Monday, August 22, 2005

War and the Media: An Oriental Express

Book Review:
War & the Media Reporting Conflict 24/7
Vistaar Publication
Price: 395

War and the Media – Reporting Conflict 24/7 edited by Daya Kishan Thussu and Des Freedman, is a collection of 19 intellectually stimulating essays written by 27 distinguished writers/journalists from three continents analysing media representations of ‘war on terrorism’ in the context of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the 1991 Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. They also throw light on the complex relationship between mass media and governments, convergence of military and media networks during wartime, blurring of information with entertainment and discuss the emergence of alternate players like Al-Jazeera.

Daya Kishan Thussu argues that demand for live 24/7 can lead towards “sensationalization and trivialization” of often complex stories and this leads conflict reporting towards infotainment, projecting war as a bloodless virtual conflict, as if war is ‘toys for boys’. He talks about public-opinion formation and its manipulation and how US/UK news organisations can influence news agendas worldwide. The coverage of the ‘war on terrorism’ in Afghanistan by Star News is a case in point. He says “given that Star News is part of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire, it used live coverage of war from its sister 24/7 network Fox News, relaying, sometimes in their entirety, Pentagon briefings, as well as jingoistic studio discussions and US government press conferences.”

The Glasgow University Media Group interviewed various groups of audience as well as journalists who had reported on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The interviews showed that majority of sample audience did not understand the origins of the conflict for example viewers are rarely told that the Palestinians are victims of an illegal military occupation. They did not know that from where Palestinian refugees came from and how they became refugees. The selective use of language is important. Words such as murder, atrocity, lynching, savage cold-blooded killing were only used to describe Israeli deaths and not those of Palestinians, even though more than 10 times as many Palestinians than Israelis had been killed during two weeks at the beginning of the intifada in September 2000.

Yvonne Ridley who was arrested by Taliban during the war in Afghanistan recalls her visit to Afghanistan as a witness to news management in the fog of war. She writes that TV journalists became “quite inventive” in the sense that Some TV reporters paid Northern Alliance soldiers $5 a round to start firing off as the cameras rolled in order to broadcast ‘live coverage’ of war, in one case killing one little girl. Talking about her capture by Taliban she writes that “they tried to more or less kill me with kindness rather than anything else.” After her release she was disappointed to see that “headlines were written in advance” even by her own newspaper mentioning “abuse, rape and torture” because “this is what the media people wanted to hear.”

War and the Media is a critical analysis of media’s role as critical observer, publicist, and more recently, as battleground, the surface upon which war is imagined and executed. The editors ask whether media proliferation really fuels the watchdog role of the media in times of conflict. Does competition make you seek out more, does truth become a commodity in the era of rolling news? Or does war reportage primarily have public-relations value? This book is highly recommended for practicing journalists, students of journalism and anyone wanting to know what lies behind the ‘news’ that they see daily on their television screens.

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