Media diplomacy has become a major instrument of foreign policy, and journalists are more frequently and more intensively engaged in diplomatic events and processes. Sometimes they even initiate diplomatic processes. There are several ways in which the media can help or hinder diplomacy. The media functions both as an independent actor and as a tool in the hands of policymakers and journalists. Knowledge about media diplomacy is still very limited, and scholars from the fields of communication, international relations, and diplomatic studies should be encouraged to conduct multidisciplinary research on this topic.
Media coverage of negotiations and summit meetings among leaders transformed traditional, mostly secret, formal, professional diplomacy. The new diplomacy became a dominating ingredient in contemporary international relations due to three interrelated revolutionary changes in mass communication, politics, and international relations. First, the revolution in communication technologies created all-news global networks such as International, BBC World, Sky News, and Al Jazeera, capable of broadcasting, often live, almost every significant development in world events to almost every place on the globe. The Internet has also revolutionized communication among peoples, communities, and organizations around the world. Second, the revolution in politics has generated growing mass participation in political processes and has transformed many societies from autocracy to democracy. Third, the revolution in international relations has transformed the goals and means of foreign policy. Favorable image and reputation around the world achieved through attraction and persuasion (soft power) became more important than territory, access, and raw materials obtained through military and economic measures (hard power). Today, image and reputation determine the status and influence of states, leaders, and nonstate actors more than military and economic strength.
Politicians, diplomats, and scholars have suggested that the convergence of these revolutions created new types of interactions between media and diplomacy, and new terms to describe them, such as public diplomacy, media diplomacy, television diplomacy, populist diplomacy, instant diplomacy, headline diplomacy, teleplomacy, photoplomacy, and telediplomacy. Several experts have argued that global television news now drives foreign policy, and have even developed a hypothesis, the “CNN effect,” to describe and analyze this phenomenon (Gilboa 2005a). Several of these terms are no more than lingual gimmicks, but they all represent an effort to capture the growing place of the media in diplomacy.
The first scholarly attempts to define and explain media diplomacy were vague and confusing. Karl (1982) equated media diplomacy with open diplomacy – the mere exposure of diplomacy to the media and public opinion – or with public diplomacy – the use of mass media like the Voice of America to influence public opinion in a foreign society. For Ramaprasad (1983, 70) and Ebo (1996, 44) media diplomacy is just the role the media plays in diplomacy and foreign policy. Van Dinh (1987, 51–52) equated “television diplomacy” with propaganda, but most of his examples – the televised ultimatum John F. Kennedy sent to the USSR during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, and the 1977 visit of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem – were designed to resolve crises and promote conflict resolution, and were not propaganda.
Ammon (2001) promoted media diplomacy to the status of a new paradigm. He claimed that paradigmatic changes in both communication and diplomacy produced a new paradigm of world politics, which he called “telediplomacy.” He explained that the emergence and expansion of real-time global news coverage caused the shift in communication, while the “new diplomacy,” mostly characterized by openness, caused the shift in foreign policymaking. The result, telediplomacy, has displaced existing diplomatic methods, and for the first time in human history, under certain conditions, it also drives policy and determines diplomatic outcomes. Ammon went too far because his evidence and case studies do not support his paradigmatic claims.
Several scholars have offered much more specific and sophisticated definitions and approaches. Cohen (1986, 7) suggested that media diplomacy served three policymaking tasks: conducting public diplomacy, sending signals to other governments, and obtaining information about world events. This approach, however, seeks to characterize media diplomacy both as a part of and as somehow distinct from public diplomacy. Rawnsley (1995) distinguished between public diplomacy and media diplomacy: in the first, policymakers use the media to address foreign publics, and in the second they address government officials. Gilboa (2000) distinguished between three uses of the media in diplomacy: public diplomacy, where state and nonstate actors use the media and other channels of communication to influence public opinion in foreign societies; media diplomacy, where officials use the media to investigate and promote mutual interests, including conflict resolution; and media-broker diplomacy, where journalists temporarily assume the role of diplomats and serve as mediators in international negotiations. In this conceptual scheme, media diplomacy refers to uses of the media by leaders to express interest in negotiation, to build confidence, and to mobilize public support for agreements.
Uses Of The Media
Media diplomacy is pursued through various routine and special media activities, including press conferences, interviews, leaks, visits by heads of state and mediators to rival countries, and spectacular media events organized to usher in a new era. The media are used for several different purposes in international politics.
In the absence of adequate direct channels of communication, or when one side is unsure about how the other side might react to conditions for negotiations or to proposals for conflict resolution, officials use the media, with or without attribution, to send messages to leaders of rival states and nonstate actors. Using the media without attribution to sources is particularly efficient when policymakers wish to fly a “trial balloon.” They can avoid embarrassment and disassociate themselves from an idea that may receive a negative response. After the 1973 Arab –Israeli war, Henry Kissinger perfected the use of the media for signaling and pressure purposes during his famous and highly successful “shuttle diplomacy.” He often gave senior American diplomatic correspondents aboard his plane background reports, information, and leaks, mostly intended to extract concessions from the negotiating parties and to break deadlocks. Sometimes attitudes towards journalists of the other side send an important signal. Usually, the Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad and his foreign minister Farouq al-Shara barred Israeli journalists from attending their press conferences, but reversed this policy when they were interested in negotiations with Israel (Gilboa 2002).
During grave international crises or when all diplomatic channels are severed, the media provide the sole unblocked channel for communication and negotiation between rival actors. During the first phase of the 1979 –1981 Iranian hostage crisis, the US communicated with the terrorists holding the hostages exclusively through the media. A similar case occurred in the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner to Beirut. During the crises preceding the 1990 –1991 Gulf War and the 2003 war in Iraq, American presidents and the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein hurled messages back and forth via the global news networks. In 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker delivered the last ultimatum to Hussein through CNN, and not through the US ambassador to Iraq. Baker chose CNN not only to save time but also to persuade the entire international community that the US was exhausting peaceful means to resolve the crisis and was determined to use force only if Hussein ignored the ultimatum.
Leaders use reliable third parties to secretly explore intentions of the other side, but sometimes simultaneously they also use the media to support the secret exchanges and to further indicate that their approach is serious. In the 1990s, the parties to the conflict in Northern Ireland conducted dialogues and exchanged messages through the media because formal negotiations among them were neither possible nor desirable. The media dialogue helped the sides keep the peace process alive and exchange significant messages (Sparre 2001). In recent years, leaders have used global communication more frequently to deliver messages intended to alter an image or to open a new page. They pursue this task through press conferences, interviews, leaks, and attitudes toward journalists of the other side. For example, in January 1998, the newly elected Iranian president Mohammad Khatami chose CNN to send a message to the US.
Media events represent classic manifestation of media diplomacy. They include summit diplomacy: meetings between protagonist leaders seeking an opening for conflict resolution and possibly even longer-term reconciliation. Media events are broadcast live, organized outside the media, preplanned, and presented with reverence and ceremony (Dayan & Katz 1992). Live coverage of media events interrupts scheduled broadcasting and attracts wide audiences around the world. Media events have trivialized the role of ambassadors but they also help to break diplomatic deadlocks, create a climate conducive to negotiations, and promote favorable conditions for sealing an accord. Leaders can use media events to cultivate public support for a peace process after the conclusion of the initial phase but before moving on to the next phase (Gilboa 2002). This typically appears in cases where a breakthrough has been achieved, but the sides still have a long way to go before translating principles into a permanent legal peace agreement. Such an intermediary effect can help in mobilizing sufficient public support inside the societies involved for the next phase in the negotiations. The effects of media events gained vivid expression in summit meetings between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and in Arab–Israeli talks. The media, however, may hinder negotiations by applying too much pressure on diplomats to make either too many or insufficient concessions, by prematurely revealing sensitive information, and by creating unrealistic expectations.
The communication and information revolution has inspired journalists to assume, directly and indirectly, mediation roles in complicated international conflicts (Gilboa 2005b). Journalists pursue direct intervention when they actively help parties to begin official negotiations. Walter Cronkite of CBS News helped to arrange the historic 1977 visit of Anwar Sadat to Israel. In bridging, journalists facilitate a virtual stage for talks between enemies and attempt to help them realize the value of negotiation to resolve their conflict. Ted Koppel of ABC News frequently performed this role on Nightline. Journalists were also engaged in critical secret mediation. John Scali, diplomatic correspondent for ABC News, helped to end peacefully the 1962 Cuban missile crisis through secret talks with a high-ranking Soviet official. Media-broker diplomacy raises professional and ethical issues. Critics argue that journalists should cover events, not create them. Additionally, while serving in diplomatic roles, journalists continue to cover diplomatic events, and they may provide distorted coverage because of personal interest in a successful outcome.
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