G20 London 2009

Star Power and the G20
April 2, 2009, 8:13 am
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , , ,


Andrew Schrumm  CIGI Research Officer
From the London Summit Media Centre

The massive media stage that the G8/G20 has become is a magnet for big personalities and star power. Without a doubt, the biggest star of today’s G20 meeting has been US President Barack Obama. The London Summit marks his first major international meeting, which has drawn huge attention from both journalists and state officials.

Major UK news outlets have been overcome by an Obama phenomenon, covering his every move (alongside wife Michelle’s fashion choices). Everyone has been trying to capitalize on his time in London. For instance, discount airline RyanAir even put Mr. Obama’s face on a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Daily Mail, playing off his arrival at their main depot at Stansted Airport.

World leaders too have been anxious to score time with the new president, hoping to build new relations with the Obama administration as it scales back many of the Bush-era foreign policy decisions. There is a sense the established diplomatic stiffness is lessening as Mr. Obama’s relaxed but confident style of diplomacy allows for fair and frank negotiations.

Here at the media centre, a different type of star power is taking hold. The ever-present and bombastic Sir Bob Geldof has created a stir that most leaders are unable to achieve. The most recognizable face among a crowd of journalists, he has begun to shift the ‘buzz’ back on African issues, amid heavy economic discussions. With the lead editorial in yesterday’s Financial Times, he provocatively posed the need for a global fiscal stimulus for Africa to cancel toxic debt and promote economic development. Today, he brought this message to the media centre, forming a large scrum in the middle of the room.

The magnetism of celebrities and star power has allowed some to reach a level of prominence within international affairs few occupy. And yet, such activity is easily dismissed by critics. Not without its flaws, celebrity-driven diplomacy is an emergent, albeit contested, pathway to bolster the legitimacy of international public policy.
Star power – whether employed by a president or a provocateur – is practiced in a fine balance of buzz (firm language) and bite (technical, professional support). In a sense, the power of celebrity provides an accessible a conduit between citizens, advocates and sites of power, in a fashion that no one would have imagined a decade ago.

Serious activists like Geldof – and his regular compatriot U2 frontman Bono – are changing the diplomatic discourse. Their ability to gain extended face-time with prominent national leaders, while their message is heard at both the mass and elite level means that they are engaging in the kind of widespread communication that underpins successful diplomacy. At the other end, the presence of Mr. Obama and his fresh diplomatic approach appears to draw huge attention to otherwise dry and technical international issues.

Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.