Is It Fair To Judge International PR and Media Coverage By American Standards?
Is It Smart?
Culture, values and politics shape news coverage and PR styles around the world. Now is as good a time as ever to explore these questions as news is erupting daily outside our borders: Japan's triple crisis, Mideast pro-democracy uprisings, intervention in Libya, and whatever is next.
As our consumption of offshore news grows, we are increasingly exposed to foreign journalists, PR spokespeople and international experts sharing their expertise and points of view. Who would have imagined Al Jazeera becoming a mainstream source for western media consumption? Are they reporting the news or making the news? Does their editorial agenda align with ours, and with the political sensibilities of American news consumers?
In our post-9/11 world, for example, Mideast spokespeople are acutely aware of negative Western views toward Arabs and Muslims, and may choose their words carefully not to offend. Others speak in the plural voice ("we" or "they") because some cultures consider it rude to express strong personal opinions, regardless of professional competence.
Or, as we follow coverage of the horrific crisis in Japan, it is important to understand that Japanese culture has for centuries revered and protected those in authority and defended major national institutions, and that these values shape communications.
One need not look far examples of how politics impact news operations. A Columbia University J-School graduation speaker recently revealed that his family's lives were threatened for his newspaper's coverage of drug cartel crimes. The Chinese government regularly censored American coverage of critical stories during the Beijing Olympics.
On the corporate front, many offshore companies doing business in North America have communications practices that may not align with American standards or expectations. German or French companies may have global headquarters driving message strategy, and present heavily-accented European executives as U.S. media spokespeople.
On the other hand, some Japanese executives will defer to their American colleagues to show respect for local culture and language. Japanese inclination, for example, is to look down and not directly into the camera, which could be easily (mis)interpreted by Westerners as lacking sincerity or hiding the truth.
Americans have a distinct culture and practice of newsgathering, reporting and PR. Sometimes we are not sufficiently sensitive to the cultural realties that shape information flow in other countries and impact our ability to secure information. Other countries may be put off by American practices, finding our journalists to be pushy and disrespectful; more concerned about being out first with the scoop than about confirming the facts.
As we expand our global engagement, it behooves us as media and PR professionals to understand how cultural differences shape the impression that Americans portray to the rest of the world and, equally important, our ability to bring the world to our American audiences.
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