That pithy reminder popped out near the conclusion of a January 23 public hearing as the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) issued its 70th annual report on the fine art many P.D. specialists spend their lives fostering —effective international dialogues and exchanges here and abroad: genuine two-way communication in many forums.
Three members of the advisory commission, Chairman Sam Farar, Vice Chairman William J. Hybl and Ann Wedner were briefed at the hearing by senior State Department bureaus of East Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Western hemisphere affairs.
Since 1948, the Commission has advised State Department bureaus, and recently, America’s taxpayer-funded international media. The mission: to support federal agencies and volunteer private citizens in designing and practicing up-to-date public diplomacy that is more cost effective, strategic, efficient and fact-based, year by year. At a recent First Monday Forum, ACPD Executive Director Vivian Walker compared the new report to its 69 predecessors, finding many consistent recommendations.
The ACPD principal recommendations for 2020:
- The appointment of an Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. “The efficacy and cost effectiveness of America’s PD operations”, the advisory commission says, “requires sustained leadership from an Undersecretary who both values the role Public Diplomacy can play in achieving U.S. foreign policy goals and has the management acumen to bring about the structural changes to unleash PD’s full potential.”
- Sustain investments in PD and global media programs, “given the growing importance of information statecraft as contained in the current national security strategy”. In 2018, public diplomacy funding constituted a mere 3.9 percent of the U.S. international affairs budget.
- The United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) previously known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors) should conduct an annual business review of its 61 language services to ensure that Agency resources are allocated properly to meet its priorities. USAGM’s 2018-2022 strategic plan calls for enhanced strategic cooperation between the networks: VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Network and Radio-TV Marti to Cuba.
In its first meeting of this decade, held at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, the ACPD publicly unveiled its latest annual report and sought advice for the year ahead. In the 21st century, listening as well as telling is most effective — as in a genuine sharing of ideas (a telephone chat rather than a one-way megaphone-like conversation).
Examples abound, as the Advisory Commission heard from five senior State Department officers at the January 23 hearing:
- In State’s Young African Leaders’ Initiative, education is a top priority, linking U.S. and African universities, enhancing ties between American health, education, and women’s rights organizations and potential partners on both sides of the Atlantic.
- In South and Central Asia, there have been more than 70 university partnerships between U.S. and Afghanistan since 2010, and 22 cooperative U.S.-Pakistani higher education ventures. In Afghanistan, State and the U.S. Agency for Global Media have been particularly effective in encouraging the growth of independent, objective local media outlets.
- In Latin America, the first bi-national center established under State’s leadership abroad was in Buenos Aires in 1927. Today, State’s Young Latin America Institute (YLAI) trains 50,000 higher education students in the Western hemisphere in media literacy, and one of the themes is countering illegal emigration. State has offered internet access to university students, and continues to be an active partner in Venezuela on line since the U.S. Embassy there had to close because of the ongoing crisis.
- In the turbulent Middle East, State’s Near East Area Office has worked with local officials and USAID trainers to begin restoring war-ravaged cultural monuments in Iraq and Syria. Jordan last month signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
On the same day as the Advisory Commission met, New York Times reporter Isabel Kershner in Jerusalem filed a dispatch that adroitly reflected the enduring power of sharing cultures across national boundaries. Only in this case, it illustrated the power of sharing images not only between civilizations but over the ages.
Kershner’s article was headlined: “Emojis Meet Hieroglyphs: If King Tut Could Text.” She went on to display how an exhibit at the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem explores the stunning similarities between the hieroglyphs of antiquity and emoji, the lingua franca of the digital age.
It’s illustrated by ancient and modern images of two men waving at each other, one a sketch of a scantily clad Egyptian man in the pre-Christian era, armed raised, waving at a fully dressed 21st century man, waving back at his ancient counterpart. Another panel contrasts an image of a slender Egyptian horse with a curly tale, adjacent to a modern, somewhat bulkier 21st century horse, also facing left, each with remarkably similar curled tails.
“From the Valley of Kings, to the Kings of Silicon Valley,” the Times concludes, “pictograms rule the day.” Public diplomacy, it seems, spans millenia.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More