‘Russia isn’t a country of Putins!’: How RT bridged the credibility gap in Russian public diplomacy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Crilley, Rhys; Gillespie, Marie; Kazakov, Vitaly and Willis, Alistair (2021). ‘Russia isn’t a country of Putins!’: How RT bridged the credibility gap in Russian public diplomacy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/13691481211013713

Abstract

In the context of deteriorating relations with ‘Western’ states, Russia’s state-funded international broadcasters are often understood as malign propaganda rather than as agents of soft power. Subsequently, there is a major credibility gap between how Russian state media represents itself to the world and how it is actually perceived by overseas publics. However, based on the study of RT’s coverage of the Russian hosted FIFA 2018 World Cup and the audience reactions this prompted, we find that this credibility gap was partially bridged. By analysing over 700 articles published by RT, alongside social media and focus group research, we find that RT’s World Cup coverage created an unusually positive vision of Russia that appealed to international audiences. Our study demonstrates how state-funded international broadcaster coverage of sports mega-events can generate a soft power effect with audiences, even when the host state – such as Russia – has a poor international reputation.

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