Armstrong on the Regulation of Public Diplomacy

by Chris Borgen

Matt Armstrong, who blogs at MountainRunner, has an article in the current World Politics Review called Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans. While the full version is only available online for a fee, there is a brief excerpt on the WPR website:

American public diplomacy has been the subject of many reports and much discussion over the past few years. But one rarely examined element is the true impact of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which for all practical purposes labels U.S. public diplomacy and government broadcasting as propaganda. The law imposes a geographic segregation of audiences between those inside the U.S. and those outside it, based on the fear that content aimed at audiences abroad might “spill over” into the U.S. This not only shows a lack of confidence and understanding of U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting, it also ignores the ways in which information and people now move across porous, often non-existent borders with incredible speed and ease, to both create and empower dynamic diasporas.

The impact of the “firewall” created by Smith-Mundt between domestic and foreign audiences is profound and often ignored. Ask a citizen of any other democracy what they think about this firewall and you’re likely to get a blank, confused stare: Why — and how — would such a thing exist? No other country, except perhaps North Korea and China, prevents its own people from knowing what is said and done in their name. …

Check it out, either in print or on the web…

http://opiniojuris.org/2010/09/03/armstrong-on-the-regulation-of-public-diplomacy/

One Response

  1. One of the consequences of that act is that a 1957 picture taken by my father at the independence of Ghana in Accra of then Vice-President Richard and Pat Nixon and Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King was unlikely to be shown in the United States.  This picture was taken just after the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the civil rights leaders in the South had been calling on Eisenhower to come down to the South and see for himself what the state of segregation was.  Nkrumah who had studied at Lincoln University purposely invited King while Nixon was the head of the official delegation.  It was at this cocktail that Nixon first invited King to meet in Washington.

    I would have loved to see that picture on the cover of the New York Times back then.  Might have changed some of the history to see that King had met at such a high-level that early.

    Best,
    Ben

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