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International conflicts in a mediated world

News-making about the conflict between China and Tibet

Essay 2008 14 Seiten

Medien / Kommunikation - Medien und Politik, Pol. Kommunikation



1 Introduction

2 Characteristics of contemporary mass media
2.1. New technologies and speeded-up communication
2.2. The fascination of violence and “infotainment”
2.3. The concept of framing

3 The critique on mainstream journalism
3.1. “Peace journalism” (Johan Galtung)
3.2. “Understanding not empathy” (Jean Seaton)

4 News coverage in China and India on the conflict
between China and Tibet
The India Express
The Times of India
The Hindu
The China’s Daily
The People’s Daily
The Beijing Review Magazine

5 Conclusion

6 References
6.1. Secondary literature
6.2. Indian and Chinese newspapers (alphabetical order)

1 Introduction

The process of Globalization and new communication technologies such as television and internet provide advanced opportunities for the mass media to report about conflict and war in any remote part of the world beyond national borders. The public opinion and people’s perception of a conflict can be shaped by news coverage, in many cases imprinted by the relationship between the media and the political elite which is especially consistent in times of war (Hallin 1986, cited in Dimitrova and Strömbäck 2005: 406). If media coverage is reflecting the line of government officials, images related to war and conflict are biased. This construction of reality by the contemporary mass media is especially criticised, besides other critique, by so-called “corrective forms” of journalism (Cottle 2006: 100-119).

The recently escalated conflict between the People’s Republic of China and its autonomous region of Tibet is perceptible everywhere in the world and not only a national issue behind doors any more as contemporary mass media enhance a form of “global scrutiny” making violent and despotic behaviour of states visible for the world (J.B. Thompson 1994, cited in Stevenson 2003: 107). In fact, the tensions between China and Tibet is not a new phenomena but the riots bring the issue back into the public what proves the statement of Simon Cottle, that the mass media is rather reporting about violent conflicts and has little interest in processes of peaceful resolutions of conflicts (Cottle 2006: 100). The conflict is carried out in the media via “selective, framed communication” and voices stating their opinion on the conflict are raised everywhere in the world.

Journalism is highly challenged if public opinion about a conflict is heavily divided. In the actual case of the violent conflict between the China and Tibet, public opinion tends to be supportive for Tibet in the Western media but instead of investigating the Western news-coverage of the riots in the last weeks, I found it more interesting to take into account Chinese and Indian news-making as the two countries share widespread economic relations today whereas they had highly conflicting interests concerning Tibet as border region during the last century. Even if India has recognized Tibet as official part of China, the countries of India and Tibet still share a lot of culture and traditions. This paper will contain an empirical part consisting of a informal, qualitative content analysis of the online versions of three major newspapers each from China and India.

But first, I will discuss the criticized characteristics of the contemporary mass media such as the increasing domination of “infotainment” over serious, reliable information accompanied by new technologies and speeded-up information flows, the focus on violence of the mainstream media as well as framing strategies as theoretical framework, because in my opinion, these are observations that can be made everyday. As third part two examples of critique will be introduced, on the one hand, the concept of “Peace journalism” as one form of corrective journalism and on the other hand critique raised by Jean Seaton concerning the augmenting empathy resulting from violence and suffering presented in the media.

As I will not take into the account the political and media systems of China and Tibet due to page and time restrictions the aim is not to prove that the media coverage is reflecting the positions of the political elites, but to provide some empirical evidences that framing is at work for any reason and that there are different realities constructed by news-making of one and the same conflict.

2 Characteristics of contemporary mass media

2.1. New technologies and speeded-up communication

Journalistic norms and practices as well as the recipients, technological innovation, media ownership, (de)-regulation and social change determine news-making. The statement of Chris Barker, that television is the dominant communication device and a major resource for representations (Barker 1999: 59) needs to be rethought facing the incredible fast development of the Internet during the last years. New technologies which fastened information and knowledge flows can enhance the emergence of a so-called “global public sphere” linking people distant in time and space and construct solidarity at a distance (Stevenson 2003:96-103).

In this global public sphere, mediated descriptions of war and conflict are delivered all over the world by increasing forms of transnational communication. The quicker supply with information in the fast modern communication age is characteristic for the contemporary information society and can lead to superficial perspectives and a lack of interpretation, reflection and deeper understanding of conflict and war.

This is reflected in Paddy Scannell’s concept of “liveness” and real-time news as products of the pressure to present news faster than previously (Seaton 2003: 45-46).

2.2. The fascination of violence and “infotainment”

Modern mass media is very event-driven (Stevenson 2003: 115) and follows an economic logic of satisfying consumers’ desires. This consumer society has, according to Nick Stevenson, replaced the former producer society (Stevenson 2003: 15), what forces the media even more to fascinate and stimulate its audience. But the mainstream media itself is fascinated by violence and conflict and tends to disregard of non-violent conflict solutions and processes of peace (Cottle 2006: 100).

Even if scepticism is raised about the moral landscape of the audience as consumers by intellectuals like Mestrovic (1997) who is talking about a “post-emotional society” or Tester who is making fast television images responsible for the lack of moral feeling, I would agree with Nick Stevenson that we are not living in a apathetic and insensitive society where images of suffering don’t move any emotions.

According to Jean Seaton, this suffering is exploited increasingly for sensation by the mass media. Instead of enforcing a better and deeper understanding of a conflict contemporary journalism is increasingly seeking to entertain its audience. But democracies need media attracting attention in being both reliable and popular and entertainment and political expression cannot be separated (Seaton 2003: 47).

2.3. The concept of framing

The term “framing” in mass communication research lacks a ubiquitous definition and can be broadly described as “the ways in which mass media organize and present issues and events” (Dimitrova and Strömbäck 2005: 404). This analysis will not so much focus on individual framing but on media frames constructed by journalists in the news coverage in emphasizing reality aspects according to their interest to promote a certain view, interpretations and recommendations.

Framing in this sense goes beyond putting a certain issue on the agenda and influences the perception of an event, in the case of war coverage a conflict, due to a certain construction of reality. Reasons for framing are often rooted in national media and political systems. How media is framed depends on multiple factors like the political context and ideology, journalistic norms, routines and individual attitudes and frames are especially influential on public opinion if they are congruent to a collective culture and a political environment (Dimitrova and Strömbäck 2005: 405 – 406).

In my opinion, the influence on media frames by national political elites is not strong per se, but varies from country to country. The assumption of a strong impact is shared by Robert Entman (Dimitrova and Strömbäck 2005: 406) but is to question as Entman has obviously written his book Projections of Power in the context of the US-American political and media system which is more affected by a dependent relationship than on countries like Sweden or Germany, for instance.

3 The critique on mainstream journalism

3.1. “Peace journalism” (Johan Galtung)

As the concept of peace journalism is directly aiming on improving war and conflict reporting, it is the most valuable form of “corrective” journalism for this analysis.

One of the most influential representatives of peace and conflict research, Johan Galtung, led the way in the normative critique on the established war and violence news coverage of the contemporary mass media. Galtung suggests a more constructive way of journalism and more creativity when it comes to report about war and conflict to support processes of non-violent conflict resolution and reconciliation. Johan Galtung introduces a peace and conflict orientated journalism to replace mainstream news reporting only focusing on war and violence (Cottle 2006: 101)

The aim of peace journalism is to contribute to more transparency of conflicts and to have all parties heard instead of supporting propaganda. Besides that, peace journalism claims to be preventive for conflicts in reporting about conflicts before or after violence and escalation occur. According to Johan Galtung, peace journalism focuses more on people and their voices instead of being elite-orientated in order to enforce their responsibility and their participation.

Peace initiatives and non institutional peace efforts should be emphasized and especially mentioned replacing the victory orientation of mainstream journalism (Cottle 2006: 102). Johan Galtung’s approach on peace journalism was widely criticized for various reasons. In appealing only to journalists without mentioning possible political, social, economical, technological and cultural constraints his normative critique about the deficiencies of mainstream news representations appears to be very media-centric (Cottle 2006: 103-104).

I would consider Galtung’s approach to be very idealistic, but as he is making claims to media’s responsibilities separated from any external constraints, which sometimes can’t be avoided, the critique on his normative concept is not always legitimate.

Several attempts were made to integrate the nature of the political environment in the analysis of news reporting on peace processes, such as the approach of Gadi Wolfsfeld who states that the role of the media varies with the dynamics of peace processes. In concluding that journalism is more constructive in supporting elite initiatives, Wolfsfeld contests the assumption of Galtung that elite-orientated journalism is destructive per se (Cottle 2006: 104-105)

3.2. “Understanding not empathy” (Jean Seaton)

Jean Seaton is contesting Galtung’s claim to include both empathy and understanding in peace and conflict orientated journalism in distinguishing the emotional dismay of empathy as mediated feelings from a real constructive understanding of a conflict. In contrast to Johan Galtung she considers empathy to be negative resulting from a comfortable spectatorship on hideous misfortunes. Seaton analyses how a deeper understanding of conflicts is possible facing the fact that news reporting can be unreliable due to market pressures and personal interests of journalists (Seaton 2003: 45-48).

The statement of Jean Seaton, that the political authority of the elite has been eroded (Seaton 2003: 46-47) is not valid for every case and should be treated carefully as news-making can in fact be under pressure even in countries that not appear to have a strong interdependence between media and politics on the first sight. The demonstration of violence and suffering in reality is never just to reflect events but implies traditionally a political message to appeal to the audience’ conscience.

Seaton considers the media to be a key agent for delivering political messages related to horrifying events and accuses mainstream journalism to disregard their key democratic role of providing reliable news (Seaton 2003: 50-52).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
451 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Stockholm University
International News-making China Tibet



Titel: International conflicts in a mediated world