Russia and China are miles ahead of Europe when it comes to investing in social media campaigns and founding cultural institutes, a new study has found. Germany, in particular, has some catching up to do.
Moscow and Beijing are piling money into the foreign media operations and concentrating in particular on social media campaigns, according to a new German study.
The study, which carries the title "German foreign cultural and educational policy in comparative perspective," was presented in Berlin on Tuesday by the Hertie School of Governance, who were commissioned by the German Foreign Ministry.
Researchers found that more countries around the world had followed a "strategic approach to their cultural policy to gain an advantageous position in international competition."
Russia and China, in particular, are "investing massively in the development of their cultural institutes and foreign media," with Russia engaging in a more aggressive "power political instrumentalization."
The Russian strategy was, the authors added, "increasingly marked by a proactive policy of exerting influence, which was challenging the boundaries of foreign cultural and educational policy internationally."
Stepping up the 'narrative wars'
Andreas Görgen, director of cultural policy at the German Foreign Ministry, initially played down the suggestion that Russia's strategy was more aggressive, and suggested the phrase "power political instrumentalization" did not necessarily have a "moral tone." But he added that all countries transport a "certain view of the world" beyond the "content" of what they offer abroad.
That world view is never "innocent," he added, but said that Germany and European countries generally have certain ideas about how "free discussions can work in society, and we want to at least present these possibilities to others," Görgen said. "It's our opinion that you have to make the distinction between government communication, which is directed by interests, and communication in the free media landscape."
This free media landscape, he added, included "basic conditions under which it functions - that includes protecting journalists, that includes financing models that allow free media to exist - and that's what we offer, and that's our attitude, and that's what I'm prepared to put to the competition," he said.
After that, Görgen added, it's up to the "market" to decide whether it prefers the "European model - of prosperity through dissent - or does it find another model more attractive, which is prosperity without dissent." DW is part of Germany's foreign cultural policy, with a yearly budget of 335 million euros ($382 million).
Europe against the world
The report pointed out that Germany and other European countries are not only economically and politically in competition with other countries - but also culturally. And while European investment has remained roughly constant in the past few years, Russia has stepped up its investment in this fight to get its world view out into the world.
The origins of crises and wars, such as in Ukraine, are presented in different ways in different countries, and, according to Helmut Anheier, president of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany has "not yet realized that the soft factor of culture and media has become a hard currency."
The study - the first of its kind to compare and track foreign cultural policies, found that while the number of western cultural institutes, such as Germany's Goethe Institute, was "stagnating," the number of Russkij Mir Institutes and Chinese Confucius Institutes had "grown dynamically" in the past decade.
But it is social media, and Internet platforms like YouTube, where Russia is being particularly successful - especially in markets like the Arab world and Africa.
Russia's international state media outlet RT, for instance, has built up YouTube subscribers on its Arabic platform from just a couple of thousand in 2011, to well over 500,000 now. Deutsche Welle's equivalent Arabic YouTube channel has only around 200,000 subscribers.
"If Germany wants to keep its good position, it has to increase the means and expand its activities in the geopolitically 'contested' regions," the study concluded. "New paths can be tried. One possibility would be European cooperation."