Non-State Actors in Brazilian Public Diplomacy: An Interview with the USC Master of Public Diplomacy Delegation to Brazil

Posted on Posted in At Post:, Current Issue, Featured, Interview, Summer 2014: Non-State Actors

In February 2014, a group of seven USC Master of Public Diplomacy students traveled to São Paulo, Brazil to conduct field research, with the intention of furthering the study and field of public diplomacy.  Through carefully planned site visits, students engaged a wide range of public diplomacy actors from governmental, corporate, academic, and non-governmental organizations. Each of these meetings allowed the students to gain a better understanding of Brazilian public diplomacy and the transnational network of non-state actors. Back in Los Angeles, Public Diplomacy Magazine interviewed the group to gain insight on their key findings, specifically in the areas of international broadcasting, citizen, and digital diplomacy.

Public Diplomacy Magazine: Last year the MPD research trip was to China, and the year before it was to India. Why did you choose Brazil and, more specifically, why did you choose São Paulo? It would seem that your research would be more suited to the capital city, Brasilia.

Emily Schatzle: It’s interesting you should say that, because that was the same question that was asked by almost everyone when we told them we were going to Brazil. They were certain that we would be able to research public diplomacy better in Brasilia. What we actually found is that São Paulo is such a dynamic city and is full of diplomatic potential, with so many international actors, it ended up being a more valuable opportunity to go to São Paulo than to go to Brasilia.

Helene Imperiale: I think overall, we chose Brazil because as one of the BRICS, it is a rising economic, political, and diplomatic power. We wanted to identify an emerging world power and analyze what they are doing through public diplomacy. Additionally, because of the two mega-events, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, we wanted to see how Brazil is going to present and represent itself to the international community.

PDM: Your group did some research on international broadcasting.Can you tell us about your findings? Did you see any differences between broadcasting in Brazil versus broadcasting in the United States?

ES: We visited Globo, the second largest media conglomerate in the world and the largest in Latin America. It covers print, broadcast, radio, and digital media, and is. best known for its TV Network , Rede Globo. We had the opportunity to meet with journalist William Waack, who hosts popular evening news program. It was really interesting when we asked Waack about broadcasting and how he thinks Globo affects Brazil’s image. He said, “We don’t feel responsible for Brazil’s world image,” which was an interesting take. I feel like when you look at American journalists, many of them are keen on upholding America. It’s interesting to see a journalist that’s willing to just tell it like it is.

Tenille Metti: For one, broadcasting in the United States is focused on using innovative platforms to engage audiences; however, for Globo, they simply are not yet there. While they have a designated Communications Department, they do not focus on multimedia approaches to sharing information—rather, this department focuses on the reputation and image of Globo as a whole.

Gabriel Bernadett-Shapiro: One of the things that William Waack mentioned was that Globo is a monopoly. Because they have no competition, it changes the way they report. For example, Waack told us that a reporter he was close to was killed in the recent street riots. For Waack, it’s Globo’s responsibility to name the rioters and to call them what they are: disruptive.

ES: I think the biggest difference is that TV viewership is still so high in Brazil, higher than the percentage of people primarily getting their news online. In the U.S., that’s shifting quickly. I think that definitely impacts how we disseminate information.

TM: In our meeting with University of São Paulo Communications Professor Luli Radfahrer, he spoke about how grand institutions, like Globo, could be even more dominating if they invested in technology. One of the most interesting things he told us was that Globo has the opportunity to become something as instantly massive as Netflix by incorporating visual-centric technologies into their broadcasting, but Globo is practically “too big to care,” in that they have such loyal viewership, there’s no need to diversify broadcasting strategies.

PDM: Tourists may form opinions about a place based on the interactions and experiences they have with locals. How did the locals treat you as foreign visitors? Did they try to convey anything about Brazil to you, either intentionally or unintentionally?

ES: Almost all of the people we talked to told us “I love São Paulo, I love Brazil,” and I don’t think they were trying to conceal or hide anything. I think this is a nation of people who are extremely passionate about their country and happy to talk about it to anyone who will listen.

Colin Hale: Also, our guide Felipe told us, “Anybody could walk down the street and be Brazilian.” Brazil has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. It has one of the largest Korean communities outside of Korea. There are significant Italian and German communities—everybody’s there.

PDM: Campus Brasil, a Brazil-based people-to-people educational tourist company, helped you plan and schedule your meetings and trip accommodations. It seems like they made a big effort to welcome you and to help you experience Brazil. Can you tell us a bit more about your engagement with them?

HI: Campus Brasil is relatively new. It started a few years ago. Recently, there has been a significant rise in entrepreneurship in Brazil, and many young people are starting their own companies. These two young entrepreneurs at the University of São Paulo started a tourism company designed originally to welcome students studying in Brazil by helping them with small logistical issues, like finding a doctor or a place to live. Later, they realized it would be better to start bringing groups to Brazil to participate in international exchange. Now, Campus Brasil works in partnership with Embratur, the tourism institution within the Brazilian government, to try to bring more students to São Paulo, and specifically more American students. But they’re not only working with American students, they’re working with Europeans and Australians.

Caitlin Dobson: In general, we saw a big push from promoting business tourism to promoting actual tourism—highlighting Sao Paulo’s cultural appeal.  They want you think of Sao Paulo and not just Rio de Janeiro. Campus Brasil really welcomed us, and showed us how to be locals in Brazil. So for people who are looking to truly experience the culture of a place, they do a great job.

PDM: Can you talk about the role of Brazil’s digital diplomacy in communicating with foreign publics? Do you think there is a difference between governmental and non-state use of these platforms?

HI: Professor Radfahrer talked to us about digital engagement strategies, which are crucial for NSAs. One of the most interesting things we learned from him about digital diplomacy is that it’s all about visuals and visualization. Literacy rates are at 90% right now, but with a population of over 200 million people, that still leaves millions of people without the ability to read and write. So a platform like Twitter isn’t going to work. It’s all about visual communication and videos. He said that the best way to reach people is by television, which is exactly what we were talking about with Globo. The second thing we learned is that the best way to communicate is through free text messaging. Everyone has a mobile phone, but it’s not necessarily a smart phone. The last major takeaway was that successful engagement is often done through YouTube videos. How-to videos are big in Brazil. Professor Radfahrer gave us an insight into the Brazilian mind and Brazilian culture: the visualization that is most effective in Brazil is based on a tradition of oral history that was passed down through Asian and Afro-Brazilian cultures.

GS: The government is not using digital platforms to their full potential in Brazil, while NSAs are doing a better job incorporating and harnessing online engagement. It was incredible to talk to the NSAs like 100% Skate, who are trying to keep their heads above water and earn a profit. But they’re making full use of all their digital platforms—they are tied in and engaged. When we went to the U.S. Consulate, on the other hand, they were not using their digital platforms and did not think that they should be. Their Twitter account only has about 800 followers and is mostly for journalists. No digital diplomacy initiatives are in place there, it was strictly traditional diplomacy.

PDM: What were the most important lessons you took away from your trip?

CH: Latin America, South America, and Brazil are ripe for good, thoughtful, and dynamic public diplomacy from the United States. I think the Brazilian culture, Brazilian people, and Brazilian values are much more in line with the United States than in other parts of the world, so I’m hopeful about that. My second take-away is that the city of São Paulo and the state of São Paulo—separate entities that work together—are starting to strategically communicate their brand. They are coming together to brand their city-state as a true global destination that should be mentioned alongside Paris, London, and Tokyo.

ES: As scholars of public diplomacy, we tend to look primarily at the state agenda in determining what a state’s or city’s goal is in developing its brand. When Mayor Garcetti says “Los Angeles,” for example, what does he want people to think? But I got a good view of how everyday people contribute to the city and nation branding. Are they happy? How do they feel about their city? How do they feel about their country? What do they think could be better? What would they like to change? And the biggest thing I saw was the potential for NSAs to filter that dialogue. To go between what the state wants and what the people are feeling, To create the best possible city brand for both groups.

HI: The United States doesn’t understand the potential value in engaging the Brazilian public. There is a lot of opportunity to connect these two publics and participate in exchange and digital diplomacy. The U.S. Consulate in São Paulo said that Brazilians want to meet Americans and understand the United States. However, I don’t know if there is that same response in the United States, which is part of the problem. If the United States strategically engages with the Brazilian public, it could be an important and beneficial relationship in the future.

GS: My biggest take-away was that visual communication is the most important form of communication in Brazil, and that it reflects the oral tradition—the country’s culture.

TM: For my focus in digital diplomacy, it was compelling to see that digital innovations are not a growing trend worldwide, even in emerging powers like Brazil. Some organizations we met with had yet to develop strategic approaches which could target audiences they sought to reach. In an age where public diplomacy tends to look very different than it used to, thanks to these technological platforms (for example, Ambassadors have the ability to tweet today), I can appreciate that face-to-face public diplomacy still triumphs in parts of the world, like it does in Brazil.

CD: There is so much room for growth in Brazil. In any research setting, gaining that cross-cultural understanding is invaluable. And I think that non-state actors are the perfect vehicle to facilitate this exchange, and I hope it continues on.

Neftalie Williams: My biggest take-away is that the best way for us to do great work as public diplomacy scholars is to create our own digital diplomacy programs…The U.S. Consulate might lack a digital strategy to engage Brazil’s foreign public, but they are interested in making new connections. This creates opportunities for partnerships between the U.S. Consulate and NSAs who understand digital platforms. As the next generation of diplomats, we have the skills and expertise to be of service in this area.

Members of the USC Master of Public Diplomacy Delegation to Brazil were Gabriel Bernadett-Shapiro, Colin Hale, Caitlin Dobson, Helene Imperiale, Tenille Metti, Emily Schatzle, and Neftalie Williams

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