Abstract: Today’s hyper-networked, multi-platform global media environment represents a range of challenges to traditional notions of state sovereignty. Key policy discussions cannot be confined within national borders, and national public opinion is no longer the limit of states’ concern. Within this environment, states increasingly orient their public diplomacy and digital communication efforts to take account of such transnational interactivity – particularly during crisis events such as military engagement or diplomatic scandal. This panel brings together a range of papers dedicated to analysing Russia’s recent public diplomacy efforts for the USA, Western Europe and the Middle East. It interrogates the variety of ways in which today’s global media environment has complicated or undermined Russia’s strategic communication efforts – apart from representing a challenge to state sovereignty in those places where such communications are directed. In particular, the papers on this panel address processes of national social divisions versus transnational identity-building; nation-branding and state projection; and the intersection of public diplomacy, military operations and geopolitical strategy. The panel discusses the ways in which today’s media environment blurs distinctions between state and non-state actors, and the domestic and international arenas. For a neo-authoritarian state such as Russia, this represents a significant challenge: contemporary media processes help to disrupt, fragment and ultimately subvert state attempts to maintain narrative control.
The study of populism has often focused on specific leaders or movements within nation-states. Such accounts approach the media as a dissemination tool of these ‘populist actors’, rather than as a producer of populism in itself. However, the ongoing development of new media technologies makes such an approach untenable. With populism understood as a particular set of communication logics in which core appeals are articulated, the contemporary global media environment has fundamentally altered the processes by which such appeals evolve, including the range of voices that contribute to that evolution. Where empirically-observable populism was once predominantly a national phenomenon, this is decreasingly the case. On- and offline transnational collaboration is becoming increasingly common, together with the emergence of genuinely international movements. This chapter updates discussions of populism and the media, by offering an empirically-grounded discussion of how new media technologies facilitate transnational co-production and dissemination of populist appeals amongst both core and peripheral audiences. Our discussions of legacy media developments, online grassroots campaigning and state-funded international broadcasting show how media actors themselves (including particular platforms) contribute to the production of populist messages and identities, especially because new media logics closely correspond to the needs of populist communication.
University of Manchester
Founded by the Russian state news agency in 2014, Sputnik is a heterogeneous web-based broadcasting outlet featuring news analysis, opinion pieces and opinion polls, multimedia content, live newswire, a social media presence and a digital radio station.
Where RT, Russia’s state-funded international television broadcaster, is more concerned with critiquing Western domestic and foreign policies, Sputnik, principally a radio broadcasting outlet, concentrates on depicting a favourable image of Russia. The proposed paper will ask: what is the distinctive role of Sputnik in Russia’s efforts to project itself onto the new global media ecology? Three case studies will show how the outlet deploys three seasoned tropes of Russian identity: the centenary of the 1917 Revolutions (great Russian history and culture); war in Syria (Russia as a great power); and the Salisbury poisonings (Russia and the West).
Content from Sputnik International’s UK and US English language radio broadcasts will be contrasted with its Russian language radio output, targeted at Russians and Russian- speaking communities in the “near abroad”. Similarly, Sputnik’s broadcasts will be compared to the analysis of RT undertaken within the AHRC project Reframing Russia. The axes of comparison will enable one to assess for the very first time Sputnik’s distinctive role in Russia’s larger projection strategy.
University of Manchester
This paper explores how in today’s hyper-networked, multi-platform global media space, efforts by neo-authoritarian states to maintain and exert national sovereignty are subject to disruption, fragmentation and ultimately subversion. It does so through a close reading of one episode in the Salisbury spy poisoning story: the fall-out from the bizarre interview with the two suspects in the case broadcast on the RT television channel and conducted by Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief. Reading this episode through the prism of ‘media event’ theory, which takes account of the complexities and contradictions in the digital media ecology, the paper points to: the multiplicity of state and non-state actors at work in shaping it; the ways in which the allegiance of these actors are intertwined and the implications of this process for the separation of ‘international’ from ‘domestic’ audiences; the transnational journalistic identities and ethical codes which the actors must negotiate; the distortive effects of the clash the respective logics of neoliberalism and securitization. The paper argues that, whilst it is creative and innovative in its efforts to instrumentalise the attributes of this new global media ecology, the Russian state retains only fragile and brittle control over the narratives it generates from it; instrumentalisation can, as in the case of the RT interview, easily backfire. It concludes, however, that Russian state media actors operating under these conditions are developing new modes of discourse that enable them to survive within it.
University of Manchester
This paper investigates the knotting together of public diplomacy and digital communication technologies in addressing audiences in the Middle East and its diasporas. It focuses on RT (formerly Russia Today), and presents a qualitative content and discourse analysis of aspects of the channel’s coverage of the war in Syria. We provide insights into how RT deploys subtle forms of public diplomacy as a tool of soft power. We demonstrate how this works in and through its strategic discursive framing of the war in Syria – rather than through any overt propaganda. A significant finding here is Russia’s invisibility as a military power and its visibility as a leading actor in the governance of Syria and in peace-building efforts. We argue that RT’s media framing strategies for transnational Arabic audiences must be considered as an adjunct to Russia’s military and geo-political involvement in the region. As such RT Arabic’s coverage of the war in Syria can be considered as a form of Russian smart power that threatens Syrian sovereignty and in so doing cements Russia’s role and influence in the Middle East.