1.DEBATES COMING UP: The nonprofit, non-partisan Commission on Public Debates (CPD) has released the schedule for the important 2020 presidential election debates. The three presidential debates will be September 29 in Cleveland; October 15 in Miami; and October 22 in Nashville. The one vice presidential debate will be October 7 in Salt Lake City.
The Commission’s priority is on educating U.S. voters, but the public diplomacy community knows how important the debates are to America’s image. Veteran PD officers realize how the debates have always been important events around which to develop messages and host events that explain U.S. society and the democratic election process to non-American audiences. Sadly, this year due to the pandemic, PD opportunities through our overseas missions will be greatly limited and many opportunities will be lost.
The Commission, which has existed since 1987, has long provided helpful “technical assistance to emerging democracies and others interested in establishing debate traditions in their countries.” According to the CPD, its staff in recent years has worked with groups from countries such as Bosnia, Burundi, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Haiti, Jamaica, Lebanon, Niger, Nigeria, Peru, Romania, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, and Ukraine. Teaming with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), for example, the CPD has shared “debates best practices” with some 45 countries. For background on the CPD and on its international work, go to www.debates.org and www.debatesinternational.org.
2. “MADE IN HOLLYWOOD, CENSORED BY BEIJING”: PEN America, the anti-censorship organization dedicated to open cultural and artistic expression, has issued a very detailed report that tries to understand “how one of the world’s most censorious regimes is extending its influence over the global locus for filmmaking here in the United States, shaping what is perhaps the world’s most influential artistic and cultural medium.” The study – which will interest movie fans, China watchers, and human rights advocates – is timely and important given the fact that U.S.-China tensions across the board have increased recently, and Hollywood badly needs access to China since that country of some 1.4 billion is poised to become the world’s biggest movie market.
The report analyzes how and why China is able to influence Hollywood. (A section of the report discusses “Mulan,” Disney’s new made-in-China-and-in-New Zealand, live-action feature film which has stirred up so much controversy and which has just been released on the Disney+ streaming platform.) Among the report’s overall findings:
“Today, Chinese censors are playing a role in determining the content or message of movies that are released worldwide: this represents the risk that only movies that please one of the world’s most censorious regimes find their way to movie screens across the globe.”
The report makes several specific recommendations on what Hollywood, and its powerful trade group, the Motion Picture Association (MPA), can do to “take more obvious and proactive action against censorship.” For the full text, go to: https://pen.org/report/made-in-hollywood-censored-by-beijing.
3. OLD U.S. LEGATION IN TANGIER PREPARES FOR BICENTENNIAL: One of America’s great overseas historic sites and public diplomacy gems is the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM) in the historic American Legation in the old medina of “exotic” Tangiers in northern Morocco. Presented to the United States by Sultan Moulay Suliman way back in 1821, the U.S. Government site served as an American diplomatic post until 1961 when it became a language school for the Foreign Service Institute and later the Peace Corps. In 1976, the old Moorish-style building was saved by a group of American friends and converted into a museum. In 1982, it was designated as the first and only “National Historic Landmark” outside of the United States.
Today, TALIM, a non-profit organization with retired Foreign Service Officer John Davison as Director since 2014, manages the multi-purpose space as a lively museum, research library, and educational and cultural outreach center to promote Morocco-U.S. friendship. In a unique arrangement, the Department of State continues to own and maintain the building as culturally significant property. For a virtual tour of this wonderful, restored facility, go to www.legation.org.
On September 4, 2020, DACOR President Paul Denig organized an online event for DACOR members that featured Davison live from Tangiers. He discussed TALIM’s rich history and plans to observe the legation’s bicentennial in 2021. For a brief history of U.S.-Morocco relations, go to history.state.gov/countries/morocco.
4. “CONGRESS’S HIDDEN STRENGTHS”: This July 30, 2020 think tank report from the independent and nonpartisan Center for a New American Security (CNAS) will remind the public diplomacy community of the important oversight role that an engaged Congress ideally can and should play in big matters of war and peace and also smaller matters such as exchange program budgets. Written by CNAS President Richard Fontaine and Adjunct Senior Fellow Loren DeJonge Schulman, the report discusses the widely recognized problems that result when Congress is inactive or indifferent and power gets over concentrated in the executive. The piece is focused on wielding informal tools of national security oversight, but still it can help PD practitioners appreciate the many tools in the “oversight toolkit” and better understand how Congress can use information, hearings, CODELs, media engagement, meetings with foreign officials, etc. to shape public debate and offer policy alternatives. It is a reminder, too, of the need for personnel in agencies like the State Department to form relationships with their Hill counterparts so each doesn’t treat the other as an adversary. For the report, go to https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/congresss-hidden-strengths.
5. SENIOR CITIZEN DIPLOMACY: AARP – formerly the American Association of Retired Persons – is well known for its influential domestic lobbying and communications and marketing on behalf of 38 million members ages 50 and older. For nearly 30 years, AARP has been the leading civil society organization dealing with issues of older Americans at national, state and community levels.
Less known and appreciated are its citizen diplomacy efforts, including collaboration with the UN. Let me cite but two examples of AARP’s ambitious international agenda focused on how COVID-19 is affecting seniors. Recently AARP CEO JoAnn Jenkins held – and her organization widely disseminated – a “historic conversation” with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the pandemic and how input from older people is essential for a better world. Also, AARP teamed up with Daybreaker, the global dance movement and wellness community active in 28 cities around the world, to present a virtual “social dis-dance” party to connect seniors during the pandemic. For background, go to: aarpinternational.org/initiative/aarp-at-the-un.
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.