WikiLeaks on Syrian Media Management

February 15, 2011

I’m a bit of rush this morning so the heavy conceptual posts that I’m brewing will have to wait.

I’ve written quite a lot about news management (or spin) (eg Brown 2003a, 2003b) .  One of the arguments that I’ve made is that governments are interested in shaping the news because news is one of the basic sources of foreign policy making.  News media feed into your own policy process and into that of other countries.  From this perspective focusing on short term pressures on foreign policy (ie the CNN effect) misses the everyday impact of news coverage as an input into the foreign policy process (for classic sources on this see Cohen 1963 and Davison 1974 – more recently Brown 2010 and Zhang 2011).

Given this background I was interested to see this WikiLeaks cable that documents US concern over Syrian presentation of the evolution of US policy towards Syria.  The cable discusses the media management techniques deployed but also expresses concern that the Syrian spin is actually influencing other countries perceptions of what US policy is.  This point isn’t directly made but I presume that if other countries believe that the US is liberalizing their policy then they will do the same..

The other point is that that problem for the author of the cable is at the time in 2009 that the US is conducting a review of policy towards Syria and that this makes it difficult to craft a compelling message.  The key point is that media relations work is an important element of achieving diplomatic goals not just because of the importance for the broader public but because the diplomatic community is among the most avid consumers of news –  (I think) in the Davison piece cited here a former diplomat comments that it is a relief not to have to spend so much time  reading the newspapers.

Brown, R. (2003a) ‘Spinning the World: Spin Doctors, Mediation and Foreign Policy’, pp. 154-72 in F. Debrix and C. Weber (eds) Rituals of Mediation: International Politics and Social Meaning, Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press.

Brown, R. (2003b) ‘Clausewitz in the Age of CNN: Rethinking the Military-Media Relationship’, pp. 43-58 in P. Norris, M. Kern, and M.R. Just (eds) Framing Terrorism: The News Media, the Government, and the Public, New York: Routledge.

Brown, R. (2010) ‘The Media and the Policy Process: A Policy Centric Approach’, in K. Voltmer and S. Koch-Baumgartner (eds) Public Policy and the Mass Media: The Interplay of Mass Communication and Political Decision-Making, Routledge/ECPR Series in European Political Science, London: Routledge.

Cohen, B.C. (1963) The Press and Foreign Policy. Princeton, N.J: Princeton U.P.

Davison, W.P. (1974) ‘News Media and International Negotiation’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 38: 174-91.

Zhang, L. ( Forthcoming 2011) News Media and EU-China Relations. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.


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