ABC managing director Mark Scott’s speech on the proposed expansion of the ABC’s international presence, “Global ABC: Soft Diplomacy and the World of International Broadcasting”, should not go unnoticed. The speech ends: “We need to continue to put Australia on display … and at the ABC, we are willing and ready to play our part.”

But what “part” should the ABC play? While declaring Australia Network and Radio Australia to be “editorially and operationally independent of government”, Scott says now he wants to use the ABC to “underpin soft diplomacy efforts. Putting your nation’s culture, values and policies on show”.

Scott’s revealing use of the word “policies” opens up the ABC to becoming a mouthpiece, hidden as journalism, for policies of the government of the day. Scott would argue that using “public diplomacy” to expose government policy to the Asia-Pacific region does not imply that the ABC endorses those policies.

However, Scott approvingly paraphrases American professor of journalism and public diplomacy, Phillip Seib, when he states: “It is no longer sufficient to woo other governments; their public constituencies are more crucial. A hostile public undermines friendships between governments, making it difficult to achieve policy goals ranging from trade to defence alliances and creating an environment in which hatred, violence and even terrorism can grow.”

Scott has made it fundamentally clear that he is comfortable with the ABC being used to help the government “achieve policy goals”. These include, according to Scott, wooing the public to help achieve policy goals of trade and defence alliances.

The “soft public diplomacy” Scott promotes has gained much importance to governments due to the international public’s greatly increasing ability to get uncontrolled and unfiltered news, information and opinion through the internet. “Public diplomacy” is governments’ effort to regain the ear of an ever-better informed international public.

As this “public diplomacy” idea gains currency, Professor Seib has set out why it is important. “When policy determinations are made, the world may learn about them within minutes,” writes Seib in the latest issue of Perspectives journal. “A parallel public diplomacy plan must be ready for implementation, and that means public diplomats must participate fully in the policy making process.”

And in case you weren’t listening, Seib emphasises, “Public diplomacy cannot proceed along its own path. It must be directly linked to policy and enhance that policy.”

So there you have it — the ABC is headed down the path of correcting the unwashed public’s mind that has been led astray by alternative independent news and opinion on the internet.

The key question then is, what policies should the ABC’s programs be “enhancing”? Well let’s take a quick look at some of those promoting the idea of using the media to promote “public diplomacy”.

The Perspectives journal in which this latest Seib piece on public diplomacy appears is published by the innocuous sounding Layalina Productions Inc. No it’s not Eric Clapton’s music publisher but a body that “produces programming for broadcast to the Arab world”. Layalina was founded by former Reagan Administration Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Fairbanks. On its board of counsellors sits a phalanx of right-wing US supporters of interventionist US foreign policy, including Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lawrence Eagleburger, James Schlesinger, Brent Scowcroft, George P. Shultz, and other oil industry and defence industry businessmen, ambassadors and diplomats, including one with considerable experience in the cold war propaganda unit Radio Free Europe.

Scott supports expanding the ABC’s role in promoting “public diplomacy”. Of the ABC’s Australia Network, which Aunty runs “on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs”, Scott states: “It should project images and perceptions of Australia in an independent, impartial manner; foster public understanding of Australia, its people and its strategic and economic interests; and raise awareness of our economic and trade capabilities.”

Note here Scott’s idea that “public diplomacy” should promote Australia’s strategic interests.

He concludes: “This is a contemporary statement of the value of public diplomacy. It also is a statement that matches the values of the ABC.”

The determination of Australia’s strategic interests is not a process without some controversy — at present the Australian government has decided that it is in our strategic interest to fight on one side in the Afghanistan civil war, as requested by the US. Given Scott’s favouring of “public diplomacy”, how should the ABC treat the Afghanistan war? Should Aunty do an obsequious embed with the Australian SAS, or should she report more fully on civilian deaths that result from our involvement?

Scott states that the ABC is not “a puppet of the United States”. But if the ABC is to use “public diplomacy” to push the strategic interests of Australia — and consequently those countries to which Australia ties itself — what is the difference?

On a final journalistic note, curiously Scott misnames the book that was the source of the quote from Professor Seib as Toward a New Public Diplomacy. However, the full title of Professor Seib’s book deserves to be stated: “Toward a New Public Diplomacy: Redirecting U.S. Foreign Policy”.