Global Affairs: Communication, Culture, and Power
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Media Representation in War and Peace: Cold War and Post Cold War Media
The relationship between the media and the international political situation is a concept that has proven increasingly difficult to describe. According to various practices, the effects of politics on the media are more explicit than the impacts of the media on political circumstances of any state. The interplay between the political situation and the state governance is one that plays an important role in the growth of any state. With increasing globalization, the outlooks of the state also change with changes in the global governance systems. One important aspect of globalization that comes to light is cultural globalization. The media has played an important role in the enhancement of cultural globalization since time immemorial through the facilitation of cross-border communication (Johnson 2001). This, through continued globalization, has reduced the relevance of national boundaries. From the pre-cold war period, the media has played an important role in the influence of public opinion on foreign policies as well as major government issues. The media has played a significant role in the reproduction of relevant ideologies which seek to meet the needs of global governance (Johnson, 2001).
The media has a huge potential of turning independent nations and people into cosmopolitans. As it is in the contemporary world, the media is the central factor of mediation between the public and the political decision makers. Through its influence in communication and its mediation feature, the media plays an instrumental role in directing issues related to global governance. This has been the case even during the cold war period (Bastiansen, 2014). The role that the media has played in governance has however changed over the years, with significant focus on entertainment and market driven news coverage than on the hard news associated with war periods. It is therefore expected that the influence of the media on governance should vary depending on the political grounds both globally and within nations. The influence of the media on the public’s opinion of the cold war situation and the public’s opinion of the current mostly peaceful situation differs significantly.
In the contemporary times, the media’s role is focused mainly on the dissemination of political news that has the potential of affecting the growth of multi-national media organizations. Part of the factors that influence the news content of media houses in contemporary times is the potential for incentives for media houses and the individual professional recognition of reporters and news anchors (Hinnebusch, 2006).
As a result of these factors, it is possible for media houses to modify their news items to conform to the political requirements of the host country. In so doing, the quality of the news content delivered by media houses fall significantly. The foreign news coverage has also decreased significantly in recent times. The implication of this has been the decreased attention to foreign details among the public as well as the reduced scope of foreign happenings considered news worthy (Bastiansen, 2014). This is contrary to the cold war period where most of the news items centered on foreign happenings with the media playing an essential role in representing the happenings on the ground to the communities far from the actual events. The psychodynamic persuasion theory that relates to media capabilities in influencing public opinion however has remained relevant across temporal distances (Robinson, 2008). The credibility, media indexing and opinion indexing features of the media’s message all play an important role in determining its persuasiveness. Media indexing refers to the agency of the media in relaying information from the elites to the public while opinion indexing has to do with the public basing their decision on whether to support a given president’s foreign policy or not (Baum & Groeling, 2009).
The aim of this paper is to discuss the pertinent issues surrounding the relevance and representation of the media during the cold war period and in the post-cold war period. This will be done with the main objective of determining the influence of media on global governance. In order to accomplish this, focus will be placed on the influence of the media on foreign policy enactment in the contemporary times.
Media Representation in the Cold War Era
The knowledge society theory was effectively applied by the media during the cold war era. According to this paradigm, information should not be confined within geographical borders. It is the application of this paradigm that led to the distribution of foreign and international news items before the cold war era (Bastiansen, 2014). However, during the cold war, the coverage of foreign news items separate from the war reduced. The coverage of war scenes by the media was however hotly contested due to the media’s potential to create concepts of ethnic clearing and genocide in the public mind. During the Vietnam War in the pre-cold war era and sometime after the cold war era, media houses represented explicit pictures of the happenings in the battle ground. These representations significantly increased tension between states and within states. The same also happened during the recent Darfur wars (Mohamed, 2012). However, the representations in the cold war period were more explicit and more influential. The role of the media in fanning the cold war are clear, with the belief that through the broadcast of foreign war news, the media played a role in stirring up increase in violence (Mohamed, 2012).
An important concept that contributed to the immense effects of media representation in the cold war era is the large volumes of foreign news items that were distributed during that time. As compared to the times before and after the cold war, the news distributed during the cold war covered a wider scope. This implied that the media concentrated not only on the aspects of the war itself but also on the impacts of the war on other sectors of life. For instance, the foreign news items also covered concepts of cultural and economic significance during the cold war. The most probable reason behind this could be mentioned as being the freedom of communication enjoyed by the transnational media houses in the cold war period (Hancic, 2013). This made the media capable of influencing individual values as the news represented also cut across cultural values.
While individuals could not penetrate the iron curtain in the cold war era resulting in poor firsthand experience of the war situation, media houses, through radio reporters were capable of penetrating the curtain thus bringing first hand news to the stables (Baum and Groeling, 2009). Their operations were not hindered by any government or state actions hence they relayed explicit details of the situations on the ground, focusing more on the observable impacts of the war than on the political plays behind the war (Hancic, 2013). For instance, a miniseries presented by the ABC network for a week on the impacts of the Soviet’s occupation of the of the US on the average American’s life had far reaching impacts on the public opinions of the cold war. The implication of the broadcasts was that it led to increasing publicity of the cold war as well as high levels of pre-broadcast hysteria within the public domain. It therefore led to increasing rejection across the national and the international divides. However, all the fingers were pointed towards President Reagan even though he had not played a significant role towards the escalation of the cold war (Hoover Institution, 2004).
The media representation of the cold war situation extended to the political scene where events were highly publicized. The media had the power to influence the public on their views of the incumbent presidential candidates as well as the international relations of any nation (Hancic, 2013). For instance, the US commitment towards fighting communism was highly represented in the news as was the lifestyle and politics of various political leaders. In addition to this, the media outlets also represented the war differently depending on the country of reporting. Global media outlets focused more on news in their countries and down played the importance of the roles played by other countries in controlling or reducing the war (Hoover Institution, 2004). This was done in assumption of the role of the professional journalists in rallying for peace.
While the role of journalists in war areas is supposed to be to avoid the depiction of the war as a two party affair where there are villains and victims, various global media outlets such as ABC networks succeeded in portraying the war as exactly what it was not supposed to be. As a matter of fact, competition between various media outlets led to the depiction of the war in most scary details (Underwood, 2011). The media houses became the rallying point between various combatants in the war. However, the media outlets did not play partisan roles between the combatants, but only formed a forum where the combatants could measure their influence on the public’s opinion. In addition to this, the focus of the media houses on international and foreign news also escalated leading to the significant view of various combatants as being either for or against the war escalation. With the increasing activity of media outlets in the formation of a combating ground for the war participants, various countries also started engaging in the use of informational attack tactics (Underwood, 2011).
In the use of informational tactics, a country adopted an offensive tactic rather than a defensive one. This was mostly applied by countries in reaction to attacks from other countries. It is clear that informational attack tactics had to depend on the media for an outlet (Underwood, 2011). Most countries directed this strategy towards the destabilization of the Soviet bloc. Approved by the National Security council, the use of information formed a despicable weapon for psychological warfare. In this psychological warfare, the media houses were however torn between the call to avoid being use as agents of mass incitation and the policy that called for the destabilization of the Soviet bloc (Underwood, 2011). The US government required journalists to operate between inciting the masses and stimulating resistance. In so doing, some of the media houses had change their broadcast strategies and principles in order to avoid being caught between either extreme. For instance, the British Broadcasting Corporation had to change their operations by making their news services partially independent depending on the target country and the decentralization of their editorial systems (Underwood, 2011).
Media Representation During the post cold war era
As opposed to the cold war period when foreign news was widely distributed and explicitly relayed, the distribution of news in the post cold war era has faced significant changes. For instance the scope of foreign news covered by media houses has been limited by various factors. In the contemporary times, the distribution of foreign news items has reduced significantly, with the focus changing from the hard news such as that associated with war headlines to softer news items. Besides this, foreign news is no longer viewed with the same interest that it acquired during the cold war era (Hafez, 2011).
The nature of the foreign news distribution by media houses can only be described as shallow. Instead of the depth and clarity with which news was distributed during the cold war era, the post cold war era news distribution is characterized by purely political news coverage. The shallowness of foreign news means that the scope of the news is also limited to certain spectra. According to Aalberg et al (2013), the US media system has been pushed by the market influence in the reduction of foreign news coverage. The impacts of the market influence have also included the tendency of media houses to give highly particularized news.
An example that clearly depicts the particularization of news in the post cold war era is the concentration of media houses on specific events during news coverage. An example is the 9/11 attack on the US (Hafez, 2011). This item occupied wide time intervals in international news broadcasts, with no particular focus on a specific occurrence or impact associated with the attack. While in the cold war era the news could have included the gory details of the victims, the post cold war era coverage included meager details of the conditions of the victims and focused on the impacts as well as comparison with other attacks and insinuations of possible causes of attacks. However, the volume of news coverage that comprised the attack was significantly high. Another example of the highly particularistic tendencies in media representation is the Iraq war. With regards to this, media houses focused on the economic and social impacts of the war rather than the details of the war itself (Hinnebusch, 2006). Despite this shift in the focus of news, the specific items of coverage at any given time consume an immense percentage of the total news coverage time (Hafez, 2011). The importance associated with various news items also change depending on how recent each item is. The most recent items take the most time in news coverage while the less recent ones take less time and eventually fade off the limelight. With this kind of news specialization and reduced scope of news coverage, the media systems in the world become similar in several ways.
The similarity between the media systems in the world has been said to be in terms of market orientation and the focus on infotainment. The concept of infotainment is whereby media outlets focus on the delivery of informative as well as entertaining news articles. One of the reasons that have been cited as being the cause of this change in focus and similarity between media houses is the fierce competition between various media outlets which has seen global outlets rise at the expense of the national and/ or local media outlets (Hoover Institution, 2004). According to Aalberg et al (2013), it is predicted that a possible impact of this competition and the trend in similarity is disengagement of political systems from the media and deterioration of foreign and public news coverage, an impact that is already observable across the world media outlets. The disengagement of political systems from the media is however still minimal as observed with the current trends in media-politics relations (Hoover Institution, 2004).
The media still plays an important role in the political and governance systems across the world. An imperative role of the media in policy making is that it forms the bridge between the public and the political policy and decision makers. From the fact that it is the public that makes the implementation of foreign policies legitimate, it is essential that the media plays its role satisfactorily towards this end. Schulz (2013) asserts that the media in the post cold war era is more focused on the national societal and political interests. The media has a powerful influence on the opinions of the public. The responsiveness of citizens to the political demands and propositions in any country depends on the media’s coverage of the particular issues in question. For instance, in presidential campaigns, the media portrays various candidates differently depending on the political situations (Schulz, 2013). The most favored candidate by the media also obtains the additional favor of the citizens as they tend to believe what is depicted by media outlets. Although this makes it easy for political systems to attain support for specific proposition, it also poses a challenge in that the media can easily distort information for the purpose of individual and public gain.
In this era, the media performs based on the influence of the political systems in power. The specific political situations within any given locality affect the news coverage within the area. An example is the political ground in Algeria as well as that in the Middle East. In both situations, the news broadcasts by various media outlets is streamlined by the political powers in place in the country (Schulz, 2013). This began during the cold war era when complaints regarding the depth of the war news led to the recommendation that the news coverage be limited to certain contents. Consequently, the political systems play an important role in aligning the media deliveries to the governance strategies of the states while the media influences the public opinion of foreign policies that are set by the state government (Kim, 2007). The hope for incentives and professional recognition among individual media personalities plays an important role in ensuring that the media only broadcasts the news acceptable to governments (Qian & Yanagizawa-Drott, 2013).
For instance, foreign policy initiatives gain or lose media support based on the potential of incentives and the degree of professional recognition that can be associated with broadcasting them (Hoover Institution, 2004). The foreign media groups also supports this system of depending on incentives to broadcast news and to give policies recognition and support depending on the benefits associated with the support or denial thereof. This is particularly prevalent where foreign media groups are driven by non- partisan arguments towards the support of the state. This is devoid of consideration for the specific impacts of the proposed policy on the public welfare. Despite this change that increasingly result in relatively low quality news coverage and limited news volumes, the public swallows the media’s representation of policies hence supporting or denying them depending on the media depiction.
As much as the media does not play a direct role in changing state and global governance situations, it still influences the public that determine the success or failure of proposed changes to governance system. Foreign policy implementation being part of global governance is highly influenced by the public opinion. Qian and Yanagizawa-Drott (2013) affirm that the political elite, through the media, creates an impact on the public opinion through their portrayal of the policies. For instance, where there are non partisan arguments in support of a proposed foreign policy, the public tends to take the stand taken by the political elite. On the other hand, in situations where the political elite have taken partisan stands for and against a given foreign policy, the public tends to take the position of the party that is depicted by the media as having greater support across the global divide (Kim, 2007). This also goes for the election politics.
The role played by the media in war and peace regimes centers around the advocacy for foreign policy acceptance by the public in the light of increasing globalization (Puddephatt, 2006). While the media outlets have maintained a significantly stable stance in their broadcasts across time from the cold war era to the post cold war era and to the current times, one particular aspect of media broadcasts that has surely changed is the concentration on foreign news. During the cold war era, the focus on foreign news was substantial despite the various impacts of the said news. For instance, the broadcast of foreign war news led to consideration of the war as gross and partisan. However, this was due to the depth with which the war news was broadcast. On the other hand, during the post cold war era, the focus on foreign news has significantly reduced as well as the depth of news broadcasting. The influence that the media has on the public views of various concepts has however remained significant with the public taking stands portrayed as being supported by the media. This is particularly with reference to both global and local politics. The media therefore influences global governance through its influence on the public, especially concerning foreign policy implementation
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