This issue is printed in French but the articles are available in English on Cairn International (paying access): https://www.cairn-int.info/journal-hermes-la-revue-2022-1.htm#xd_co_f=N2MxOWJiYmMtMDUyMS00ZDZhLTlhOWItYTg5ZmY0NjBlNmMx~
For more than twenty years, Hermès Editions has worked on a regular basis to stay up to date on the state of the art in communications strategies and technologies for civil societies, with a variety of collective publications covering a broad range of issues such as linguistics, media, and communications in connection with the third-sector organisations. The critical role communications play for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) appears obvious, and is a sensitive topic as well. Complex, too, where innovations in technology are constantly changing the communications landscape; a cause for concern in a highly-connected internet world where urgency and immediacy are now the norm. Reading this publication offers the opportunity to assess the many faces of the extremely vast field of communications.
The scope of the term first needs to be established. Are we talking about diplomacy, journalism, marketing and information campaigns, management inside organisations, promotional campaigns for projects completed, fund raising campaigns, lobbying, or advocacy? Are we looking to persuade, to work together, to discuss, to present a set of arguments, to manipulate, or to form, guide, or bolster an opinion? Examining each contribution reveals the many aspects of communications field, as well as its strategic importance.
The specificity of this particular publication resides in its pluralistic approach, and not simply an analysis of the methods used by the biggest international NGOs. This result is a multi-faceted body of work that reflects the wide variety of third-sector organisations.
The introduction helpfully explains the strategic importance of communications, and as a consequence life at an NGO and how they operate, all within the context of an economic and political situation. Examining communications requires taking a close look at the means deployed by NGOs, states, and the media to achieve their goals. This mix of degrees of power and intervention, visible through the multiple contributions, broadens our perspective of the political complexity surrounding the issue. To mitigate the almost certain disengagement of states in different fields due to the rise in economic liberalism, NGOs have taken on a genuine social-organisation role throughout the world. At the same time, the emergence of the concept of mass media will create conditions for an over-mediatisation of major humanitarian tragedies. What impact will these conditions have on how the world functions? What (opposing) power do NGOs have in this situation? How will they use this power and what are its limits? This body of work provides a breakdown of the situation through several levels of examination and analysis.
This issue consists of three distinct sections to provide a framework and boundaries for the analysis. The first section covers the issue of “The influence of the power apparatus on NGOs.” For example, Damien Larrouqué interviews Pierre Henri Guignard,Pierre Henri Guignard, « Les ONG à la table des États : un “multilatéralisme participatif” ? » (entretien avec Damien Larrouqué), p. 55-59 [NGOs rubbing shoulders with States: … Continue reading providing insight into the position of diplomats and the role they play as intermediaries between civil society and states. This type of work requires subtlety, a balancing act of “back channel” communications, as well as human intelligence and intuition. Conversely, diplomatic protocols also demonstrate the importance of taking into consideration all forms of cultural norms to create optimal conditions for clear communication and conciliation. NGOs are not exempt. Pierre Henri Guignard then returned to the permanent partnerships built between diplomats and NGOs, with examples of emergency interventions, negotiations, and even major international political events for which he continuously works to make space for civil society, and he is explaining why.
Changing speeds, Zhao Alexandre Huang explains the coercive communications techniques that states and companies use to influence public opinion by using the example of the Confucius Institute, an organisation created to implement a barely-veiled influence strategy implemented by the Chinese government in several African countries. Through this article,Zhao Alexandre Huang, « L’Institut Confucius et la diplomatie publique chinoise en Afrique : un organe de propagande déguisée en ONG ? », p. 60-66 [“The Confucius Institute and … Continue reading Zhao Alexandre Huang explains how communications function as a soft power tool and how they are used to legitimise governmental actions, whatever those actions may be.
The second section of the publication focuses on the concept of a crisis, grouping together several analyses and research projects on the communications challenges that NGOs sometimes face: ineffectiveness, contradictions, and even manipulation due to a given political, economic, or social situation (with focus on the situation in Haiti, and the wars in Ukraine, Lebanon, and Georgia), as well as the internal policies within each organisation. Eric Dacheux’sÉric Dacheux, « Communiquer n’est pas persuader : pistes pour repenser la communication des ONG », p. 107-112 [“Communication is not persuasion: Rethinking how NGOs communicate”]. contribution provides this fascinating point of view. He examines the various established communication modalities used by NGOs, including those taken from the for-profit private sector. One judicious analysis places internal communications on one end of the spectrum, where the agent, as a communicator, is required to handle day-to-day operations within the organisation (management), and external communications on the other side of the spectrum, including marketing techniques (raising funds), and lobbying (advocacy). Opposed to this management and coercive approach to communications, which seeks to ensure that the target adheres to a unique point of view, Eric Dacheux proposes a more thought-provoking communications policy, one that emancipates, “encouraging the target to freely interpret the message as they wish”, thus evading the prism of persuasion.
He points to a communications paradox for NGOs, who often employ techniques from the very system that they are fighting against and that fosters inequality. The question is not one of “broadcasting the truth”, but rather to “incite everyone to participate in the collective debate”. An approach strongly urged by popular education, an area where Paolo Freire and Jacques Rancière’s ideas are clearly felt. This very appealing ideal and course of action seems to unfortunately conflict with the demands for profitability, efficiency, and immediacy that our capitalist system imposes and to which any intervention in today’s globalised world must submit.
The final section of the publication, entitled “World Civil Society and Globalisation of NGOs”, focuses on an overall approach to communications for NGOs. In today’s mass media society, we are currently in an information and communications war. In their introduction, Michaël Oustinoff and Ugo Ruiz remind us that “Western media and the leading state channel in Russia do not broadcast the same reality”. Both make attempts to discredit each other by yelling fake news, whereas Reporters Without Borders warns us that “almost half of the world population still does not have access to independent, unbiased information”.
The article written by Nabil el Khoury and Marguerita MouawadNabil el Khoury et Marguerita Mouawad, « La construction du rôle russe en Syrie dans la presse d’opinion arabophone », rubrique Diagonales, p. 203-208 [“The construction of Russia’s role … Continue reading presents an interesting case study. It shows how the editorial policies for two daily newspapers in Syria transformed based on how the world’s chessboard of events unfolded: Al-Akhbar, a pro-Iranian newspaper, and Asharq al-Awsat, a pro-Saudi newspaper opposed to Russian policy and the Syrian regime. This careful examination reveals the mechanisms that manufacture public opinion, how the media covered Russia’s role in the conflict and its search for a solution, as well as the media’s inevitable interpretation before broadcasting any information. The latter includes using terms like “collateral damage”, instead of “war crimes”, or the well-publicized need on both sides to “fight against terrorism” to justify war. The article presents a very concise, effective analysis.
Fighting for recognition, sovereignty, legitimacy, political action, domination, working to persuade, the war of information, social control of civil society, a marketing approach by communicators, campaigns and fund raising, management, think tanks allied with governments, diplomacy, influence and persuasion, controversies… The 89th issue of Revue Hermès takes us on this long journey through one of the major strategic issues for NGOs and international politics. The table of contents overflows with articles covering a wide variety of topics and written by contributors from all over the world. While not claiming to be exhaustive, this compilation of works is representative. Reading this series of articles expands our point of view and augments our critique of every sector that, from near or afar, has become trapped in the “game” of communications and international politics.
Translated from the French by Darin Riesman