Channel Would Brand U.S. Abroad
FROM HAL: The following article written by Bryce Zabel
also appeared on VARIETY last week
By Bryce Zabel
They hate us. They really, really hate us.
It's sobering to read the "Gallup Poll of the Islamic
World." Not only do significant numbers think America
itself conducted the 9/11 attacks, but large majorities also
believe their societies are negatively impacted by Western
values. We may believe in our way of life, but we're not making
the case for it.
Clearly, the only realistic response to a practicing terrorist
is a visit from Special Forces. But any long-term strategy
must reduce misunderstandings that breed or sponsor future
Granted, this is not Hollywood's responsibility. In the marketplace
economy, the American entertainment product which does get
sold overseas is, frankly, selected for commercial reasons
and not for public diplomacy.
Still, the idea that 16 months after 9/11, our powerful communications
and entertainment industries aren't playing a significant
role in this national challenge, is a tragic missed opportunity.
Last fall, Hollywood and Washington sat down together for
some highly publicized meetings. Politics and fears of an
unholy propaganda alliance don't make for bold visions. Since
then, panels talked, DVDs got to battleships, celebrities
entertained troops, soldiers paid reduced rates at home, and
the "Wizard of Oz" was even shown at a Kabul orphanage.
Guess what? They still hate us.
With the exception of a few PSAs, we have not truly gotten
in the game of building bridges of cross-cultural understanding.
Meanwhile, the only organization truly tasked with this job,
the Voice of America, remains a government mouthpiece which
some of its own employees think makes outdated, unwatchable
Even the proposed Middle East Television Network, an idea
that's gotten a modest buzz as a competitor to the news monopoly
of Al-Jazeera, will target only a few of the 60 countries
currently thought to support Al-Qaeda, or even other trouble
spots like North Korea. In any case, it will be more U.S.
government produced news, only in Arabic, probably located
America should both re-energize VOA and build the Middle
East Television Network. It can't hurt. But we should do more.
And we should start now.
Globally, America needs to brand herself with at least the
same effort as Coca-Cola. Britain has the BBC. Our side needs
something equally respected. Maybe we should point Washington
in the right direction and create a win/win. So, here's the
The Freedom Channel
High Concept: America's story, told 24-7, around the globe,
by the U.S. news and entertainment industry, free of government
interference, from now on . . .
Imagine a satellite delivered All-Star channel of the best
and most informative existing programming available from broadcasting,
pay, cable and film. Its mission statement advocates the powerful
American-held values of liberty, religious freedom, tolerance,
diversity, democracy, human rights and free speech.
Although probably funded by the government or a non-profit
organization or both, the strings stop there. An advisory
board, drawn from across American society, will choose from
the important work already being done in television and film
and license programs selected from them. It would be transparently
presented so viewers could see who produced each program.
From documentaries and specials to series to movies -- current
and in libraries -- and appropriate originals -- let's put
the best of America out there, not just the best-selling.
This will not ask us to compete against ourselves but to
expand our options. The Freedom Channel means a second use
for our product, helping our bottom line, keeping our people
working. It also showcases product.
Not every episode of every series, for example, would support
the mission statement. Yet if several are licensed, their
exposure in foreign countries could stimulate demand through
other delivery systems. Finally, The Freedom Channel would
not compete in North America.
Let celebrities, average Americans, policy-makers and others
introduce each episode or film in a way which promotes positive
values of friendship and understanding. Put our content in
context. Translate it into all six of the United Nations languages,
Imagine the symbolic power in a news block showcasing journalism
from ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS and CNN together. It would demonstrate
freedom of speech, and also confidence in airing multiple
Whatever form it takes, the important thing is to get started.
Like other channels, we'll use our skills to refine The Freedom
Channel through market research and continual evaluation.
Let's invite Washington back to robustly debate this idea,
or others, that will lessen tensions and help the economy.
Take the boogeyman of propaganda off the table. Put before
us bold action, common cause, and self-help. We won't sway
the extremists, but we could reach moderates and the next
generations of haters.
The Freedom Channel. Doing nothing was never a good option.
It's time to make some new friends.
|About the Author
Bryce Zabel is currently writing pilots for both CBS and
DreamWorks, as well as a series bible for HBO. A former
CNN correspondent, he is also chairman of the Academy
of Television Arts & Sciences.