Spry memorial lecture 2001

The power of states to control the images that permeate their terrain is in question everywhere. Freedom to receive and impart ideas seems to be breaking out all over, but it would be naïve to see the world as a place where information moves without various forms of restriction. Redefined state power and changes in modes and practices of authority are more likely than state decline. A frenzied testing of new and modified techniques aimed at regulating, if not mastering, the market for speech accompanies the undercutting of former attributes of state autonomy. There are many elements at work in this experimentation and redefinition by the state, and elaboration of them forms the substance of my lecture. In particular, there is a shift away from the singularly inward forms of state control to outward-looking, regional or multilateral approaches, and away from law and regulation towards negotiation and agreement. Tentacles of influence by one state over the media of another are hardly new; but the process of interaction, through treaty or agreement on the flow of ideas, information, and sheer data, is intensifying.

Globalization of the media usually refers to the pervasive activities of big conglomerates and the extent to which messages they produce dominate the world’s consciousness. The global market is, however, not merely a forum for trade in films and television programs. It is also an increasingly interdependent site for the development and application of formal and informal rules that shape common narratives; a space in which ideologies compete and forge allegiances that ultimately determine the persistence of governments and nations themselves; and an arena where imagery becomes a supplement or substitute for force. Pressure to affect policy formulation and public opinion abroad has always been a preoccupation of those holding or seeking power, as governments attempt to influence populations through propaganda, both inside and without their boundaries. Now the process of doing so has become more technologically and globally refined, though traditional tools such as international radio remain useful (especially for societies where new technologies are not highly developed and power continues to speak to population in ways known and documented).

In this interdependent environment, the definition of what speech practices exist within states and how information technologies evolve within their boundaries are no longer left wholly to the states themselves. Evolution of local systems is an essential part of the global infrastructure. Decisions involving a state’s information space have external ramifications for trade and global security. International attention is sharpened as governments become obsessed with the power of information, both as an attribute of domination and wealth creation in times of peace and as a weapon of effective control in times of war. Thus, though states still legislate individually to maintain their cultural identity, the significance of what they do is increasingly subject to a wide variety of international incentives, pressures, and obligations.

The world is engaged in a vast remapping of the relationship of the state to images, messages, and information within its boundaries. National governments, public international agencies, multinational corporations, human rights organizations, and individuals are involved in this process. All is under construction, yielding, as it were, a thorough shaking and remodeling of communications systems. Thirty years ago, cable television sparked transformations; twenty years ago the communications satellite did the same. In the last ten years the Internet and the convergence of new technologies have invited wholesale restructuring. In this teeming experiment, the various players and observers are seeking a vocabulary of change and a set of laws and institutions that provide legitimacy, continued power, or the opportunity to profit from technological advantage. There is a need to examine this process of remapping from various perspectives and provide a framework for understanding its background, mechanisms, and prospects. Only with a grasp of the massive changes taking place can a detailed and sophisticated understanding emerge of implications for cultural and political change, the playing out of human rights debates, and changes in the shape and functioning of governments.

In this lecture, I will develop a systematic approach to issues of media regulation in a world of changing technology, altered corporate arrangements, and shifting ideologies. Then, I will describe tones of global media reorientation, the constellations of change that occur as geopolitical, ideological, and technological transformations interact. I set forth several analytic theories that might be used to explain shifts in state strategies. I then turn to tropes of restructuring in this global framework: the use of models and metaphors, specific themes and influences, especially privatization, self-regulation, and control of offensive content. I explore the efforts to find new categories of thinking about the relationship of the state to its media, in the face of the inevitable persistence of older modes of description and analysis. I deal with the language of change, the exterior housing in which state and non-state actors articulate and reformulate doctrine with respect to wildly varied contexts for the adaptation of information technologies. Finally, I try to piece together what elements exist of a more or less coherent foreign policy toward media globalization. I bring these various influences and actions together by redefining and categorizing national responses to new information technologies. The task is to pull explanatory factors apart and, by doing so, see their interconnectedness.

Public Diplomacy, Propaganda and Information Intervention

When I accepted the gracious invitation of the distinguished Canadian scholar, Marc Raboy, to give the Graham Spry Lecture, we were talking together on a lovely July day, in a quiet, almost idyllic Oxford setting. The two of us were working (I would like to say leisurely and at an Oxford pace) on a subject that would have been dear to Graham Spry’s heart, public service broadcasting in societies struggling with their identities. It was a time of promise, a time in which we all felt that with a bit more work, an imperfect world could be made better. If only the public sphere could be enhanced, if only there were more understanding of the role of public service broadcasting in enriching national identity, if these margins could be improved, societies would cohere and citizen participation be enhanced. Since then the world has changed greatly. A “War against Terrorism,” prophesied to be a long war, has been launched, global alliances have shifted mightily, and many institutions of civil society are being reframed and bent, often beyond recognition.

Many aspects of media policy are  affected by this unusual war. On the July day of my talk with Marc Raboy, so near and yet so far,  the agreed topic for this lecture involved global media and limits on national controls. Even those spare words mean something different now from when we first agreed to them. In this war, which is not only about force, but, deeply and difficultly,  about ideas and ideologies, the transnational reach of media and the limits on national controls have new significance.

When Graham Spry organized the Canadian Radio League in 1930, his mission was to reinforce the capacity of broadcasting to undergird citizenship and shape identity. “Radio broadcasting,” he wrote, “is palpably the most potent and significant agent for the formation of public opinion.”[1] Spry’s words were spoken in a Canadian context. They were spoken at a time of peace. But they have resonance in a time of war and turmoil. When Spry’s words are turned outward, this “most potent and significant agent for the formation of public opinion” as he put it,  can be reanalyzed as a tool to affect power internationally and a companion to the use of force. Information-control can serve as part of nation-building. At the same time, as we learned from the highly focused, highly professional use of radio and television by the Axis Powers in World War II,  media manipulation can become, to build upon two unrelated terms, a weapon of mass deconstruction.

Not since World War II, certainly not since the height of the Cold War, has there been such frenzied activity by states to shape messages, influence the marketplace of ideas, and think through the structure and content of radio and television (along with other forms of persuasion, including sermons and songs).

There is a way in which the history of broadcasting in the twentieth century can be read as the interplay between responses to national security concerns, on the one hand, and the search for large consumer audiences on the other. Radio was shaped in the reality and then the shadow of World War I. Television, in many ways (in technical standards, organization of transmitters, ownership restrictions) reflected the tensions of the Cold War. Now, after the 1990s when the medium seemed almost wholly consumer-driven, the relevance of conflict and national security to broadcasting and other media reemerges.

What should be noticed during a lecture dedicated to the spirit of Graham Spry is this: During the interregnum of the last decades, as consumerism trumped nation building, there was a policy, in many states, of neglect of the institutions charged with thinking about and helping to construct the public sphere both domestically and abroad. Public service broadcasting has become, worldwide, a worrisome, sick, and anemic child. Entities charged with public diplomacy, such as international broadcasting, also often withered.

This episodic approach proved intolerable in a time when the stakes are so high. After September 11, Operation Enduring Freedom began with only the glimmers—with respect to media, propaganda and the like,  of recognized policy, without a notion of best practices, and without an elaborated memory of how to combine national security concerns with a dedication to open media.  Suddenly, conscious state participation in the shaping of political force, in the very marketplace of ideas, became more salient. My goal, in this lecture, is   to provide some context for the shaping of policy in this area and to suggest a background for many of the changes that seem so fundamental.

Propaganda Renaissance

I start with matters concerning the renaissance of the art of propaganda. In the current war, as in many wars that preceded it, public opinion is a significant front and a space for engagement. One of the most important aspects of media policy in this war has been the rediscovery and the reemphasis on public diplomacy—when one society attempts to shape the opinion of the people and leaders of another.

With the end of the Cold War, long-standing government efforts, throughout the world, including in Canada and the United States, to help shape global public opinion on matters significant to national security were essentially cut back and privatized. Whether implicitly or not, trade policies assisted Hollywood and Madison Avenue, CNN and the Motion Picture Association of America to serve as effective carriers and projectors of American (or Western) values. With private entities having so fabulous a global reach, so pervasive a presence, fostering mass overseas markets and creating exuberantly receptive audiences, who needed the traditional international broadcasting organizations and other elements of a tired, and somewhat bloated information apparatus? In the United States, the United States Information Agency (USIA) was collapsed into the State Department. Radio Canada Internationale (RCI) cut seven of its 15 languages and shrunk its staff; the station nearly went off the air in 1996 when it was saved at the eleventh hour by a federal government grant. The crisis reflected the government’s lack of interest in international cultural relations. What occurred in Canada mirrored what was happening elsewhere, though to different degrees. Deutsche Welle was hit hard by budget cuts, as was Radio Australia and, of course, the external broadcasting arm of Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union. The Voice of America, in the early 1990s, underwent a withering demoralizing attack.

The “terrorism” war is changing much of this.[2] In the United States and the United Kingdom, the role of international broadcasting is being strengthened and the need for its long term contribution is now a matter reflected in greater appropriations of funds. There is a suddenly expanded recognition that “soft power,” the capacity to influence “hearts and minds,” is a necessary substitute and supplement to the use of armed force. Just this last week, The Wall Street Journal reported a $30 million effort by the International Broadcasting Board of Governors in the US for a “new Mideast radio network” targeted at young Arabs with a “musical mix [that] will run from Madonna and the Backstreet Boys to popular Middle Eastern Singers like Egypt’s Amr Diab and Cheb Mami of Algeria.”[3] Graham Spry was prescient.: “To trust this weapon [the shaping of public opinion through electronic media] to advertising agents and interested corporations seems the uttermost folly.”

Towards a Foreign or Multilateral Policy of Media Space

In some of my recent writings, I have been exploring what might be called a foreign policy of media space, the concern by one state for the structure and content of media in another. I would argue that unilaterally or multilaterally, one state has an interest in the media space of another for several reasons: a) to enhance human rights or transitions to democracy (where those are either “national interest” or altruistic goals; b) to increase stability in the target society; c) to prevent genocidal activity or other steps that might implicate a burden for what might be called the sending state; d) providing a media environment in the target society where the general foreign policies of the sending state may be better received; and e) providing an infrastructure for enhanced trade between the sending and the target state.

One episode that illustrates the implementation of such a foreign policy approach involves an entity established in the US State Department in 1999 called the International Public Information Group (IPIG). This group included members of the intelligence and military community to reflect the importance of media to foreign policy and national security.

The essence of the Directive was to create a much closer relationship between substantive foreign policy decisions and the capacity to persuade key elements of a widely dispersed foreign public of the desirability and efficacy of a United States initiative. The architect of the plan, a young lawyer named Jamie Metzl, thought that the reorganization would “begin a process of reinvigorating the United States foreign policy establishment by bringing public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy closer together […]. Without winning the struggle to define the interpretation of state actions, the physical acts themselves become less effective.”

A good example of the philosophy of the Information Group occurred in the period after the 1999 NATO military intervention in Kosovo. Under the prodding of IPIG the United States took the lead in establishing a “Ring around Serbia,” an ad hoc and creatively assembled group of peripheral transmitters that pumped non-Milosevic voices into parts of the former Yugoslavia. This aspect of “information intervention” provided an effective mode of distribution, too, for reinforced Serbian language programming of the Voice of America, the BBC, the United States surrogate, RFE/RL, and Deutsche Welle. The Allies persuaded the leadership in Republika Srpska to allow transmitters there to be retooled for the Serbian information action. The “Ring around Serbia” also included transmissions from Romania and Croatia. In Afghanistan now, Commander Solos, aircraft specially built to transmit radio signals, circle in airspace and deliver messages from the forces allied to defeat the Taliban and capture Bin Laden. In the wake of conflict, more efforts to establish a substitute radio voice—following the Serbian example—will surely be developed.

An earlier foreign policy of media space might have posed a simpler problem: during the time of monopoly state broadcasting authorities, which substantially controlled national information space, the process of public diplomacy could be limited to influencing those broadcasters. Limited avenues for circumvention lay through short wave and other forms of international broadcasting. Now, the shapelessness of transnational information networks, due especially to the Internet as it becomes a more significant means of affecting information flow, compels a different response. If a government is going to use persuasion, through information, as part of its foreign policy then it must find new mechanisms and employ new skills to do this. It also means that any government engaged in these processes must be far more conscious and pro-active about the modes of information distribution, while at the same time allowing public debate to ensure the development and use of best practices.

As Metzl put it, “foreign public opinion has become harder to influence as once jealously guarded state monopolies on information dissemination to home populations have been broken down by satellite dishes, telephones, fax, and Internet links in all but the most repressive countries.”[4] However, these dramatic changes do not mean that the game is over, or that weak and powerful states no longer can use “public diplomacy” to achieve central national goals. Rather, it requires a wholesale rethinking of how such public diplomacy should take place; and how efforts at public diplomacy should be fashioned so that they preserve and reinforce the free flow of information as they help achieve the goals of national security, conflict prevention, and stability. “States hoping to retain advantages in traditional areas of power, including military and economic, must engage this decentralized environment in new and creative ways in order to retain these advantages…. To retain current levels of relevance into the next century, governments must recognize and internalize this [communications] transformation.”[5]


If there is such a foreign policy of media space, then the question is what methods are deployed to achieve them.  There has been much   discussion of a Revolution  in Military Affairs (often shortened to RMA).  The analysts of that process of radical change bring to bear new information technologies as it changes conventional warfare.  What interests me is whether there is a “revolution” as well in the methodology and capacity to shape information spaces in target societies.  Even if there is not a “revolution,” there is an  expansion of methods and a potential rethinking of  selection and use of mechanisms.   These include attention to who uses satellite orbital slots, who has access to transponders, which satellite systems have access to ground distribution through cable systems.   There are renewed psychological operations, the dropping of pamphlets related to bombing campaigns or the establishment—in the current Afghan War—of Coalition Information Centers.   One  can think of   the problem as divided between the shaping of information space in “transition societies,” as compared to the shaping  of information spaces in societies undergoing conflict.

As to conflict-related contexts. information intervention, to deploy a term I have explored elsewhere,  foreign policy can be divided into three segments: a) attitudes toward the use of media pre-conflict, where war, instability, and massive human rights violations can be predicted (as in Rwanda); b) attitudes toward manipulation of information in time of war (as in the Gulf War); and c) a foreign policy toward management of media after conflict (as in Bosnia-Hercegovina).

Some examples of  media-intervention in conflict: In Kosovo, when the bombing campaign included radio transmitters as targets, there was a debate about whether and when such entities should be targets. In the first days of the Afghan campaign, American bombers destroyed local radio transmitters and replaced the Taliban’s Radio Shari’ah with US programming. Clearing the air of Taliban radio broadcasting to diminish Taliban influence was an unquestioned part of the campaign. The information-related actions in Afghanistan underscore the fact that an information foreign policy becomes more tangible and more immediately necessary in moments of conflict. At such a time, the geopolitical stakes in the patterns of distribution of information are too high to be left solely to some fictive market in which governments do not actively participate. Information intervention—an affirmative effort to engage media realities—has a long tradition in its relationship to the run-up, avoidance, or resolution of war. In 1999, during the NATO bombing campaign, the Board of Eutelsat, composed of representatives from many NATO members, voted to remove Serbian broadcasting from a transponder. This was the first time that such a content-based decision had been corporately made by Eutelsat. Just this November, Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, indicated there was a preliminary investigation of Al-Jazeera to determine whether there was a violation of the Television Without Frontiers Directive, which attempts to “ensure that broadcasts do not contain any incitement to hatred on grounds of race, sex, religion or nationality”. If the Independent Television Commission finds that news accounts violate this norm, the satellite service might be banned from Sky Digital. In addition, action by Western governments could favor and aid distribution of other Middle East satellite services—LBC, MBC, and others—which have a programming menu that seems less likely to inflame.

Pre-conflict  and post-conflict intervention: Force and Negotiation

Turning to information intervention to prevent conflict (or genocide), in the 1990s, proposals began to be made for concerted action by the international community to forestall use of broadcast media that promoted or accentuated devastating, often genocidal, conflict. It became common to point to the explosive mobilizing role Radio-Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) played in Rwanda with its repetitious and explicit incitement for Hutu to slaughter Tutsi. That became the textbook example where preventive intervention by the international community should have been deemed suitable and necessary.

Alison des Forges has written in sorrow about the dispassionate development of United States foreign policy toward Rwandan media space. Before the genocide, NGOs sought assistance in jamming violent broadcasts. Though knowledgeable Western officials agreed with the need, requests were denied. Des Forges states that officials “covered their decision with a veneer of commitment to legal principle—to the rights to freedom of expression and information, to the obligations of international convention, and to respect for national sovereignty.”[6]

What emerged, fitfully, after Rwanda, was a growing interest in information intervention as a way to broaden the range of intermediary opportunities available to the UN, NATO or other elements of the international community as it engaged in peacekeeping measures in ethnic and other conflicts. Both as a humanitarian and practical matter, it seemed wise to avoid the weakness of an international system that forces states to choose between the extremes of massive, armed humanitarian intervention and mere symbolic action. Elements of an articulated well-defined information intervention policy would—at the outside—include the kind of jamming sought in Rwanda, but also more traditional approaches such as monitoring local transmissions, so-called peace broadcasting (a channel of information that was “objective” and had as its goal defusing conflict), or, in more extreme cases, the jamming of offending broadcasts.  As an example of a non-conflict use of the power of law to influence satellite-borne content, one might look at the UK, where  the Independent Television Commission withdrew its license to MED-TV, a satellite service established in Britain, broadcasting  to the Kurdish population in Turkey and elsewhere. The grounds for the license revocation were an alleged lack of “objectivity and impartiality.”

How these questions unfurled in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo have strong precedential implications for post-conflict Afghanistan. The same Jamie Metzl who had been the young architect of the Information Policy Information Group has also written about questions over blocking and interrupting transmissions, monitoring of local transmissions, and peace broadcasting.[7] He argues that though sovereignty objections might be lodged to this kind of aggressive nonforcible intervention, especially in internal strife, preventing such civil conflicts from becoming regional conflagrations is in the general interest. Permitting limited radio and television jamming in defense of human rights, while not a solution to all ills, still could be “a potentially effective and relatively low-risk tool for countering dangerous messages that incite people to violence.” Ultimately, as Metzl writes, information intervention would be “one of a larger set of intermediate actions between neglect and armed intervention,” that can increase the tools available for responding to conflict or potentially genocidal acts.

Kosovo and Bosnia-Hercegovina could be seen as a  training ground for post-conflict peacekeeping (as it affects the media) in Afghanistan. In both places, a foreign media or information policy was shaped to weaken embedded nationalist parties or ethnic interests and strengthen, in elections, candidates favored by the allies prevailed.

Under the Dayton Accords, the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) and the Office of High Representative (OHR), together with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and a wide variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), took steps to reshape and reform media in Bosnia-Hercegovina. A new approach was emerging, with vastly important constitutional, political, and structural implications. All of a sudden, the international community placed a kind of machinery of administration over media that had not been seen for almost half a century.

NATO and the Office of High Representative (OHR) employed various modes, after the Dayton Accords, for creating a political environment with what might be deemed the desired democratic outcome. Control of the media had continued to be important because hard-line Bosnian Serb “Srpska Radio Televizija Pale” (SRT Pale), controlled by Radovan Karadzic, was seen as fanning discord, creating the potential for renewed conflict, and engendering opposition to the NATO mission. Responding to this challenge, NATO and OHR made a decision to address SRT aggressively. At its May 1997 semi-annual meeting to review the progress of Dayton’s implementation, the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (the controlling NATO states) passed the Sintra Declaration, which stated that the High Representative “has the right to curtail or suspend any media network or programme whose output is in persistent and blatant contravention of either the spirit or letter of the Peace Agreement.” This extraordinary provision of the Declaration established the right of the Stablization Force and the OHR to block media outlets throughout Bosnia-Hercegovina. It also provided the framework SFOR used to justify its later seizure of television towers in Republika Srpska.

Throughout all these events, the legal justification for media intervention in Bosnia-Hercegovina was nowhere clearly stated. The NATO authorities neither sought nor articulated such a legal justification as they responded to practical realities. But exploring and analyzing the legal basis for their actions is important for the future of a responsible foreign policy of information that ensures openness and best practices. The legal principles invoked in these situations are fundamental to future efforts at supporting peace and stability through information and require examination.

If the NATO forces acted as “Occupiers,” then a particular body of international norms would govern their powers and the limits on them.[8] If they acted, on the other hand, under a consent regime, then the shape of their authority would be governed, in large part, by the conditions of their particular entry into Bosnia-Hercegovina. Under current norms, the term “Occupation,” more correctly “Belligerent Occupation,” does not describe the status of the international presence in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Allies belligerently occupied Germany and Japan after World War II, and the Allies refashioned German and Japanese radio broadcasting systems, as part of the larger mission in constructing a democratic society in the former Axis nations. Though the justification is not applicable for the issues in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the processes are illuminating. In Germany, the Allies forever changed the structure of broadcasting. They split up and decentralized the dominant media outlets in order to prevent the rise of a dominant national voice. In Japan, the Allies sought to eradicate all elements of indigenous militarism and nationalism from the media. The first Memorandum reestablishing freedom of speech and press, required that news be true to facts, be faithful to the policies of the Allied Powers, and refrain from skeptical criticisms of the Allied Forces.[9]

Each case is, of course, different.  Afghanistan will not be Bosnia-Hercegovina. And Bosnia was not Japan or Germany.  The necessary accoutrements of Occupation were and are not present in any of these settings for the legal or policy issues to be the same. Even now, the United States and its Allies are careful to assert that troops do not enter as Occupiers. The historic examples provided by Occupation strategies in Japan and Germany were not used to justify the actions of the Office of High Representative or SFOR in Bosnia and will not be in Afghanistan. Occupiers, unlike SFOR, would have the capacity to act in lieu of a sovereign, though those actions are constrained by the duty to serve as a surrogate for the local sovereign and to do so in accord with internationally established standards.[10]

It is worthwhile, as a post-conflict phase begins in Afghanistan, to understand the terms of the media-related actions taken to date. The Dayton Accords were a specific and bounded invitation to particular actors in the international community to participate in the peace process in explicitly limited ways. They granted the international community three important fonts of power. The first font of power is election-specific and flows from Annex 3 of the Dayton Accords.[11] The authority of the international community in this area lies with the OSCE. The second font of power lies in the authority of the military to accomplish its mission and, to protect and preserve itself. If troops were endangered as a result of inflammatory media statements, authority to act could be inferred. This power stems from Annex 1-A and other portions of the Dayton Accords. The third font of power is the broadest. It stems from the executive power of the Office of High Representative (OHR).

The Accords were parsimonious in assigning specific powers to the OHR and, as a consequence, the OHR’s powers sometimes grew organically in response to the circumstances on the ground. With respect to media, the OHR emerged as an idealized information intervention unit backed by the support of the international community. It was the OHR that encapsulated the contradictions, the constitutional dramas, and the question of standards to determine what actions to take towards media. The OHR became the receptacle for international hopes. Through it, the international community intervened by relicensing all existing broadcasters and establishing a new media regime. Ultimately, wholesale reform of the media played a critical role in the overall peacekeeping strategy.

Post-conflict Afghanistan will reflect the lessons, such as they are, from Bosnia and Kosovo. As the international community seeks to establish a stable post-conflict government in Afghanistan, that government, presumably, will set the terms (undoubtedly in an environment in which the terms are urged by the Great Powers) for post-conflict rehabilitation. Among these terms will be some media-specific issues. Afterwards the question will arise how the broadcast space should be utilized. Already, NGOs and governments, civilian and military authorities alike, are thinking about these questions. Will there be a centralized broadcaster, along public service broadcasting lines and tightly under the control of the designated authorities? Will there be a Media Commissioner appointed by the international community, with a charge to relicense broadcasters? Will there be rules that minimize the use of broadcasting (and perhaps the press) to incite hatred and violence so that stability can be assured? How will the broadcasting apparatus reflect the ethnic, geographical and historical divisions among the Afghanis? Will there be prohibitions on the carriage of programming from outside Afghanistan that is thought to increase sectarian tensions?

Oddly, after Cambodia, East Timor, Bosnia, and Kosovo, there are those who have practice answering these kinds of questions. Unfortunately, I can’t in the span of this lecture.

The Current Conflict

I want to turn very briefly to a potpourri of other issues in media policy raised by the September 11 attacks and the conflict in Afghanistan. First, there is, of course, an impact of the “war on terrorism” on domestic media issues. Over the last fifty years, one major debate has been between advocates of an Article 10 approach to speech and press issues and the more absolutist First Amendment. Article 10 of the European Convention on Civil and Human Rights permits a state, in limited circumstances, including the interests of national security, to condition the right to receive and impart information. I would argue that one affect of the Afghan War is the harmonization of the two approaches. Through a set of formal and informal practices, all governments, including those with the most absolute free speech traditions, are demonstrating that a sensitivity to national security will condition speech practices (whether this is in the declared constitutional tradition or not). The newspapers are filled with examples of this approximation.[12]

I hardly need recount modes of redefining the power of government over speech in domestic settings. They include, in the most informal way, societal pressures on journalists to demonstrate more explicit balance when indicating collateral damage to civilians, or, as was urged soon after the beginning of the campaign, more restraint in showing images of Osama bin Laden. One reason for a decision to try individuals charged with terrorism-related offenses in military tribunals is to avoid providing—through an open trial—a forum for explicit, possibly effective, representations of alternative narratives to the public. Even antitrust policy is affected. There will be more of a tendency toward large-scale media corporations, entities that can coordinate security needs more easily with government. There will be tighter control of information flowing from government, with a broadened sense of what is militarily sensitive. Informal rules will be concerned about publishing stories or rumors of domestic terror activity so as not falsely to create homeland turmoil and anxiety.

An important characteristic of these new practices is that they will scarcely take the form of official transparent regulations or judicially-challengeable laws. Though these—as in the new laws on wiretapping and surveillance of the Internet—also will be affected.

Analyzing the Foreign Policy of Information

I have mentioned my interest in a “foreign policy of media structures and information policy.” If there is a foreign policy of information that focuses on media structures, then we should be able to identify and describe the methods used to encourage or create certain media structures while restraining others. At a moment of crisis, the vital and obvious methods come to the fore: aggressive international broadcasting, interventionist monitoring of broadcasts, and a renewed focus on propaganda. But more is at stake.

Other elements of an information foreign policy include sustained assistance for favored forms of media abroad; sponsoring the export of legal and policy models regarding media structures (and rewarding those states that adopt the favored model); expanding or altering, as I have already indicted, state-sponsored international broadcasting; using the World Trade Organization and related mechanisms to force changes in media-related trade practices; reinvigorating the international copyright regime to affect domestic intellectual property regimes; developing regional agreements, treaties, and customary international law as measures to shape or limit state media law enactments; increasing “information intervention” by the international community especially in post-conflict situations; and encouraging an international environment that fosters new technology (including addressing the digital divide). A modern information-related policy now also involves efforts, like Carnivore, rechristened as DCS1000, which is a tool for reading email, and encryption strategies to facilitate government access to other kinds of Internet uses.[13]

The West, in the 1990s mounted many efforts to foster transitions to democracy and these continue into the new century. The goal was to establish a media sector supportive of democracy, one that would have a substantial degree of editorial independence, was financially viable, reflected diverse and plural voices, and provided information necessary for citizenship to be meaningful. Technical assistance, as a basic tool of foreign policy, sounds neutral and virtually mechanical. But the basis for determining what assistance should be provided can be controversial in the target community and far from neutral in its administration or theoretical grounding. A foreign policy of technical assistance for media reform is a mix of idealism and realpolitik, of advocacy of principle and extension of national interest. Each element of assistance (financial aid, organizational assistance, and legal reform) touches on choices concerning the meaning of democracy and the role of media in the political process. Each element assumes a structure of laws and administration in which assistance is embedded.

The receptivity of target societies to aspects of media reform has also become more complex. After a decade of efforts to plant democracies in relatively hostile terrains, and in an environment affected more and more by new technologies, the grounding, organization, and implementation of media assistance is in need of more systematic examination, study, and possibly revision. Still, “media reform” remains an important technique by which the media structures of a target society are influenced by external governments and organizations.


By virtue of necessity, a foreign policy of information space is emerging. But for such a policy to be effective, it must be founded on better modes of understanding public opinion abroad and, as well, on an enhanced and dialogic evolution of domestic policy and global understandings. Information involves interchange as a prelude to persuasion. Only with greater sensitivity to entrenched aspects of public opinion abroad, only by adequately processing that information, can an approach be fashioned that enhances national and global security.

A  foreign or multilateral policy of information space must be more thorough, more analytic.  I have not, in this lecture, discussed, for example, the special implications of the Internet.   If such a foreign policy is to be effective, it must begin with an enhanced science of understanding the modes of communications in the zone of concern. There is too little analysis or monitoring that allows the basis for such site-specific understanding.   Low-tech modes of speech—song, sermon, audiocassette—may be more important media than radio, television, and the Internet. In that sense, the need to command the techniques themselves is vital. Political leadership in the field of public diplomacy must be strengthened and its strategies widely debated.

Concerns over information flows are as much part of an alliance against terrorism as concerns over physical activity. Previous balances between the right to seek, receive, and impart information, on the one hand, and national security and public order, on the other, are already being reviewed and readjusted. Long-held perspectives incorporated in human rights doctrines must be rearticulated, refined, and newly defended. Multilateral approaches will emerge for the control of communications techniques used for pro-terrorist purposes in target societies. Increasingly, authorities will ask how media policy approaches before, during, and after armed conflict (as in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo) can be adapted or applied to the new set of terrorism-related challenges. These issues will place new pressures on the institutions of international broadcasting and require a reexamination of the media assistance strategies that were developed over the last decade in transition societies.

War brings an intensified sense of the manner in which populations are conditioned towards conflict, stability, and peace. It is popular to encapsulate the information policy function as a way to change the “hearts and minds” of some critical target demographic. But changing hearts and minds abroad will inevitably involve the transformation of hearts and minds at home. It should not be the case that the effort of any state to affect global perceptions is doomed because of a lack of comprehension, a failure of empathy, and an inadequate sense of the modes and instruments of change. That is why developing a public diplomacy, consistent with long-standing values of freedom of speech, suddenly is a high priority. We cannot and should not depend on the movie industry, the advertising industry, and the private broadcasters to fulfill these vital national security functions.

This brings me back, full circle, to Graham Spry and the Canadian Radio League. No foreign policy of information space can be wholly credible or meaningfully sustained unless there is a domestic policy that fosters a civil society. Enlarging and enriching the public sphere at home is a necessary prerequisite—especially for a free people—as they cope with the challenges of an endlessly changing, complex, and terrifying world. Many explanations exist for why the events of September 11 took so many by surprise. But almost universally accepted as a lesson is the need for a  citizenry to be better informed, to be exposed to a richer diet of critical and relevant information.  Public service broadcasting has long existed to perform this task. Graham Spry saw the need for the CBC in its earlier years.  As a tool for sustained maintenance of public discourse at a high level,   a foundation for a useful interrelationship with the world,  public service broadcasting remains essential today.

[1] Canadian Journal of Communication, v. 24 no.1 (1999), Robert W. McChesney, Graham Spry and the Future of Public Broadcasting. The Radio League emphasized what it regarded as the asinine character of US commercial broadcasting: “At present, the advertisers pay the piper and call the tune,”’ Spry declared. “And what a tune. The tune of North America is that of the peddler boosting his wares”’ (Spry, 1931a]). “Indeed,” Spry wrote to an American reformer, “if the fear of the United States did not exist, it would be necessary, like Voltaire’s God, to invent it” (Spry to Alexander, 1931). Ibid.

[2] The situation in Canada remains one of post-Cold War change. As one veteran said: “We’ve made a conscious decision, not from a governmental perspective but from a programming perspective, that with the Canadian government putting increased emphasis on what we have called the Team Canadas, which are assortments of business and industrial leaders which are going out to various countries to promote their goods and services, that kind of news, rather than just being a news story, was an integral part of reflecting what’s happening in Canada. And when we arrived at RCI last year, we found that was an area that was completely a void and a vacuum, that we didn’t participate in that at all. So as part of trying to build bridges with our various communities including those in Canada, business and industry, I think it’s very important for us to be on those missions […]. Politically it has not been a problem for us, and journalistically it was never an issue.”  While RCI now aims to emphasize the country’s economic strength and cultural diversity, broadcasting to China and the francophonie is likely to increase.

[3] “U.S. Dials Up Radio Network to Reach Young Muslims,” The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, November 27, 2001, p. A24.

[4] Jamie Frederic Metzl, “Popular Diplomacy,” Daedalus, 128, no 2 (spring 1999): 182.

[5] Ibid., p. 192.

[6] Alison des Forges, Leave None To Tell The Story: Genocide in Rwanda (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998).

[7] The quotes are from his article in Foreign Affairs. Metzl has also contributed his views in the Human Rights Quarterly See Jamie Frederic Metzl, “Metzl Response to Ball, Girouard, and Chapman,”Human Rights Quarterly 19:4 (1997); and Jamie Frederic Metzl, “Information Technology and Human Rights” Human Rights Quarterly 18:4 (1996).

[8] See generally Eyal Benvenisti, The International Law of Occupation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).

[9] See, Berlin (Potsdam) Conference, chapter II, sub. A. pt. 10 (1945), reprinted in The Department of State, Germany 1947-1949 The Story in Documents 49 (1950).

[10] Hague Regulations, art. 43. The article in its entirety states: The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and [civic life], while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country. Ibid.

[11] See, ibid. Annex III. Mary Fulbrook, The Divided Nation: A History of Germany, 1918-1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); See Nigel Foster, German Law & Legal System 27 (London: Blackstone Press, 1993).

[12] It may well turn out that differences in speech related policies (among Western democracies at least) is not a function of basic constitutional principles, but rather felt perceptions of threats to security (or the proximity, in an historical sense, of a brush with state-threatening turmoil.

[13] The final version of the anti-terrorism legislation, the Uniting and Strengthening America By Providing Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (H.R. 3162, the “USA PATRIOT Act”) limits judicial oversight of electronic surveillance by: (i) subjecting private Internet communications to a minimal standard of review; (ii) permitting law enforcement to obtain what would be the equivalent of a “blank warrant” in the physical world; (iii) authorizing scattershot intelligence wiretap orders that need not specify the place to be searched or require that only the target’s conversations be eavesdropped upon; and (iv) allowing the FBI to use its “intelligence” authority to circumvent the judicial review of the probable cause requirement of the Fourth Amendment. In November, the foreign ministers of the 43 states of the Council of Europe formally approved the Council’s Convention on Cyber Crime. The treaty is intended to facilitate the collection of information by requiring companies that provide Internet services to collect and maintain information in case it is needed by law enforcement agencies. It would permit international access to such information by governmental authorities in different jurisdictions.

Monroe E. Price

Professor Monroe E. Price is the founder and co-director of the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, at Oxford University as well as the Joseph and Sadie Danciger Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, of which he was the dean from 1982-1991. He was Professor of Law at UCLA until 1982.

Professor Price currently serves as the director of the Howard M. Squadron Program in Law, Media and Society, at Cardozo School of Law and is the founder and editor of the Communications Law in Transition Newsletter.

He was a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton in 2000–2001 and was a Communications Fellow at the John & Mary R. Markle Foundation from 1996 to 1998. He was also a senior fellow of the Media Studies Center of the Freedom Forum in New York City in 1998. His most recent and forthcoming publications include Forging Peace: Intervention, Human Rights, and the Management of Media Space (edited with Mark Thompson, Edinburgh University Press 2002); Media Reform: Democratizing Media, Democratizing the State (edited with Beata Rozumilowicz and Stefaan G. Verhulst, Routledge 2002); Parental Control of Broadcasting (edited with Stefaan G. Verhulst, Lawrence Elrbaum Associates 2001); The V-Chip Debate: Content Filtering from Television to the Internet (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 1998); and Public Service Broadcasting in Transition : A Documentary Reader (edited with Marc Raboy, European Institute for the Media 2001).

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