Back Issues of PDAA Today

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

Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age Discussion at June 3 Forum

Nicholas Cull, University of Southern California

You are invited to join the next “First Monday” lunch forum on Monday, June 3, when the speaker will be Nick Cull, Director of the University of Southern California’s Master of Public Diplomacy program, who will discuss his new book, Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age. Nick’s bio is available at:

First Monday forums start at 12 noon and take place at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, 1957 E Street NW, room 602. These programs are free, but we ask that, in order to have an accurate count for catering. Please RSVP to

First Monday programs are presented by the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, the Public Diplomacy Council, and the Public Diplomacy Association of America.

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Capitol Hill Chorale to perform in Republic of Georgia; Pre-departure concert set for June 1 and 2 in DC

Capitol Hill ChoraleWith grant support from the US Embassy in Tbilisi, the Capitol Hill Chorale will travel to the Republic of Georgia for a 10-day concert tour in June. PDAA members are invited to the Chorale’s pre-departure concert in DC on June 1 and 2, featuring works that will be performed on the tour: early American music, contemporary pieces by the Chorale’s resident composer, Dr. Kevin Siegfried, Georgian folk songs, and the Georgian Sacred Chants on the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom by Zakaria Paliashvili (1871-1933), the “father of Georgian classical music.”

The Capitol Hill Chorale is a 100-voice, auditioned ensemble with members from throughout the metro area led by Frederick Binkholder, who is on the music faculty at Georgetown University. Under his leadership, and in the presence of the Georgian Ambassador, the Chorale gave the American premiere of Paliashvili’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in 2010 on Capitol Hill. The stunningly beautiful work is rarely heard and before the Chorale’s performance, there was no record of it ever being sung publicly since it premiered in Tbilisi in 1909. It represents a musical tradition that was suppressed during the Soviet domination of Georgia for most of the twentieth century. The Chorale created its own performing edition of the work, with advice from Georgian traditional music experts in the U.S. and at the Tbilisi State Conservatory, based on a microfilm version of the original score found in the Lenin Library in Moscow. The Chorale’s American premiere was followed in 2014 by the ensemble making the first-ever recording of the work sung in the Georgian language; the only known earlier recording was done in Church Slavonic.

This concert tour marks a major 2019 public diplomacy project for our embassy in Tbilisi. The Chorale will rehearse and perform with Georgian choirs and traditional music groups in concert halls and cathedrals across the country, with coverage in the Georgian media. PDAA member Katherine Wood is a member of the Chorale.

The DC performances take place on June 1 at 7:30 pm and June 2 at 4 pm at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, 4th and Independence Ave. SE. Advance ticket purchases are recommended and are available online at

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Authoritarian Media: Supercharged in a Digital Age

by Alan Heil

In this era of expanding use of new communications tools, accuracy in media matters as never before. Globally, truth and fairness in journalism is endangered in unprecedented ways.

Shanthi Kalathil, senior director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies, and Dean W. Jackson, assistant program officer on the research and conferences team of the International Forum for Democratic Studies. Photo by Bruce Guthrie.

Two specialists from the National Endowment for Democracy recently explained to a First Monday of the Month forum of the PDC and PDAA how China, Russia, and Iran are exercising “a purposeful use of false or misleading information to undermine political discourse in the West, aimed at democratic elections woven in the democratic square.” They aim particularly at the United States and Europe, but Africa and Latin America as well.

Shanthi Kalathil and Dean W. Jackson were addressing a capacity crowd at the George Washington University’s School of International Studies on April 1.

As Dr. Kalathil put it: “Bot networks clog public debate and amplify disinformation narratives. Russia-originated artificial intelligence engaging curious listeners in Ukraine, for example.”

Mr. Jackson added that about five years ago, the International Forum for Democratic Studies began focusing intensely on pre-existing divides and sentiments that attract masters of disinformation. Protests across Europe against immigrants, he said, were of particular interest. “Fear, anger and distrust,” Jackson added, “are powerful drivers” as concerns escalate.

He cited Russian activities in Ukraine, and even Spain, as target countries. “Educated audiences,” he added, “are not immune.” Debates over climate change offer another example. “Too often,” according to Jackson, “rumors and fabrications by the purveyors of disinformation get a leg up on accurate and honest journalistic content.”

So What are some Effective Responses?

In the NED specialists’ views:

  • Fact-checking and instilling media literacy are essential, but in the new media age, not sufficient.
  • There’s a need to address seriously the impact of the new technologies (artificial intelligence, for example, as well as reasons for the decline of traditional media).
  • We must figure out how to expand the supply of quality, well-sourced information that people need and want.
  • More person-to-person communication. In general, this can be more persuasive and more credible.

Asked about the role of U.S. government funded broadcasts such as the joint RFE/RL-VOA around the clock Russian program, Current Time, Dean Jackson felt that an emphasis on countering Moscow-originated disinformation on that program stream is helpful. Current Time originates at RFE-RL’S headquarters in Prague.

Earlier this year, VOA and RFE/RL launched a second, 24/7 multimedia stream in Persian, called VOA 365. This new largely digital multimedia venture (also with TV, radio and on-line programming) reaches more than a quarter of Iran’s population in addition to Persian-speaking consumers around the world. That diaspora can make a huge difference in personal relations with relatives at home.

On April 3, VOA Director Amanda Bennett appointed VOA veteran staffer Doug Bernard as Director of Press Freedom news. He’ll be working with Voice journalists in the central newsroom and with English and language division broadcasters to curate an agency-wide English web page featuring all Voice press freedom reports, weekly profiles of journalists under fire, and live social media feeds.

The new Press Freedom website will be inaugurated May 3 on International Press Freedom Day. It will be available to all U.S. funded international networks, including RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcast Network in Arabic and Radio-TV Marti to Cuba in Spanish.

In late March, Burundi (ranked 150th out of 189 countries in press freedom) announced it will continue to block broadcasts from the BBC and VOA as it had during the previous election year in that central African country. The BBC termed this “a serious blow against media freedom.”

VOA Director Bennett said: “We are alarmed that reporters in Burundi are now forbidden to communicate with VOA. We stand with the people of Burundi against those who are restricting their access to accurate and reliable information.”

I highly recommend a new book on press freedom by David E. McCraw, deputy general counsel of the New York Times. Its title: “Truth In Our Times.”
His conclusion: “The authors of the First Amendment were not naïve. They understood from hard-edged experience that lies were inevitable, the urge to deceive grounded in human nature. But democracy’s remedy was an informed citizenry that, in the fullness of time, would pull the lever for truth over falsity. The alternative — a government that used its power to decide who spoke and who was silent, what was real and what was fake — was untenable. We come closer and closer to learning that every day.”

Reprinted by permission from the Public Diplomacy Council

Alan Heil
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More

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Annual Award Brunch Set for May 5: Excellence in Public Diplomacy Focus of Event

PDAA’s premier event of the year, the annual awards brunch, is set for May 5. It will again take place at the Army and Navy Club. The event runs from noon to 2:30.

PDAA celebrates its tradition of honoring excellence in public diplomacy. In all but five years since 1993, PDAA has honored professionals in government agencies and non-government organizations working in more than 50 countries and in the United States whose work makes a difference in projecting American policies, ideas, and culture to the rest of the world.

The 22nd annual PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy recognizes the outstanding work conducted over the past year by members of the Foreign Service, Civil Service, Locally Employed Staff (LES) members, employees of binational centers and American Corners, and EducationUSA advisers. For a complete list of past recipients, please go to

Tickets for the event this year remain $45.00 per person.

The Army and Navy Club is located at 901 17th St NW, between I and K Streets in Washington, DC. The club is easily accessible by Metro, just one block from either the Farragut North or Farragut West stations. On Sunday, there is street parking available in the area. However, for those who would like valet parking, it is available at a cost of $13.00.

To purchase tickets, you can reserve below with a credit card, or complete the form on page 7 of PDAA Today and send with your check, payable to PDAA, to Treasurer Mary Jeffers. The deadline for purchasing tickets is Fri., Apr. 26.


Optional: The PDAA Awards Program is one of our most important activities. To make a voluntary contribution:






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April 8 Program Examines Challenges of International Exchanges

What challenges do the organizations that implement international exchanges face after overseas posts identify candidates for academic, cultural, and leadership exchanges? How do they identify hosts for the exchanges and how do they maneuver between State Department offices and the citizens and institutions that come face-to-face with grantees while they are in the U.S.?

That’s the focus of the April 8 PDAA program that will consider Challenges of International Exchanges: The Last Three Feet Revisited.

Dr. Sherry Mueller

The panel will be moderated by Dr. Sherry Lee Mueller, Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at American University’s School of International Service and President Emeritus of Global Ties.

She will be joined by Dr. Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education; Mark Rebstock, VP for External Relations at the Professional Exchanges Division of the Meridian International Center; and Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange.

Dr. Allan Goodman

Dr. Goodman is IIE’s sixth president. He was previously Executive Dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. IIE is the leading not-for-profit organization in the field of international educational exchange and development training. IIE conducts research on international academic mobility and administers the Fulbright program sponsored by the United States Department of State, as well as over 200 other corporate, government, and privately-sponsored programs.

Mark Rebstock

Prior to joining Meridian in 2014, Rebstock served the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) (now Global Ties U.S.) in successive roles as Director of Membership and Training, Vice President, and Interim President and Chief Operating Officer. He previously served as Executive Director of the International Visitors Council of Greater Cincinnati.

Ilir Zherka

Ilir Zherka is the Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange. The Alliance serves as the collective public policy voice for the exchange community. In addition to congressional advocacy, the Alliance organizes program impact reports, conducts media outreach, develops best practice workshops, and hosts an annual public policy conference. Zherka has served as the head of three other organizations. He gained policy and political experience working on Capitol Hill, on presidential campaigns, and as a political appointee.

The discussion will take place on Mon., Apr. 8, from 12:00 to 2:00, at DACOR-Bacon House, 1801 F St. NW. To register, please complete the form on page 7 of the newsletter or register on-line using the drop-down menu below. Deadline is Apr. 4.





Select appropriate price from the drop-down menu

Optional: The PDAA Awards Program is one of our most important activities. To make a voluntary contribution:




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Engaging North Korea & Other Hard-to-Reach Audiences

Amb. Robert King, former Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights (A. Kotok)

Close to 70 PDAA members and guests participated in a particularly timely program on “Engaging North Korea and Other Hard-to-Reach Audiences” on February 28, the day after the United States –North Korea Summit in Hanoi ended abruptly with no agreement. The discussion addressed not only diplomatic/political negotiations, but also public diplomacy, including broadcasting and civil society engagement.

Launching the discussion was Ambassador Robert R. King, who served as U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights from 2009 to 2017. In that role, Ambassador King led U.S. efforts to press North Korea for progress on human rights, U.S. humanitarian efforts in North Korea, and the treatment of U.S. citizens being held in North Korea.

In his remarks, Ambassador King noted that human rights issues were given little attention at both the earlier Singapore Summit and in Hanoi. He stressed that the United States should push North Korea to adhere to international standards, not only on nuclear issues, but also human rights. Acceptance of international obligations are just as important on human rights as on nuclear issues, and failure in one area undermines observance of obligations in another area, he argued. He noted that President Trump’s only very brief comment on human rights was the President’s comment that he took Kim Jong-un at his word when Kim said he did not know that young American Otto Warmbier was being mistreated in a North Korean prison—mistreatment that resulted in his death following his return to the United States.

This was not pressing Kim to observe human rights principles, but merely the answer to a question which Trump accepted from Kim without pushing back. King also emphasized the importance and value for United States policy to focus on enhancing the flow of information into North Korea. Amb. King is currently the Senior Advisor to the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Dr. Lynn Lee, Assoc. Director, National Endowment for Democracy (A. Kotok)

Speaking next, Dr. Lynn Lee, Associate Director for Asia at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), stressed the importance of access to information from the outside for people in closed societies like North Korea. To this end, NED has helped establish and support three civil society-run radio stations based in South Korea and broadcasting to the North. NED has also worked with civil society organizations in providing radios to North Koreans. Although it is against the law—and punishable by death—to own and listen to a foreign radio, North Koreans have managed to do so. NED works with civil society organizations throughout Asia, including with the Uighurs in China and the Rohynga in Burma.


Dr. Shawn Powers, Acting Chief Strategy Officer, U.S. Agency for Global Media (A. Kotok)

Dr. Shawn Powers, Acting Chief Strategy Officer for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), began his presentation with an overview of USAGM broadcasting. USAGM networks (including VOA, RFE-RL, and Radio Free Asia) broadcast 13 hours of radio programming reaching 345 million people on a weekly basis. USAGM also produces 42 minutes of new video content daily. These broadcasts—particularly radio—remain the principal way of reaching North Koreans. According to a 2018 USAGM survey of North Korean refugees/defectors, the most listened to radio stations were Radio Free Asia (10 percent), VOA (8 percent), and a South Korean state broadcaster (7.2 percent). 33 percent of North Koreans watch video broadcasting from South Korea or China, primarily for entertainment. Nevertheless, North Korea is becoming increasingly isolated from outside information as the North Korean government has tightened its control on information and increased punishments for accessing foreign content. Except for foreign TV, access to foreign media has decreased.

Driving interest in international news is a desire for information about defection, business and economic news, information about the outside world, and information useful in daily life. The survey also revealed that food is increasingly difficult to access and Kim Jong-un is not seen as governing with the interests of average North Korean citizens in mind. North Koreans do believe, however, that their country is safer with nuclear weapons.

Fulbright scholar Sungiu Lee. Former PDAA President Greta Morris, left, chaired the program. (A. Kotok)

During the discussion period, one of the guests, a young North Korean refugee who is currently a Fulbright scholar working on his Ph.D. in conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University, re-enforced some of the results of the survey. The most effective way of reaching North Koreans, he said, is not by criticizing the North Korean government but through “soft-power” stories, like South Korean soap operas, which portray daily life in a free and economically viable society.

The program demonstrated clearly the importance of engaging with countries like North Korea on different levels, from diplomatic engagement, to broadcasting/digital engagement, to people-to-people exchanges.

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