Essays on Modern War Reporting
Reporting War and Weaving Peace
(Reporting war – changing wars, changing media)
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War journalists or those who report war have been criticized for “adding fuels” to already hostile condition of the conflict. “The Peace Journalism Options,” a compilation of literatures comparing peace and war journalism, presents some instances to which war journalism should be discouraged. Taking the meat of the lengthy write-ups, it suggests that war journalism is creating more “division” between or among the warring parties. It states, among others, that: “War journalism requires clear winners and losers” and it “reduces the number of parties to two, so anyone who is not my friend is automatically my enemy.”
These instances are never new to us because when we switch our television set to leading news channels, we see how the war news are being presented or reported. More often than not, the earlier observation of The Peace Journalism Options is verified. This reality might have some relation to external observation that media is gaining huge when they report war “exaggeratedly”. A media history professor and BBC official historian Jean Seaton (2005) stated that: “When the media reports wars or disasters, why are death tolls announced before bodies are counted?” This query of Seaton is what she referred to “numbers game” in war reporting.
But this type of journalism has been gradually countered, by the emergence of the so-called “peace journalism” concept. Peace Journalism was first introduced by peace advocate Johan Galtung and pursued by other journalists such as former BBC’s Jake Lynch and Annabel Mcgoldrick. This new concept states that conflicting parties should not only be seen as a clash of two warring factions but rather a concern of everybody. And in war, there are actually “no winners – but all losers.” With this new concept, media is hopefully become more responsible and able to counter the negative label of journalist as “doing bad while doing ‘good.’”
More than a commitment and profession, be armed
(War correspondent and their craft)
Of all the profession, being a war correspondent could be one of the most dangerous. Soldiers when they go to the battlefield, they are armored – heavily. But when reporters or journalists cover war scenes, they only bring cameras, pens and pads of steno notebook. Life is certainly uncertain when war correspondent are in the field. But reporters boldly faced those, just to deliver news or stories as factual as it is seen firsthand.
This maybe a job, but there should be a deeper reason to make one commit to it. For a murdered Sri Lankan editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, as reported by Neiman Reports, it’s the “commitment to free press” that he exposed among others “the atrocities committed during his country’s protracted civil war.” For NBC News Tel Aviv Bureau Chief and correspondent Martin Fletcher, it’s the “passion,” the “excitement” and the “adrenaline thing” that keep him going.
For either of the two reasons, surely war journalists are performing their tasks – honest-to-goodness and professionally. Being a war correspondent or reporter is not only a job, that’s for sure to them. It is a commitment, a calling, a noble profession, a craft, and even deeper than that. This is the reason, maybe, why despite all the dangers and insecurities, war correspondents keep their feet on the ground – where there is a conflict; they are always on the scene. And their commitment to work is not all passion – they put all the efforts as well. As we have learned, covering news is another story from writing and presenting it. Covering news might be dangerous, but writing and presenting it the way it has happened is even volatile.
War correspondents, or those who are dreaming of becoming one, should therefore have an interest to read and be armed by Joseph L. Galloway’s (2003) “Some Notes on Being a War Correspondent.”
War in Iraq is a theatre of reality, so it’s not a theatre at all
(Iraq as a theatre of war and media)
Even after the fall of the Great Saddam Hussein, Iraq has retained its title: “a theater of war and media.” Suicide bombings, strafing, attacks on civilians, and explosions at US military camps are the daily headlines of Iraq. No other news story emanates from this country but those that are violent. When former US President George W. Bush visited this nation in 2008, in a purpose to establish peace, the news was overshadowed by the “footwear throwing” incident. This might have been pre-planned by the attacker but the incident is no less than “theatrical” and “funny.”
The history of long-time clash between the US and Iraq has been showing the world different movie scenes as well. From the sci-fi-turned-fiction “nuclear base” of Iraq, to ala-James Bond’s US intelligence operation, massive military assault, to comic exchanges of heated wrangles between the two factions, have indeed gained this nation an undisputable tag as “theatre of war and media.”
But the reality, even how comical the incidents have been or would be; this is sad. This is heartbreaking for we are watching not a movie scenes but a real thing. This is not fiction; the casts are the real people – trapped in this theatrical reality – of men’s creation. Media have therefore a special task to correct this image. Let the people realize that for any violence that is happening in Iraq, hundreds and even thousands of innocent civilians are the real victims. This should be reported so the public will be more aware. This is the time that media should act true to its calling – not just to entertain and inform but to educate responsibly.
(Setting the Agenda: Government and Media)
What a desirable scenario if government and media can work hand in hand towards a common agenda of peace-building and development. But in the history of the free press, both cannot simply work altogether. We witnessed, for instance, how the US media criticized the US government for its tough policy against most Middle Eastern countries. We also witnessed how the government reacted.
We have learned earlier that media is tagged as the “fourth state,” being the vanguard of public interest. But the two should have been working together for they are actually vanguards of the same interest. However, this has not been happening yet, not even once. Michael Socolow (2005) in a Boston Globe’s article stated that “tension between the press and the government has hypertrophied to the point that neither is acting in the public interest.”
And that is indeed very sad because the two, in the first place, should tackle issues in the same direction for they exist under the same slogan of “citizen’s welfare.” It is observable though that in some decisions, the two entities have some obvious biases. The military, for instance, especially during wartime, wanted that media be reporting only on their successes and not minding other issues, which journalists usually have a different take. Most news correspondents wanted to cover something that is beyond the winner-loser scenario. And this is where the conflict begins.
But Socolow has another suggestion for both the government and media and that is: “Both sides must be willing to exchange and recognize legitimate criticism in an open forum. Grievances may not be easily resolved. But discussion in the spirit of inquiry rather than recrimination will initiate a more constructive relationship.”
“Pancake” has different definition for news agencies
(News agencies and war – conflict as anonymous and random)
Afghans in Kandahar might not know yet that a bomb killing 100 civilians in Kabul exploded, or Filipinos in Luzon have no idea yet that a militant group in Mindanao kidnapped and held hostage a flock of European tourists; yet the rest of world have already been warned to travel to those mentioned places. That is because the news has already circulated, as early as it happened. And that is how the news agencies deliver. Breaking news is real deal, more so if it’s a war story.
But this situation should have connection to the fact that news agencies have readily deployed their correspondents where there is higher tendency of news (read: war) break up. And the easiest way is to deploy reporters in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa, Somalia, Mindanao in the Philippines, and so on. So for even a little movement of the troops, news is simultaneously flashed on every news agencies online site or other news channels.
Though some articles – generally it is still labeled news – are alien to the readers, nonetheless it is still reported. This is for a reason that it happened in Afghanistan or Iraq – because all movements in those places are generally newsworthy; and nobody argues about it. Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary, consistent to what we have learned in school, defined news in three points, as: a report of recent events, previously unknown information and something having a specified influence or effect. But it is always war stories that dominate news agencies. Or are there no other recent events of previously unknown information that have a specified effect?
But this is yet a debatable topic and while the news agencies are still earning from war stories like a hot pancake, then we can expect to read more about Pakistan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Russia, North Korea and Afghanistan.
Beckett, Charlie. (2007). The media and Africa: doing bad by doing “good”? Retrieved 4 May, 2010, from: http://www.opendemocracy.net/media_net/journalism_war/africa_bad_good
British Broadcasting Company (BBC). (2008). Shoes thrown at Bush on Iraq trip. Retrieved 4 May, 2010, from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7782422.stm
Fleschner, Dan. (2008). A True War Correspondent. Retrieved 4 May, 2010, from: http://allday.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/03/04/727375.aspx
Galloway, Joseph L. (2003). Some Notes on Being a War Correspondent. Retrieved 4 May, 2010, from: http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0304/galloway.html
Global Issues. (1997). The Peace Journalism Options. Retrieved 4 May, 2010, from: http://www.globalissues.org/article/534/the-peace-journalism-option#THENEWSVALUESofWARJOURNALISM
News. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/news
Nieman Reports. (2010). Slain Sri Lankan Journalist Honored for His Commitment to a Free Press. Retrieved 4 May, 2010, from: http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=102143
Seaton, Jean. 2005. The numbers game: death, media, and the public. Retrieved 4 May, 2010, from: http://www.opendemocracy.net/media-journalismwar/numbers_2902.jsp
Socolow, Michael. (2005). At war: government and the media. Retrieved 4 May, 2010, from: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/12/13/at_war_government_and_the_media/