Back Issues of PDAA Today

Back issues of PDAA Today, PDAA’s quarterly print newsletter are now online and available for download.

Virtual First Monday Recording Added to PDAA Video Channel

The recipients of this year’s Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy were featured in a Virtual First Monday program on May 4, 2020. To view the recording, go to

PDAA has added a new recording to its video channel on Vimeo. The new recording presents the “Virtual First Monday” forum that took place on May 4, 2020, in which the four recipients of the 2020 PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy discussed their efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The forum was part of the regularly scheduled First Monday program sponsored by the Public Diplomacy Association of America, the Public Diplomacy Council, and USC’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. Normally, the forums take place over lunch and are hosted by George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Because of the ongoing novel coronavirus health emergency, the May 4 program was conducted via the Zoom® video-conferencing software.

The four recipients of the 2020 awards featured in the program are:

  • Zennia Paganini, Public Affairs Officer, Yemen Affairs Unit (based at Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
  • Public Affairs Section, Embassy Luanda, Angola (Deneyse Kirkpatrick, Public Affairs Officer)
  • Meghan Luckett, Assistant Public Affairs Officer, Embassy Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Riad Yazbeck, Cultural Affairs Specialist, Embassy Beirut, Lebanon

Information on the four recipients and on the annual awards program is available here.

The video of the Virtual First Monday program is available at It joins other PDAA videos, including the October 7, 2019, First Monday forum that focused on the twentieth anniversary of the merger of the U.S. Information Agency into the State Department.

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PDAA Honors Outstanding Public Diplomacy Initiatives

by Domenick DiPasquale

The recipients of this year’s Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy were featured in a Virtual First Monday program on May 4, 2020. To view the recording, go to

Whether engaging difficult to reach audiences in the Middle East, countering Russian disinformation in the Baltics, or resetting a historically contentious bilateral relationship in Africa, the recipients of the 2020 PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy used a mix of outside-the-box thinking, deep understanding of their audiences, and superb leadership abilities to demonstrably advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

“This year’s recipients have shown particularly impressive ingenuity, given the conditions they are working under,” said PDAA President Joel Fischman. “Budgets are woefully inadequate, and many officers and Locally Employed Staffers have had to carry on virtually, at a distance, because of security concerns and now the coronavirus. Their creativity, perseverance, and commitment to their goals bode well for the continuing high standards of our profession.”

The four recipients are:

  • Zennia Paganini, Public Affairs Officer, Yemen Affairs Unit (based at Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
  • Public Affairs Section, Embassy Luanda, Angola
  • Meghan Luckett, Assistant Public Affairs Officer, Embassy Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Riad Yazbeck, Cultural Affairs Specialist, Embassy Beirut, Lebanon

Zennia Paganini – Yemen Affairs Unit

ABOVE; PAO Zennia Paganini with Yemeni students in Cairo.
RIGHT: front page of the Houthi newspaper headlined “What Are The American Embassies Planning?!”. Paganini is on the left and Yemen Affairs Unit Ambassador Christopher Henzel is on the right.

The ongoing multi-year civil war between the central Yemeni government and insurgent Houthi forces led to the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2015. Working from this embassy-in-exile, PAO Zennia Paganini singlehandedly has maintained American influence and a ‘virtual’ presence not only among Yemenis still in country but also among the Yemeni diaspora scattered throughout the Middle East.

Paganini has used virtual platforms to reach audiences inside Yemen, such as the network of English-language professionals and students built up over the years, and in-person programming among key Yemeni contacts in exile. An example of the latter was a day-long workshop for 32 Riyadh-based Yemeni journalists on the theme of promoting peace and tolerance with social media.

With a majority of Yemenis younger than 30, Paganini created an initiative called MAP – Make a Place for Yemeni Youth – that works to educate diaspora youth, support Yemenis’ economic empowerment, and strengthen the country’s civil society institutions. Evidence of the effectiveness of this and other youth-oriented programs was found in an unlikely place: the front page of the Houthis’ official newspaper, showing Paganini with youth contacts and journalists in Riyadh and Cairo under a banner headline reading “What Are the American Embassies Planning?!”

Public Affairs Section – Embassy Luanda

Hip-hop artists Wordsmith with the local at-risk youth orchestra in Angola.

Angolan Vice President and U.S. Ambassador Nina Maria Fite giving a joint interview.

A historically contentious quarter-century relationship between the United States and Angola formed the backdrop for the work of PAO Deneyse Kirkpatrick and her seven Locally Employed Staff at Embassy Luanda. Using an array of public diplomacy tools, Kirkpatrick and her staff broke new ground in strengthening the Embassy’s relations with the Angolan government and opening new avenues of bilateral cooperation.

The initiative by Embassy Luanda’s public affairs section centered on the 2019 commemoration marking the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves arriving in the present-day United States. Programs ranging from a hip-hop artist to a cooking demonstration by a South Carolina chef to four performances by and national television coverage of the U.S. dance troupe Step Afrika! highlighted the two nations’ shared cultural heritage. The presence of the Angolan vice president and six cabinet officials at Step Afrika!’s final performance garnered major media attention.

Beyond such immediate impact, this public diplomacy initiative strengthened the potential of long-term institutional relationships. The president of Angola created an inter-ministerial commission to mark the 400th anniversary; a task force was organized to identify possible projects to be supported by the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation; and an International Visitor leadership program exchange built institutional linkages between the Angolan Ministry of Culture and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Meghan Luckett – Embassy Vilnius

ABOVE: The November 2019 outdoor concert that was a centerpiece of the Laisves Banga public diplomacy campaign. Held in downtown Vilnius’ Lukiškių Square, it commemorated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
RIGHT: Laisves Banga means Wave of Freedom and the main graphic of the campaign was the wall (Iron Curtain) being knocked over and creating a domino effect (or wave) of freedom throughout Europe.

A relentless Russian campaign has targeted Lithuania with disinformation intended to stoke nostalgia for its Soviet past, drive wedges in Lithuanian society, and portray the country as a failed state rather than the modern democratic success story it is. Assistant PAO Meghan Luckett played a central role in Embassy Vilnius’s efforts to successfully counter this false narrative and remind Lithuanians, especially the younger generation, of the inspirational role their country played in unshackling other captive Soviet Bloc nations.

Luckett coordinated the Embassy’s support commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, the August 1989 event during which two million Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians joined hands to create a 650-kilometer-long human chain to peacefully protest Soviet occupation. She convinced the nation’s public broadcaster, LRT, to join the Embassy’s multi-dimensional “Courage To Be Free” campaign, immediately boosting that campaign’s visibility and impact.

Luckett also shepherded to fruition a major component of that campaign, an open-air concert attended by thousands in downtown Vilnius’ Lukiškių Square to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years earlier. Through repeat broadcasts and online access, the concert was ultimately viewed by 800,000 Lithuanians – more than a quarter of the country’s entire population.

Riad Yazbeck – Embassy Beirut

Cultural Affairs Specialist Riad Yazbeck meets with women from the Shia community in Lebanon.

Embassy Beirut’s senior cultural affairs specialist Riad Yazbeck visits an English language class in Akkar, Lebanon, that is part of Embassy Beirut’s Teaching Women English program. The program is part of the Embassy’s effort to bring American cultural and social values to the most vulnerable segments of Lebanese society.

Riad Yazbeck, the senior cultural affairs specialist at Embassy Beirut, capitalized on his personal connections in Lebanon’s Shia community to advance not just public diplomacy initiatives but also the Embassy’s political reporting on this major player in Lebanese politics – the sect considered most at risk for violent extremism due to the influence of Hizballah and Iran over many of its members.

When months-long civil unrest erupted in Lebanon in 2019, Yazbeck’s network of contacts among the Shia allowed him to collect extensive information about Shia participation in the protests despite Hizballah restrictions. Yazbeck used this information to draft a reporting cable on the Shia involvement; this cable was included in top-level briefing materials for the Secretary of State and recently was cited in the Presidential Daily Brief.

With this analysis showing there had been misconceptions about Lebanon’s Shia population and its degree of allegiance to Hizballah, Yazbeck then instituted a greater degree of interaction between the Embassy and the Shia through an English language training program he manages. The program is aimed at women in at-risk communities and includes components on entrepreneurship, public speaking skills, and combatting gender based violence.

Celebration of Public Diplomacy Excellence

“The PDAA awards committee was encouraged to read accounts from across the globe of how public diplomacy professionals are continuing to break boundaries by using all means available to communicate our nation’s policies, values, and hopes for a united approach to solving the world’s problems,” said Judith Baroody, PDAA Board member and chair of the awards committee. “It was especially inspiring to see how our public diplomacy colleagues are focusing on the most critical and difficult issues, and finding creative ways to address them.”

The traditional PDAA luncheon in May honoring award recipients has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. PDAA instead will hold a May 4 teleconference for its membership during which the four winners will be announced and invited to make short remote presentations, live or pre-recorded, about their work.

To make a financial contribution to support the PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy, click here.

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Alan Carter April 16, 1923 – January 25, 2019

Alan Carter passed away peacefully on January 25, 2019, at Bentley Commons in Keene, NH. He was born in Rochester, NY, in 1923.

A retired Career Minister in the former United States Information Agency, Carter, held several senior positions and served tours of duty in Pakistan, India, Japan, and Vietnam. He was one of the last evacuees from the US Embassy in Saigon in 1975.

Alan Carter had three distinct careers, all involving communications. The first was in radio broadcasting, including positions as Program Director at WNYC and producer/director at NBC, both in New York City. The second was at the United States Information Agency. Following his retirement from government, he served in senior positions at World Learning in Brattleboro, Vermont.

He was married to Marjorie Lee Carter of Oklahoma , who predeceased him, and who, along with their daughter Pamela Carter, accompanied him on his overseas tours. The exception was what proved to be a short tour of duty in Vietnam, which ended with the evacuation by the US government of all it’s personnel in that country.

For his work in USIA, he received the Edward R Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy. He also received the Presidential Certificate of Appreciation from President Gerald Ford for his work with the Interagency Task Force for Indochina refugees, helping in their resettlement in the U.S.

When he moved to Brattleboro, he reunited with Ellsworth Bunker and John Kenneth Galbraith, two U.S. Ambassadors with whom he served in India as Press Attaché. Alan Carter was a resident of Vermont for over 30 years, the longest he lived in any one place.

He leaves his daughter Pamela Carter and relatives in Hartford, Connecticut, Rochester, NY, Texas, and California.

Ker-Phaneuf Funeral Home and Crematorium is assisting the family with arrangements. To view an online memorial, leave a message of condolence, or for more information please go to

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April 20 Virtual Program – Health Public Diplomacy and COVID-19

PDAA invites you to a virtual meeting Monday, April 20, 2020, on “Health Public Diplomacy and COVID-19.” The program will take place at noon and replaces our original program scheduled to take place at DACOR-Bacon House.

Kia Henry

Michael Zeltakalns

The speakers are Kia Henry, a health public diplomacy officer with the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), and Michael Zeltakalns, director of crisis response at the State Department’s Global Public Affairs bureau.

Henry joined the State Department in 2005 as a program coordinator. Since then, she has worked as a management analyst and as a public diplomacy officer. She helped coordinate responses to earlier outbreaks including Zika and Ebola. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, Henry holds an M.A. from Webster University.

Zeltakalns joined the Department in 2013 after nearly a decade as a communications specialist with the U.S. Navy. Since joining DOS, he has worked in press and public affairs at the Bureau of Global Public Affairs (GPA) and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). He is a graduate of Averett University and holds an M.A. from George Washington University.

The program will take place via Zoom. To receive log-on details, register your interest in the event at We hope to post a recording of the program on PDAA’s Vimeo site.

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ERNEST EUGENE “GENE” PELL – Journalist and Broadcast Executive (1937 – 2020)

Ernest Eugene “Gene” Pell, 83, died quietly on April 7, 2020, at his home near Syria, VA, after a valiant 3-year battle with cancer. He is survived by his loving wife, Susan Jane (Roehm) Pell of Syria; two daughters from a previous marriage: Anne Frances Pell of Morsasco, Italy, and Jennifer Susan Pell of Makawno, HI; a grandson Sasha Pell of Makawno, HI; a stepson Maj. Philipp Edouard Rigaut who lives in Prince William Co., VA, with his wife Amanda and five children; a sister Carol Goodman Taylor of Lexington, KY; a sister Sandria Lynn Cox of Woodbridge, VA; a brother Clark Edward Pell of West Coxsackie, NY; and several nieces and nephews. Gene was preceded in death by his parents and his stepson, Pierre-Louis Rigaut.

Gene was born March 15, 1937, in Paducah, KY, the oldest of four children of Ernest Joseph and Edna Marie (Stewart) Pell. His father was an early pioneer in radio and television broadcasting, who managed technical operations for several stations in Kentucky and later built and ran a television network in Vietnam. His father’s work no doubt contributed to Gene’s interest in broadcasting, but an even greater impetus was the wonderful, commanding baritone voice he developed at age 13. That remarkable voice, coupled with exceptional intelligence and drive, led to a career of more than 50 years in broadcast journalism.

He often joked that he began his broadcasting career covering “rasslin” matches while he was still in high school, then worked at the campus radio station while attending Harvard University. He graduated from Harvard in 1959 with a BA in English, then served as an officer in the Navy for three years where, among other assignments, he was the Program Director for the Armed Forces Radio Service in New York City. He returned to college after the Navy and earned a MS in Journalism from Boston University.

Gene began his career in television news in 1963 as an investigative reporter with WBI-TV in Boston, then became an anchor for Boston stations WBZ and WCVB. In 1969 he joined the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, first as the National Political Correspondent in Washington and then as Chief of the Westinghouse Foreign News Service in London. In 1974, he was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and in 1977, a Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Russian Research Center. He joined NBC News in 1978 and served as the NBC News Correspondent in Moscow 1978-1980 and as the Pentagon Correspondent 1980-1982. From 1963 through 1982, Gene covered every major news story and interviewed countless American and international newsmakers. He reported on the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, Watergate, five Presidential campaigns, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and countless other events across the U.S. and around the world.

Another journalist who worked with him during that period recently said, “Gene lived his professional life as a serious and devoted advocate of reporting the truth, using the medium of broadcasting – radio and TV. Like many of us, he was proud and a bit arrogant. But more importantly, he was riveting and honest. I’m not certain where his inspiration came from, but the results were impressive: great curiosity, a commitment to support and nurture quality broadcast journalism, and an abiding dedication to servicing the audiences.”

Gene began his government career in 1982 when he was recruited by the Reagan Administration to help modernize the technology and programming at the Voice of America (VOA). He initially served as the Director of News and Current Affairs, then as the Deputy Director for all VOA Programming, then in June of 1985, he was appointed by President Reagan as the Director of VOA. His contributions to the modernization were so successful that he was recruited by the Board for International Broadcasting to become the President/CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc., in Munich, Germany. He became President/CEO in October, 1985, and led that organization for eight years through one of the most remarkable periods in modern history. He spent much of 1985-1989 transforming the management, technology, and programming at RFE/RL, which significantly improved the organization’s capability and credibility when the USSR began to collapse. Under Gene’s leadership, RFE/RL was at the heart of the peaceful revolutions that occurred in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1992, broadcasting accurate news and credible information in 21 languages, 7 days a week. He was frequently on the air during that period speaking to audiences in both English and Russian. Many Eastern European and Russian leaders, including Czech President Vaclav Havel and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, later testified to the importance of RFE/RL broadcasts in helping to end the Cold War. Polish leader Lech Walesa told an audience in 1989 that the role played by RFE/RL in Poland’s struggle for freedom “cannot even be described. Would there be an earth without the sun?” In 1991, RFE/RL was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the critical part it played in the peaceful revolutions across the Soviet bloc.

Gene won a wide array of journalism awards through the years, but he was most proud of the contributions he made to VOA and RFE/RL that helped to end the Cold War.

Gene retired from RFE/RL in June of 1993 and returned to broadcasting, which was his first love. He joined Radio America where he wrote and hosted a weekly radio program and produced and narrated a series of television programs about Congressional Medal of Honor winners. He also acted as master of ceremonies for several years at the annual WWII Veterans Association meeting in Washington.

In 1998, Gene and Susan moved from Washington, D.C., to a wonderful home on a mountain near the town of Syria in Madison Co., VA . They immediately fell in love with Madison County and the many good friends they made there. They became active members of the community and worked on a series of projects with the Chamber of Commerce, MESA, Madison Troop Support, and others. Gene was especially proud of the annual oratory competition he endowed and judged for Madison High School students. He hoped that some of those students might follow in his path and build careers in broadcast journalism.

After cremation, Gene’s ashes will be interred in the Criglersville Shiloh Cemetery. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

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Statement on response to COVID-19

PDAA logo

Given the need for diligence in the face of the COVID-19 threat, and in consultation with our USC partner, we are postponing our April 6 First Monday Forum. During this time, when it is vital to observe social distancing guidelines, we are exploring the feasibility of online events and will continue to provide you with Weekly Updates and News and Notes. We encourage everyone to engage virtually, to the extent you can, and invite you to spend some time exploring, our joint website.

Sherry Mueller, President, PDC
Joel Fischman, President, PDAA

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