International Media for an Inclusive Diplomacy




Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, Global Governance

By Burak Ünveren

Media not only serves the function of reporting about diplomatic events, it also constitutes one of the main pillars of diplomatic conversation. Both shaped by public opinion and shaping the public opinion, media plays a crucial yet indirect role in the diplomatic process.

A credible, functioning and pluralist media landscape is essential for an inclusive diplomacy. Without being able to get informed in a reliable manner, no sustainable conversation can be held, neither on the public nor on the diplomatic level.

There are many reasons why international broadcasters are highly relevant for the ongoing co-construction process of an inclusive diplomacy culture. In this piece, I will try to illustrate them.

Opinions based on free information

One’s understanding of diplomacy matters. A conventional understanding of diplomacy might not need it, but a multilateral, inclusive, sustainable one requires plurality. Yet plurality is not a given. There are numerous countries and societies where free information is either nonexistent or a luxury. These communities therefore often face the challenge of choosing between the information provided by the mouthpieces of the government or no information at all.

This is where international broadcasters come into play.

In many regions and countries, where free and easy access to credible, unbiased information is not available, multiple international broadcasters offer their services, as an example BBC, DW, Euronews or France 24. These outlets have the editorial and political freedom to ask those questions which the local journalists are not at practical liberty to ask. Their accountability journalism contributes a great deal for well-informed local communities.

I argue that providing underprivileged communities with the credible information they need to build their own informed opinion is gradually leading to increased participation in the public debate, including the one on foreign policy. In this way, diplomacy is getting increasingly inclusive.

Glocalized standpoint

International broadcasters might make the impression of being entirely global at first glance, however they are highly regionalized. Media managers are aware of the needs and gaps in the regions in which they operate and increasingly offer regionalized, targeted content. Contrary to popular belief, the various languages of an international broadcaster are not the adapted versions of one main content pool. As an example, the Swahili program of BBC is not merely the Swahili translation of their English program. Similarly, the Russian page of DW offers mostly exclusive stories particularly interesting to the Russian-speaking audience.

Beyond the local topics, international broadcasters extensively cover global issues in their programs of global relevance too. Topics such as climate change, migration, digitalization, health crises, societal change, human rights challenges and many other topics belong to their daily agenda.

Therefore, being both regionally and globally, or “glocally” relevant, makes the international broadcasters good, organic diplomats in the broadest sense of the word.

The constructive approach

International broadcasters increasingly ascribe special value to constructive journalism, especially in their regionalized programs. For instance, DW’s Eco Africa format focuses on innovative concepts and projects from Africa and Europe and “presents environment and climate change ideas that inspire others to get on board or start something of their own“, according to their website.

Operating from an ethical and constructive standpoint makes journalism not only more reliable and meaningful but also constitutes a tangible example of inclusive diplomacy. In order to construct a better world, one has to be intentionally constructive.

Public media ≠ state media

Understandably, nation-states or supranational organizations do not invest in international broadcasting merely because of their benevolent intentions. It is not rocket science to know that every single country in the world has a certain foreign policy agenda, which may require or go hand in hand with providing such global services. The question is though what kind of goals that agenda consists of and which values it is based on.

To some nation-states, especially to emerging powers, the distinguishing characteristic of which is authoritarian leadership, international broadcasting comes in handy as a supreme tool of state propaganda. Especially in times of disinformation, many outlets brand themselves as public media, even though they are basically state media, not promoting values such as free and unbiased information but the national interests of the states or individuals who fund them. That is why citizens should be careful and fully aware of the political roots of international broadcasters while consuming them.

A round-table with a greater radius

The reason why platforms such as the GDL exist is that diplomacy has already surpassed its traditional boundaries a short while ago: the diplomatic paradigm is shifting from the unilateral pursuit of self-interest maximization towards a multilateral pursuit of a global dialogue for issues that are solvable only in international and interdisciplinary collaboration.

That is why we can no longer merely rely on the diplomats of nation-states whose job is rightfully pursuing the national interests of their respective countries, but rather we must turn to a wide spectrum of professionals who are able to think beyond the national interests of the countries whose passports they possess.

It is already fact that not only foreign ministries but also agents such as representatives of (I)NGOs, civil society and transnational networks, think tankers, national and supranational bureaucrats, local politicians, scholars and even mere individuals increasingly have a say in the making of foreign policy. Besides, transdisciplinary solutions do not only satisfy the idealists but the realists as well: to the former, it is an inclusive and fair decision-making process; the latter sees in it an efficient legitimacy tool.

The diplomatic conversation takes place at a round-table, the radius of which is gradually growing. I argue that some of the new chairs pushed towards the table could be offered to international journalists and media managers. The people working for international broadcasters are by their very nature interculturally competent, globally literate and have expertise in various countries, regions and issues. Including them in the diplomatic conversation will be an enrichment for every participant and accelerate the creative solution process.

As a result of that, the already existing indirect contribution of international media to the diplomatic conversation could be turned into a direct one. With an invitation from the current decision-making institutions, they might and would be willing to translate their competencies into an active contribution to the making of inclusive diplomacy.


About the author:

Burak Ünveren is a political scientist and journalist working for the Turkish Programme and in the Chief Editorial Office at Deutsche Welle. His fields of expertise are global affairs, international security, Turkish foreign policy, political communications and German-Turkish relations.

Published on April 19, 2021.

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