The language of the G20 communique has been making headlines precisely because the ‘fractious’ Summit didn’t produce any. Or at least, none that seemed to satisfy any of the participants.
A quick read is migraine inducing:
“These indicative guidelines composed of a range of indicators would serve as a mechanism to facilitate timely identification of large imbalances that require preventive and corrective actions to be taken.”
As one British official put it: “You can tell how difficult the negotiations were by how bad the language was”.
The media have been screaming washout and politicians have responded by emphasising process over outcome. British Prime Minister David Cameron described the meeting’s progress as slow and steady but that the G20 was not in a ‘heroic phase’. Separately, Nicolas Sarkozy said the act of meeting had done a lot to ‘allay’ fears i.e it was better to have played the game than to have won. Put like this they could be discussing the results of a sixth form hockey game as opposed to, say, the fate of the world economy.
Of course, media tactics of this sort are nothing new. Ministers always set the bar deliberately low at G20 meetings. This is in order to manage market expectations and, (presumably) pre-empt criticism that they weren’t able to achieve anything more substantive with taxpayers’ money than a mealy mouthed promise to act more decisively at some point, somewhere, sometime far in the future.
But politicians seem to be allergic to letting an occasion – even one as forgetable as this – pass by without attempting to construct a colourful media narrative around it. In this case it seems to take the form of ‘anti-headlines’ (copyright: mine) as a way of seizing back control of the story.
Take David Cameron again. He was only to keen to tell reporters yesterday that there was no ‘glistening headline’ from the Summit. Well, excuse me, Mr Cameron – but is that very phrase not your attempt at a ‘glistening headline’? It certainly made it close to the top of BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson’s blog. Meanwhile, IMF Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn intoned that: “this G20 was more a G20 of debate than a G20 of conclusion.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese were also flexing their media muscles, refusing to cede any control of the headlines to their defensive Western counterparts. In response to criticism that the yen is pegged artificially low, Chinese officials argued that Beijing has an “unswerving” commitment to reform its currency regime, but that global economic stability is needed to achieve it: the G20 “should not force others to take medicine for its own disease” as Commerce Ministry spokesman Yu Jianhua put it.
The Chinese are not exactly famed for their media loquaciousness. When they do talk, however, they know how to make a good metaphor. In years to come we can expect many more, as the country’s strategic use of the media grows in tandem with its economic and political prowess.