War Essay, Research Paper
The analysis of media coverage is tricky in any time period, with debates raging over the role and aims of the media in conveying information to the masses. The situation is further complicated during periods of crisis – historically, the media has been used to spread propaganda, through the popular press in the First World War, and the radio and cinema in its successor. It was the television coverage of the Vietnam War which shaped the way broadcasting was perceived – for the harrowing shots of wartime behaviour was said to strike American morale so deeply, as to ultimately lose the war. It is in such an atmosphere that the media confronted the Falklands Crisis. In fact, this conflict was unique in being inaccessible save by Naval crossing. Thus the British government was able to exclude any independent or foreign journalist from travelling the 8,000 miles with the Task Force, allowing select teams from Britain to make the journey, as long as they conformed to the strictest censorship. The Glasgow University Media Group (1985) examined the production process of news during this period, and here I explore their analysis, chiefly of the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano. This highly controversial act took place on the 2nd May 1982, with the first bulletins coming out on the 3rd May. These were seen by the Glasgow Media Group as underplaying the effects of the torpedo attack, with an emphasis on how many of the crew could be saved. Despite the lack of information, the bulletins carried an hopeful air of optimism. On 4th May the theme was of survivors, with an expert called in by the BBC, for comment of the chances of the crew, given the proper training. This contrasted with the headlines of foreign newspapers, such as the New York Post, crying – “Fear Hundreds Dead in Sea Battle”. The 6th May brought with it film of the returning survivors, with a reluctance to use the word “dead” in reporting. Instead, those killed were heard to be “lost” or “missing”. An interesting occurrence on 7th May was the translation of a decode message from the Argentine commander in the Falklands. At 12:30pm, the BBC translated his words as: “The sinking of the General Belgrano has opened the door for the maximum use of force by our side.” At 9:30pm, the translation had changed: “The sinking of the General Belgrano has opened the way for us to kill.” This was, as the Glasgow Media Group point out, an extraordinary change of emphasis. In fact, the literal translation was “to pass through.” On the 9th May, photographs of the ship appeared, with critical comment that was conspicuous in its absence. What comment there was, continually stressed that the ship was on the edge of the Exclusion zone, implying an unwillingness to acknowledge that the ship was outside it. There was, then, a “systematic underplaying of the harmful effects of this British action.” The Glasgow Media Group contrasted this incident with the sinking of the HMS Sheffield, where a profound difference in news content can be seen, beyond that which one could reasonably expect. The military, uneasy revealing British casualties, transmitted an official bulletin on 4th May – that the crew had tackle a blaze on the ship, and were then picked up by rescue teams. However, journalists delved into this, emphasising from the start the human loss, with talk of the “dreadful news” and an “astonishing loss”. This use of language rarely appeared in connection with the Belgrano. So emotive links were used, with colleagues described as “stunned and pained”, and a Scottish mother of one the dead was “shattered”. Every name of every casualtywas subtitled on the screen, with a fluttering Royal Ensign in the background. Newsnight on 5th May best illustrated the difference in emphasis, by relating how 30 men were “dead” and “missing” from the Sheffield, but that 800 “survivors” had been removed from the Belgrano. Clearly the terminology used was much more forceful for the British loss. Note also that the reasons for the sinking of the Belgrano were evaded – the cruiser often described as “skirting” the zone, and posing a “threat.” Criticisms of this action were reported as being general misgivings about the war as a whole, not a direct attack upon the British. Most foreign criticism was seen as predictable reactions from nations with an axe to grind against Britain. Exceptions to this were Nationwide on the BBC_ and Panorama_, and these were heavily attacked by the government. Overall, the Glasgow Media Group asserted that the media placed problems in the context of established themes, and interpreted new facts according to them_. At home, peace marches were ignored_ and displays of patritotism emphasised_. And with regard to diplomacy, “Argentine intransigence” was blamed for the failure of the Peruvian and UN peace proposals. We need a wider framework of analysis than this, of course, and to be fair, the Glasgow Media Group do look at “normal” journalistic practices. These include the constraints imposed by the “lobby” system_ and conforming to the journalists rulebook. The overall conclusion was that journalists have a broad consensus of agreement and appeals to authoritative sources, that blinds them to probing issues. Even when individuals or parties are attacked in the media, it is rarely “the system” itself which is questioned. Leonard Downie Jnr (1985) picked up on overt constraints. Forced to operate from London, he found he was misled and denied facts a great deal. There was the premature release of good news (such as the re-capturing of Port Stanley half a day before the Argentines had actually surrendered), and the delaying of bad news. The television newtworks were prevented from broadcasting live from the task force, and film sometimes took three weeks to arrive in London. He noted that normal British journalism had constraints like the Official Secrets Act and the “D-notices” system_, as well as libel cases. The British also lacked a Freedom Of Information Act like that of the US – all of this meaning British reporters are less likely to break away from the guidelines laid down in the Falklands. Harris (1983) outlined the jingoistic style of the tabloids, such as the Sun headline -”GOTCHA!” in relation to the sinking of the Belgrano. He showed that there was rather more wrangling in the media than perhaps the Glasgow Media Group are willing to admit – in particular the extremely patriotic Sun, against the Daily Mirror, advocating withdrawal. He argued the common view that the audience are far more accepting of television news, since it is apparently more objective and independent than newspapers. Yet there was a great deal of censoring, including from editors themselves. The Government trod a line between sanitization and sensational gore, but went beyond national security, and censored on the grounds of “taste” and “tone”. There was also a certain “comic book” feel to the coverage – illustrations and maps lending the proceedings a surreal, detached air. The reliance upon drawings was brought about by the late arrival and censoring of graphic pictures, and one could suggest that the audience thus perceived the war as somewhat “unreal.” Harris is keen to stress the divisions within the media – the BBC refusing to yield in the face of attacks from the press, about the aforementioned Panorama programme. He also outlined the internal strife at the Public Relations level, in the MoD. Morrison and Tumber (1988) argued that the gathering of war news was a battle for information. The journalists were in a problematic position, having been hastily assembled, badly briefed and poorly prepared. They described the voyage to the Falklands as a “protracted trauma”. For the reporters were completely alien to the military world of rules and strict timekeeping. Further, pieces were “mislaid” by the MoD, such as a military blunder which led to the bombing of the Sir Galahad at Bluff Cove. Only once the war had finished, did the story come out at all. It must be remembered that journalists are trained to be competitive and individualistic, whereas the armed forces worked on principles of co-operation and cohesion. They were competing with each other for news, as well as with the reticent Navy, and suffered considerable strain. The minders working for the MoD were similarly put upon, serving as targets for pent up fear and frustration, and often wrongly accused. Note also that the journalists were fully aware of the censoring occuring back in London, which had a demoralising effect on those trying to accurately convey the events. In fact, the information handling within the military was badly organized, with internal strife between Ian MacDonald, who attempted to cut the press off, and Neville Taylor, keen to present a more open policy. From time to time, the media and the government do share comon values and purposes, but “…too many of their assumptions are irreconcilable.” It is true, as Harris says, that the British media is subject to government regulations. But Morrison and Tumber showed that the Falklands War, far from highlighting traits common to journalism, in fact went beyond them. Information was censored on the grounds of public morale, interest and taste – despite the fact that equally distressing pictures from the Lebanon were being screened at the same time. Morrison and Tumber in fact say that the Falklands affair symbolised growing resentment between the government and the media._ That the government did not succeed in strangling the media completely, is due to the audience having no clear concept of broadcasters being social entities, worthy of judgement. So since the media were seen as a national heritage, they escaped major public criticism. It is.wrong to say that showing the horror of war will influence the outcome of it – it may be a reason, but social and political events are far more important._ The Glasgow Media Group talked of dramatic, emotive sentiments being relayed on the news, but the scope and effects of such dramatisation is limited, especially if we see the audience as capable of critically discerning news items. The Glasgow Media study was a fine example of content analysis, but content analysis is far from perfect. Bell (1991) said that this quantitive practice of counting the frequency of key themes needed supplementing with other methods, providing a good linguistic analysis_ that does not “prematurely attempt to decode what underlies the language.” Let us not conclude too hastily, then, that the media deliberately conformed to the official line. Where this did occur, it was through censorship or covert manipulation, often against the wishes of the journalists involved. So we can reject the claim from Harris that the intensity of the Falklands merely highlighted the standard practices of the media, for it was a period of quite unique constraint upon journalists both at home and abroad – hopefully one which is never to be repeated.SORRY, NO BIBLIOGRAPHY WAS SUPPLIED WITH THIS ESSAY
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