The 2016 Master’s in Public Diplomacy (MPD) delegation to Washington, DC, kicked off five days of high-level meetings with a visit to USC’s DC office.
At USC’s DC office, the MPD delegation met with Adam Clayton Powell III, Senior Fellow at the USC Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, University Fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, and president of the Public Diplomacy Council.
Powell said public diplomacy is growing in popularity, thanks in large part to USC and the Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD).
“Everybody says the USC CPD website is the gold standard globally for public diplomacy,” he said. “These are people who teach at other major universities and use the website shamelessly. People come from around the U.S. and abroad to see what resources there are. It’s interesting to see how PD and the study of it is viewed with such interest.”
Last year Google approached Powell and CCLP and asked them to study the Internet of Things (IOT).
“Ten to twenty years from now there could be billions of things connected to the internet,” said Powell. “Vint Cerf [father of the Internet] likes to say that all kitchen appliances will be connected to Internet and you will be able to run them by your cell phone. Things can go wrong, and spectacularly. You can imagine if someone’s hacking into an airplane, or stopping all cars in the city; it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Google wants us to acquaint policymakers here in Washington, the federal government, international agencies, NGOs, etc., with how they should be thinking about connecting and responding to these kinds of problems, be it a bad actor like North Korea or a ten year old in her pajamas who accidentally launches some code. Pieces of software could interact in ways not predicated and create havoc. How should governments be thinking about this? Google says it’s an international problem.”
After offering even more cogent insights into the changing media and technology landscapes, Mr. Powell introduced a special guest – who had in fact brought his own special guest!
Daniel Whitman, former Program Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, brought his new book Outsmarting Apartheid: An Oral History of South Africa’s Cultural and Educational Exchange with the United States, 1960-1999, a wealth of stories from his career in public diplomacy, and a friend and colleague, Dr. Abdin Noboa-Rios. A native of Puerto Rico, Dr. Noboa-Rios is writing a book on the growing Latino education crisis in America. Discussion topics included: the distinction between public diplomacy and development; lessons from Mr. Whitman’s experiences in post-apartheid South Africa; arguments for continued funding of international exchange programs; transferring lessons from the international to the domestic sphere; and ideas for future research.
“Culture is politics,” said Whitman. “We understood that for a brief time but then we lost sight of it. It’s during the relaxation of tensions that you need to increase outreach to other cultures, not decrease.”
Whitman pointed out that there is a thin line between legitimate public diplomacy and propaganda.
“In public diplomacy, we converse, we share ideas, and we listen,” he said. “We do not ‘assist’ other countries. To the extent that PD has turned into a megaphone for social messaging to convince people that ‘we’re not bad;’ that is a failure. If there’s any element of ‘we will show you something; we’re not bad,’ it absolutely crosses the line into propaganda. As soon as you’re doing one way communication, even if you’re telling the truth 100%, you’re not furthering any goal, and the audience will not trust you.”
Later that afternoon, the MPD delegation visited Voice of America (VOA), the U.S. Government’s broadcast institution whose programming is directed at foreign audiences, especially in places where U.S. news is otherwise not readily available. USC Annenberg has a special connection to VOA: former Annenberg Dean Geoffrey Cowan served as the 22nd Director of VOA from 1994-1996, and Professor Cowan’s father served as the 2nd Director of VOA from 1943-1945. Justin and Judy both work closely with Professor Cowan at USC.
During the visit to VOA, the MPD delegation was privileged to meet with the institution’s Acting Director, Ms. Kelu Chao, who talked to the students about how VOA is adapting to the changing media environment, maintaining its objectivity while still serving as a diplomatic tool, and working to engage its audiences by generating in-depth discussions.
“As a news person, I know objectivity is in the eye of the beholder,” said Chao. “It would be very difficult when someone writes a story to not be influenced by their background. It’s part of the challenge. But for a trained journalist, credibility is everything. And our audience knows; they can smell propaganda right away, because they’re subjected to propaganda all the time [in their home countries]. We’re very sensitive about this. We really look at ourselves and every story hopefully is balanced.”
Stay tuned for more updates!