Tag Archives: #week7

Domestic agendas, international consequences: Coverage of U.S. politics in the media abroad

Comparative popularity of the United States and China. Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/
Comparative popularity of the United States and China. Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/

This entry is a follow-up to a point I made in class about international attention to the domestic politics of the United States,

and what the soft power ramifications of this might be. Here is an example of how even state-level politics gets covered in other countries:


One of the concerning tendencies of international coverage of U.S. politics that I have observed is disproportionate coverage of dysfunction or agendas considered unpalatable by most audiences abroad. Examples of this include debt ceilings, government shutdowns, birtherism and most recently, discrimination laws in states like Arizona. I don’t think this is the result of a deliberate media bias, but rather the natural incentive to present the audience with sensational stories.

I think the consequences of media depiction of an hyper-adversarial U.S. political system are mixed. On one side, it tends to give disproportionate attention to the more extreme elements of the domestic political environment at the expense of the far larger moderate demographics (although this criticism is perhaps also applicable to domestic U.S. media). This kind of portrayal gives more oxygen to the “stupid American” stereotype held by many abroad.

On the other side, showing the political divisions of the United States does contradict the erroneous perception of the U.S. government as a monolithic entity. It’s hard to paint pictures of grand U.S. conspiracies when it is evident that both the government and public are themselves divided on matters of foreign policy, such as Syria.

Un Certain Regard Cannes Festival Prize winner “Omar”

Lately I’ve been becoming more and more aware of the power of competitions. Especially thinking about it in the context of digitalization and globalization, where some see potential for democratic rule, others see popularity rule, resulting in trends which increasingly follow the lowest common denominators (of violence and sex, or kittens); and increasingly simplify information made visually appealing. In an increasingly competitive context where time is perceived as less available in order to succeed/survive, the power of simplification and instant gratification is obvious.

While the media and the market bank on that, it that does not mean we’re all stupid. This is where international competitions come in and divert market forces (channeling Chopard, L’Oréal, HP, Renault, and Akamai, for example, in the case of Cannes), to bring to our attention what they would have otherwise likely kept obscured. This being said, I had never paid much attention to the festival myself, but I do recognize their logo and have found their sub-prizes selection quite reliable so far. One of these sub-prizes is “Un Certain Regard” (A certain look/outlook), which promotes relatively young directors who present daring narratives. An opinion piece on Aljazeera English was written about it by Richard Falk, (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/02/uncovering-occupied-palestine-20142136833212442.html), whether he would have seen it himself anyway, as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, is another question, but the fact that he is writing about a movie that won a Cannes Festival prize and not just a random movie he likes gives his op-ed legitimacy.

I think that this puts an optimistic twist to our discussions about the relation between social power’s link with economic power, which often circle back to the Hollywood quasi-monopoly, despite authors like Van Ham periodically reminding us about the growing importance of Nollywood and Bollywood. 

Play nice, America and Japan

sandboxOne of my colleagues recently posted a blog about the danger in words and how they can amplify tensions between nations if used carelessly. This post loosely reminded me of an article published in the New York Times last week about the recent strain on Japan-U.S. relations. The Japanese have been discontent with their treatment by the Obama Administration since last year. They feel as though they’ve been kept at arms length and are that the U.S. riding the fence about their dispute with China over the control of islands in the East China Sea.

The article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/world/asia/nationalistic-remarks-from-japan-lead-to-warnings-of-chill-with-us.html?ref=japan&_r=0

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked in a Youtube video, “Why doesn’t America treat Japan better?,” before quickly taking it down.  The video was in response to the Obama Administration expressing disappointment with the Prime Minister’s visit to a shrine honoring war criminals. Instances like this and others are putting stress on relations between the two countries–who have been allies for many years now, despite their turbulent past. Japan feels isolated from the U.S. while the United States views recent actions by the Japanese as being too nationalistic.

Words have undeniable power. Prime Minister Abe made a strong statement about the United States in his Youtube video. While it may have been made more out of frustration than anything, it has caused a big debate and now people are questioning just how stable relations are between the two countries. I’m sure that more can be done on both sides to appease hurt feelings. The article is also a testament to the fact that even amicable nations suffer public diplomacy stumbling blocks. What do you think about the “sticks and stones” spat between Japan and the United States?

Evoking Godwin’s Law: War of Words in Asia



For those of us who use the internet often,  Godwin’s Law is all too familiar in social media. For those unfamiliar with the so-called law, it simply states that  by comparing someone to Hitler or something to Nazism, it  shuts down the discussion completely.

While Godwin’s law tends to refer to internet discussions, it, unfortunately, seems to be applicable to real diplomatic efforts ( and  frankly, failures) between countries. President Aquino of the Philippines has recently been criticized for basically comparing China to Nazi Germany. When rallying support against “China’s claims to its nearby seas” he stated: “At what point do you say: ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland [ Czechoslovakia] was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.”

Read the full story here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-26048500

We mentioned a few times in class that really image is everything. But what about words? What politicians say  ( in addition to what they do) unfortunately can really undermine one’s credibility., especially in an age of information, ( why do you think people get so upset over the usage of “your” and “you’re” on Facebook? Kidding aside there is a danger to name calling and extreme comparisons).  President Aquino’s statement may only serve to alienate the Philippines further from potential diplomatic ties with China. Whatever side of the issue one may stand on, for the President to release this kind of statement  is  dangerous in a PR standpoint and strategically will likely hurts its position in the region. By evoking such a comparison in cyberspace and the real world, the action tends to ignore  real concerns  and issues that have nothing to do with Nazi Germany.   I am sure President  Aquino has valid concerns  regarding China’s claim to the islands. However comparing this dispute to that of Nazi Germany and France and Great Britain undermines the reality what WWII was.

Additionally, the statement may only serve to create an ever widening gulf between potential diplomatic relations in the region.  There are better ways of addressing these territorial issues, but until people can move away from eliciting certain events that have historical and emotional context completely separate from current situations, there will never be real discourse. Words have power, particularly in this day in age where certain statements stand out more than others, for better or worse.


“Qatar is off the message”… And so is FIFA


This post builds off as a reply to Alona’s insightful comment on Qatar’s PD with respect to labor related deaths in construction of the 2018 World Cup stadiums. I have created a separate post as I extend the analysis into the realm of FIFA and the World Cup itself.

Qatar’s disastrous management of the labour–related deaths scandal, besides raising concerns of blatant human rights violations, profoundly shatters confidence in and support for one of the world’s most popular sports and its most widely watched event. Certainly, it destroys enthusiasm for the next World Cup, at least to the extent to which it appeals to the conscience of billions of fans worldwide, torn between the love for the sport and the demands for respect of human rights. Thus, it is very ironic to analyze this phenomenon, in so far as sports have been identified as a potential vehicle for positive public diplomacy amongst nations.

The World Cup, besides being a thrilling event of passionate matches and displays of genius from the planet’s new and old show offs, is as much an opportunity for nations to come together in “fair play”, not merely showing but exemplifying the values of respect, camaraderie, fraternity, and sportsmanship. Soccer players become ambassadors for their countries at the prelude and during the games. So do their fans, ranging from recognized personalities such as heads of state to outstanding fans that charmed their way into the media, becoming symbols of their respective country’s exoticism. (Paraguay’s Larissa Riquelme, from South Africa’s 2010 World Cup, is a case in point.) One has only to remember the songs that have been recorded for the tournaments throughout the years (the most recent ones being “The Love Generation” and Shakira’s “Waka Waka”), to agree, at least to some extent, that these were songs that spoke of happiness, of forging lasting friendships, of peace, of hope for a better world. It is no coincidence that the song for the upcoming 2014 World Cup is called “We Are One.” (Cultural diplomacy in the World Cup is also played out through music– it’s all about forging global bonds that converge in mutual passions.)

This is what makes the deaths by forced labor in Qatar extra despicable, to say the least. However, Qatar’s compliance notwithstanding, it is important to point out that a big component of abuses committed in preparation for the World Cup can be traced to FIFA’s own power management. FIFA is a very powerful organization, led by a very powerful leader. Joseph Blatter often employs a hard soft power, (building on the notion that soft power is not soft as it involves coercion) shrewdly used to impose his interests and those of his acolytes. The fact that soccer is such a beloved sport for millions throughout the globe makes it an ideal space for the contradictions of power to flourish. However, it also offers a unique opportunity for grassroots movements– the new actors with the potential to transform the PD arena in fundamental ways– to advocate for absolute compliance with and defense for human rights.