Getting to know America: supporting foreign journalists in the US

Mitch Polman wrote an interesting article last month on the challenges foreign (non-US) journalists face coming to the United States and reporting here. Borat vs. Murat highlights a critical gap in our global engagement: the failure to facilitate foreign media to get to know America and share this knowledge – as authentic communicators – back to their own countries.

Murat is a television journalist from the Central Asian country of Tajikistan. He is in America and works now for a small poorly funded private press agency called “Asia Plus.” He has also worked for the Tajik state TV channel, “Khovar“. Murat has spoken to me with great eagerness about how he wants to travel around America and film stories about it for his predominantly Muslim country of seven million people. … This summer, the State Department reaffirmed its commitment to providing aid to Tajikstan. It makes sense for the two countries to understand each other. …

Murat is like many foreign journalists I meet in terms of what he wants to see in America — New York, American Indians, etc. I’ve tried telling him that he really needs to move beyond such clichés. I tell him about places in America like Vermont, Austin, New Mexico, Philadelphia, and others that he knows little about. He is a little overwhelmed by how much there is to know, but he is eager to know it all. …

Murat expects to finance his travels across America with grant money. I know all too well how difficult it is to find funds for such a venture. The simple truth is there is no foundation that funds documentaries to help people overseas better understand and appreciate America. There are numerous funding sources for American producers who want to film a project about a foreign society for an American audience, but not the other way around. …

It’s time for those who care about America, especially those who produce documentaries, to turn their talents to making it possible for private sector initiatives to educate and inform overseas audiences about who we really are as a people. We speak a great deal in this country about the need for people to not always rely on our government. We should not be relying on the American government to do the job of telling our country’s story.

Besides encouraging grants from the private and non-profit sector, there’s another avenue that other countries extensively use to broaden awareness: co-production treaties. The US is not a signatory to any coproduction agreements. Might an interesting pathway to explore…

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