Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Somebody, please, tell RT to stop!

Russia TV, supposedly one of Russia's major public diplomacy tools, puts out many works of journalistic art on the airwaves every day. And despite following the channel for eight months now, I just can't stop being surprised at the ingenuity and creativity of some of its reporters (or should I blame the editors?). In a post, a couple of months ago, I pointed out that a significantly sizable chunk of RT's programming walks a very fine line between what it apparently considers "public diplomacy" and what can easily be perceived as blunt propaganda and antagonistic rhetoric.

Watching some of its news coverage today, two pieces particularly stood out as "impressive".

The first one, quite bluntly, bashes Bush (and oh, poor Glassman!).

The other one was even more surprising, in all the ingenious connections that the reporter managed to find.

[Just a  note about the second video, which, quite amazingly, wanders off to bring in the issue of global warming. During the presentation on Russia in the Public Diplomacy class last week, a classmate asked whether Moscow is trying to promote any major "humanitarian" themes/issues as matters of "global concern", citing the example of Climate Change being embraced by major actors like Britain or Germany. This video, is most certainly, another clear indication that Russia does not seem to accept climate change as a problem in the first place (not to mention the fact that it obviously does not differentiate between "global warming" and "climate change"). RT has been very active in pushing this line, particularly after the Copenhagen summit; but this can be quite "reasonable" if one considers Russian economy's reliance on fossil fuels...]

So, what's wrong with these reports?

These might be legitimate concerns and/or controversies that they are trying to capture. Fair enough. The problem lies, however, in their tone and approach. Somehow, RT manages to introduce sensationalism and make rash generalizations in every story they report on (example here: "American bloggers stayed away from Bush's conference". Erm.. how many bloggers are there in the US?).

Another major problem, which seems to be becoming a trend (but is quite worrisome), is the reliance on "web-cam interviews" with people of questionable authority, who, most certainly, speak along the same lines as RT. Yes, the new technologies are perhaps "giving voice to the voiceless"; however, in RT's case, the use of these tools in such manner is actually counter-productive, since it only undermines RT's image even further.

Russia has a major PD problem, not only in terms of its Soviet legacy, but also because of its current foreign policy (or, at least, some aspects of it). The Kremlin seems to be painfully aware of this problem, and all the frantic efforts to organize, institutionalize, and streamline the Russian PD activities over the past three-four years clearly indicate that.

Yet, no matter the number of different ballet or opera performances the Kennedy Center hosts, or the billions that Moscow spends on (re)building Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Western public will still remain skeptical. Major reason? Lack of credibility.

Anholt makes a wonderful point when referring to nation brands, which, in this sense, can be regarded as synonymous to credibility: "[they are] the context in which messages are perceived, not the messages themselves." Therefore, working towards establishing viable credibility should be the first and foremost objective of any public diplomacy initiative, especially in cases where there is a "condescending historical image."

RT English, which supposedly targets a global audience - primarily the American public, through - not only does not promote Russia's credibility, but undercuts it further. Yes, RT knows how to do a good job sometimes (especially, at times of crisis) and it might have quite legitimate points even in the reports above; but the way reporting and presentation are done, they simply overshadow any substance.

In a sense, RT might be trying to model itself after the very informative and enlightening Fox News channel (although coming at it from the opposite side of the "ideological spectrum"). But then, Fox News apparently has strong credibility among its adherents, which might, just as well, include a large number of Americans.

RT, unfortunately, does not enjoy this privilege, and would do better, if it relied more on establishing itself as an authoritative and credible voice, and in doing so, paid a little more attention to its primary objective: public diplomacy.

[UPDATE] A brand new report from today morning - just fresh out of the oven - publicizing British Queen's successful public diplomacy in Russia.

Well, at least "Laughter is the most healthful exertion." Whether it works for Russian PD, is a totally different matter...



  1. But, Lena! They're so detail oriented! Not only is Bush tanned -- he's wearing a tie that complements his eyes!! Once again, I agree completely, and I enjoyed the Anholt quote. Similar to the one I quoted on my blog today. Yes, Russia does have a bit of a PD problem, but at least RT is good for a laugh.

    On the topic of Sochi, did you see this article from the Christian Science Monitor? If the claims are accurate, there are more PD problems on the horizon.

  2. Well, nothing in the post-Socialist/Communist space can be 100% clear of corruption allegations :) Even if the corruption is truly not there, the allegations always will be :P

    As for Anholt, indeed, I just read another piece by him, and that's a reoccuring point: actions speak louder than words, particularly when it comes to nations. I'm afraid, though, being much easier to deal with, words are taking over once again...