The emergence of ‘public diplomacy’ at the FCOJuly 1, 2011
One issue in public diplomacy research is that many countries don’t use the term public diplomacy to describe what they do. In addition if they do use the term they may mean different things by it. The question then arises how much difference do changes in terminology actually make? In looking at the development of British PD activities the term that was used across the post 1945 period was ‘information work’ . The term public diplomacy comes into official use in 1996. From a Foreign Office point of view ‘information work’ covers their activities – media relations and the dissemination of other information – plus the work of the British Council and the BBC World Service. This is exactly the same way that the BC and the BBC are described by the FCO today as ‘public diplomacy partners’ even as both these organizations deny that they do public diplomacy. The label may have changed but the relationship is the same.
In 1986 the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee conducted an investigation into ‘cultural diplomacy’. It’s obvious from the FCO evidence that cultural diplomacy is not a concept that they recognize. In fact it contains the line ‘cultural, or what the Americans call public, diplomacy is aimed directly at the people as well as the governments of foreign countries.’ Their evidence then goes on to discuss what they would normally have labelled as ‘information work’ under the heading of cultural diplomacy.
Why a decade later does ‘information work’ turn into ‘public diplomacy’? At the moment I can’t definitively answer this. The parliamentary papers that I’ve looked at are somewhat surprising for the absence of discussion around this change – ‘information work’ had been in use for half a century at this point so you might expect some commentary. On the basis of what I’ve been able to dig up so far my hunch is that what drives the change is organizational and budgetary. Up until the 1996 budget year ‘information work’ had been a separate budget line but as result of a Treasury driven review of FCO activities it was decided to devolve several budgets including information work from the departmental centre to geographical regions and posts. It maybe that the adoption of public diplomacy as label was specifically to emphasize that the activity was now part of normal diplomacy and not a distinct activity that might have been inferred from ‘information work’. At least it’s clear that PD was not something that comes in with the Blair government.
I’ll write more about the changing content of ‘information work’ but can anyone provide any pointers about the change to ‘public diplomacy’ in the FCO?