Frustrated the US government’s message denouncing an anti-Islam film is failing to be heard, the State Department is turning to social media and television ads to try to stem global protests.
Leading the way, the US embassy in Islamabad has edited and produced a 30-second TV advertisement broadcast across seven networks in Pakistan in a bid to dissociate the US government from the inflammatory movie.
It has also compiled a separate YouTube film of ordinary Americans condemning “Innocence of Muslims,” an amateur film believed to have been produced by US-based extremist Christians which mocks the Prophet Muhammad.
Some US$70,000 (RM214,865) was spent to air the ad, which features President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“After the (anti-Islam) video came out there was concern in lots of bodies politic, including in Pakistan, whether this represented the views of the US government,” Nuland told journalists.
“So in order to ensure we reached the largest number of Pakistanis, some 90 million as I understand in this case with these spots, it was the judgment that this was the best way to do it.”
Nuland said such TV ads have been used in other countries in the past and were also adopted in 2005 in Pakistan in the wake of a huge earthquake. But it was unclear whether the new ad would be shown in other nations.
Even before the latest convulsion of anti-US rage, Obama had sought to restore relations with the Muslim world shattered by the previous administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In a landmark speech in Cairo just after he took office in 2009, Obama said he would seek a “new beginning,” and purge years of “suspicion and discord.”
But three years on and despite a huge US administration outreach to Muslims, it seems the message is failing to get across, and polls show confidence in Obama and overall favourable attitudes in the Muslim world towards the US sliding.
“I think what we need is more tolerance for each other’s views,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told CNN on Thursday.
“We need to be able to give mutual space for us to be able to demonstrate what is culturally, religiously important to us and… not to judge each other for that.”
But she took issue with the guarantees enshrined in the US constitution.
“I think it’s not good enough to say it’s free speech, it should be allowed. I think if this does provoke action against American citizens or Americans anywhere else in the world then maybe we do need to think how much freedom is OK.”
In a separate move, the US embassy in Islamabad also put together a YouTube video of ordinary Americans condemning the inflammatory film.
Nuland said the idea came from other embassies who said that despite the high-level denunciations, many people “still think that the American people harbor this negative view of Islam.”
They had asked for “more video of some of these Americans and particularly religious leaders who are standing up and saying this isn’t us, this isn’t who we are,” she said.
Neither move seemed to have borne fruit on Thursday as thousands of protesters clashed with police close to Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave in chaotic scenes that left at least 50 people injured.
And Nuland agreed the department would have to look at the effectiveness of its outreach.
“Something that we’ll have to look at is what means did we use to make sure that publics around the world understood where the US government stands, and were those effective,” she said.
The ad shows clips taken from speeches by Clinton and Obama since the violence flared last week in some 20 countries, including in Libya, where the US ambassador was among four Americans killed.
A senior official said some Pakistani stations had carried the ad free of charge, while others used it as a paid public service announcement and labelled it as “paid content.”