilled in media relations and armed with modern public relations tools. Additionally, he said, the lack of third-party validators (i.e. native media) speaking out on behalf of the U.S. seriously undermines the messages the U.S. is trying to send. Thus, developing relationships with trusted local media members in every foreign country is crucial.

When people in the most remote villages can see images and news on satellite television at the same time they’re seen in major U.S. urban centers, the need to instantly address breaking news via electronic media in local terms becomes ever more important. One of the problems faced in today’s media world is that events unfold immediately to an international audience, so they can be misinterpreted when not addressed accurately by local spokespeople.

With many foreign policy agendas affected by public perception outside of the U.S., it becomes increasingly important that new programs and events with significance outside U.S., borders are addressed directly to the foreign press corps by administration officials. They must understand that a press corps not under direct control of the administration is judging every action and policy change.

Ultimately, the need for effective PR outreach to international media is no longer an elective - it is an imperative. In a related development, a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that hostility to the U.S. in the Middle East and Europe has hardened, with public opinion shifting towards independence from U.S. policies. The results of the poll underscore the comments made by Pachios. Click here to view the survey.