Warring media Essay

 

 

 

Introduction

Whoever controls the media

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Controls the mind

–      Jim Morrison

 

September 11, 2001 could have been another ordinary day. For some it could have been a jumpstart to a new beginning. However, many were shocked when the seemingly formidable fortresses of World Trade Center crumbled into pieces in such a short span of time. Never did anyone imagine that in a blink of an eye, this proud and solid structure, that symbolizes power and wealth, would soon collapse like a sand castle.

The World Trade Center can neither be considered as an unfortunate event. While the world mourned for the death of innocent civilians, it cannot be denied that such offered golden opportunities for several entities. For scammers and hoax masters, it can be a profitable business. All they have to do is capitalize on the sympathy of concerned individuals. On the other hand, others are merely contented with the comforts of their “apathetic zones.” But more than anything else, the September attack is something that media organizations cannot possibly miss. Hypocrisy aside, if there is any organization who can readily take advantage of this situation, it is the media. This (terrorist) mischief is a global event. The matter cannot be described as the sole responsibility of the United States alone. As the world’s center of commerce and trade, the breakdown of World Trade Center posited a threat to each and every thriving economy. Ever since this (historic) event came into place, all eyes and ears have been focused on it. Everybody wants to be updated on the latest happenings and developments on the issue. Meanwhile, with this high degree of enthusiasm and curiosity, too much pressure has been placed on the media. There is the pressure to deliver the hottest news. Reporters are dying to get exclusive stories. This is done all for the (noble) sake of informing the public—and garnering the highest ratings and advertisement sponsorship. After a considerable amount of time, the war in Iraq took place. Again, there is the adrenaline rush for every news organization to be at the forefront of delivering integral and significant data. But in as much as there is an information demand, there is also a growing market from large sponsorships.

It has been often argued that media is the so-called fourth estate (Craig 19). This function is best described by media institutions’ ability to act as the state’s watchdog or in simpler terms, the guardian of truth (Craig 19). As guardian of truths, its practitioners are expected to deliver factual narration of events—to remain fair and true to what reality presents (Craig 19). For many, this role may seem too easy to perform. But the dark side of it happens when corporeal gains enter into the picture. More often than not, conflicts of interests hamper many journalists in carrying out their duties and services. On a much critical perspective, the idea of the fourth estate is not merely encapsulated with the notion of telling the truth alone. It is a matter of defending the truth amidst the atrocities of mass acceptance and popular entertainment. As watchdogs, it is the responsibility of media people to champion, prioritize and protect the public’s interest rather than those of major advertisers and other business-minded entities. Their accountability (Branson & Stafford 233) must emanate from the desire to serve, rather than pleasing the capitalistic orientations of the few.

Media is highly capable of influencing the minds of many individuals (Gunther & Mughan 18). It can readily affect the viewers’ perceptions of reality and behavior (Bryant & Zillman 500). It molds the opinion of many. Therefore, this situation compels every media practiotioner to stay away from fabricating the real story. But the bitter reality is that, while some stories have managed to take the front pages of the newspapers or the spotlight in primetime news, these are often sanitized or cleansed. At worst, news stories are even killed for the sake of preventing outbursts from affected parties. The public needs to know, because it has to make decisions. Unfortunately, this vision remains too utopic.

Media has been a lucrative business for many. Advertising rates alone are too expensive. But more than that, owning media outfits also translates to having power. A while ago, it has been mentioned that media institutions are too influential. Drawing from Jim Morrison’s quote, it is obvious that media owners generally gains more control of the whole population compared to government officials. As a matter of fact, even government entities are threatened by the possible harms that media can commit.

Now in relation to the World Trade Center attack, such situation is highly interconnected with the Iraq war. Whether one denies it or not, this incident has also reshaped the dynamics and operations of media. Journalists and broadcasters are trained to give objective reports. But when it is the nation’s future and reputation that is concerned, it is interesting to look how these practitioners have maintained balanced and objectivity. How long can a journalist sustain his or her neutral stand? How long can a broadcaster exhibit the truth even if it means tainting national pride and honor?

War and Media Text

After the bombing of the World Trade Center in September 11, 2001, the United States immediately declared war against Iraq.  The American government instantly alerted their tanks and troops to Baghdad, thus, the readers and viewers of news around the world started to crave for the latest stories and images of the latest world’s war.

Since the start of the war, different news came in every day, almost every hour, just to give the latest happenings in Iraq.  But these news updates have created split images among the audience depending on which media outfit delivered the news and where their audience were located.

Take for example the case of an article entitled Arab media echo with Anti-U.S. ire; Criticism growing strident over expected war on Iraq which was written by Andrew Borrowiec of Washington Times (See Appendix). The feature story showed how Arab press expressed its pessimism over the Iraq war. In an overview, this article may be construed as something that is devoid of bias and prejudiced. But on a much critical perspective, the projected objectivity is no less than a mere facade.

While awaiting U.S. military action against Iraq, the Arab world feels increasingly vulnerable, frustrated and powerless, and criticism in the press and television is becoming more strident across the Middle East and North Africa, frequently bordering on hysteria (Borrowiec A15).

 

The lead itself, can be perceived as a clear example of editorializing. While it seems that Iraq cannot go against the United States’ state of the art armories, is it fair enough for the writer to use adjectives such as “vulnerable, frustrated and powerless?” These words alone portray that Arab press is way too insecure. The real issues in the Iraq war are the impending hostilities and threats that can create geographical and cultural destruction. It is natural for anyone involved to express his or her concern about the matter. Islam believers are bounded and intertwined by faith and traditional beliefs. The battle will determine the fate of their fellow brothers and sisters. A downpour of sympathy is expected. But to say that those are “flavored” with hysteria is a blatant and downright manifestation of bias. Unconsciously, the image that is being portrayed by this article subjects the Arab region into a sheer state of humiliation. The choice of words per se is no less than a derogatory remark. It somewhat implies that individuals from this region are innate terrorist. They are already perceived as the convicted criminals responsible for the World Trade Center attack even if investigations regarding the incident are still ongoing.

Meanwhile, aside from shaping an opinion of the audience, it could also be said that media has somehow profited from the U.S- Iraq War. During this crisis, it can be seen that the war has been the center of the news coverage. The whole issue became the center of attention. It is as if there are no other important events that should be reported. It cannot be denied that the U.S-Iraq War is extremely important, most especially to viewers whose family members are concerned. For example, a mother whose son was sent to Iraq and the soldier’s wife that stay at home, are eager to know about the latest happening that occur in the war field. But this does not necessarily mean that the war alone is the only important thing in the world. There are also other issues that should be tackled. This situation is congruent to what McCombs and Shaw (1972 cited in Dainton & Zelly 198) call as “Agenda Setting.” In here, the viewers are made to think that some issues are far more important than the others (Dainton & Zelly 198). This is why news often contains an “agenda (Dainton & Zelly 198).” This can be seen on how newspapers allot pages to certain news stories or how many times a news program tackled a certain issue (Dainton & Zelly 198). Agenda setting in this case is also applicable to the previous example. Somehow, the audience is made to think that Arab press is simply too bitter about the situation. It also made the matter even worse for such also promotes further divisions and discrimination.

On the other hand, the effects of agenda setting, seems to be more articulated in Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory (Harris 22). The cultivation theory suggests that the audience’s view are shaped and affected by their constant subjection to repeated images (Harris 21). This view is particularly focused on how television exposure has greatly contributed to attitude and behavioral change (Harris 21). During the 9/11 attacks alone, ill feelings were targeted against many Iraqis. This even became worse at the US-Iraq war’s onset.

War against Eve

Women often take the spotlight as models for billboards and other advertisements. But Eve’s (allure) continues to shine even in the hardest times. More often than not, women are favorite subjects of many war photographers. There is a certain kind of politics that exists with regards to women’s depiction and portrayal during war. More often than not, women are shown as weak entities. As shown below, the woman in the picture is injured. She is suffering from an excruciating pain because of the injuries that she incurred.

Fig. 1. Helmiy al-Azawi, Iraq Photos (Reuters) accessed via Yahoo News
Her face is slightly painted with blood. When a woman is shown in her most desolated state, it is more compelling. It evokes pity and empathy. But the drama that is shown in the picture should not be taken slightly. In most cases, women are presented as if they cannot defend themselves. Clearly, the stereotype that is often attributed to Eve did not disappear. Even in news stories, sad narratives of women casualties are often highlighted—it is as if men are not prone to such horrible consequences. The media still resides within the patriarchal paradigm. The machismo and bravado are characteristics innate within male species. Injured women are showered with pity and misfortune. Men, on the other hand are treated as heroes once they get that so-called “million dollar wound.”

Meanwhile, the second and third pictures show two mothers aghast and grieving for the sudden death of their relatives. The one with a black dress sits beside her dead grandson. The other one is shocked upon knowing that her daughter was killed by a stray bullet. From the facial expressions of the women, it seems that they are extremely unprepared for what has happened.

 

 

 

 

Fig. 2. Helmiy al-Azawi, Iraq Photos (Reuters) accessed via Yahoo News

 

 
On a closer examination, they are depicted as individuals who are destined to be helpless victims begging for mercy. Begging, no matter how humiliating it may sound, seems to be the only role that women can perform. This image is even emphasized with their physical attributions. They possess the fragile hands that are incapable of committing murder and the motherly nature that knows nothing but to give comfort and care (Howard & Prividera 89). Thus, going against that stigma upsets the dominant male orientation.

Lastly, the third image which shows women in a target shooting practice cannot be perceived as a celebration of women power. Rather the image is trivialized. The patriarchal point of view is still apparent. Women in war should emulate manly characteristics. Their worth as a soldier is still patterned on how they can match the skills and capabilities of a man

 

Fig. 3. Michael Kropiewnicki, Iraq Photos (Reuters) accessed via Yahoo News
(Howard & Prividera 89). They are always hiding behind the shadows of masculinity. Their real worth as a soldier capable of defending the nation is always downplayed.

But of course, the sight of policewomen and soldiers add to the delight of the general public. To see women in arms does not really translate to the recognition of their courage and bravery. It is rather taken as something odd and eccentricity indeed, attracts viewers. The women then become objectified (Howard & Prividera 89). And media’s war business is on the barrage of large profits and financial gains.

Conclusion

The Social Responsibility Theory asserts that media should be answerable to the public (Brants, Hermes & Zoonen 101).  Despite of the discrepancies and conflicts of interests that occur between media owners and media practitioners such as journalists and broadcasters, their main goal should be geared towards public service alone. This is the true essence of this so-called freedom of the press. But the truth of the matter is, many are trapped within media’s business side. Nowadays, self-censorship is no less than a mere rhetorical phrase. Many stories are literally “killed” if they do not possess the so-called “mass appeal.” It is also evident that for the sake of popularity and wide readership scope, news are often exaggerated and sensationalized. Nowadays, media is no longer the threshold of truth. Rather it is viewed as a money-raking business venture. Capitalism has entered into media’s domain and its promises of wealth and power are too strong to resist. Corporeal interests are given more prority than the aim to spread information and educate the public. Yes, it is true that the business side of media should never be abolished. In the first place, media outfits cannot continue their operation if they do not have the financial means to do so. Media owners need ad rates in to sustain their needs. However, the issue becomes more complicated as capitalistic needs become more important than the fulfillment of ones duties and responsibilities.

Again, as Jim Morrison said, whoever controls the media controls the mind (quote).The capitalistic orientation of media has literally affected the minds of its viewers. It has manipulated the way individuals think on what is important or not. By bombarding the audience with similar images and news coverage, media is on the verge of homogenizing the minds of many. Louis Althusser considers media as one of the ideological state apparatuses (Kellner & Durham 79). Therefore, when put within the context of media, producers have a strong hold of textual meanings and interpretations. The public therefore, becomes passive and is not given the chance to elucidate its own understanding of the media text (Kellner & Durham 79). In a way, these yet another strategy of the ruling class to retain their positions on top of the cultural hierarchy. They manipulate the ideological stand of each and every viewer in such a way that it would readily support their own interests.  This situation best explains why many media institutions remained patriarchal in their orientation; biased in their interpretations and profit-oriented in their aims.

 

 

Works Cited

Al Azawi, Helmiy. Iraq Photos. Yahoo News. N.d. Retrieved 04 August 2007 from <http://news.yahoo.com/photos/ss/1479/im:/070730/ids_photos_wl/r4137555944.jpg;_ylt=ArZrqE4hogHCinJuluGrhCPKps8F>

—- Yahoo News.  N .d. Retrieved 04 August 2007 from <http://news.yahoo.com/photos/ss/1479/im:/070729/ids_photos_wl/r3976642305.jpg;_ylt=AmF2sF.LiYprs4tmK.QuxbXKps8F>

Borrowiec, Andrew.  “Arab media echo with Anti-U.S. ire; Criticism growing strident over expected war on Iraq,” The Washington Times.  2002. p. A15

Branson, Gill and Stafford, Roy. The Media Student’s Book London: Routledge, 2003

Brants, Kees; Hermes, Joke and Zoonen Liesbet (eds). The Media in Question: Popular Culture and Public Interests. London: Sage Publications, 1998

Bryant, Jennings and Zillman, Dolf. Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research.    Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002

Craig, Geoffrey. The Media, Politics and Public Life. Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2004

Dainton, Marianne and Zelly, Elaine. Applying Communication Theory for           Professional Life An Introduction. California: Sage Publications, 2005

Gunther, Richard and Mughan, Anthony. Democracy and the Media: A Comparative     Perspective. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Press Syndicate        of the University of    Cambridge, 2000

Harris, Richard Jackson. A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication. Mahwah, New         Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc, 1999

Howard, John and Prividera, Laura. Rescuing Patriarchy or Saving “Jessica Lynch”: The            Rhetorical Construction of the American Woman Soldier. Women and Language. 2.2           (2004): 89

Kellner, Douglas and Durham, Gigi. Media And Cultural Studies: Keyworks. USA:         Blackwell Publishing, 2006

Kropiewnicki, Michael. Yahoo News. N.d. Retrieved 04 August 2007 from             <http://news.yahoo.com/photos/ss/1479/im:/070728/481/8bf0ced2990d4b879adc61ac            67a1da94;_ylt=AmTlNSzEhy242FV1Vo3soprKps8F>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

Arab Media echo with anti_U.S, ire; Criticism growing strident over expected war on Iraq

Byline: Andrew Borowiec, THE WASHINGTON TIMES October 16, 2002. Page Number: A15.

NICOSIA, Cyprus – While awaiting U.S. military action against Iraq, the Arab world feels increasingly vulnerable, frustrated and powerless, and criticism in the press and television is becoming more strident across the Middle East and North Africa, frequently bordering on hysteria.

Diplomats who analyze trends in the area report steadily growing anti-Americanism, even in countries at least theoretically supporting U.S. plans to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his regime.

There have been suggestions in the media to boycott U.S. products and punish American firms operating in

Arab countries.

Above all, the Arabs are wondering whether the United States and other Western powers have more far-reaching plans for the region than just regime change in Iraq.

“If the United States and Britain establish the precedent in this region by overturning a government by the force of arms, who will be next?” asked an editorial in Egypt’s Al-Ahram daily.

Arab sentiments were perhaps best summed up by Hasan Abu Nimah, Jordan’s former representative at the United Nations, who wrote in the Jordan Times: “We read about partitioning Iraq, about redrawing the borders and changing regimes … We also read about controlling the oil and other natural assets. But we do all that as if we were outsiders, indifferent observers and not the people and the states that exist in this part of the world, sitting right here where the blow will hit.”

Majdi Ahmad Husayn, secretary-general of Egypt’s opposition Labor Party, was more blunt in Cairo’s Al Shab newspaper.

“The United States continues to reveal its ugly face,” he wrote. “It is determined to continue its preparations for aggression with total disregard of the international community … A decisive blow to U.S. influence is sufficient to kick it out of the region. If Egypt adopts an honorable and dignified stand, it would awaken the entire region.”

Diplomats say that more alarming than such an appeal was a recent opinion poll conducted by Cairo’s Al-Ahram Weekly. The paper said half of the respondents in the survey felt that United States “deserved” the terrorist attacks of September 11, and that the U.S. war on terrorism was “a war against Arabs and Muslims.”

Egypt is one of the countries that Washington has promised to remunerate – to the tune of $1.5 billion in “parallel aid” – for losses it is likely to suffer as a result of war against Iraq.

A report by a Western envoy to Jordan, available here, said that the Arabs feel that “they have become so insignificant as a nation that no longer does anyone take into consideration any response from them to what they perceive as injury, insult or harm.”

Other diplomatic reports stress Arab doubt about the effectiveness of U.S. plans or of Washington’s ability to impose a new regime on Iraq, even after a successful military intervention. This was reflected in an editorial by the Beirut Daily Star, an independent English-language daily.

“George W. Bush’s promise to sow freedom and democracy rings hollow when one considers how little effort his administration has made toward nation-building in Afghanistan,” the editorial remarked. “This bodes especially ill for Iraq, which finds itself next in line for Bush’s adventurism.”

Most Arabs regard Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a leader without power beyond Kabul, the capital, who relies mainly on a network of ruthless regional warlords.

The U.S. decision to subject Arab and other Muslim visitors to increased scrutiny, including blanket fingerprinting, caused an avalanche of editorial protest across the Middle East.

Bahrain’s Akhbar Al-Khalij newspaper said:

“The United States is beginning to treat Arab and Muslim visitors in a way that could be described as provocative and humiliating … If the United States is treating Arabs and Muslims this way, U.S. citizens should not get a better treatment. Why should the U.S. financial institutions and investments in the Arab world stay out of this picture?”

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said last week that his government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh that Americans also may be subject to fingerprinting as part of their visa or entry process, as the United States is doing to some foreign visitors, including Saudis. The American practice, which took effect this month, involves fingerprinting, photographing and interviews by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service of selected visitors arriving in the United States.

A grim view of the unfolding situation was presented by Al-Riyadh newspaper in Saudi Arabia, a country that many consider a potential springboard for a U.S. strike against Iraq.

The United States and Britain, the newspaper opined have decided to strike at Iraq without asking for a vote of the people and parliaments of democratic states in the entire world. … We were in the forefront of those people who supported the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. However, we are against increasing the tragedy of the Iraqi people by launching a war on them.

“To what will this big world resort if it gets disgusted with the foolishness of U.S. aggression, bias and war? It will resort to terrorism … The United States will be the loser in the long run.”

The changing Arab mood, including a more radical attitude toward the United States and its allies, was signaled earlier this year to the French government by Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia, who said his government was concerned by the “growing effervescence of the Arab street, which we witness every day.”

Bechir Ben Yahmed, the Tunisian publisher of the influential French-language weekly Jeune Afrique, said that President Bush “has started a new war before finishing the previous one, accompanied in his ‘sacred mission’ by two European prime ministers, Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi.”

“While the entire world is trying to preserve peace, the crusaders want their war [against Iraq]. In fact they have already started it,” he said.

Some of the more strident attacks on U.S. policy have been made by Arab -language newspapers published in Britain or France, which are free of governmental pressures. London’s Al-Hayah said: “The U.S. doctrine is based on the principle of forbidding any other country to compete for greatness and supremacy with the United States, and preventing the emergence of any rival military power.”

In Qatar, the increasingly influential Al-Jazeera satellite television channel, watched throughout the Arab world, reported that “the United States continues to live in a state of fear and panic” after the September 11 attacks.

“The crusaders are bogged down in a whirlpool that will annihilate them soon, God willing,” said Ahmad al-Nafisi, a Kuwaiti political writer, appearing on Al-Jazeera.

An oft-repeated theme in the Arab media is that while an attack on Iraq is virtually certain, its outcome might favor Saddam Hussein, regardless of U.S. military superiority.

Al-Watan Al-Arabi, published in Paris, wrote of a “confrontation strategy” drafted by Saddam that would “turn Iraq into a second Vietnam or Afghanistan for the American forces and their allies.”

The “confrontation strategy,” wrote the newspaper, citing “confidential sources,” centers on the survival of Saddam and his clan and apparently assumes the inevitability of “a quick military defeat of the regular Iraqi forces.”

Special units of the Republican Guards and of the ruling Ba’ath party have been prepared for resistance, the newspaper said, and tunnels, some up to six miles long, have been equipped with food, water and ammunition.

The hard core of this “underground army” has been recruited from among the Tikrit and Abu Nasir tribes loyal to Saddam, Al-Watan Al-Arabi said, and is prepared to fight for up to three years.

In Jordan’s capital, Amman, Rami G. Khouri, a well-known commentator, concluded that because of “rhetorical overkill, diplomatic embellishment and irresistible Texas bravado … the regrettable result is a drop in respect for American policy goals and a slow decline of the United States credibility as a world leader.”

The Jordanian press has voiced concern about the effects of a U.S. strike on Iraq, saying its country is sitting right “where the blow will hit.”

Newspapers in Iraq are full of news of the crisis against the Unites States. The press and television across the Middle East and North Africa are steadily becoming more anti -America. Some have suggested boycotting U.S. products and punishing American firms operating in Arab countries.

Papers in Saudi Arabia, considered a potential springboard for a U.S. strike against Iraq, say the United States is likely to be the loser in the long run if it initiates military action against Baghdad.

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