Week 4: Q3 How much freedom should public diplomacy officers have to speak their minds? Why?

Public diplomacy officers are governmental representatives to foreign audiences. Their key functions are to serve as mediators between their government (say US) and the local policies and public opinion. As Rugh states in Chapter 2 on Diplomacy Professionals, “they devote their major efforts to communications programs, and using soft power to develop mutual understand and win hearts and minds”. Thus public diplomacy officers are a human medium to represent US values, viewpoints and ideas abroad, while maintaining likeability from local audiences.

The question whether PDOs should speak their minds is very easy, once the officer personally agrees with any given US policy or action, and in that case, they should speak their minds, and by doing so persuading local audiences to follow their logic and build trust. In Chapter 4 Rugh emphasizes the importance of PDOs to be honest and truthful, as it is a crucial fundament of creating a sustainable relationship to the local public and networking circles. However, Rugh specifies that in case the PDO does not personally agree with certain US policy or action, they should refrain from criticizing US institutions and actions. Rugh does not encourage lying, but suggests the PDO refuses to answer to personal opinion questions in those cases.

I agree and would encourage that PDOs should speak their minds when their opinion is aligned with the US policies they are supposed to represent, especially when they see an opportunity to persuade local audiences towards such opinions. In the contrary case, PDOs must be very careful not to contradict US policies, even if it is done by silence, in refusing to comment. In certain situations silence indicates more than words could. These situations also make the experience and training of PDOs very important, since they often have to act upon their own discretion.

The baseline is that PDOs are there to create stable relationships, which cannot exist without a level of trust. To depict this thought, Rugh has quoted Edward R. Murrow, who as Director of USIA, said: “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”


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