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Accentuating the positive

Hollywood goes to war, or at least the government wants it on the propaganda front 11/11/2001 07:00:00 PM Eastern

As America's war on terrorism enters its second month, the government is gathering film and TV producers and PR and marketing executives to figure out how the U.S. can win its propaganda battles as well as its military ones.

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, is calling on all types of image-makers to brainstorm how best to pitch the U.S. to other countries, says Hyde spokesman Sam Stratman. Last week, the House of Representatives authorized the creation of Radio Free Afghanistan to directly broadcast American news and propaganda into the country. At press time, the White House was planning to hold a meeting with top Hollywood film and TV producers over the weekend. And the State Department is beginning to work with the Ad Council and other entities to to develop a marketing campaign to sell the U.S.'s image overseas.

Hyde's committee is putting together a Nov. 14 hearing to answer the question posed by Hyde: "How is it that the country that invented Hollywood and Madison Avenue has such trouble promoting a positive image of itself overseas?" The committee also plans to look at whether a structure exists within the U.S. government to "promote an image and do it effectively," Stratman adds.

The committee has asked the Motion Picture Association of America and its head, Jack Valenti, to help it recruit top producers. Valenti himself won't be testifying next week due to scheduling conflicts, but MPAAt will work with the committee going forward. Witnesses scheduled to appear include John Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick; Robert Wehling, former chairman of the Ad Council and a retired global marketing officer for Procter & Gamble; Norman Pattiz, founder and chairman of Westwood One and a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors; and Mouafac Harb, Washington bureau chief of the Al Hayat Newspaper. The hearing is a follow-up to one held Oct. 10, at which Charlotte Beers, the new Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, suggested that she would be willing to launch an international PR campaign to promote America's image.

Beers says State plans to work with the Ad Council to create messages, although that work is just beginning. The Ad Council has created a "Coalition Against Terrorism" following the Crisis Response Team's effort in the days immediately after Sept. 11. The coalition will develop messages to "inform, involve and inspire all Americans to participate in activities that will strengthen our nation and help win the war on terrorism." It also intends to produce ads that focus on protecting freedom and encouraging Americans to participate in activities that aid the war effort.

Michael Sennott, vice chairman and senior partner of The Partnership, will serve as the coalition's communications- strategy chairman.

And the White House is reaching out on its own to movie and TV producers, working to bridge a perceived gap between Republicans and Hollywood's elite. White House staffers in October held a meeting with major players, including actress Sally Field, CBS Television President Les Moonves and independent producer Lionel Chetwynd. Last week, White House top adviser Karl Rove worked with Valenti and Paramount bigwigs Sherry Lansing and Jonathan Dolgen to invite top-level executives to the brainstorming table.

Ideas on how Hollywood can best contribute to the war effort still are percolating, but sources say they include running patriotic trailers before feature films and PSAs on TV.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed 405-2 the bill to create Radio Free Afghanistan, a radio broadcast service to be run by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The measure authorizes the government to spend $27 million on the new service, $10 million of which will be needed to move transmitters into place.

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