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Sonenshine on diplomacy vs. propaganda

How United States public diplomacy intends to inform, educate, shape the narrative overseas without propagandizing its own citizens: Smith-Mundt Act, Voice of America. Fmr. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the US Dept. of State, Tara Sonenshine in conversation with Charlie Firestone of The Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Charlie Firestone with the Aspen Institute here with Tara Sun and shine former Under Secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs at the US Department of State so now you get to the concept of having the American position reflected in the world's news and the world's information sources and at the same time a desire for people in other countries to hear the truth so we have on the one hand kind of a how do we get the American position out on the other how do we get surrogate journalism out where the public otherwise doesn't get true journalism is how does public diplomacy mete out those various goals public diplomacy has always been careful not to be propagandizing its own people for or against a given position and there are fine lines particularly in an Internet age where your foreign public is mixed in in a sense with your domestic public and these things do get very complicated but if you go back in time even to the age of Ben Franklin there was a desire to educate those overseas about the Declaration of Independence but you also knew that people at home were picking up these messages so what where the difference lies is in intent if I set out to explain to the rest of the world my principles of democracy freedom individual rights that is too with an intent of educating the rest of the world I am careful not to intentionally seek to bring you an American citizen around to support my view of a war but it is a lot of hair splitting in public diplomacy well we have a law in the United States that prevents the foreign of the public diplomacy efforts of the United States abroad to be broadcast an old word broadcast back into the United States the Smith hunt act can you explain that and what whether that's a good idea today when Smith Mont was formed we were living in an age in which you could cleanly broadcast overseas on services set up to be broadcast overseas for example Voice of America Voice of America was formed in nineteen forty six at a time of world war two where you could essentially broadcast The Voice of America out but have nobody in the United States turn it on and hear it so you could have a one-way delivery and your audience could be outside the boundaries of the United States and that was codified in Smith month that we would not use public diplomacy to pollute our own citizens or corrupt their view of the world we would use it to move and motivate foreign audiences over time this thing called the internet happened satellite television happened and news and information would ping pong back and forth so when I was undersecretary we reformed or we got Congress to reform Smith Mundt to at least accept the fact that Voice of America could be found on a computer in Denver as well as Denmark but the intent had to remain that we did not intend to corrupt the minds of Americans in Denver yes they might be the recipient of some of our overseas broadcasting but that our intent was still to inform educate shape the narrative of that us story overseas so we have adapted and modified as information has become fungible