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Anti-Branding of Russia?

Abstract

In recent years Kremlin officials have frequently accused the West of conducting an “information war” against Russia. This paper engages with this topic in a novel way by applying the concept of anti-branding. In this context, anti-branding refers to a deliberate campaign by a state actor to tarnish the international image of a rival, thereby undermining that country’s soft power. To understand whether Russia has indeed been subjected to such an operation, this study addresses the case study of the Sochi Olympics of 2014. Specifically, it asks whether Western media reporting of the Sochi Games was unjustifiably critical and whether there is any evidence of government orchestration. It provides answers by means of extensive content analysis of US media and public statements by US officials in advance of and during the Sochi Olympics. In so doing, this paper provides an initial test of a new intellectual model of media analysis that has particular application to Russia. The key finding of the study is that, while it does appear that there was excessively negative Western media reporting of the Sochi Olympics, there is no evidence that this was orchestrated or encouraged by the U.S. authorities. Instead, it may be that the highly critical and often unfair reporting of the Games was the product of unconscious bias by journalists rather than the result of deliberate anti-branding by Western authorities. Further studies will be needed to establish whether this conclusion also holds in other cases in which Russia has been subjected to intense criticism within the Western media.

Keywords:

Nation branding; anti-branding; Western perceptions of Russia; Sochi Olympics; media analysis.

 


Authors: James D.J. Brown

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