Morality and Law
How the Language of Politicians Evolves in a Raging Mass Media Ocean
Online Discussion
List of speakers

On Monday, June 22, the Valdai Club held an online discussion, titled “The New World Political Narrative: Style and Syllable 2020”. The participants discussed changes in the language of politics and diplomacy and the problems of modern political communication.

At the beginning of the discussion, the central topic was formulated by Alexei Volin, Deputy Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation. According to him, the classical language of diplomacy is the language of the process, and not decision-making: “it is impossible to agree when using it”. In an era when voters have begun to speak directly with politicians, the traditional official style of communication no longer works. In search of support, politicians are beginning to use a language “understandable to the people”. This has ambiguous consequences, but it is obvious that we are talking about a long-term trend beyond formal communication. “The transformation will be difficult, but it will happen,” he emphasised. Volin’s point of view was supported by Paul Saunders, Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at the Center for National Interests in Washington, DC. According to him, in the United States sincerity is an important resource for a politician, which is assessed by his ability to speak the language of the common people.

In this regard, the question was raised about the role of social media in communication between politicians and voters. According to Alexei Naumov, deputy head of the foreign policy department of Kommersant newspaper and author of the Telegram channel Vneshpol, politicians are beginning to realise that social media accounts are the only way for them to convey their thoughts without distortion. On the other hand, Naumov believes, a situation where politicians publish tweets every day for any reason is “not normal” and makes one doubt the quality of the media. Guillermo García, Communications Secretary of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI), in turn emphasised that the growing role of social media reminds reporters that they should speak out clearly and concisely when conveying their thoughts.

In the context of Twitter diplomacy, the topic of stylistic differences in political communication between the leaders of the United States and Russia was raised. According to Roman Reinhardt, assistant professor of diplomacy at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and the author of a recent Valdai Paper, if Vladimir Putin’s keynote speeches become big media events that are evaluated and analysed over time, Donald Trump’s daily tweets are somewhat devalued due to their sheer quantity. Nevertheless, the statements of leaders are much more important than those of bureaucrats.

Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, focused on three issues of modern political communication. First, he noted, the role of multilateral diplomacy is changing. Summits and conferences become only the backdrop for the most striking bilateral meetings. This has clearly manifested in the current era of online conferences, and now is the right time to ask whether the summit format is obsolete. Second, in an effort to gain clarity of presentation, politicians now often resort to trolling. However, this happens in those cases when they never originally intended to reach an agreement. Third, in the modern world, diplomacy is being increasingly “outsourced”. Military and health officials (as during the pandemic), as well as private PR agencies become its actors. All of them bring their style to the language of diplomacy.

In conclusion, Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Valdai Club, spoke about the features of political communication in the modern era. According to him, today the whole world has become a media stage, and if there used to be a certain hierarchy among distributors and consumers of information, now the dissemination of information is available to the entire population. In the raging media ocean, we are faced with the problem of navigation. If Columbus had false, but stable ideas about the world which helped him discover America, today the problem of mankind is the instability of existing ideas. Given the shakiness and lack of a common space for information, we need a renaissance of communication, he concluded.