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Matt Armstrong's blog on public diplomacy, international journalism, and the struggle against propaganda

The Smith-Mundt Act: A legislative history from 1953 by Burton Paulu

Updated February 19, 2015. Originally published December 24, 2008.

This 1953 Journalism Quarterly article by Burton Paulu entitled “Smith-Mundt Act- A legislative history” (3.7mb PDF) is a good read for anyone interested in the subject of public diplomacy, including exchanges of all kinds and international media, and the Smith-Mundt Act. It is an interesting contemporary overview of the debates over ‘public diplomacy’ immediately prior to the establishment of the United States Information Agency. The support from State for these activities had waned considerably and several former supporters of empowering State with these tools were beginning to reconsider whether the Department was capable of effectively running these programs. The debates Mr. Paulu describes have a striking resemblance to modern discussions, particularly those between 9/11 and 2010.

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There is a new Executive Director of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy is charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics. The Commission formulates and recommends to the President, the Secretary of State, and Members of Congress policies and programs to carry out the public diplomacy functions vested in the State Department, Broadcasting Board of Governors, and other government agencies, as well as appraising the effectiveness of the public diplomacy policies and programs carried out by government agencies.

There are seven members on the Commission, with “not more than four members may be from one political party.” In February, the White House sent to the Senate four nominations for the Commission. The Commission also includes an Executive Director hired as a civil servant on a two-year appointment.

Today, Matt Armstrong, author and publisher of MountainRunner.us, was sworn in as the Executive Director of the Advisory Commission. The immediate impact is the suspension of blogging, including the publishing of guest posts, at MountainRunner.us.

You may reach the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy at 202-203-7463 or by email at pdcommission@state.gov. Visit the website at http://state.gov/pdcommission.

And for your bit of trivia and the “obligatory” mention of Smith-Mundt: The Commission was established by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 as a result of a June 1947 amendment by Rep. Everett M. Dirksen (R-IL), later Senator Dirksen.

Academia and Public Diplomacy: a new relationship

ArmstrongPDWG2011There was something new at the 2011 International Studies Association conference in Montreal, Canada: a working group on public diplomacy. Organized by Craig Hayden, assistant professor at American University, and co-chaired by Kathy Fitzpatrick, professor at Quinnipiac University, it was a unique discussion to create a community of scholars across the many disciplines that comprise “public diplomacy.”

Keynotes were given by Matt Armstrong and Maureen Cormack, Executive Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Congratulations to Craig for a terrific, productive and long overdue working group. I’ll leave it to the participants to highlight the discussions of the day. Hopefully we will see more of this type of event to increase collaboration, understanding, and relevancy of public diplomacy within and with academia.

Bringing Public Diplomacy 2.0 to the next level

In the realm of public diplomacy reports, there are too few that should be on your required reading list. “Social Media Strategy: Bringing Public Diplomacy 2.0 to the next level” (820kb PDF) is an exception. Written by Carolijn van Noort, a former intern at the Department of Public Diplomacy, Press & Culture of the Consulate General of the Netherlands, this 53-page report is a terrific analysis of the challenges of public diplomacy in today’s Now Media environment.

Intended to explore the new public diplomacy of the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands, and its various Consulates, the “public diplomacy 2.0″ activities of the United States are also included .

Carolijn rightly states that “Social media asks for an hybridization of open and closed communication practices.” In this statement, she eloquently captures the dilemmas facing both public diplomacy and online engagement. She continues,

To engage with foreign audiences through social media services, diplomacy has to innovate itself. The social media services ask for openness and transparency, which contradicts traditional closed communication practices in diplomacy.

Carolijn also (rightly) notes that for the US, the modern constraint of the Smith-Mundt Act means “opportunities in the digital space are lost or postponed in the mean time [sic].”

The resulting document is both smart literature review and smart analysis. Do read the report: Social Media Strategy: Bringing Public Diplomacy 2.0 to the next level (820kb PDF)

It is available at MountainRunner with the permission of Floris van Hövell, Head of Department Public Diplomacy, Press and Culture, Royal Embassy of the Netherlands, Washington D.C.

Bye NPR. Hello BBC, Al Jazeera, Chinese Radio.

The decision by Congress the House of Representatives to defund NPR and block local public radio stations from using federal money to acquire NPR content is, like any action, likely to have interesting unintended consequences. This action comes at a time when demand for information and knowledge of affairs around the globe continues to grow, to focus on just of the many values of NPR. 

Congress The House is creating an opportunity that the US commercial media is unlikely to take advantage of, for whatever reason. The old giants of radio news, from CBS to NBC to the AP are unlikely to jump into the new gap and coverage of similar breadth and depth. The AP has the content, but will their agreements with their members – they are an association with members – allow them to provide content to radio that may also be carried by the local paper? Will Federal Communication Commission rules prevent local newspapers and television from expanding into the space presumably to be vacated by NPR?

The most likely winner, at least the short term, will be foreign government broadcasters. Already, local public radio stations often fill gaps in programming with news from the BBC. It is easy to imagine demand for the BBC will increase if programming from NPR becomes unavailable or drops in quality. But BBC is not the only game in town. The recent performance of Al Jazeera English in covering the Middle East may embolden AJE to explore avenues. I would be surprised if Russia Today wasn’t actively seeking to expand its reach. The same for Chinese Government broadcasters, including Xinhua and Radio China International. I do not anticipate a large expansion into public radio, however.

Forget of course other tax-payer supported news organizations from being legally available to news consumers within America’s borders.

What are you thoughts on this potential example of the law of unintended consequences?

Update/clarification: As NPR points out, including NPR’s Andy Carvin, only 2% of NPR’s funding is federal.

Public Diplomacy: Books, Articles, Websites #55 (Courtesy of Bruce Gregory)

Courtesy of Bruce Gregory, Professor of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University.

March 1, 2011
Intended for teachers of public diplomacy and related courses, here is an update on resources that may be of general interest.  Suggestions for future updates are welcome. 
Bruce Gregory
Adjunct Professor
George Washington University
Georgetown University

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Using Information to Beat Gadhafi

This morning, I was on the radio show The Takeaway, a co-production of WNYC Radio and Public Radio International, to discuss non-military options for the U.S. in Libya.

My comments focused on the empowerment of Libyans by enabling the acquisition and dissemination of information. In other words, freedom to get and give information creates not only knowledge of the environment, it lays the foundation for an open society. The actions of the Libyans must be by and of the Libyans. The only substantial role here, at this early phase of the establishment of a new state, for the United States (or the West in general), is one of facilitator. The Libyans must pull themselves up. 

The United States is considering a range of options to deal with Libya, including military action and sanctions. However, there’s another possibility for Libya: an information campaign and the Pentagon has reportedly explored at the option of jamming Libya’s communications so that Gadhafi has a harder time talking to his forces. Matt Armstrong, lecturer on public diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and publisher of  the blog MountainRunner.us, takes a closer look at how an information campaign might work in Libya.

The segment is about than seven minutes long and my conversation with host John Hockenberry, begins at the 1:30 mark. Listen below or go to The Takeway.

Yes, it was recorded live at 6a Eastern Time, making it 3a where I am…

Holmes spotlights doctrinal delineation of IO and PA

The majority of the discussion and concern created by the Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings centered on statements by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes that he was illegally tasked. I discuss the real issue exposed by this and the previous article by Hastings on General Stanley McChrystal of doctrinal and structural problems in the U.S. military in an article at ForeignPolicy.com entitled “Mind Games.”

On his Facebook page, Holmes links to a MountainRunner post on a roundtable discussion with Lieutenant General William Caldwell, IV, until recently Holmes’s commanding officer and then Commanding General of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth. The topic was the just-released revision to FM 3-0, the Operations manual for the Army, and the new attention to information activities.

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Holmes, Caldwell, Psy-Ops and the Smith-Mundt Act

imageThe recent Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings has brought to the surface a debate over the difference between “inform,” “influence” and the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. In his article “”Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators,” Hastings relies heavily – if not entirely – on the statements by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes concerned over his orders while at the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan.

As I noted in my recent article “Mind Games: Why Rolling Stone’s article on the military’s domestic psy-ops scandal gets it so wrong” (No, I did not come up with either the title or imagesubtitle), what “Another Runaway General” highlights is the deficit in the training, definition, and tactics, techniques and procedures of the informational functional areas in the military. In other words, who does what and why continues to be a confusing mess within the Defense Department. The result is continued confusion and stereotyping both inside and outside the military on the roles, capabilities and expectations that create headlines like “Another Runaway General.”

“Another Runaway General” also highlights, if briefly, the false yet prevalent view of the Smith-Mundt Act. I want to thank World Politics Review for making my article on Smith-Mundt, “Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans,” available outside of their paywall to support the “Mind Games” article.

This post adds additional commentary that could not fit into the ForeignPolicy.com “Mind Games” article.

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Survey of American Alumni of the JET Program

imageEmily Metzgar, Assistant Professor at Indiana University School of Journalism teaching public diplomacy, is conducting a survey of American alumni of the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program.

Although full participation in the survey is limited to Americans who participated in the JET Program, the survey link provides an opportunity for all interested parties to request updates about research.

The purpose of the survey is to track the educational and professional career tracks of American JET alumni and to assess their opinions of Japan and the continuing impact of JET on their lives years after finishing the program. The survey has been approved by Indiana University’s Institutional Review Board and will remain active until midnight (EST) on Wednesday, March 9, 2011. The survey is available here.

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