What can we learn from Al Jazeera’s public diplomacy?

Shawn Powers and Eytan Gilboa give very detailed analysis about how Al Jazeera,  emerges as one of the most important news organizations in the world today. One important perspective is that Al Jazeera claims to represent to the whole Arab and Muslim, and works for its Arab citizenry. While at the same time, it also covers the political events of geopolitical importance to Western nations such as war in Iraq.

But one interesting thing about the overwhelming popularity of Al Jazeera within the Middle East, is partially due to the poor standing of most Arab national media systems. Most of the Arab media are controlled by corrupt and ineffective regimes. Due to Al Jazeera’s unique approach towards reporting the news–to be honest and fair, so many people trust the network if they want to know what is going on in the world.

Compared to BBC, Al Jazeera has a different role and it works as the agent of change. While Western media label themselves as a platform for debate, but not mobilize forces or mobilize the streets against government; Al Jazeera is moving towards an agent of democratic governance. It provides a valuable place for intellectuals, thinks and critics to speak their mind. Not only does Al Jazeera  opens its door to the highly educated people, it also promote two- way communication. It pays much attention to how their messages are interacting with the audiences. In their talk show programs, they always offer the opinion and the counter-opinion. They are trying to deliver the message in an impartial way, but also very sensitive to local sensibilities.  In terms of Al Jazeera’s external outreach, as Joanne Tucker, managing director of the network’s English Web site, suggests that “There was a need to reach the West….A huge slice of life gets overlooked.. We are trying to provide a bridge to the Arab world. So Al Jazeera’s English version serves as the conduit to promote mutual understanding between different peoples and different cultures.So what can we learn from Al Jazeera’ public diplomacy? Professor Hayden talked about China endeavor to reach the West and promote mutual understanding by utilizing its public diplomacy.  Xinhua news agency—China’s state news agency has moved to the Times Square with the ambition to enhance its “soft power”. But many Westerners just doubt whether the Xinhua news agency can convey a Chinese perspective on global events impartially or not. Or is it just another format of Chinese propaganda.


China, like most Arab countries still controls the national media system. But those Arab countries at least has Al-Jazeera, who is trying to be independent from those Arab countries’ political interests, to promote democracy and provide a platform for debate. But China still cannot cultivate  the honest and fair news environment. So if the news agency such as Xinhua, do not have very clear objectives and missions in terms of conveying messages, how can people trust the network? We are moving towards the new public diplomacy: understanding communication as dialogue. So if Xinhua cannot set up its strategic communication plan, it might doom to be a failure to bridge the cultural role between China and the Western world.


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