Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014b

Author Archive

Terrorism and Public Relations – ISIS and its path to us.

‘Understand your audience and you will understand the impact of your message on each follower in your social media networks.’

MATT GENTILE

Headlines have been filled up with stories about ISIS and its progress across Iraq and Syria in past few months. The systematic cruelty they operate with, fearless development of their strategies and support they gained in eyes of many citizens across the world have all contributed to the media attention they gained. Nonetheless, what has fascinated and surprised me personally, have been their rather methodical approach to public relations, moreover, and an innovative, modern and progressive strategy to address wider publics worldwide. For instance, according to The New York Times, ISIS and their followers tweet almost hundred thousand times a day. The internet has become a borderless platform to explore. As many times compared, ISIS seems to be miles ahead from ideologically similar terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda, their high-definition video shows, weekly magazine in several languages and a smart phone application bombard the global public on daily basis. Yet the question to ask is, what has made particularly ISIS images and information so powerful that they gain attention and many times the support of the public.

Firstly, while Al-Qaeda has been active in media for many years, on the internet is has always chosen anonymous, respectively  indirect approach to propaganda. On the contrary, ISIS seems to strategically present itself as highly organised, hi-tech and modern organisation behind the same traditional values. In many ways, it seems that ‘going fearlessly public’ and drawing controversy and attention to its activities has paid off. Not only that mass media compete to publish on the hot topic, but also choosing the communication channels of youth, many young people see ISIS as an attractive phenomenon.

One does not need to look deeply into their strategy to see their understanding of the audiences. The mobile application for latest updates (despite the fact it has been banned, its popularity was unexpectedly high); regular videos published on various platforms – many in English to appeal Western publics etc.

Secondly, if the ISIS seemed to be systematic in its public relations in its beginnings, one should not be surprised by founding Al-Hayat Media Center, a new media producer organisation, which since last May has brought their media campaign to professional level. “The new media branch follows ISIS’s general media strategy of distributin

Capture1g diverse materials in several languages, including new videos and subtitles for existing videos, and also articles, news reports, and translated jihadi materials,” reported MEMRI.

In recent years, ICT technologies have massively progressed and have brought radio, TV, magazines and newspapers as well as social media to our day-to-day lives, into every computer and phone we possess. Hence, one could argue that usage of these outlets by organisations like ISIS has been rather inevitable and natural progress in their quest to win hearts and minds of the public. Yet, that has become the greatest danger posed by them. Governments’ inability to control the flow of information as well as internet itself has given them a great opportunity to exploit these platforms and pursue their own goals particularly through them. And so the fight against such as ISIS is, has become a war on two fronts – not only a conventional one but also in the cyberspace. Numerous attempts to ban various social accounts owned by ISIS, identify ISIS supporters online or rage anti-ISIS hash tag war (#no2ISIS) have earned some support, yet they have not toppled sophisticated public campaign by ISIS PR Team and their supporters.

References:

Becker, O. (2014). ISIS Has a Really Slick and Sophisticated Media Department. Available: https://news.vice.com/article/isis-has-a-really-slick-and-sophisticated-media-department. Last accessed 15th March 2015.

Gibbons-Neff, T. (2014). Iraq and ISIS: Waging war with hashtags.Available: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/06/24/iraq-and-isis-waging-war-with-hashtags/. Last accessed 15th March 2015.

ITV. (2014). Isis official app available to download on Google Play.Available: http://www.itv.com/news/2014-06-17/isiss-official-app-available-to-download-on-google-play/. Last accessed 15th March 2015.

Knowlton, B. (2014). Digital War Takes Shape on Websites Over ISIS.Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/27/world/middleeast/us-vividly-rebuts-isis-propaganda-on-arab-social-media.html. Last accessed 15th March 2015.

MEMRI. (2014). New ISIS Media Company Addresses English, German And French-Speaking Westerners. Available: http://www.memrijttm.org/new-isis-media-company-targets-english-german-and-french-speaking-westerners.html. Last accessed 15th March 2015.

Reuter, C et al. . (2014). Digital Jihad: Inside Islamic State’s Savvy PR War. Available: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-professional-pr-strategies-of-isis-in-syria-and-iraq-a-995611.html. Last accessed 15th March 2015.

The Telegraph . (2014). How terrorists are using social media.Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11207681/How-terrorists-are-using-social-media.html. Last accessed 15th March 2015.

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Media and the CNN Effect – The powerful images

‘The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses’.

MALCOLM X

Since the Gulf war of 1990-1991 and the birth of the 24/7 news network, the role of mass media in world affairs has expanded rapidly. Not only that technology progress allowed to report on developments from any part of the world live, but also it brought the reality of war and violence to the homes of public. This direct communication channel, before granted much narrower sense, has created a vital link between the individual and the mass media. This relationship has overcome before ever present government’s influence and shifted the decision-making and opinion-shaping power into hands of mass media. So called ‘CNN effect’, respectively the ability of global news networks to exert influence on foreign policies of countries has grown on importance.

Moreover, there are supportive examples of the media affecting policy maker focus –  such as media coverage on savage dragging of US soldier dead body across the streets in Somalia and outrage it caused in the eyes of American public. The pressure put on Clinton’s administration then resulted in the withdrawal of the troops. Additionally, crises across the globe which would in CNN-free diplomatic conduct would be talked about for weeks, with rather little presence of the media, yet nowadays one can see diplomats being scrutinised for not bringing results to the table right away, such as in Geneva talks on Syrian Crises and are quickly doomed to be failure.

The powerful images they show make us decide on what we believe in, and the public tends to put a great deal of trust in what they see – well it’s a live report, it has to be true, or not? Well, that’s where the question of power comes in. The CNN effect notion has not remained uncontested. There are many arguing that due to the power structures within society, media have become yet another outlet for governments to pursue their interests. Manufacturing consent thesis, as well as Robinson’s argument proposing governments interests in justifying their steps through media outlets, have strongly leant seemingly independent media back to doubt. Parisian march after Charlie Hebdo attacks in early 2015 firstly appeared to be attended by many world leaders; nonetheless coverage exposing them marching alone, off the crowds shows just how much misperception media coverage can cause. Moreover, since the coverage of the Gulf War and until the revival of more controversial Al-Jazeera concept,  media went through a process of making war seem cleaner, less shocking, more acceptable. As Damazer, the executive reporter from the BBC service pointed out:’For reasons that are laudable and honourable, we have got to a situation where our coverage has become sanitised. We are running the risk of double standards, and it is not a service to democracy. British television viewers have not seen images of dead or injured British soldiers since the Falklands war’.

The power of media has arguably grown, with increasing scope and pace of their work. Yet the images and messages via which they address publics may be misinterpreted moreover, manipulated. Nonetheless, whether the ability to create content has remained  in the hands of mass media, to what extent, respectively how much of what we see has been altered by the state filters in order to fit its interests becomes a decision to make in the minds and hearts of the audiences themselves. However, in the world constantly fed by breaking news, live videos and 24/7 coverage deception may become acceptable. As Morrison concludes: ‘Whoever controls the media, controls the minds too.’

References:

Gilboa, E. (2003). ‘The CNN Effect: The Origins and Development of a Misguided Concept’, Conference Paper – International Communication Association, p. 1-30, EBSCOhost, Last accessed 26 February 2015

Levinson, A. (1994). Dead Soldier Dragged Through Somali Streets a Modern-Day Unknown : Mogadishu: Pentagon says naming the mob’s victim serves no purpose and would only pain those who loved and lost him.. Available: http://articles.latimes.com/1994-01-16/news/mn-12448_1_dead-soldier. Last accessed 15th February 2015.

Livingston, S. (1997). Clarifying The CNN Effect: An Examination of media Effects According to Type of Military Intervention. Available: http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/r18_livingston.pdf. Last accessed 26 February 2015.

Robinson, P. (2002). The CNN effect: the myth of news, foreign policy, and intervention. London, Routledge

Sam Ma, Y. (2014). The role of global media in public diplomacy. Available: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2014-01/11/content_17230295.htm. Last accessed 15th February 2015.

Wells, M. (2003). Embedded reporters ‘sanitised’ Iraq war. Available: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2003/nov/06/broadcasting.Iraqandthemedia. Last accessed 15th February 2015.

Withnall, A. (2015). Paris march: TV wide shots reveal a different perspective on world leaders at largest demonstration in France’s history. Available: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-march-tv-wide-shots-reveal-a-different-perspective-on-world-leaders-at-largest-demonstration-in-frances-history-9972895.html. Last accessed 26th February 2015.

 Citizen diplomacy – are we all part of it?

‘In an era of bluster and bombs, citizen diplomacy is a builder of bridges.’

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT U.S. Secretary of State (1997-2001)

In today’s interconnected world, economic, political, security and social dimensions of nation-states have become even more interwoven. Moreover, thanks to evolving communication and travel technologies, the momentum of global communication across borders has moved dramatically into lives of the individual citizens. Yet, concept of track two diplomacy or citizen diplomacy attempts to marry two rather seemingly distant concepts – individual pursuing their own activities and interests and diplomatic practice which involves frameworks for collaboration between countries. (Bhandari and Belyavina, 2011) And therefore, outcome of actions and participation of an individual can serve diplomatic purposes. However, one then has to ask how effectively such notion can impact international relations, moreover whether it’s future can bring about a change in approaches to diplomacy.

Myself, studying and living abroad, I have started thinking of the real meaning and value of citizen diplomacy. Various exchange programmes, international volunteering, cultural exchanges, or, according to U.S. Diplomacy Center, even travelling abroad by definition make us all citizen diplomats of our countries. Not only that these experiences are ought to make one more understanding, and perhaps open-minded towards ‘the others’ but also they do build communication channels. And as Kevin Conolly points out, despite the fact that naming ourselves diplomats may sounds at first nonsensical, as we do not have the powers, the education or the experience of being a representative of a government, citizen diplomacy forms an important link, creates images, relationships in places where conventional diplomacy does not reach out, one handshake at a time. For instance, exchange academic programmes running their alumni societies many times bring their former participants together and build trust in hosting countries as well as create lasting link connecting those individuals to them.

Moreover, as citizen diplomats, we have the privilege of not being bound to governmental policies, or state interests. In such way, this notion opens a new door to international relations, people-to-people approach builds trust and understanding, broadens public’s engagement with foreign world and perhaps serves the highest cause of diplomatic efforts – to bring peace and appreciation to international arena.

However, undoubtedly, such ability to detach ourselves from the high politics, poses certain threat to conventional diplomacy. Nowadays, when every, phone and laptop connects us to the world and gives every individual the power to create and manipulate the content, the impact may as well reverse all the efforts to widen the understanding among nations. In words of Nye, such decentralisation and diminishing of state control over messages being sent to the world, ‘the obscure pastor of a small Florida church can also wreak havoc and destroy soft power by threatening to burn a Koran’.

Despite the apparent benefits of the citizen diplomacy, another danger seems to lie within the concept itself. Since the world governments realised the power of the individual, and future prospects of building links today and earning trust tomorow, millions of dollars have been pumped into projects supporting such engagement. Yet, can one measure or evaluate the outcomes of these years-long efforts? While every project is unique, it sets out different goals from gaining cultural knowledge, professional development, language proficiency etc. it becomes very difficult to pinpoint and evaluate the possible outcomes of such programmes. Not only that the beneficial results are in this case predominantly on a long term scale but also can be easily damaged by a story of failure. For instance, headlines quoting: ‘Polish Exchange Student in US: My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists‘ can influence the public opinion faster and in greater scope and while 100 students on exchange have had an amazing life-time experience, thousands of citizens heard of struggles and misfortune of one.

The concept of citizen diplomacy has undoubtedly so far proven to has its benefits as well as threats it poses to diplomatic practices. It has opened new channels of communications, and trust building, and has changed many attitudes about the other countries. Nonetheless, it has exposed an additional weakness of conventional diplomatic practice. Nowadays, when the citizens have become creators of a narrative, the information can be easily misinterpreted as well as experience of one can influence hundreds. However, the future potential of people-to people diplomacy is remarkable and the more nourished it will be the greater results it can bring as it delivers cultural knowledge on individual level and greater understanding of other countries. As Eisenhower noted, ‘if only people will get together, then so eventually will nations’.

References:

Center For Citizen Diplomacy. (2015). Understanding. Available: http://centerforcitizendiplomacy.org/about-us/understanding/. Last accessed 20th Jan 2015.

U.S. Diplomacy Center. (2015). Discover Diplomacy. Available: http://diplomacy.state.gov/discoverdiplomacy/references/169794.htm. Last accessed 20th Jan 2015.

Russel, L. (2010). Church plans Quran-burning event. Available: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/07/29/florida.burn.quran.day/. Last accessed 20th Jan 2015.

Bhandari R. and Belyavina R. (2011). Evaluating and Measuring the Impact of Citizen Diplomacy. Available: http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Publications-and-Reports/IIE-Bookstore/Evaluating-Measuring-Impact-of-Citizen-Diplomacy. Last accessed 20th Jan 2015

Nye, J. (2010). The Pros and Cons of Citizen Diplomacy. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/opinion/05iht-ednye.html?_r=5&pagewanted=print. Last accessed 20th Jan 2015.

Blender, M. (2006). Polish Exchange Student in US: My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists. Available: http://www.spiegel.de/international/polish-exchange-student-in-us-my-half-year-of-hell-with-christian-fundamentalists-a-448350.html. Last accessed 20th Jan 2015.

Conolly, K. (2010). Citizen Diplomacy Luncheon. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cusW4DsOj_o. Last accessed 20th Jan 2015.

Hollywood Diplomacy – How the stories it tells matter

‘And believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional, part of what makes us such a world power.  You can go anywhere on the planet and you’ll see a kid wearing a “Madagascar” T-shirt. You can say, “May the Force be with you” — they know what you’re talking about.’

BARACK OBAMA, 2013

We all have to agree, it does not happen every day that a country would threaten another with a nuclear attack because of a movie release. However, with The Interview, upcoming American comedy about assassination of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, US-North Korean diplomatic relations did not get any better. Perhaps, one could identify this as an overreaction, nonetheless, it clearly proved that stories Hollywood presents, affect the opinion about country and can influence the diplomatic efforts.

Moreover, despite an arguably less important role of the cinema in diplomatic practice comparing to more conventional approaches, one has to recognise that Hollywood international role has only grown since early decades of the Cold War. The American cinema has been always caught in the political firestorm and mirrored the power shift. Due to its popularity among publics, it has become a useful tool for advocating public policies.

For instance, the list of anti-communism motivated movies produced since late 40’s and during 50’s kept on growing, and until now one can see the  majority of Russian-speaking characters being portrait as negative. Nonetheless, the (soft) power of the film has been apparent since then. Infamously scrutinised ‘Hollywood Ten’ as well as many others  producing movies, which do not align with American foreign policies over decades, has been accused of inserting pro-communist messages into the movies such as Red Scar, or M*A*S*H* series.

The role of the film in public diplomacy has however expanded since then. Firstly,  in the last decades, the American film box shifted its focus to portrayal of the ‘American dream’ to the rest of the world. It has become a strong advocate for positive image of the country. As Irina Orlova, an Ukrainian immigrant to US points out, watching American films during the 80’s in at-that-time Soviet Ukraine, presented the US as very pleasant and happy place of endless opportunities. And therefore, as Barack Obama noted in his speech as Hollywood’s Dream Works studios, the cinema has become a strong actor in USA’s public diplomacy. It not only brings American culture directly to homes of the whole world, but also translates this culture in a very effective and informal way, which is in many ways inaccessible to the diplomatic envoys. Moreover, by adjusting its focus and character of the movies, Hollywood’s production has been able to win hearts and minds of publics in countries, where direct diplomatic engagement would not be possible couple of years ago. For instance, out of 10 top movie ratings in China, 6 of them come from Hollywood production.

However, there lies yet another diplomatic role of the American cinema abroad. This type of cultural diplomacy has worked reciprocally. Not only that the US has been able through movies improve its own image, production of movies showing other cultures in positive light have widened its impact. Hollywood has been praised for its Seven Years in Tibet, Kung Fu Panda sequel, or retouch on the Red Dawn villains (transforming them from originally Chinese to North Koreans). Hence, on one hand, American public influenced by its media and film industry gets a glimpse of other cultures, on the other hand, promoting other cultures have won the Hollywood and therefore, the US yet another argument in building its image.

However, as mentioned above in North Korea’s case, and borat_wallpaper_1050moreover with famous Kazakhstan’s instance. American sense of humour, has damaged not only world’s perception of the country (such as Borat movie’s footprint on Kazakhstan’s image) but moreover it can in particular cases hinder the diplomatic ties (for example North Korea-US on various occasions or Iran-US after release of Argo). Therefore, as much as Hollywood seems to help the US to improve its image after rather damaging 1990’s-2000’s War on terror era, one has to be careful about occasional backfire it can cause and stir the foreign affairs once again.

References:

Calvan, B. (2013). Hollywood’s impact in Washington goes beyond social issues. Available: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/28/hollywooda-s-impactinwashingtongoesbeyondsocialissues.html. Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.

Madow, L. (2014). WHAT IS HOLLYWOOD’S DIPLOMATIC ROLE?: AN INTERVIEW WITH FILM PRODUCER MIKE MEDAVOY. Available: http://publicdiplomacymagazine.com/what-is-hollywoods-diplomatic-role-an-interview-with-film-producer-mike-medavoy/. Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.

SBS. (2014). International diplomacy is a foreign concept in Hollywood. Available: http://www.sbs.com.au/movies/blog/2014/06/27/international-diplomacy-foreign-concept-hollywood. Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.

Shah, R. (2014). Is US monopoly on the use of soft power at an end?.Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-29536648. Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.

The US Center on Public Diplomacy. (2014). The Use of Film for Public Diplomacy: Why Hollywood Makes a Stronger Case for China.Available: http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/pdin_monitor_article/the_use_of_film_for_public_diplomacy_why_hollywood_makes_a_stronger_case_fo. Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.

Diplomacy Old and New – Time for a change?

Globalisation. ICT Revolution. Social Media. Big concepts – changing world we know at the pace we are barely able to understand. And in its complexity itself, caught in the middle, nation-states losing their control over the flow of information, media content, citizens organisation etc. Yet these processes do not necessarily mean a demise of states nor catastrophic scenarios of chaos and turmoil. However, they challenge current power structures and organisation of international arena itself. Diplomatic conduct, notion going back to 13th-century Italian city-states, finds itself on the dawn of the new era. Citizen themselves become so-called global diplomats, constant media presence is setting high pressure on the outcomes of diplomatic efforts, and yet scrutinises any misstep in the process of negotiations. Moreover, new outlets, such as social media and the internet itself have diminished the borders and interconnected people from across the world. In such fast evolving world, who still needs ‘old-school’ experienced diplomats and embassies, if the cultural exchange starts to happen naturally thanks to ever easier and cheaper travelling, and media reporting from across the globe right to our smartphones. Moreover, other functions such as consular activities or economic and business interaction with another country could be substituted with various already existing agencies or done via electronic means.

Yet all that seems possible, and many predict the demise of diplomacy as we know it, as number of embassies and consulates drops every year.  Nonetheless, I believe particularly in such rather confusing times, when every notion of international politics encompasses several dimensions, and each state or non-state actor seems to be interconnected to so many others, it is vital to revisit traditional diplomatic channels as they have proven to be vital in diplomatic conduct even in 21st century onwards.

One should not forget, that despite the fact that borders of nation-states have become not much more than lines on the maps, the diplomats are there to represent a sovereign entity, a nation, us. We still need vigorous and in-depth negotiations, perhaps behind the closed door; direct talks of the leaders and overall I see diplomats as somehow vital catalysts of interactions between the nations. Yes, this ability has enlarged to the wider public with the growth of social networks and the idea that everyone can create a meaningful content and interact. Nonetheless, unless you carry the recognition and the respect given by the state, it becomes difficult to fulfil such task.

However challenging it may be to overcome these social changes, diplomats can (and in practice already seem to) rather gain from such process. For instance, social media have opened the door to one of few actors within the global society diplomats struggled to address – the ordinary citizens. Ability to share their experiences instantly, through Twitter, blogs, or popular mass media has given them the power to approach unlimited number of individual and transform foreign and domestic policies into the language of the public. One only needs a glimpse of Tom Fletcher’s  entry The Naked Diplomat (see @HMATomfletcher or http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/tomfletcher/2012/10/02/the-naked-diplomat/) and will understand how vital progress and use of these new outlets becomes in diplomat’s work. 

In the world where technology seems to help to bring about bottom-up social change, and allow public to access any information, it is crucial for already existing diplomatic structures, which have helped intergovernmental interaction in many different dimensions, to use these opportunities to boost and grow. Moreover, to facilitate even more links and communication channels, which would bring greater cultural understanding, and cooperation among states.

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