Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014b

Author Archive

The risks of disaster diplomacy and why China gets it right

On 25 April, the earthquake hit Nepal and while the international community is still in shock about the scope of the catastrophe, some serious disaster diplomacy is going on in the background. Considered as a ‘nontraditional’ tool of diplomacy,

“Disaster diplomacy is concerned with the extent to which disaster-related activities – prevention, mitigation, response and recovery – induce cooperation between enemy parties, internationally or nationally.” (Kelman & Gaillard, 2007)

Nepal Earthquake

Image: Gross, 2015

China immediately sent a 62-member disaster response unit accompanied by 6 search-and-rescue dogs along with 20.5 tons of aid to Nepal (Seemangal, 2015). This way, the country is aiming at strengthening diplomatic ties with Nepal which so far were largely based on economic relations. In 2014, China emerged as Nepal’s biggest investor, while it used its financial strength to exert influence at all political levels in Nepal (ibid.). By employing disaster diplomacy, China is playing out the soft skill card and is thereby portraying itself as the supporter of the oppressed; when in March, the Chinese Foreign Minister held a press conference to announce China’s diplomatic goals for 2015, he was stressing China’s responsibility in promoting “the legitimate rights and interests of development countries” (Tiezzi, 2015), in their position before the UN and in terms of economic development. Nevertheless, despite the effect of soft power diplomacy on intra-state relations, scholars such as Kelman argue that disaster-related activities can catalyse and influence already-existing diplomatic endeavours, but do not tend to yield new diplomatic initiatives (et al., 2009, p.305). Even more, there is always a risk that disaster diplomacy might seriously harm diplomatic relations.

The United States provides two examples where disaster diplomacy failed and even exacerbated diplomatic relations. In case of Iran, the American government tried to send a high-profile emissary with aid supplies to Bam, following the 2003 earthquake disaster; a move that led Iran to refuse, explicitly decoupling the disaster aid from longer-term diplomatic resolution of the two sides’ differences (Kelman, 2011). Similarly, Cuba refused U.S. assistance during a 1998 drought as economic sanctions had already hit the country so hard that Fidel Castro was not willing to accept humanitarian aid from the adversary (ibid.). Consequently, the United States initially did not respond to Cuba’s, Venezuela’s, and Iran’s aid offers following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (ibid.). As, in the event of a disaster, the host country decides which foreign contributions it will accept (Hirono, 2011), there is always a risk that it might expose the other party’s diplomatic efforts and even lead to greater political tensions.

US_AID DIPLOMACYImage: Kelman, 2009, p.310

China, however, famously delivers aid with no strings attached, holding on to its ‘Principle of Independence’ (Government Website, 2007) which goes back to its own long and traumatic experience with foreign interventions. China, to the resentment of America, is in its diplomatic efforts promoting the image of the ‘good’ country as opposed to the US, thereby employing a mix of soft power and economic relations. While the government insists that disaster diplomacy is not a term in Chinese philosophy (Want China Times, 2015), it refuses to oppose its political and ideological values on those countries in need. The fact that most NGOs, among them the Chinese Red Cross are financially fully dependent on the government plays only a minor role for the people on the ground. Eventually, with a political strategy that is more inward- than outward centered, China’s public diplomacy is outweighed by domestic public opinion. The fact that China and the Philippines have been in diplomatic deadlock over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, is considered a key factor that held Beijing back from offering more help to Manila in 2013, mainly in consideration of domestic public opinion (Kwok, 2013). While China might not automatically win hearts and minds, its winning strategy is a long long-term approach, based on keeping a low profile in combination with powerful tools such as disaster diplomacy.


Government Website (2007) ‘Adhere to the Principle of Independence’, ‘About China’ [online] Available at: [accessed 04/05/2015]

Gross, K. (2015) ‘International Community rallies to contribute Nepal relief aid’, The DePaulia [online] Available at: [accesed 05/05/2015]

Hirono, M. (2011) ‘The Limits of Disaster Diplomacy’, The Diplomat [online] Available at: [accessed 04/05/2015]

Kelman, I. and Gaillard, J. (2007) ‘Disaster diplomacy in Aceh’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, Issue 37 [online] Available at: [accessed 04/05/2015]

Kelman, I., Gaillard, J. and Orillos, F. (2009) ‘US-Philippines Military Relations After the Mt Pinatubo Eruption in 1991: A Disaster Diplomacy Perspective’, European Journal of East Asian Studies, Volume 8 Issue 2, via Hague Journal of Diplomacy [online] Available via: [accessed 04/05/2015]

Kelman, I. (2011) ‘Aid as outreach: Disaster Relief and Public Diplomacy’, World Politics Review [online] Available at: [accessed 04/05/2015]

Kwok, K. (2013) ‘Disaster Diplomacy at play in Haiyan aid response by China, United States’, South China Morning Post [online] Available at: [accessed 04/05/2015]

Seemangal, R. (2015) ‘Disaster Diplomacy: After Nepal Earthquake, China and India Race to Give Aid’, The Observer [online] Available at: [accessed 04/05/2015]

Tiezzi, S. (2015) ‘What to expect from Chinese Diplomacy in 2015’, The Diplomat [online] Available at: [accessed 04/05/2015]

Want China Times (2015), ‘Global Times denies China engages in disaster diplomacy’ [online] Available at: [accessed 04/05/2015]



My struggle with #slacktivism

Have you already made your contribution to politics today? There is no better time to tell your politicians that human rights matter to you, as when they are fighting to represent you in Parliament, don’t you think so? A simple mouse click on Amnesty International’s website is all you need to do. No? Well then maybe you care more about health issues? Have you taken your selfie with the MacMillan Cancer Support logo and given your voice to their campaign to push for greater recognition of cancer support in Britain? Like many other organisations, in the run-up to the elections, MacMillan wants to show decision makers that there is overwhelming public interest in cancer support and that this issue in particular must be taken more seriously (Keely, 2015). Important one, isn’t it? For my part, I believe in equality and I strongly care about immigration. I therefore contribute to the heated debate about refugees and migrants in Britain, where immigration is fifth on the agenda of the issues that were mentioned most on social media in relation to the general election (Addley, 2015). I should write a personalised email to my future MP and tell him or her that the UK needs a fair immigration system (Migrant’s Rights Network, 2015). I could also sign the latest petition launched to protest against the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean region which attracted nearly 75,000 signatures within an hour of going on the website (Brhane, 2015). At the same time, lucky to be German, I have the opportunity to influence my government’s politics by joining the electronic citizen dialogue. What does ‘life quality’ mean to me, is the central question and I am happy to answer that I like to believe in equality and fair opportunities for everyone in our multicultural society (Government Source, 2015).

We are urged to participate, anytime and everywhere, in what we consider as important. We are taught that our voices matter yet what do we choose? Is not everything important; gender equality and human rights and a fair treatment of refugees and ethnic minority community groups in our society? While we get caught up thinking about what matters most, I would like to trust in politicians that use their common sense and human intellect. Why do we need to sign a petition first, to express our protest against economic relations with a state like Saudi Arabia, where women get arrested for their attempt to drive and where human rights violations take place on a daily basis? In reality, what looks like direct democracy is disillusioning. Disillusioning for those who might not be familiar with social media and ridiculous for those who actively and peacefully go to the streets and protest and show their faces; those who stand up for others, as this is the case in Brixton where gentrification is hugely damaging society. Whereas an online petition might be a second consideration for expressing discontent; standing alongside those concerned and showing our support in solidarity with others is one of our biggest strengths. This is what makes us human. I refuse to be one of those digital activists, invisible, who press a LIKE button and rebel in online forums, read Russell Brand and speak about revolution; those people who rely on the media to tell them about the negative impact of immigration when everything they share with their Turkish neighbours is the same passion for Doner Kebab.

“The positive claims for the value of the Internet offered by our contemporaries are mostly hype. Whatever the long-range value of the Net turns out to be, it won’t be the quality of information it offers, the democratic distance learning it makes possible, the presence of the Net user to all of reality, and the possibility of a new life full of meaning.”

Mr Dreyfus, philosopher at the University of California at Berkeley argues that while the web is certainly a very powerful medium, it is hobbled by the lack of physical presence of the people you interact with (Dembart, 2002). For my part, I prefer the political debate and direct interaction, talking to people and learning from them and feeling inspired and inspiring others. I want to live in a society where I can confidently turn my back on the screen and where my voice is being heard.


Addley, E. (2015) ‘Who is winning the election battle on social media?’ The Guardian, [online] Available at: [accessed 28/04/2015]

Amnesty (2015) ‘Election 2015: Stand for Human Rights’ [online] Available at: [accessed 28/04/2015]

Brhane, T. (2015) ‘Stop the deaths at sea now!’ [online] Available at: [accessed 28/04/15]

Bundesregierung (2015) ‘Bundesregierung diskutiert ueber Lebensqualitaet’ [online] [accessed 28/04/15]

Dembart (2002) ‘The end user / A voice for the consumer: Computer Literacy’, The New York Times [online] Available at: [accessed 28/04/15]

Keely, L. (2015) ‘With social media charities can win the digital general election’, The Guardian [online] Available at: [accessed 28/04/2015]

Migrant’s Rights Network (2015) ‘Our Vote 2015 is calling for a fair approach to migration’ [online] Available at: [accessed 28/04/2015]

Propaganda against the ‘unpatriotic press’.

Since a couple of weeks, thousands of people are coming together in Dresden, the capital of Saxony in East Germany, to demonstrate against the ‘Islamisation of the Occident’. They call themselves Pegida, which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident. What began as a small protest with 200 people has grown into a movement with 18,000 people, which baffles the rest of Germany, divides politicians and attracts attention from the media within the country and abroad. Their banners carry slogans such as ‘Protect our homeland’, ‘Zero tolerance towards criminal asylum seekers’ or ‘Against religious wars on German soil’ and express the fear of superalienation in a country which has recently been declared the most popular migration country in Europe, with more than 180,000 asylum seekers in 2014.

Pegida Demo

What is remarkable about the protests is the variety of allegations which are being put forward, making it difficult to sum up the purpose and the underlying motivation for it. The media and especially the international media was quick in putting its own stamp on what is going on in Germany at the moment. The Guardian is writing about ‘Nazis in pinstripes’ (Osborne, 2014) which reflects the mainstream media reporting while the New York Times sees a ‘mix of far right-wingers in the National Democratic Party […], young hooligans and ordinary folk who feel ignored as foreigners pour into Germany’ (Smale, 2014).

In doing so, they ignore the fact that the protests are not only about immigration; the protesters share a common mistrust towards the political elite and the ‘Lügenpresse’, which describes the frustration with the press by entitling it the ‘Lies Press’. Contrary to protests, whose leaders deliberately use the media as a tool of support, in order to gain more attention and to promote their cause, the Pegida-protesters refuse to speak to the press or do so very little. Being pigeonholed by the media, such as the Guardian, reinforces their impression that their claims are not being taken seriously and that the media is actively campaigning against them.

The language which the protesters use to defame the press, provokes a reluctance to listen, in the rest of Germany and elsewhere. Those, who are sensitive to generalisation and manipulation feel reminded of a dark chapter in German history, where such ‘ideologisation of language’ was used to mobilise the masses (Buggisch, 2014).

grafik Lügenpresse

With the term ‘Lies press’ and the ‘mass media which is brought into line’, the protesters take a stand against Propaganda and yet make their own one: ‘Lies Press’, as it was commonly used in times of the Weimar Republic, described a sentiment of an ‘unpatriotic press’ which did not fully represent German interests (Brütting, 2014). Later on, the term was dominantly used by the Nazis. Yet the term was also being used in GDR times, in the context of the ‘Western Lies Press’. By calling the press a ‘Liar’ those who do are questioning its legitimacy and pressuring the people to revolte against it.

Notably, Pegida protesters have no problem giving interviews to the press which they perceive as ‘friendly’, such as the Russian news channel RT. When one reporter from a German satire show dressed up as a Russian journalist and thereby looked like a Russian would probably look like in a James Bond movie, people were willing to give him interviews. The belief ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ has never made a great intellectual.

Pegida Russian Reporting


Brütting, S. (2014) ‘Schmähbegriff der Nazis’, SWR Info [online]. Available at: (accessed 03/01/2014)

Buggisch, C. (2014) ‘Pegida und die Lügenpresse – ein Begriff und seine Geschichte’ Blog. Available at: (accessed 03/01/2014)

Luise, M (2014) Heute-Show: Pegida bei Russia Today. Available at: (accessed 03/01/2014)

Osborne, L. (2014) ‘Germany’s ‘pinstripe Nazis’ plan more anti-Islam marches in next year’, The Guardian [online]. Available at: (accessed 03/01/2014)

Smale, A. (2014) ‘In German City rich with History and Tragedy, Tide rises against Immigration’, New York Times [online]. Available at: (accessed 03/01/2014)

The ‘Others’ – when the media blazes the way for politics.

In our media-dominated society the media plays a crucial part in the formation of our own identity and our relationship with others. This is especially the case when it comes to minorities and their portrayal in the mainstream media.

Since mass media has taken over substantial parts of our lives, we rely on it for our daily information and news. Over the years, we have become more critical in our opinion-making; today people might be more conscious about the political leaning of their news channel and engage with different sources, in order to get different perspectives on a certain topic. The recent launch of the Russian news channel ‘Sputnik’ in Europe and the new Al Jazeera app AJ+ are indicators that there is a growing audience which is interested in politics without the ‘Western’ stamp. However, politics does not end with the news – if we want to define ourselves as open-minded, unbiased and independent individuals, it is time to take a closer look at the entertainment industry. In fact, when people turn to polemic, rabble-rousing series after their 8 o’ clock news, they might not realise how strongly they are being influenced in their political opinion-making.

One example for this was the Channel 4 series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings in 2011/ 2012, with the aim to ‘offer a window into the secretive, extravagant and surprising world of Gypsies and Travellers in Britain today’ (Channel 4, Episode Guides). In fact, the series was far from informative but reaffirmed negative stereotypes and misperceptions. The nation-wide advertising campaign added to this with the controversial slogan “Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier.”.

blog picture

gypsy pictureboy gypsyThe advertisements were eventually taken down after the Advertising Standards Authority declared them “offensive”, reaffirming prejudices about the Gypsy and Traveller community (McCabe, 2012). However, due to its massive success- the Gypsy show was Channel 4’s most watched show (BBC News, 2012) – it was only deleted from the programme after heavy protests from Traveller communities. Practitioners found evidence that the sensationalist programmes have significantly contributed to racist bullying and abuse of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in schools (Plunkett, 2012). Channel 4’s particular choice of images, which throw a negative light on the Gypsy community, was intended to provoke emotions and to get more people to watch the show.

The targeted release of news which reaffirm negative stereotypes and misperceptions is called propaganda. What makes it so dangerous, is the monopoly of those, who spread it. In the case of Gypsies “portrayals become reality in our minds, especially if we have no personal experiences to balance them against” (Wilson & Gutierrez, 1995, p.34). As a result, when the UK government talked about “coming down like a ton of bricks” (Dominiczak, 2013) on Gypsies illegal settlements and is bringing in new laws to facilitate the deportation of Gypsy families, people link such information instantly with the portrayal of Gypsies that they know from the media.

In Social Constructivism, the differentiation between ‘Selves’ and ‘Others’ is seen as a product of social interaction between actors and leads to either positive or negative identification with one another. In the process of ‘Othering’ we reshape and reaffirm our own identity. The positive side-effect for the British government: people tend to feel more loyalty towards their nation and a sense of nationalism. Where people distinguish between We and Others, governments have an easy job of implementing policies which disregard those who are different to us.

In our multicultural societies, the mainstream media plays a significant role in how we perceive others and our behavior towards them yet the media is also a mirror of society, reflecting on our understanding of multiculturalism. Hence, the portrayal of its most vulnerable people shows a lot about society itself. We should ask ourselves if the media is portraying an image of a society that we would like to live in. If this image is somehow racist, patronizing, deliberately dismissive and judgmental towards one or another group, we should take immediate action. What we should not do, is leave it to the politicians to take advantage of misperceptions that might have manifested themselves in our minds already.


BBC News (2012) Gypsy Wedding was Channel 4’s most watched show in 2011 [online] Available at: (accessed 22/11/2014)

Blanchet, E. Gypsies and Travellers [online] Available at:!/portfolio/G0000OBcg1XB0P3A (accessed 22/11/2014)

Channel 4 (n.d.) Episode Guides [online] Available at: (accessed 22/11/2014)

Cottle, S. (2000) Ethnic Minorities and the Media. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Dominiczak, P. (2013) ‘David Cameron: We’ll come down on illegal gypsy camps ‘like a ton of bricks” The Guradian [online] Available at: [accessed 20/11/2014]

McCabe, M. (2012) Channel 4 “gypsier” ads banned, Campaign [online] Available at: (accessed 22/11/2014)

Plunkett, J. (2012) Big Fat Gypsy Weddings ‘has increased bullying of Gypsies and Travellers’, The Guardian [online] Available at: (accessed 22/11/2014)

Wilson and Gutierrez (1995) Race, Multiculturalism and the Media, Los Angeles; London: Sage

The presumed power of images

While reading about the role of the media in agenda-setting, the Propaganda model and the CNN effect I came across some interesting ideas in Louw’s ‘The Media and Political Process’ (2005). In his book he takes position by labelling the media as a propaganda machine which is controlled by spin-doctors and the PR-industry sorrounding the decision-making elite. Louw points to the very subtle and often invisible way in which the mainstream media is steering and manipulating public opinion. In one example he questions the actual influence of negative media-coverage on the Vietnam War and whether the American public’s opinion change was influential in terms of its outcome; he goes further by saying that this assumption (a major argument in the analysis of the outcome of the war) helped politicians to blame the media and popular news channels such as NBC for their own failure. More importantly, the public belief in the power of the media over the outcome of the war not only detracted attention from political failures but established the mainstream media’s influential new role in the late 60s and 70s.

vietnam war_gun to head

Indeed, the Vietnam War was the first major event which was extensively broadcast on television at that time and was the most covered media topic in the US. By 1962 over 80% of American homes had television and in 1968 over 60% of Americans looked to television for news on the Vietnam War (Kennedy, 2007). The apparently uncensored and extensive media-coverage presented a war which was being downplayed by the politicians and subsequently helped the media to gain its legitimacy as an impartial ‘watchdog’ of world politics.

In reality, the pictures and videos that were released to the public were not the whole truth. After the war, many Vietnam veterans, journalists and TV presenters revealed that much of the news was fabricated; the army’s public relations department, which in 1971 alone spent more than $200m trying to improve the army’s image (Ramonet, 2000), was mixing up numbers, information and pictures with pre-set interviews in a most simplified way, in order to justify the warring efforts. The television coverage was supposed to show progress and gain more support among the populists; however, over the years it became increasingly difficult to control due to the large presence of independent journalists in Vietnam. When politicians eventually realised that America was losing the war and that media-coverage had turned public opinion against them, they knew well how to use the media for their own purpose. In this context, Susan Carruthers writes about what she calls ‘presumed power: the presumed power of images to shatter morale may have been more important than their actual effect’ (Rodgers, 2013, p.9).

Vietnam War_television

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the idea of an independent media, able to influence political decision-making was being established. Channels such as CNN adopted this position, for example in 1998 when a media-hype happened due to the retraction of a story about the US military’s use of Nerve Gas in Vietnam (Shah, A. 2003). This incident served to show that the media institutions were able to challenge politics and, more importantly, that they were independent.
The Vietnam example confirms Louw’s idea that bottom-up pressure created by the media only has an effect on political decision-making if there is already a marked division among the ruling elite. The media played only one part in a political process which took place within an elitist circle: the coverage reflected splits in public and political opinion but did not cause them.
Today, with more interactive media and social media channels through which we have seen events like the Arab Spring taking off, we could assume that power is in our hands; however these channels are limited in their scope and only of influence to political decision-making if they serve those in power. In a pluralist and multicultural society, it is not important how loud we shout (twitter storm), how many hashtags we create and how strongly we try to revolutionise the system from within, but it is more important to have influential representatives who listen to our voices and can make changes happen. Therefore, #dontbefooled into thinking you have a real voice in the political landscape; challenge the information fed to you via the media and engage actively in the political tools available.


Kennedy, L. 2007 ‘Photojournalism and the Vietnam War‘, UCD Institute for American Studies [online] Available at: (accessed 01/11/2014)

Louw, E. 2005 ‘The Media and the Political Process’, London: SAGE

Ramonet, I. 2000 ‘Show us the truth about Vietnam’ Le Monde Diplomatique [online] Available at: (accessed 01/11/2014)

Rodgers, J. 2013 ‘The air raids that never were and the war that nobody won: Government propaganda in conflict reporting and how journalists should respond to it’ Global Media and Communication, SAGE, 9:5

Shah, A. 2003 ‘Media, Propaganda and Vietnam’ Global Issues [online] Available at: (accessed 01/11/2014)

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