By Erika Marie Brünker Zumbado - Student of International Relations
When you are asked to describe Costa Rica to a foreigner, what comes to your mind? Perhaps, one could answer the question by establishing Costa Rica is a peaceful, green and happy country, which is exactly its reputation on the international level. But, what does this have to do with the country’s foreign policy? To begin with, it’s necessary to establish the definition of foreign policy, which according to Britannica (2021) is “the set of general objectives that guide the activities and relationships of one state in its interactions with other states”. At the same time, a country’s reputation plays a major role in its foreign policy, since how it is perceived affects its future treaties, alliances and connections with other countries.
In addition, it is important to emphasize on the exponential growth the world has faced regarding technological advancements. The past couple of decades have managed to create a globalized and interdependent world, in which mass media has continued to grow, and so has its impact. The impact of mass media may be seen in different areas, including the economy, level of awareness, governance, public opinion; and for this article, foreign policy. In first place, it’s essential to begin with mass media’s impact on a domestic level, since it’s now considered one of the best tools for democratic accountability. The role of mass media on local governments is to be a medium of conversation and keep the citizens informed and involved, while also allowing the politicians and leaders to have a better communication.
On a larger scale, mass media has a direct impact on a country’s foreign policy, since its reputation may be affected by news and situations covered by it. A specific situation in which news regarding Costa Rica entered the international sphere and had a negative impact to its reputation was when Oscar Arias was accused of several sexual harassment situations. Another example, regarding specifically Costa Rica’s environmental reputation, was when the project to allow trawling resurfaced. The last situation that influenced badly Costa Rica’s reputation due to its presence on mass media was the second round of the past elections (2018), since the threats and positions of Fabricio Alvarado concerned several Costa Rican allies. These situations resonated in the international community, and created hesitation towards Costa Rica’s legitimacy.
Fortunately, there have also been instances in which something that Costa Rica did, happened within its territory or a decision the country made, have had a positive impact in its reputation, and consequently in its foreign policy. In first place, the legalization of equal marriage in Costa Rica the past year echoed in the whole globe, since by doing so Costa Rica joined most developed countries. Another relevant event, even though it happened a few decades ago, was Oscar Arias winning the Peace Nobel Prize, which was sadly erased by his alleged actions with women. Lastly, Costa Rica’s environmental reputation has strengthened due to its carbon neutral plan, its use of renewable energy sources, and commitment with the SDGs by the United Nations. All the previously mentioned events had a positive impact on the country’s reputation, making the country the center of attention, news and comments.
In conclusion, the coverage mass media has given to the major and sometimes minor events that happen within the borders of a country has influenced the way international actors interact in the international arena. As Iakov Frizis (2013) mentioned in his article published in 2013, media is not an independent actor, but an element that can take different faces and ends up altering the environment in which actors interact; since both game and players are still the same, but the variables have changed the way the game is played. At the end, the evolution mass media has had in the past decades has forced states to rethink their international strategies, since it has changed from the domestic to the international system and its structure.
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Britannica. (2021). Foreign Policy. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Georges-Etienne- Bonnet
Frizis, I. (2013). The impact of media on foreign policy. https://www.e-ir.info/2013/05/10/the- impact-of-media-on-foreign-policy/