“We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know about and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” — Owner of the ‘Washington Post’ Katharine Graham
Oscar Wilde had said that Media is that tool of War which bridges the gap between information and deliberate disinformation. To become an effective tool, the war correspondent should be an avid reader and an enthusiastic digger of all the basics about his subject-the armed forces. As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will have its fascination and people will always want to know the truths about the armies which fight for them.
War and Conflict have been the central theme of study in International Politics and other cognate disciplines. The Media today also thrives on news related to conflict and war. In fact news reporting today is skewed towards sensationalism, conflict and war. But there are also constructive roles that the media can play in transforming conflicts.
Theorising Mediatised Conflict is an arduous task since there is a very thin line between fact and fiction shown on television news these days. With the commercialisation of the broadcast industry and the entry of corporate houses in mainstream media world, profit making and not ethical news reporting has become the new motive. Profits are made through sensationalism for which often catchy headlines and news production with images, animations and dramatic recreation of events are used for higher TRP’s. This negative role of media today however is a new characteristic feature of the news industry. Ethical journalism has been replaced by sensational breaking news and exclusive phenomenon. But the media often referred to as the fourth estate is a powerful tool that can bring about great revolutionary changes in the society.
The media can play a positive role too. Robert Karl Manoff describes a number of roles which the media could play in preventing and moderating conflicts. He also offers examples of media peace initiatives. The media can publicize the principles of human rights and other moral norms, and can act to enforce those norms by publicizing violations. They can also focus public censure on hate groups. They can publicize and support peace-keeping operations. The media can act as a go-between for parties who lack any other means of communication. The media can educate the parties about each other’s interests, needs, and core values, and help to confirm the parties’ claims of transparency. They can help to undermine harmful stereotypes and promote humanization of the parties. The media can help educate the parties and public about existing conflict resolution resources, and about other successful cases of conflict management. The Voice of America radio broadcasts take this approach.
The media can reinforce leaders’ credibility with their constituents, and engage in other confidence-building activities. The media can work to deflate rumors and propaganda. The media can respect the need for privacy and confidentiality in the negotiation process. They can also reinforce settlements by publicizing them as important, shared historical events. June Gerd has attempted to provide an overview of some possible ways in which old and new media can make a positive contribution at different stages of the conflict cycle, from early warning to de-escalation, reconciliation and strengthened social cohesion.
Technological innovations have changed the legacy of warfare built on the ethos of maximum destruction. Today the digital platform is far more dangerous than a hand grenade or a bomb because of its reach. When Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia, the world witnessed the Arab Spring, the downfall of corrupt regimes such as that of Mubarak in Egypt. How did it happen? It was the digital platform that transformed the nature of agitation and converted a sporadic outburst of anger into a widespread revolution. Such is the power of the media. The term mediatised conflict essentially establishes the relationship between the tools of mass communication and the root causes of conflict and how spin doctors twist tales into half hour slots that deeply influence mental constructs of the viewers. Perceptions are moulded and all this leads to a very complicated war matrix. Clausewitz had said that War is an extended version of politics between nations, “On War” is a masterpiece, a case study of war in its totality, but the TRP war is more dangerous. It can in seconds make a fiction a fact. The uncertainty as Clausewitz had described in war is applicable to news reporting too. This makes the whole mediatised war game mote lethal.
The recent surreptitious strikes, direct attacks on military bases in Uri, Pathankot, and Baramula are all hard facts but the media needs to be controlled by the state because any misinformation can upset social peace and harmony in split seconds. Theoretically it is the business houses that control the media and with profit making being the ulterior motive, it is not surprising that truth and lies has become a snakes and ladder game in production of news across the globe. The Indian establishment needs to increase its policy footprints and control the information being passed on to the masses. It may sound utopian but if Mahatma Gandhi’s theory of non violence has not lost relevance today then some amount of check on the paradigmatic contours of news reporting especially in the times of conflict becomes essential.
War is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will, said Clausewitz. The corporate houses having complete control on the news rooms are doing the same to their viewers, forcing them to watch their channels through exclusives. Aren’t they?
*Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote, MA, MPHIL (International Relations, Political Science, Development Communication)
Manoff Karl Robert The Media’s Role in Preventing and Moderating Conflict This paper was prepared for the Virtual Diplomacy conference hosted by United States Institute of Peacein Washington, D.C. on April 1 and 2, 1997
Junne Gerd, Role of Media in Conflict Transformation
Clausewitz von Carl,On war, Wordsworth Edition Limited, 1997.