Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014b

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Sports Diplomacy – Is it for Everybody?

There has been many talks about how major sports events can improve a countries image abroad. Many countries use such an approach, but the talks about it have become more profound with the 2012 Olympics in London and the FIFA World Cups in South Africa in 2010 and in Brazil in 2014. It has been said that the image of the UK is already really good and organizing such an event well would not have such an influence on the country’s image. But Brazil and South African are totally different story.

Brazil and South Africa are not as developed as UK is, for example, and they are still often seen as developing countries with significantly low living standards. Because of that international image, both Brazil and South Africa expected to improve their image through FIFA World Cups. One could say that the attempts by both of the countries have failed miserably. There are many reasons for that.

For example, the video clips used by different media outlets between the football games or half-times were filmed in both countries. Such an action is not extraordinary itself, but the fact that both of the countries hoped to improve their image through these video clips is. That is because many of these clips showed the everyday-life in the countries or regions where the games were held in order to show the life of regular people. Yet what the world saw from these video clips, and the reactions to these were not what the Brazilian more than the South African governments and organizers expected. The world saw the life of regular people in these two countries – people is slums, underdevelopment, poverty, et cetera. Did such images help to improve these countries image? Probably not. What the rest of the world realized was that the high development that was believed to be happening in South Africa and Brazil were not as high and far-reaching. One could argue that if these countries wanted to improve their image on an international level through major sports events, and through the media coverage that the organizers made available, they should have chosen a different perspective. For example, the video clips that were shown across the globe might have been about the nature of the countries, and not about the slums. At least a significant images of nature might have increased tourism, as was expected the World Cup would do.

Another aspect the organizing countries seemed not to realize was that no matter how good the event was, the money spent and decisions made would overshadow that achievement. Both of the countries spent huge amounts of money to be able to organize the World Cup. South Africa spent approximately 3bn[i] pounds and Brazil spent more than 11bn dollars[ii]. The money issue was more significant in Brazil, because the organizers built new football stadiums, some in regions that are highly uninhabited. Many stadiums are now disused[iii] or used for something else that football[iv]. Such developments have made people question is it right of the governments and organizers to use significant amounts of money for an event that’s outcome for the country’s image is highly unpredictable.

All in all, one could argue that the importance countries place on sports diplomacy and major sport events might not be for everybody. It might improve country’s image, but it might also do severe damage. That might be the case especially if the organizing country is considered to be developing, does not have a strong international image, or wants to improve it through one event.

[i] Meate, R., 2010, “South Africa recoups just a tenth of the £3bn cost of staging World Cup 2010”, The Telegraph, (accessed 14.05.2015)

[ii] Rapoza, K., 2014, “Bringing FIFA To Brazil Equals To Roughly 61% Of Education Budget”, Forbes (accessed 14.05.2015)

[iii] Manfred, T., 2015, “Brazil’s $3 billion World Cup stadiums are becoming white elephants a year later”, Business Insider, (accessed 13.05.2015)

[iv] Stromberg, J., 2015, “Brazil’s $900 million World Cup stadium is now being used as a parking lot”, Vox, (accessed 13.05.2015)


Nation Branding – It Is Possible

Simon Anholt, the person who allegedly came up with the phrase ‘nation branding’, recently launched another index besides the Nation Brand Index, to list countries based on their actions in international arena, the Good Country Index[1]. Moreover, Anholt had said that the reason for this was that it is actually impossible to brand a nation, and therefore it is not right to list them based on this. Yet one has to wonder, is it really impossible to brand a nation, or is it impossible just in the case big countries that are known around the world. There are examples when nation branding has actually worked and changed the idea that people have about certain countries. Estonia might be a good example of that.

Estonia was often seen as a post-communist country in Eastern Europe that does not really have anything to offer to citizens and governments from developed, Western countries. This view is quite outdated though, because by many people, today Estonia is seen as highly developed country that provides some of the most advanced ideas and ways for online governance and IT services in the digital era.

For example, European Agency for the Operational Management and large-scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (eu-LISA) headquarters are located in Estonia[2] because of the country’s advanced info technological knowledge and background. The decision by the EU member states to set eu-LISA headquarters up in Estonia shows that the country is seen by other member states as capable of providing secure IT services for different European Union institutions.

The real surprise is that more countries have yet to build similar systems of their own. – Leonid Bershidsky

Moreover, as Estonia has been using online-voting during elections since 2005[3], today it is “the only country in the world that relies on Internet voting in a significant way for legally-binding national elections – up to 25% of voters cast their ballots online”[4]. Estonia has made the system quite secure, with different procedures and resources needed, such as national ID-cards, digital ID or mobile ID, in order to cast a vote[5]. The system has been so successful that the country has been brought up as an example for others to follow by The Telegraph and BBC. Furthermore, not only are Estonians known for voting online, but they also file taxes, use banking systems or receive a medical prescription online.

Vabariigi Valimiskomisjon, Statistics about Internet Voting in Estonia

In addition to this, in 2014 Estonia launched its e-residency programme that provides “state-issued secure digital identity for non-residents that allows digital authentication and the digital signing of documents”[6]. The programme has many benefits, including signing documents online and providing digital authentication which means that it is possible for e-residents to run businesses or every-day errands from anywhere in the world[7]. The programme has already prove to be a success, with the first e-resident being journalist Edward Lucas, and the highest ranking e-resident so far being Japanese Prime Minister. Moreover, many different news outlets, such as The Guardian, The Register, and ZDNet, have described the programme and mentioned its many benefits and future outlook that will possibly benefit the country and set yet another example for others on how to improve their digital services.

Edward Lucas’ Estonian e-residency ID card.

That being said, it is important to keep in mind that nation branding does not happen overnight. But to say that it is absolutely impossible is, in my opinion, wrong. There are other examples of this being possible and Estonia is yet another one. While previously having been seen as a developing post-communist country, it now has a reputation of one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. And all this because of the work Estonian public and private sector have done together in order to prove the country’s image. As a nation-branding case, Estonia is an example for others, both in proving that it is possible to brand a nation and its advanced ways of doing so.

Ask an Estonian about e-government, and almost anyone will proudly pull out their chip ID-card and offer a demonstration. That should be every government’s dream. – Leonid Bershidsky

[1] The Good County Index,

[2] eu-LISA, „Who We Are“,

[3] E-Estonia, „i-Voting“,

[4] Independent Report on E-voting in Estonia,

[5] Vabariigi Valimiskomisjon, „Internet Voting in Estonia“,

[6] E-Estonia, „Estonian E-Residency: What is e-Residency?“,

[7] E-Estonia, „Estonian E-Residency: Benefits“,

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

There has been a lot of controversy over the subject of leaking government documents. Some think that people who leak those documents should be prosecuted and go to jail; others think that those leakers are doing the right thing. Many government officials and security experts believe that leaking government documents is unacceptable and those people who do it should face a long punishment in prison, because these acts might severely damage the national security of a specific state. In this work it is looked at one of the most recent acts of leaking government documents – Edward Snowden and the NSA files. What was the reason behind this act, how the public, media and the government of the United States and the UK responded, and what has changed ever since?

“Surveilling populations is one of the steps that oppressive regimes take, and the chilling effect of that is that you fundamentally violate basic freedoms.” – Laura Poitras

The reason Edward Snowden himself has said to many journalists that he leaked the NSA documents because he did not have another choice. In an interview with James Bamford from Wired, Snowden says that as he learned about the mass surveillance the NSA carried out, he brought this problem to his superiors’ attention. Unfortunately, this did not change anything, so Snowden decided that whistle-blowing and, therefore, public attention would be a way to, hopefully, change the situation. The copies of the documents Snowden took from the NSA files are now in the hands of several news organizations, including The Guardian, First Look Media – media organization set up by journalist Glenn Greenwald and US documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, The New York Times, and The Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman. These journalists and news organizations have revealed parts of the documents to bring public attention to the issue of mass-surveillance and information gathering of US citizens as well as people abroad. Moreover, from the documents it has been revealed that the US security agencies have worked together with foreign intelligence agencies, such as UKs GCHQ, to gain access to peoples’ personal data, phone logs and information, internet usage, etc. To do all this, many different programmes, such as Prism, Tempora, MonsterMind, etc. have been developed.

Public, media, and government response The wider response to Snowden’s leaking scandal went into different directions. According to the national survey conducted in the US in June 2013 by the Pew Research Centre and USA Today, there were a lot of people who said that Snowden did the right thing and his revelation of the NSA documents serves the public interest. On the other hand, there were also people who said that Snowden’s leaks harmed public interest and that he should be prosecuted. Yet, at the same time, more often than not, people also said that if they had known that the US government was collecting their data, they would have felt that their privacy had been violated. Moreover, it were younger people who were divided over whether Snowden should be prosecuted, whereas older people favour criminal prosecution. Media’s response over the leaks was somewhat different. After publishing the stories about the files and government officials’ response to the stories, quite a few journalists drifted away from the main point of the leaks, which was to inform the public about the illegal surveillance and information collection, and started questioning and accusing the journalists who had the files, about how they intend to keep the files safe. Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian journalist, for example, had to remind to many other news anchors, like in this video, that “there is only one group of people who have lost control of huge amounts of what they claim are important documents, and those people are called the GCHQ and the NSA.” Moreover, many mainstream media outlets, such as Reuters, CNN, The Times and BBC, claimed that publishing these documents has made it easier for terrorists to avoid surveillance and harder for the US and UK intelligence communities to track them. At the same time, as reported by The Intercept, there have been researches made by different independent analysts, who claim that Snowden revelations do not help terrorists. The report made by Flashpoint Global Partners, a private security firm, states that “well prior to Edward Snowden, online jihadists were already aware that law enforcement and intelligence agencies were attempting to monitor them.”

 “The underlying public encryption methods employed by online jihadists do not appear to have significantly changed since the emergence of Edward Snowden.” – Report by Flashpoint Global Partners

The US and UK governments reacted to these revelations like one would expect – widespread denial about any illegal surveillance and intelligence gathering was the main answer to the journalists and to the public. The UK government representatives asked The Guardian to hand over or destroy all the documents the newspaper had acquired from Snowden, and, according to Alan Rusbridger, that request led to destroying computers and hard drives in The Guardian offices in London. To the UK government, that seemed to be accomplishment enough at the time, and hopes that the Guardian won’t publish another story of the matter were high.

“Given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance. Particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives.” – President Obama

The US government response was quite different. As the revealing stories about illegal surveillance and information gathering gained more interest, government and intelligence community officials made statements to protect its actions. For example, former NSA Director Keith Alexander defended the NSA’s actions of surveillance in an interview with ABC News, saying it is vital for defending national interest and “to defend this nation,” while regarding Snowden as someone who had “betrayed the trust and confidence we had in him”. Besides Alexander there were others, such as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who seemed to forget the NSA’s actions and considered Snowden’s actions as something that has profound effect on US national security and is “the greatest damage to our combined nations’ intelligence system that we have ever suffered”. Even President Obama defended the NSA’s surveillance programmes, saying that they are there to “protect our [US] security” and “to keep our people safe,” while criticizing Snowden for bringing up this issue in public. Obama went on saying that these programmes are secured against government abuse and that “if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to you telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your e-mails… they cannot and they have not, by law and by rule, unless… they go to a court and obtain a warrant,” leaving the rest of the world citizens conveniently aside. What has changed ever since?

“We live in a free society. You don’t target everyone because you’re interested in certain people.” – Laura Poitras

This whole leaking scandal has brought about some changes, but almost two years after the first stories about the documents were published, the change has not been as great as one would have expected. After setting up an independent panel – which still included many members of the intelligence community, the same community they had to review, including James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who lied to the Congress about the surveillance – to review the NSA surveillance, and meeting with the biggest technology companies representatives, Obama announced a set of reforms that would scale back the NSA surveillance programmes – reforms that are not as far reaching as they could be. In other words, Obama finally admitted that the NSA surveillance and data collection was illegal and needed changes, but the only change is that now it is the telecom companies collecting the data and the NSA needs a court order to access this data. Yet at the same time, many technology companies have made more efforts in protecting users’ privacy – for example, Yahoo adds encryptions to all its services, and similar moves to add encryption and other security measures are being taken by Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Despite all this, Snowden revelations have influenced foreign relations between the US and other countries – mostly with Brazil and Germany but also with other European and South-American countries. Despite all this, it could be said that the biggest change is that now there is a debate about the issue. People are more informed about the US (and UK) government actions and the illegal surveillance, they demand their rights for privacy to be protected. Moreover, people have more knowledge about the privacy issues and possible alternatives while using Iternet.

“I care more about the country than what happens to me. But we can’t allow the law to become a political weapon or agree to scare people away from standing up for their rights, no matter how good the deal. I’m not going to be part of that.” – Edward Snowden

But all in all, is anything changed fundamentally? The companies still collect data; the government still stores it and even collects it if people are believed to be related to terrorism or threat to national security. The whistle-blower – in this case Edward Snowden – is still being charged with felonies, even though he revealed the illegal and unconstitutional acts of the US that undermine privacy, at the same time, the state do not see almost any wrongdoing in its own actions. Lastly, it is important to ask ourselves, is this all worth it? Are we ready to give up our privacy to ensure security – and if so, then to what extent?

“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserv neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin


Spreading the message – who’s responsible?

There probably isn’t a single person who has not heard about some extremist or terrorist organizations and their increasing, and often quite influential, use of social media. But when we see this happening, when we see videos and pictures of people being tortured or killed by extremist group members, not only in their social media accounts, but also in mainstream media, one should ask whose fault is this? Who is responsible for this? And I don’t mean who is responsible for uploading these pictures or videos, but who is responsible for spreading them? Is it that extremist group member who filmed it? Or the one who posted it? Or is it this media outlet who showed it in their news or online outlets? Or is it the owner of this social media site where these pictures and videos were uploaded? Or some worker of this social media outlet? Or is it us?

For example, let’s look ISIS (or IS, or ISIL or Daesh or however else one would refer to this extremist group) (Black, 2014). ISIS is known for using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Internet memes quite successfully. Their images and videos are graphical, and it almost feels as if people fighting in the name of this group are fighting in Hollywood action-movies. They use videos and pictures to respond to Western politicians, as happened in September, when there was a video called “Flames of War” released (The Associated Press, 2014). Also, many video game features are used to promote their views and ideas (Rose, 2014).

But whose fault is it that ISIS has such access to social media without having their accounts deleted?

There are people like Con Coughlin, who in his article seems to say that Edward Snowden is the person responsible. Not for posting information and spreading views in the name of ISIS. But because his decision to leak US security information has thought ISIS members how to be undetected or ‘work under radar’ while operating in different social media accounts (Coughlin, 2014). Is that so? I disagree. It should be tech firms that should work more closely with each other and with governments and authorities in which they operate to prevent such extremist or terrorist groups having access to social media (Swinford, 2014). Yet, one should keep in mind that it would be impossible to delete all information posted by ISIS, because it’s also, regular people, news outlets, online media channels, etc. who share this information, and therefore, in a way, aid ISIS to spread their message (Radan, 2014)

And then there are people like Queen Rania of Jordan, who stated in her opening speech at Abu Dhabi Media Summit 2014 that ISIS is just ‘a minority of irreligious extremists’ who are ‘using social media to rewrite our narrative, hijack our identity and rebrand us’ [Arab nations]. But she didn’t blame someone else for the popularity of ISIS on social media. Instead, Queen Raina said that ‘we – the moderate majority – are equally to blame. They say “a story is told as much by silence as by speech”. Well, our silence speaks volumes. We are complicit in their success” (Queen Rania of Jordan, 2014). That means, there are people who understand that their actions affect the accessibility of ISIS ideas, actions and view just as much as mass media. Even if people share ISIS pictures or videos just to discourage such actions, they still share the message as well. And this won’t stop, it doesn’t matter how much work and effort tech forms and governments put into stopping ISIS from using social media.

Therefore, it could be said that even though ISIS, and other extremist groups, are using social media more efficiently than ever before, it isn’t only tech firms or social media companies who are responsible of that. ISIS and others are so successful because other media outlets, news agencies and, most importantly, regular people share their videos and pictures and therefore, consciously or subconsciously, help to spread their views.


Media War – Russia vs the West

“We must remember that in time of war what is said on the enemy’s side of the front is always propaganda, and what is said on our side of the front is truth and righteousness, the cause of humanity and a crusade for peace” – Walter Lippmann

While reading about the Ukraine-Russian crisis, more and more I stumbled across the phrase “media war”. The fact that mass media uses news or other means to get their agenda across to wide range of people is nothing new, because that’s what media does, especially in times of crisis. But the fact that the Western media paints a picture where Russia is the only party who does something wrong in this ‘war’ should not be considered acceptable.

Media war is a situation where mainstream media uses information, news, pictures, videos, etc. in such a way that suits for them – mainly in order to shape the public opinion and get the public support for future actions (Nazemroaya). Media war is a tool of propaganda – or as D. Tulchinskiy, Bureau Chief of Rossiya Segodnya sayd “a tendentious presentation of facts” of the participating parties (Troianovski).

In this current crisis between Russia and Ukraine, the Western media keeps portraying Russia as the one who fabricates with the facts, lies to the public, and generally, uses media to show how bad and aggressive Russia is. While one cannot say that Russia is not doing any of these things, one also has to keep in mind that Russia is not the only party in this ‘media war’, that there is also another party – Ukraine and the West as well – who fabricates with the facts in order to get the public’s support for their actions, and also, to demonize Russia. Yet the news in Western media are seen as being true and unbiased whereas everything anti-Ukrainian mentioned in Russian media is labelled as propaganda. But, time and time again, we see news outlets, such as the New York Times, BBC, the Washington Post, etc. publishing ‘news’ which are based on false evidence. There are many examples of that available.

For example, there was a very popular video, “I Am a Ukrainian” circulating in the Western media outlets, as well as Youtube and many social media channels early February 2014, that was claimed to be filmed in Ukraine, by the Ukrainians to show how bad the protesters situation was in the country. This video was also used to demonstrate how the Ukrainian people are tired of government corruption and how they want freedom and democracy. Also, this video was used to illustrate how Russia has helped to increase the conflict and unrest in Ukraine by sending its troops to fight in the name of the separatists, etc. Later on, it was revealed that this video was actually made by US NGO, which has been “directly involved in staging phony ‘colour revolutions’ in the past” (Watson). However, this information doesn’t appear in any Western mainstream media outlets, and the woman in the video is treated as a true revolutionist in many different news shows, for example in Canada’s Sun News.

Another example of Western media reporting about ‘true’ events in Ukraine was earlier in the year when the NY Times, BBC, etc. claimed that they had photos to prove that Russian troops were fighting in Ukraine. During that time Russians denied these claims. Yet even U.S. State Department used these publicly available photos that they got from the Ukrainian government as a “strong evidence that indicates the connection of Ukrainian armed militants and Russia” as the U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in this video. It was revealed later that these photos were not real, and during that time, in March and April 2014, there was no actual proof or evidence of Russian troops or military personnel actually being present in Ukraine. After learning this, BBC, for example, changed the title of its previously published news story without actually confirming that they had misinformed the public by releasing false facts.

Also, there are many US officials who make many accusations about Russia interfering in Ukraine’s politics and destabilizing the situation in the region, while doing exactly the same thing themselves. I found it very interesting how the US State Department accused Russia in espionage and violation of private conversation when a recording of a conversation between the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State V. Nuland and U.S Ambassador in Ukraine G. R. Pyatt was posted in YouTube early 2014. As the State Department spokesperson says in this briefing, it was clear for the Americans that “Russians were responsible for this” because they were one of “the first ones to post it on YouTube and to Tweet about it”. But we heard hardly any news about the fact that two U.S. officials were discussing who should or should not be in the Ukrainian government, which should have been decided by the people of Ukraine through democratic elections, and not by anybody else.

Moreover, even better example of how Western media and politicians don’t see the problem in their actions was seen in the lack of reports or news in Western media after Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yatsenyuk in his speech called Eastern Ukrainians “inhuman” and promised to “commemorate the heroes [of Ukraine] by wiping out those who killed them and then by cleaning our land from the evil”, or the Ukrain’s Foreign Minister using offensive language when referring to President Putin while siding with the protestors. The response the U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki gave regarding these comments does not show that the State Department found anything wrong with calling someone ‘inhuman’, and one could even say, agrees with that kind of language.

In conclusion, one could say that even though Russian media is very biased when reporting Ukrainian crisis, the Western mass media is not any better. There might be more true facts in Western news outlets, but they are just as biased as their opponents. Western media has published fake facts or has not acted in a way one would expect, just like Russia. Therefore, it would be wise to rely on many different sources when reading about a ‘news’ because relying on one source is never a good idea.


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