Tuesday, November 10, 2009

International Reporting and Conflict Media

Robin Brown sets out to explore two points in her article about communication and the war on terrorism. First, she explores why the presentation of international events has become so important and second, the ways in which the 'informational instrument' has been employed. She discusses the media and the choice of of the word 'war' after the attack of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. She cites political consultant Philip Gould as saying that 'a modern media environment, competence and good communications are inseparable: you cannot have one without the other.' She notes that professionalization implies a willingest to report 'both' sides of the story and less willingness for reporting to be shaped by the demands of the government. This is something we have discussed in class before, which is also raised the the article on International reporting. Mainly, how do we scrutinize, judge and rely on the media? How do we choose our sources and who do we trust? Can it ever be truly objective? In Brown's article, she focuses on the relationship between the media, politics and governments. She states that the developments of ICTs, for example, have encouraged the creation of groups that seek to influence decisions on international governance or to use them to advance their domestic political positions.

Democratic politicians live and die by the media and have come to develop elaborate mechanisms to secure and control media coverage.” In the US, it is evident that politicians and the government heavily use and rely media to advance their own interests. Clearly, President Obama has been using the medium extensively and some have argued that he is actually over exposed, but since he is a great orator, others believe he is able to subdue fears and win the minds of the public with his words. He is facing a troubled economy and two wars, thus the issues go beyond whether he appears on every news show or not. As Brown notes though, 'perception management' becomes an increasingly important instrument of political conflict through encouraging the involvement of new groups or attempting to win over hostile groups. This is also facilitated by the alternative media sources, such as the internet.

In the article on International Reporting, Kai Hafez notes that it remains unclear what impact alternative media, such as the internet is having on international reporting. His focus is not just on the US media system, but on others around the world that report on countries other than their own. He states that “journalists are responsible for elucidating information in the context in which it emerged, explaining the national and regional dimensions of the problem as well as how it connects with global issues.” However, later he mentions that the existing networks of correspondents are underdeveloped even in major Western media. The main problem the systems suffers from is, “the domestication of the world.” Reports coming from the US or from other countries about Israel, for example, are domesticated, so that the local viewers can relate to it or be interested enough to watch. This is often profit-driven as well.

It is interesting that in the Foreign News Study of the 29 media systems, more attention is paid on average to the Middle East than to North America. Also, “the notion that it is genuinely possible to construct a conception of foreign lands true to reality and characterized by positive, neutral or negative dimensions—has scarcely been reflected upon,” seems true. Cultural dimensions play a huge role in reporting on other lands. Objectivity is difficult since it seems almost impossible to extract personal, group interests, and/or corporate interests out of the equation, especially when reporting on a foreign land. This was the case post 9/11 when different national sentiments for Muslim countries were quite visible in their media systems.

The news, in general, is often negative. When reporting on the Middle East, for example, the news is strongly connected with military issues, criminality and other fields of conflict, while other realms of life remain 'invisible'. The case of German television reporting on Israel also exemplifies this. Over 50% of the news reporting was on Terror, violence, and international security. 77.9% in 2000 and 64.2% in 2002. This is obviously not good for promoting Israel's image in Germany.

In the 'trickling down' of political public relations in international news, the consumer is at the end of the chain. Hafez writes that “because of their distance from events, they have little prospect of recognizing misinformation.” It is true that as consumers we often look for various sources, but how do we know which is reliable, which is being skewed by corporate and government interests? Hafez does mention that the media content is distorted whenever international reporting more strongly reflects the national interests and cultural stereotypes of the reporting country. Most of the time, international reporting in media systems across the world are for a domestic audience. It is about the country, though the linkages with that country are often absent. “This makes it impossible to be sure of the quality of international reporting.” The media scholar and political scientist Hans Kleinstebuer advocates strengthening dialogic elements, that is including journalists and more voices from the civil societies of the states being reported on. However, unfortunately, globalization did not reduce conflict by the networking of civil society as some had hoped. Ammon argues that despite the radical claims, new communication technologies have not transformed world politics and media-state relations. At the end of the article, Hafez writes, “the dialogic international reporting as evoked by Hans Kleinsteuber? Not a chance.” Is international reporting and the global media system really not progressing into a more reliable, equitable and perhaps dialogical system?

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