1. TURBULENCE AND TRANSITION CONTINUE: This time they directly impact public diplomacy and America’s international media efforts. A new CEO, Michael Pack, finally confirmed by the Senate, has been installed at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), and the heads of four USAGM entities – Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Open Technology Fund – have been unceremoniously removed. Earlier, both the director and deputy director of Voice of America (VOA) resigned.
Pack, a conservative filmmaker and former Worldnet director with experience at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Council on the Humanities, has moved quickly to reassure staff of his commitment to “honoring the VOA’s charter, missions of the grantees and independence of the heroic journalists around the world.” The PD community will be watching closely to see how he and his new management team perform and how restructuring plays out. The stakes are high given the U.S. foreign policy, credibility and image challenges, as well as the “firewall” and agency staff morale issues.
The concerns are obvious, as a timely “The American Interest” piece titled “It’s Not Broke! And You’re Not Fixing It!” by Prof. Martha Bayles of Boston College and former RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin has pointed out. Their June 18th analysis concluded:
Throughout its 75-year history, the USAGM system has, with some lapses, “reported truthfully about global, regional, and local events, while at the same time offering a mostly truthful account of America’s interests, intentions, and ideas. Truth-telling is a hard principle for any government to follow, because all governments lie to some extent. But – this is important – they don’t all lie to the same extent. Authoritarian regimes and criminal gangs do everything they can to crush the distinction between objective truth and official fiction. The U.S. government should do everything it can to uphold it. This means playing the long game. It has taken decades for the USAGM system to build up the trust and credibility it now enjoys. It would take only days to tear it down.”
For the full article, go to: the-american-interest.com/2020/06/18/its-not-broke-and-youre-not-fixing-it/.
2. HIGH-PRIORITY CONCERNS TO U.S. DIPLOMATS: The times are challenging for diplomats and for those who follow their management and personnel issues. Recent statements from two non-governmental organizations are worth a read to keep up on a few of the fast-changing concerns. The prestigious American Academy of Diplomacy, a non-partisan and nongovernmental organization of former senior career and non-career diplomats, has quickly reacted to the recent dismissal by President Trump of the State Department Inspector General with a call for accountability. Stressing that “IGs must be independent and free to do their jobs without political or other pressure,” the statement endorses three principles and calls on the Administration and the Congress to quickly take three urgent actions. It was jointly signed by Academy Chairman Thomas R. Pickering, Vice Chairman Marc Grossman, and President Ronald E. Neumann. See the text at academyofdiplomacy.org.
Another private, nonprofit organization, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), has spoken out, this time in support of equal civil rights for all Americans. In a June 18 statement, AFSA welcomed the landmark victory from the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia declaring that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender employees from workplace discrimination. Noting that “while our history on this is not perfect, AFSA is proud to be a longtime supporter of LGBTIQ rights in the Foreign Service.” According to AFSA, which represents 31,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees, “Our diplomatic corps should be representative of the melting pot that is our nation, and that is impossible without the contributions of LGBTIQ members of the Foreign Service.” For the press release, go to: afsa.org/afsa-welcomes-supreme-court-decision-lgbtiq-workplace-protections.
3. LISTENING AND UNDERSTANDING MORE: PD professionals appreciate public opinion research as a planning and evaluation tool and as a means to help policymakers understand problems, attitudes and trends. They also know how useful it is to look at credible, non-American research to see how others view us. One important European study worthy of U.S. attention during this unprecedented time of pandemic and governance problems is “The Democracy Perception Index”, released June 15, 2020 by Dalia Research in Berlin and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation. The latter is headed by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO chief and Danish Prime Minister. Part of the world’s largest annual study of democracy, the study showed a disconnect between citizens’ expectations and their governments.
Surveying more than 120,000 people in 53 countries, the research found that “78 percent of people believe democracy is important, yet only 53 percent believe their country is democratic.” This important gap, the “Perceived Democratic Deficit,” represents how much governments are living up to expectations. Some of the other key findings concern how the U.S. is viewed. America’s global impact on democracy gets mixed reviews: “The world remains split about whether the U.S.’s global influence has a positive or negative influence on democracy around the world: 44% say it has a positive influence, 38% say negative.” Only a third of Europeans believe America has a positive impact on global democracy, compared with half who say it has a negative impact.
The study shows that “the overall impact of the U.S.’s influence has taken a dramatic downturn in China,” and “overall opinion of the U.S.’s global influence has also declined in the U.S. itself.” Finally, “when asked to assess China’s and the U.S.’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, almost all countries rate China’s response as much better.” To see the findings, visit: https://daliaresearch.com/blog/democracy-perception-index-2020/.
4. AN “ARMCHAIR DISCUSSION” ABOUT UNICEF: While the Administration seems to be struggling with messaging over its decision to end funding for WHO in the midst of a pandemic, it is good to see that it is maintaining very good ties with at least one other UN agency, UNICEF, the world body which works in some 190 countries and territories to help and protect children. Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF executive director, passionately explained her agency’s cooperation with USAID and other bilateral and multilateral organizations during a June 16th “armchair discussion” hosted by CSIS via Zoom. Well known in Washington, Fore was appointed to head UNICEF in 2018 after holding such senior government positions as Director of the U.S. Mint, Under Secretary of State for Management, and USAID Administrator. To view her discussion of UNICEF’s challenges and global agenda, go to csis.org/events/armchair-discussion-unicef-executive-director-henrietta-fore.
UNICEF is a good multilateral organization to study because it has long had a good reputation for its strategic communication programs, which include effective use of celebrities as “goodwill ambassadors”; terrific grassroots support through national committees, such as the U.S. Fund for UNICEF; highly successful campaigns such as trick-or-treat fundraising and sale of greeting cards; and distribution of an annual “State of the World’s Children” report to increase awareness of children’s problems, such as malnutrition, lack of access to safe water or education, child abuse, parental unemployment and refugee status.
5. “IDEAS FESTIVAL” GOES ALL-DIGITAL: By now, we all are all used to hearing that yet another professional, cultural, educational or entertainment/sports event that we were looking forward to has been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. The Library of Congress’ popular National Book Festival, for example, has been cancelled as a big, in-person D.C. event, but it will be held virtually the weekend of September 25-27. Details to be announced.
Another famous annual event is the summer “Ideas Festival” that the Aspen Institute has been running for years out in Colorado.
The bad news is that this year’s in-person festival will not be held June 28-July 2. But the good news is that it will be held virtually – and it will streaming for free. It will be available to anyone, anywhere. A long list of big-name speakers who will discuss a range of challenging issues and hopefully offering some fresh ideas and solutions every evening over those dates. Many of the inspiring or provocative speakers are well-known to the PD world. The list includes such experts as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Madeleine Albright, Nick Burns, Andrea Mitchell, Admiral William McRaven, Walter Isaacson, Erik Larsen, Maria Ressa, Michael Eric Dyson, and Susan Goldberg. For details of this all-digital gab fest, go to: aspenideas.org/pages/register. The Festival is expected to return to Aspen in 2021.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.