Searching for information
Information from the embassies is the main, and the most productive, source of the information drawn up and diffused by the Ministry.
A closely contested traditional role
The explicit search for information is perhaps the oldest of the embassies’ missions. The reports from the ambassadors in Venice are still famous: they observed the host country with objectivity. It has always been the role of embassies, but for some time now they have been competing with the press. Journalists are able to devote themselves utterly to the search for information, which for embassies is only one task among others. Nowadays, journalists also have access to "the powers that be in the world" Furthermore, as they are less obvious than a diplomat, are perhaps able to penetrate a wider variety of milieux more easily. Thus, when they do not make it, they are often the first to receive unpublished news as very often simple facts only become an issue following the coverage it is given. Embassies do not therefore try to beat the speed of the press agencies. In fact, modern technologies have created new rivals for diplomats. Internet offers everyone the possibility of broadcasting any information in real time, on any subject and anywhere they choose.
"An ambassador is a spy who is authorised by international law." Condillac. Dictionary of Synonyms.
A specific role that is still relevant
Diplomatic information still retains its essential role for several reasons. It is privileged information. Ambassadors obtain it at source from those in power. These, knowing that the Ambassador and his government will keep a secret if they are asked, will not use exactly the same language as they would with a journalist, to whom they would tell what they wanted the public to hear. It may be however, that in both cases the message is biased: the listener should judge! The ambassador passes on information to his government that, at least for a time, is confidential, but which sometimes remains so until the archives are opened. It is analysed information. Usually, the embassy does not pass on those bare facts that are known to the press agencies, but verified facts with comments made in the light of other information, previous observations, experience and embassy contacts. The current abundance of information makes critical assessment even more important. Diplomats must endeavour to be the best expert in the market on every subject. Journalists, if they have the time, undertake the same work. The comparison between the two analyses may be fruitful, in particular when they contradict each other and when time has decided between them. It is biased information, in that while remaining objective it is not neutral, but active. It is focussed on what action should be taken, which is different from press information. It is designed to help the government make decisions. It is the ambassador’s duty to learn any lessons from the information he sends and to offer suggestions and recommendations.
"Ambassadors do not simply execute their mission; through their counsel, they also develop and shape the will of their masters." Montaigne, Essais, 1580.
The increasing importance of the media and the development of new information and communication technologies have profoundly modified the information role of embassies, the effect being to strengthen it.
- A tour of the Quai d’Orsay
- A tour of the Quai d'Orsay