The Obama administration is launching a media- and public-outreach program to improve Palestinian opinion of U.S. policy – a project that also seeks to promote the U.S. role in financing “Palestinian development and building the future Palestinian State,” a federal contracting document reveals.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, through its Development Outreach and Communications Office, is overseeing U.S. State Department efforts to change its image among Palestinians.
USAID’s strategy includes the delivery – carried out by a private-sector contractor – of U.S. government-approved feature articles and video productions to media outlets and to pass them off as news coverage.
The selected contractor primarily will be tasked with influencing Palestinian, pan-Arab and, to a lesser degree, international news organizations, while also directly engaging Palestinians via “community” events.
The agency recently released a draft Request for Proposals, solicitation #RFP294-2011-210, seeking comments from potential contractors on the viability of its preliminary plan.
Until fairly recently, according to the RFP, few Palestinians knew that USAID since 1995 has “provided more than [$]3.4 billion in assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
USAID points to a comparison of 2009 and 2010 poll results, which indicate an 8 percent jump in the number of Palestinians “who have heard of both USAID and the U.S. Agency for International Development” and a corresponding rise in the percentage of those who recognized the USAID logo.
Likewise, whereas in 2009 only 31 percent of Palestinians were aware that USAID was implementing projects in their area, the level of awareness rose to 44 percent by 2010, according to the RFP.
USAID attributes that heightened consciousness of U.S. efforts to previous communications outreach programs, but it says many Palestinians nonetheless remain wary of U.S. intentions.
There is a growing percentage of the population that has flat-out refused U.S. assistance, a development that otherwise contrasts elevated USAID name and logo recognition, the agency laments in the document.
“Despite this growing awareness, the 2010 survey indicates that the number of Palestinians refusing aid from the American people increased to 33 percent from 27 percent in 2009,” the agency acknowledges. “Also, a majority of Palestinians (54 percent) believe that the motive behind aid from the United States Government is political rather than humanitarian.”
USAID, therefore, is reaching out to contractors capable of stemming the negative perceptions.
The selected vendor will carry out various media and public awareness activities, ranging from the cultivation of relationships with regional and global news outlets to the distribution of USAID-branded “visibility items.”
The RFP stops short of calling for the exclusion of journalists who are not overtly sympathetic to USAID and Palestinian causes. The document, however, explicitly advocates a reporter-filtering process to accommodate U.S. government needs.
Indeed, the RFP calls on the contractor to selectively, “Identify friendly or potentially friendly journalists and organize visits to USAID projects for Palestinian and international journalists and community representatives, as per the instructions of the Outreach Office.”
The media outreach segment of the project entails the traditional acquisition of print, billboard and broadcast advertising of USAID endeavors.
But the plan also calls on the contractor to create and successfully place “news” products for public consumption – products that are distinct from ads and public service announcements:
“In coordination with the Outreach Office, the contractor will produce and publish or broadcast at least 6 success stories and project features a year in local newspapers, on local radio and TV, as well as design at least once a year special paid newspaper ads or inserts to showcase USAID’s assistance activities.”
The contractor, likewise, must produce video news releases, or VNRs, for broadcast via Arab satellite stations.
A corollary component of the initiative will assess the “internet and social media habits of Palestinians and the Arab world.”
The goal of that effort is to enable USAID and the U.S. Mission to more effectively leverage platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The selected contractor will be responsible for monitoring overall media coverage of USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, the provision of English translations and statistical analysis of that coverage to agency officials, and subsequent advisement on how to counteract negative reporting.
“In addition to providing monitoring, it is expected that the contractor shall make its own assessments of the coverage and suggest communication strategy modifications in order to improve the volume and tone of media coverage of USAID activities,” the RFP says.
Public outreach events will target “marginalized communities” with a particular focus on Palestinian women and girls as well as all youth from 16 to 30 years of age.
“These events include, but are not limited to, Palestinian Mothers’ Day celebrations, International Youth Day events, community sports events, school outreach activities, and trainings and contests in the fields of sports, arts, IT, and media.”
Finally, the project will involve buying, stocking and distributing “high-quality visibility items branded with the USAID logo.”
Possible items include basketballs, baseball caps, notebooks, pens, schoolbags, soccer balls, tee shirts and even computer USB cords.
USAID expects to award a two-year base period contract followed by a two-year option and an additional one-year option period. The agency did not disclose an estimated cost of the project.
USAID, which provided a five-day comment period on the draft RFP ending July 15, expects to release a formal RFP in the coming weeks.