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Milton Wolf Seminar 2020

This year’s Milton Wolf Seminar is entitled The Evolving Role of Media in Diplomacy

Every Milton Wolf Seminar has explored the role of the media in some dimension. Early collaborations in 2010 and 2011 coincided with a global wave of protests and “twitter revolutions” including the “Arab Spring,” and Occupy Wall Street. Conversations heralded the dawn of a new more equitable global media system built upon platforms which promised to “do no evil.” Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google were discussed in light of their ability to promote prosocial change and new mode of transnational collaboration. A decade later, the debate has changed radically.  Conversations about social media platforms formerly heralded as “revolutionary” now center on information/disinformation warfare and the siphoning of advertising dollars and reorientation of content that is contributing to the exsanguination of traditional journalism and the very public death of business models able to sustain it. Public trust in journalistic institutions has plummeted as authoritarianism is on the rise. Freedom of expression and the right to information campaigns have taken a back seat to discussions on how to limit the fall-out from troll farms and computational propaganda. Never before has the need for journalism and a functional information environment been so urgent while the industry simultaneously so imperilled.

Governments across the political spectrum are reimagining their public diplomacy and international broadcasting efforts in order to more effectively cut through the noise of an increasingly distorted and dystopian communications environment. The 2020 Seminar will take a deep dive into the role of media and international relations across areas of practice: diplomacy, journalism, development, activism, and analysis. It will also explore new developments in old and new media, legal and regulatory norms, and diplomatic interventions.  Through case studies we will explore dystopian and prosocial examples of how governments, journalists, activists, and digital and traditional media organizations seek to shape and leverage a contemporary media environment characterized by dis/misinformation, fragmentation, decline, and receding public trust in information sources.

Panellists at the 2020 Seminar will explore critical questions and potential solutions to current challenges facing media and diplomacy.  How should the training of diplomats and the role of diplomats adjust to meet the altered realities of communications systems?  What sort of current or imagined journalistic models are best suited to contemporary trends? Are there any local, national, or global interventions that suggest new pathways forward? What are the implications of these trends for transnational activism and social justice reforms?  Panellists will include academics, researchers, legal experts, technologists, citizen activists, regulators, diplomats, and journalists actively involved in identifying and building different solutions. We will also include “Emerging Scholars” PhD candidates whose work is related to the topic.

This event is jointly organized by the American Austrian Foundation (AAF), The Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna (DA) with support from The Wolf Family Foundation, The Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, and the U.S. Embassy, Vienna.