Interview on CNN's NewsNight with Aaron BrownCharlotte Beers, Under Secretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy
January 16, 2003
(Aired 10:00 p.m. EST)
MR. BROWN: Ms. Beers, the State Department spokesman today disputed the essence, it seems to me, of the Journal reporting, which said that the government had abandoned the campaign and that it had met stiff resistance in the Muslim world.
Is it correct to say that the campaign has not been abandoned, and is it to correct to say it has not met stiff resistance?
UNDER SECRETARY BEERS: I think it's quite correct to say that it was not suspended. Buried in the article is the truth, which is that this initiative which is just part of our Shared Value work was intended to be a Ramadan offering, the highest viewing of television at the time when people reflect on such subjects.
So we had people in many documentaries talking about their experience of being Muslims in America. So that part is actually quite wrong. That campaign ended when Ramadan ended. And although those messages will have another life -- an extended life -- because we'll take out the Ramadan reference, and many parts of the world will be using those messages on their own initiative.
Embassies around the world have shown a great interest in them and I think they'll have a much longer extended life than we first thought.
MR. BROWN: And the second part, the question of resistance?
UNDER SECRETARY BEERS: Yeah? I think that when you seek, as we are, almost for the first time, to reach past the government and the elites and talk directly to the people in the country, you are waging a bit of a communication war. And in some of the governments, there was resistance to the fact that the United States was going straight to the people in their country, in the sense that they called it propaganda and they weren't comfortable with the idea of airing it.
We managed, I think, to get to -- for instance, in Indonesia we've managed to get to 90 percent of the people with an awareness of these messages, and we were able to evaluate what kind of communication process this is.
MR. BROWN: And -- okay. And that begs the question, I will ask it, what kind of a communication process is it? How effective is it? And how do you measure how effective it is?
UNDER SECRETARY BEERS: Well, there are traditional ways of evaluating campaigns that work like this that go into broad-based, mainstream communication vehicles like television, print and radio, all of which we use.
But the purpose of this effort is actually to create dialogue between the people of that country and this country. And the purpose of the dialogue is to talk about those things which we have in common. It's not meant to be a policy communication. So the evaluation rests in did we start a dialogue and have we registered the message. In this case, the message was a story about religious tolerance in the United States. And we know this story is a very important one to those people.
What we've learned so far is that they heard the message and they were quite surprised that there were mosques in the United States, that there's a Muslim woman who's allowed to be a teacher and she could also wear her scarf with great comfort, and many parts of the stories they picked out as newsworthy to them.
I think the basic message they came back with us is, "Can you tell me more?" And we intend to keep that dialogue going on that basis.
MR. BROWN: From the beginning, the criticism, the most pointed criticism of the ads, it seems to me, have centered around the message itself, that the issue here is not whether Muslims live comfortably in America; the issue to most of the Muslim world is American policy in the Middle East. And as you indicated, the spots don't deal with that at all.
UNDER SECRETARY BEERS: No, but that is exactly the reason we're doing these spots. If you listen carefully -- and we do that now -- you learn in every piece of research that for people in these countries, the number one issue -- not even the number three, not even the number six issue -- are foreign affairs. Their number one, two and three issues are their family, their opportunities, potential for their children, education. It's not too surprising. We need to open conversations with these people on these subjects that are vitally important to them.
The number one issue in the Muslim country, among the families we talked to, is faith. And they believe that we do not have an equivalent interest in faith, which is not really true in the United States. Nor do they think we treat their people well. So regardless of what the governments think or the highly sophisticated elites know about this subject, we -- it was very clear that people were living with many misperceptions about the way Muslims are treated in this country. That's worth talking about.
MR. BROWN: Well, Ms. Beers, thank you for your time. It's good to talk to you. It's an interesting effort.
UNDER SECRETARY BEERS: Thank you.
MR. BROWN: Thank you.
Released on January 17, 2003