An Interview with Cobus van Staden on Nation Branding

I focus on nation branding and how media is used as a tool in diplomacy and as a tool to make countries understandable. The concept of nation branding and the kinds of mechanisms set up for nation branding has traditionally been very dominated by Western countries. So you know, there’s an entire set of tools set up by countries like France, the UK, and the US, that have defined the basic tools that a lot of
countries use to do public diplomacy and nation branding. So these include
things like organized language education, for example, the way that the Alliance Française does, or, you know, film festivals, or bringing authors out to foreign countries. All of
these different, kind of twentieth century-style tools. They are
very interesting, but they are also completely steeped in the history of Western domination in the world. So when you look at these tools
as they are used in Africa, they almost always come with a stiff dose of resentment about Western hegemony. My work has been focusing a lot onlooking at emerging powers in this game,
especially looking at non-Western powers, this relationship with each other. I do look at the West, but I’m mostly
focusing on China’s relationship with Africa and also on Japan’s relationship with
emerging markets. China tends to be much more state-focused. It tends to focus a lot on the organs of the state and trying to expand in a state-owned and party-controlled media in a kind of formal expansion. Japan
on the other hand is almost completely focused on consumerist and identity-based soft power, which is quite a different
kind of game. The Japanese state-owned broadcaster does have an international presence, but it’s very small. And also, there is internal
resistance within Japan to being used as this kind of tool of
public diplomacy. The public broadcasting inJapan has resisted attempts by
the Japanese government to try and turn it into the CCD of
Japan or you know, something like… even something like Voice of America for example. So both of these models have
significant weak points. I think what you see when you look at it in action in Africa is you can see it both working and
spectacularly failing occasionally. So you can you really get a feeling of it developing in real time as they try and
grapple with this you know, with the society. It’s kind of complicated: a society in Africa that they also don’t know very well. So they’re kind of making their way as they’re trying to… as they’re trying to really produce media. They’re trying to also kind of position themselves in this society, and every now and then it leads to this kind of big flare-up, which is a very interesting
thing to track.

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