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III. BRICS and global strategic communication

Brazil and corporatist soft power

This chapter argues that Brazil has developed considerable soft power in the world, particularly from commercial cultural industries in television and music, but also from government initiatives like the building of its new capital Brasilia in the 1950s and the initiatives to host the World Cup and Olympics in the 2010s. It also argues that the soft power originating from Brazilian cultural industries has a distinct flavour, albeit one similar to other Latin American countries, in the way that cultural industries have developed key export genres, such as telenovelas, in a corporatist form of interaction with a series of national governments. These governments have delegated much of their internal ideological work on national identity to the cultural industries, particularly in music, from the 1930s on and in television, from the 1970s.

Soft power

The term soft power is often evoked in foreign policy debates as a measure of state or national strength. Soft power is a crucial component of state (or‘national’) influence and control that attempts to attract or persuade other states or their publics to act in the interests of the country exercising the power. This is opposed to hard power of military or economic might, which may be able to force another country to change its policies, such as the United States and European efforts to force Iran to change its nuclear policies through an economic boycott. Soft power is often based on the foundation of communication and media industries and mass media technologies. As originally defined by Nye (1990), soft power consists of a wide range of cultural and informational resources, including both government public diplomacy aimed at publics beyond classic official diplomacy, and the export or extension abroad of a variety of products and activities by a range of civil-society actors, such as foundations, universities, unions and churches, as well as cultural industries of news, film, television, music, plastic arts, classical music and dance.

State soft power might be thought of as based in resources that the state directly controls, such as official media, like the Voice of America or RT (formerly Russia Today), as well as official exchanges, like the Fulbright Programme or Peace Corps. In contrast, I argue here that, depending on the nature of the state and economy of a country, much of its soft power is likely to be generated by private, commercial national cultural industries, which produce most of the news, information and cultural exports of many nations, reflecting the broader nation as opposed to directly expressing the will of the state.

For example, the first book on Brazilian national communication policy, produced as part of a UNESCO project to encourage nations to articulate clear national policies in the 1970s, noted that Brazil had a historic tendency for the state to delegate most of national media production to private enterprises and cultural industries (Camargo and Pinto, 1975), rather than have the state create or take over its own media.There are, however, some historic exceptions to that, particularly the takeover of the main national radio network by the authoritarian populist regime of GetiilioVargas in the 1930s (Haussen, 2005). Below I will theorize this tendency as a form of media corporatism, in which the state delegates some crucial functions to private commercial entities, such as relying on private media to create the media content that will largely serve the state’s interest, or delegate some activities to non-profit groups, such as relying on churches for aspects of education and health (Malloy, 1977).

This chapter concentrates on Brazil as one of the BRICS, a group of large, emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Within that group, two of the largest powers are present (China) or former (Russia) communist states with a continuing history of strong central control over media, information and most forms of cultural production. If one looks at the most prominent media expressions of China and Russia abroad, they reflect state activities, such as RT or China Global Television Network (originally known as CCTV-9). By contrast, in the other three, including Brazil, most media and cultural activity is produced by different forms of civil society and cultural industry, including television, radio and the print media that are commercially profitable. In some of these countries, the state does sometimes step in to subsidize arts activity, including film, but in India, for example, film is a vibrant cultural industry that thrives economically on a commercial basis. The face of these countries abroad is dominated by private media, like TV Globo from Brazil or Bollywood from India. Brazilian soft power is, therefore, of a different kind, based in national culture, consumerism and politics, but simultaneously friendly to regional and global capitalism. While the first wave of Brazilian music exports for soft power in the 1930s showed a guiding government hand, most subsequent soft-power flows, particularly after the 1970s, have come from cultural industries, but often in a corporatist dialogue with the state.

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