News Agencies, National Images, and Global Media Events

Article excerpt

One strategy used by nations to enhance their image is to host global media events. This study examines Associated Press, Reuters, and Inter Press Service coverage of six major U.N. summit meetings for their presentation of the host nations. Three of the conferences took place in western capitals; three were held in the developing world. While hosting a summit resulted in a nation getting a higher profile than it would if only a participant, western hosts received more overtly positive coverage than those from the developing world. The topic of the U.N. summit also influenced how news agencies portrayed a host nation.

Communications scholars have long regarded image politics as central to the conduct of international relations. Concepts such as strategic public communication, national image management, and media diplomacy have been used to refer to the purposeful enhancement of a nation's image as a tool of foreign policy.1 There is little dispute that power in the international arena is derived, in part, from a nation's ability to project an image that presents its military, economic, political, or cultural importance in a favorable or powerful light. Taylor offers a summary of government use of strategic public communication in international affairs that shows its evolution in form, function, and prevalence since 1945.2 Manheim also documents trends in image management practices by looking at the steady increase in the contracting of public relations firms by national governments.3 He demonstrates that the majority of the world's governments are involved in active campaigns to manage their media image.

One image management strategy is hosting global media events. Dayan and Katz define media events as planned, symbolic performances staged for a media audience. These include Olympic Games, the signing of peace accords, commemorations of historical events, royal weddings, and more 4 Global media events are a unique form of diplomacy because they attempt to reach not just other governments, but a global public. Their increasing prevalence suggests the growing importance placed on world public opinion, which Rusciano and others suggest actors must heed in the international arena or risk isolation.5

The goals of hosting global media events are many. At the most basic level, nations want prestige. They seek to be coupled in the eyes of the world with positive or globally altruistic causes such as environmental protection, human rights, or peace processes.6 The Helsinki Accords, for example, will forever link that city with a positive image as a barometer of human rights.7 Beyond simple image associations, nations desiring to host international events are drawn to this strategy to enhance trade and diplomatic relations. As Larson and Park point out, a significant goal of staging the 1988 Seoul Olympics was to assist South Korea in establishing political and economic relations with Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union.8 Another reason is to be perceived as an advanced nation. Here again, the Olympics Games offered Japan in 1964 and Mexico in 1968 a chance to show the world their abilities to play with the big kids in an international economic arena.

Other reasons to host mega-events include promotion of tourism, foreign investment, or simply to have the world know a nation exists. A primary goal of the Barcelona 1992 Olympics was to introduce Catalonia to the world as a culture and economy distinct from the rest of Spain and promote Barcelona as the southern business hub for Europe. 9 Hess, after analyzing the content of seven years of international news coverage, stated that "most of the world's countries are seen rarely, and then only because they host an important event or person, a pope or president, or because hurricanes happen..."10 In addition to a place on the global radar screen, a small country like Trinidad vies for an environmental summit to acquire technology or administrative or public management experience. …