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Triumphs and Tragedies: Media and Global Events in 2014

April 19, 2015 - April 21, 2015

Diplomatic Academy of Vienna

Categories: Conference/Symposium

Milton Wolf Seminar 2015

Triumphs and Tragedies: Media and Global Events in 2014

Vienna, Austria, April 19 – April 21, 2015

For the sixth consecutive year, the Center for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication co-organized the Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy with the Diplomatic Academy, Vienna and the American Austrian Foundation.

For detailed information about the 2015 Seminar agenda, panelists, and discussions, read the 2015 Milton Wolf Compendium here.

Thematic Overview

The 2015 Seminar explored the theme, “Triumphs and Tragedies: Media and Global Events in 2014.” Punctuated by both diplomatic triumphs and tragedies, 2014 was an extraordinary year for those interested in international communication and diplomacy.  The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria emerged from the shadows into the media spotlight, sweeping through large swaths of the Middle East.  Ukraine and Russia moved to the brink of war and beyond over the annexation of Crimea.  The United States and Cuba surprised the world with the announcement of the first moves towards the normalization of diplomatic relations in over fifty years. While Iran and Western leaders inched painfully forward in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. As the year came to a close, hackers seeking to stop the release of a film demeaning Kim Jun un waged one of the most extensive and damaging corporate cyber attacks in history against Sony Pictures, an attack purportedly sponsored by the North Korean government. These disparate case studies offer fertile examples of diplomatic conflicts and agreements between players of differing geopolitical size and strength.  They also highlight the increasingly complex role of old and new media in international diplomacy.

Geopolitical actors of all sizes and shapes are experimenting with new forms of strategic communication that capitalize on the complexities of the diffuse and multi-modal global media system. ISIS not only surprised the West with its swift and precise military offensive but with the sophistication of its social media charm offensive. Even as most social media platforms remained banned in Iran, Iranian political and religious leaders ramped up efforts to bring the Iranian nuclear case to the world through often contradictory English language websites, Twitter feeds, and YouTube videos.  Ukraine and Russia faced off in the battlefield as well as in the international court of public opinion, employing hackers, activists, and social media campaigners—utilizing new techniques but often resurrecting familiar Cold War rhetoric. US-Cuba negotiations revived the seemingly lost art of secret and closed-door diplomatic negotiations, moving into to the media spotlight only after their resolution. Finally, the startling Sony episode provided another sign of the significance of hacking and cyberwar in terms of thinking through the complexities of representation, reaction and retaliation.

Taking these case studies as a starting point, the 2015 Seminar examined the historical continuities and potential paradigm shifts in strategic communication surrounding foreign policy events. Panels featured academics and stakeholders including diplomats, journalists, activists, and non-traditional media actors invested in shaping these event narratives and outcomes. Questions that guided the 2015 seminar discussion included:

  • To what extent is the proliferation of new communication technologies and corresponding changes in media flows challenging the role of diplomats, journalists, and activists in shaping international understanding of world events?
  • How are new techniques upending or reinforcing images of authority surrounding diplomacy?
  • How do informational strategies challenge geopolitical power asymmetries?
  • What has been the roll of non-traditional media and communications actors in shaping these global events?


The 2015 Emerging Scholars Program

In order to maximize opportunities for students and emerging scholars and to enrich the discussions, each year, the seminar organizers select an elite group of outstanding PhD students, advanced MA Candidates, emerging scholars or equivalents that are working in areas related to the seminar themes to receive full funding to attend the Seminar. These distinguished fellows not only participate in the seminar discussions but also serve as the seminar blog team. Read more about the Emerging Scholars Program here.

The 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows were: