To what extent does media reporting alter or nuance realities and re-shape our opinions on issues like the current crisis in Ukraine?
(Extract from conversations among International Relations Professionals global discussion group in the context of the current conflict in Ukraine, March 2014)
Chris Westinghouse PhD Strategic Scientist, Jurist, Political and Corporate Reputation Management Specialist, occasional Photojournalist
I’m spending a lot of time and energy on the current issues in the Ukraine, and am appalled by the egregious media embellishment of the facts, including statements by political leaders.
For example, Russian President Putin says he “reserves the right to take military action” to protect the Russian-aligned people of the Crimea (whose right to have Russian as a second language was ominously repealed by the Ukraine Parliament last week). But CNN reports that “Putin reserves the right to a full scale invasion of Ukraine.” That’s not what he said. But it is more exciting, more alarming, and commands more attention. It prompts an emotional response.
It also raises the temperature. And that compels real politicians to up the ante. Before you know it a minor spat becomes a global conflagration.
We’ve seen this sort of licence being used by the media many times before, not only in global conflicts, but also where economic and other rivalries have been involved. In some ways, I argue, the media sometimes overstep the boundaries and behave as if they were the actual roleplayers. They certainly control the message. Far more so than any other institution. But is it “the message,” or is it “their message?”
Is it sloppiness? Is it aimed at making their reportage appear more exciting than the issue at hand really warrants? Is it more sinister, and are media being manipulated in order to (consciously or unconsciously) promote the interests of those who have a stake in a particular point of view?
This is how the media often reshapes political conflicts, by “sexing them up” to make their stories more entertaining and viewer-attracting, as happened in Iraq, for example. Is it the shape of the media into the 21st Century, i.e. has the Fourth Estate started to shove its way into the game as direct participants?
Pravda might use the headline, “Putin Walks on Water” (after somebody witnessed Putin doing a Jesus-like stunt), but CNN would likely publish it’s headline like this: “Putin Can’t Swim.”
I am no media-basher – I occasionally write and do photojournalism assignments myself – but I cringe at the way mainstream media have adopted the kind of licence and exaggeration that one expects of citizen journalists who are typically held to a lower standard.
In the current Ukraine conflict I am persuaded that tensions are substantially increased by speculative reporting, filling the airwaves with the voices of people who are not credible (but who are willing to go on camera and sprout their nonsense), just as long as audience numbers can be maintained.
In the meantime whole nations are being thrust toward intensified insecurity. How much of it can be blamed on irresponsible media reporting?