Tell Congress U.S. Has to Do More to Sell America to Muslim World

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WASHINGTON ( -- Advertising and entertainment executives today told a House committee that the U.S. could do a much better job of getting the message of America across to the Middle East.

The executives, speaking before a House International Relations Committee hearing, were in agreement that the government need to express America's diversity, values and point of view better, but disagreed as to how to do it.

Robert Wehling, who retired as global marketing officer for Procter & Gamble Co., said an advertising campaign could be very effective. However, he warned the committee that a campaign based on Washington attitudes without "considerable" local research and without using local ad agencies wouldn't work.

Message won't 'resonate'
"It is

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unlikely that there is a single message that will resonate throughout the Arab world," said Mr. Wehling, who urged the government to hire an international ad agency before crafting local messages.

One tip he offered for fighting terrorism was to aim at women, particularly mothers, tired of violence.

Other media executives had their own views.

John Romano, a Hollywood producer and writer, warned against propaganda. He said the problem in the Middle East is that the American movies and TV shows that are the most commercially successful aren't the programs that present a balanced view of America.

Bill of Rights show
His advice was that the U.S. should see that shows that fairly present America, faults and all, make it on to media in the Middle East. Mr. Romano said programs such as The Practice, which has a multicultural cast and presents provocative problems, would be ideal, but he also suggested the government might consider sponsor original programming dramatizing the issues in the Bill of Rights.

Norman Pattiz, founder-chairman of Westwood One, said the problem was that the U.S. wasn't even in the game in the Middle East. The government's current message, which is aimed at multiple countries, is broadcast on hard-to-hear shortwave now outmoded in an age of satellite TV, the Internet and local radio.

Mr. Pattiz said the U.S. needed to offer separate messages to different audiences using 24-hour services.

John W. Leslie Jr., chairman of Weber Shadwick Worldwide, said the U.S. has to be careful about what it tries to sell.

Blame bin Laden
"It is unrealistic and probably counterproductive to suggest that in the short term we can sell America's values to the Arab street," he said. "We can make a strong case that Osama bin Laden and terrorist organizations in the Muslim world haven't just hijacked airplanes, they are trying to hijack Islam itself."

Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said the U.S. needs to reexamine and expand its efforts to use public diplomacy, and he would likely offer legislation next year to either increase funding or provide additional authority. He offered no immediate details.

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