In "Persuasive Communication," Stevenson examines how the "global communication system offers increasing opportunities for governments, private corporations, and occasionally individuals to reach and influence people around the world" (364). He takes a look at two particular aspects of this process: government engagement in "public diplomacy" or propaganda directed at the citizens of other countries and advertising. I will focus my critique on his analysis of the earlier one.
As Stevenson notes, U.S. public diplomacy efforts are directed through the United States Information Agency (USIA) or Service (USIS) as it is known abroad. As he characterizes the service, it can be seen as a harmless international public relations arm of the U.S. government, distributing U.S.-friendly materials (book, videos, magazines, chats, performances) to receptive, even if sometimes violent and antagonistic, foreigners. The non-amicable reactions generally stem from a perception that USIS, with its propaganda dissemination and local information gathering duties, functions as an "intelligence agency hiding behind cultural and educational exchange" (352). Stevenson counters that while the agency is indeed part of the U.S. foreign policy system, it does not involve itself in intelligence operations (352). He expresses puzzlement at the fact that foreigners so willing to express their discontent with the USIS with rocks and sticks would get "outraged when the agency surveys opinion on a more systematic basis" (352). Nonetheless, there are reasons to believe that this characterization is not accurate and that foreign resistance to U.S. "public diplomacy efforts" can be understood as a reaction...
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...ca and to multilateral worldwide information distribution, such as UNESCO, its active defense of Western, especially U.S.-based, news agencies via its "free flow of information" doctrines . . . have all helped to create a pro-U.S. political and cultural tableau. Such initiatives were also in line with its corporatist 'free market' isolation strategies against elements protectionist or socialist in outlook" (Sussman and Lent 6).
Once again, Stevenson's arguments fall short.
Sussman, Gerald and John A. Lent. "Introduction: Critical Perspectives on Communication and Third World Development" in Transnational Communications: Wiring the Third World. London: Sage Publications, Inc., 1991. 1-26.
Stevenson, Robert L. "Persuasive Communication" in Global Communication in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Longman Publishing Group, 1994, 343-368.
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