Media and Conflict

The media shape what we see and hear about a conflict. The perspectives of those who run the media shape stories that are covered. Journalists have opinions and beliefs based on their experiences. Media owners have economic interests; they want to sell their stories and programs to a public who will buy their newspapers or watch their programs.

Increasing corporate control over media in some countries also plays a role in controlling the types of stories that get covered, and the way stories get framed. Media owners and professionals decide what they think the public or some target audience wants to see and hear.

A common journalist principle is this: “If it bleeds, it leads.” That means violent conflict will be headline news, not news of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding. The media mostly covers conflict, not peacebuilding. This tendency to cover conflict and violence distorts reality and leads many people to think that conflict is pervasive and peace is abnormal. Several studies confirm that the impact of the media on conflict is more significant than the effect of the press on conflict prevention and peacebuilding (Munir: 2013).

The press is a crucial component in today’s society, with an essential position in the public and private sectors. The media also forms part of the civil society, advocating for the betterment of lives of people in both the national and international context. In conflicts, the media tends to find means of accessing the conflict areas, acting as an eyewitness to account for the activities conducted in the plight of the affect populations (Munir: 2013).

Galtung (1996:23) purports the transformation of the media into the adoption of a new role in the conflict, called peace journalism. This form of writing emphasises that the power of the press lies beyond the ‘watcher’ function that merely provides information to the public. He holds that the media wields power to efficiently contribute to the mediation process as a whole, from the onset of the conflict. He further instigates the discussion in his paper that the media can work as a critical factor in the resolving of disputes between different parties, facilitating for communication and to educate the actors involved.   

Studies conducted by Livingston (at the Harvard University Joan Shorenstein Centre for Press, Politics and Public Policy were directed on the concept of the ‘CNN effect’, the notion that the media serves as an agenda-setting agency, and that the media serves as an impediment in some cases. The CNN Effect is further elaborated as being “the capability of the media to affect the conduct of US diplomacy and foreign policy” (Werdmuller, 2012:11).

It also highlights the media as a functionary tool that speeds the public policy process.  As purported by the media fraternity, the CNN effect is a theory that ‘acknowledges the real-time impact reporting has on public policy (Harmon: 1999). It recognises the emotional responses that are resulted immediately from the broadcasting of humanitarian information about the conflict, thereby influencing state and non-state actors to take action.