Media (and) War, Vol. 7 - 2000, No. 3
This article examines the dynamics between Western public diplomacy and the mediation of international military conflicts by US-dominated global television news. It looks at aspects of television coverage of wars in the post-Cold War era, in particular the 1999 Kosovo crisis and argues that only the wars in which the West has a geo-strategic interest appear to receive adequate coverage by Western television. NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia in March-June 1999 was the most extensively covered military action since the 1991 Gulf War. In both cases, Western television news channels, notably Cable News Network (CNN), consistently reproduced the agenda set by the United States and moulded public opinion in support of war. NATO's campaign in Kosovo was represented as a "humanitarian" involvement instead of it being an action aimed at establishing a precedent for intervention into the internal affairs of a sovereign state and outside its area of operation. The article assesses international implications of such coverage, arguing that given the global reach and influence of Western television and the dependence of world's broadcasters on US-supplied television news footage, the dominant perspectives on a conflict can be American, although the US, more often than not, may be actively involved in the war. Recognising this, the article argues, that Western diplomacy has become sophisticated in packaging public information in a visually astute fashion and television networks, which often operate in a symbiotic relationship with the authorities, tend to conform to the geo-political agendas set by powerful governments.
Focusing on coverage of the 1999 Kosovo conflict, this paper examines the trend towards framing contemporary wars and interventions in moral terms, and highlights the threat this poses to accurate and informative reporting. Kosovo represented the latest stage in a process of re-framing international relations in the post-Cold War era, and drew on three different news frames developed in earlier Western reporting of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, which portrayed the break-up of the country as a continuation of the Cold War, as the product of "ethnic" hatred, and as a repeat of the Holocaust. The significance of today's moralised framework is that the "moral imperative" to intervene can override all other considerations, including national sovereignty and international law. In practice the supposedly "universal" discourse of human rights and humanitarianism becomes an apology for an elitist division of the world into (morally) superior and inferior peoples and states. Journalists have played an important and active role in developing and disseminating influential interpretations of the post-Cold War world. The rhetoric of "Good versus Evil" deployed by Nato leaders in Kosovo drew on explanatory frameworks which liberal journalists, commentators and intellectuals had helped to elaborate during the Bosnian conflict.
A dramatic change in media coverage of the wars in Chechnya -- from sharp criticism in 1995 to almost unanimous support in 1999 - has at least one consequence and several causes. Both wars were presented by TV news as a series of disconnected actions, which can be easily visualised: separate battles and cases of people's suffering. This helped to stop the first war, but the disappearing of the visualised actions in the mid-war period lead to silencing the Chechen problem. Meanwhile, politicians learned from their mistakes and formed a consistent policy towards the media (which they lacked before). Furthermore, NTV channel, the major source of alternative coverage of the first war, has found itself much more dependent on various external forces after it voluntarily supported the incumbent in the presidential elections 1996. One of the NTV executives has formulated what can be called the major result of its struggle for independent coverage: "With our own hands we have created a monstrous system that gonna eat us."
International Crises and Public Support for President Clinton: United Nations' Arms Inspection in Iraq
Since the publication of John Mueller's Wars, Presidents and Public Opinion (1973) scholars have been alert to the possibility that international crises, irrespective of the wisdom of the policies from which they arise, can increase public support for the president of the United States. Mueller based his explanation, of the so-called "rally" phenomenon, on a patriotic public reaction to threats to a nation's safety. In Assessing the President: The Media, Elite Opinion and Public Support (1991) Brody and Shapiro challenge Mueller's patriotism hypothesis. Their data suggest that rallies appear if (and only if) opposition elites do not openly and actively criticise the policies, which gave rise to the crisis. Three ingredients are necessary and sufficient to produce a rally: (1) A presidential monopoly of the interpretation of the meaning of the events and the actions required to end the crisis; (2) A silent or supportive political elite; (3) News media that abjure independent policy criticism which, instead, depend entirely upon political elites to provide policy opposition. The second and third ingredients produce the president's interpretive monopoly. Faced with but one interpretation of the events and the actions, to which they give rise, the public has no basis for withholding its support. Foreign affairs are inherently ambiguous to most of the American public and without good reason to question the wisdom of foreign policy, the benefit of the doubt goes to the president. This paper will examine the usefulness of the Brody-Shapiro hypotheses in helping us understand the media, elite and public responses to the crisis that followed Iraq's attempt to limit the United Nations' inspection of its arms production facilities in February 1998.
It is no accident that we speak of "Theatres of War," for war is surely the ultimate fiction. I have been hideously fascinated by the way in which, in the absence of any significant external threat to justify state violence, aggressive war has become a form of spin doctoring by other means. Postmodern war, like all other parts of the Spectacle, can no longer be understood as "politics by other means." Such conflicts do make sense, but only at another level of explanation -- that of their consumption. They stand in a line of development that goes back to the earliest dramatic rituals and comes to us through tragedy, opera, film and TV drama. Like soap opera, they need no end, for their characters are equally plastic and universal. Only for the people whose homes, lives and deaths serve as the raw material for this production, have the actions any meaning beyond the Spectacle.
The present article analyses modes and reasons lying behind media construction and production of war in Serbia and Kosovo. By using the film Wag the Dog, the authors reveal the role of media including not only reporting about but the construction of wars as well. Media have power to create events that state authority needs for operation. Serbian media have nationalised, mobilised and emotionalised the public sphere by the use of techniques of so called "patriotic journalism" and by making historical myths a topical subject. The prevailing belief of media being the real trigger for war in Kosovo does not hold true. Its roots should be traced back to the eighties when Serbian authority deliberately started to spread Serbian nationalism and to the nineties, when implementation of the new media legislation took place and when the abuse of media started.
This study examines the growth of Britain's secret state and the media's central role in the manufacture of secret, new militarist warfare, taking the Iraq conflict of 1991 and the Kosovo crisis of 1999 as case studies. But it suggests there is no massive elite conspiracy behind these wars; they are the results of complex historical, economic, political and military factors. The institutional and personal links between journalists and the security services are another important factor examined.