[This post is by guest-writer Line Løvåsen].
Living in an “information age”, journalism and media have become major resources. The information revolution was due partly to media activity. Also known as the fourth state power, media in many ways steer the informational component of the world. The media can either strengthen democracy, but in the case of war journalism we see that they can also undermine democracy. And this is no denial of the courage, professionalism and objectivity of many individual war journalists.
War journalism can undermine democracy and can even perpetuate war because it can act as a justification of violence. The way conflict and violence are presented and justified in the media – justified explicitly, but more often implicitly through fear-mongering, double speak, euphemisms and taking sides - can have an effect on a war, on a violent situation and its outcome.
War journalism therefore often favors the agenda of the ruling elites. But acts of war and violence carried out by governments also favor the media, because violence sells. There is a double-sided influence and dependence between journalism on the one hand, and politics and war on the other.
Johan Galtung, the founder of peace studies, discusses the following points regarding war journalism:
- A focus on violence as its own cause-thus decontextualizing violence, not looking at the reasons
- Dualism, always reduces to two parts, and hereof winners-losers, which ignores the possibility of non-violent outcomes
- Manicheanism; the two parts consist of the contradictions good-evil
- Armageddon, violence is inevitable
- Focus on the individual, avoiding structural causes
- Focus on the battlefield and visible effects, not on underlying forces
- Excluding and omitting the bereaved, thus never explaining why there are actions of revenge and spirals of violence
- Failure to explore the causes of escalation and the impact of media coverage itself
- Failure to explore the goals of outside interventionists
- Failure to explore peace proposals, and offer images of peaceful outcomes
- Confusing cease-fires and negotiations with actual peace, peace is defined as victory plus ceasefire
- Omitting reconciliation; and conflicts tend to re-emerge if wounds are not healed (Galtung 1992).
Consider the war on terror. The underlying causes of terror have not been given attention. After 9/11, U.S. president George W. Bush ignored the causes (the reasons stated by Al Qaida, such as disrespect, the Palestionan issue etc.), and claimed that the attack on the U.S. was because Al Qaida hates the western values of peace, freedom and democracy; one international crime became a global war. This had a massive psychological impact, and politicians use this fear and its representation in the media to gain advantage in elections and justification for a range of policies. The masses can be convinced that they are not sufficiently safe in peace or war, and thus are dependent of the guidance and protection of the leaders.
Responses to so-called terrorism may threaten nations more than actual acts of terror committed. Rather than the “terrorists”, it is politicians, through their counter-actions, who define the severity and the impact that acts of terror have on a country. War, as part of the national psyche, is responsible for a higher scale of damage than terror. Moreover, it sows mistrust and reduces the ability of people to come together or unite in order to bring about change.
War is prolonged political business, in the words of Clausewitz. And information is the currency of the current age. Tactics for justification and consciousness formation are widely used in this special market place. The influence of power structures on the masses in the Western society has been widely portrayed, in everything from science fiction (The Matrix etc.) to literature. In his book “1984″, George Orwell described how politicians apply a mutation of the English language (called “Newspeak”) in order to shape and mold our consciousness and acceptance, allowing them to justify violence and oppression.
For example, in Newspeak, words such as torture are referred to as “deep interrogation”. Mercenaries as “security people”. In addition to the misuse of words, you have the double language and manipulation of the mind as tools to force people to accept contradictions. An example of double thinking is the use of projection; where you project your own subconscious unacceptable, malicious desires on to others. Projection helps justify unacceptable behavior, distancing ourselves from our own dysfunction. One example is how “we” have weapons for purely defensive purposes, while “they” have expansionist motives and offensive weapons.
Orwell notes that, instead of exercising the purpose of their profession (that is “the publishing of unbiased information” and hence constraining the ruling elite by informing the public), the media accept the influence of the ruling elite and have in fact joined their ranks, assist them and live in almost . One example of media manipulation and propaganda is the media empire of Rupert Murdoch and his support to different politicians he favors, for example in England. After being supportive of Thatcher and Major, Murdoch switched his support to the Labour Party, and his secret meetings with Tony Blair came to be a political issue in Britain.
Murdoch owns the “News Corporation”, based in New York. Aside from newspapers, magazines and television stations, he also has become a leading investor in satellite television, the film industry, and the Internet. His corporate owned TV-station Fox News has a strong conservative bias, and both Fox News and all of Murdoch’s 175 newspapers favored the Iraqi war.
How the media present, justify or even shape conflicts is one problem. The next is when conflicts are not presented at all. Why are some event shighlighted while others are not? What kind of criteria causes one news item to supersede another? Occidental deep culture is reflected and reinforced by the media in the concepts of hero, victory-defeat and linear time. Nothing attracts more attention than direct, uncensored violence. It is this violence that is a major criterion for determining the airing of the actual event. Rather than focus on the underlying contradictions, the media focus on attitudes and behaviors because they are more newsworthy, and thus psychologize conflict. At the end of it all stands a win-lose-discourse that leaves us unable to explore the root of the situation or to use dialogue to solve it.
War is more profitable (in monetary terms) than peace. Peace is more profitable for long term investments, while war benefits the short term investment of specific factions/stake holders such as arms producers, politicians, and the media. Manipulation by politicians and media is not the only important factor in the continuation of war and power structures. Power structures cannot be maintained without people acting them out (Nietzsche’s “performance of the masses”). War reporting is profitable, it fascinates, but it also instills a sense of fear, keeping the “plebs” docile. The forces that have reshaped the U.S. constitution since 9/11 can be mentioned in relation to this. The legitimacy provided by constituent power allowed President Bush to expand the power of the presidency far beyond its normal limits. Constitutional change can occur through either a legal (formal) or non-legal (informal) political process. Constitutional change in the United States has not typically happened in the former way. After 9/11, president George W. Bush’s administration asserted that the world had changed and the old rules no longer applied. He was able to do so because he enjoyed the immediate support of the American people, a support which was to a large extent nourished by the media.
Violence sells. In a typology of the goals of violence, Galtung mentions different purposes for violence, among them the purpose of entertainment. Here, profit through violence is not a modern phenomenon: Historically speaking, this can be traced as far back as Roman rule, where violence meant revenue in relation to for example gladiators. A more contemporary example is that of the fight between the Spanish bullfighter and Toro. Both are examples of deep cultural values.
So in a sense, the media act as a double-edged sword; profiteering through enacting control. As a result, in a battlefield, journalists can compete with each other in finding the most dramatic story. But not only find them; they cherish them, nurture them, focus on the sensational aspects, and even modify and justify them, all in order to profit. And as a result of this financial profit, politicians earn political profit. And war continues.
Galtung, J. & Vincent, R. C. (1992) Global glasnost: Toward a new world information and communication order? Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press
Galtung, J. unpublished manuscript: “The TRANSCEND Approach to Simple Conflicts, C=1″