In assuming this role as warmongers voluntarily, news media flare up the war hysteria and promote conflict and tension between rival nations. In this role the mainstream media do not kill people directly; they create a mindset to destroy the perceived “others”.
“Although there may be doubts about the media’s peacemaking potential, it can be demonstrated that news media can make matters a lot worse and can certainly contribute to the escalation of group conflicts into mass killings. This is especially so when media workers become agents for the dissemination of the ‘elimination belief’ and when media are intentionally used as weapons to incite people to commit crimes against humanity.”
Cees J. Hamelink, ‘Media Between Warmongers and Peacemakers,’ Media, War and Conflict, Vol. 1(1), 2008.
A prominent media scholar C. J. Hamelink argues that it is not the human mind that is violent; it is the media images that construct “others” or identify members of certain ethnic or religious groups as enemies. They create an image of these groups as harmful to the society or nation and consequently incite people to destroy them.
War mongering through channels of mass communication occurs through a systematic process which involves identification of the enemy, creating a negative image as a dangerous individual, group or nation and then asking the audience to act against the identified enemy.
We can see how this theory works in the contexts of South Asia where media, especially TV news channels, have increased exponentially without proper training of their staff and news personnel. This development has brought a large entourage of news personnel in the field who have no ethical boundaries and professional know how on what to report and how their mishandling the message can lead to violence against innocent people. They knowingly or unknowingly develop the warmongering hysteria among the audience against certain groups, individuals or countries.
In the context of interstate hostility the process of creating this “elimination belief” becomes comparatively easier for media as the nationalistic mindset is already there for majority of people of a country against another country perceived as their enemy.
During the 1971 and 1965 wars media were owned by the state on both sides of the bother in India and Pakistan, making it easier for both establishments to manipulate media messages against each other.
In Pakistan, private newspapers and magazines and state owned TV and radio were ideologically speaking with one voice against India and Bengalis in the 1971 war. Symbols of hatred and unimaginable myths were created to reinforce superiority of Pakistani armed forces and people and inferiority of Bengalis as coward, short and unintelligent people whose culture was closer to Hindus than Muslims.
I have also watched the media coverage of the terror attack on Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai by Indian and Pakistani news channels. Interestingly, news media in both countries sensationalized the event to gain sympathy and popularity of their respective audiences. It was a typical example of a pseudo-nationalistic, irrational and emotional coverage of the mainstream media to support narrowly defined religious, ethnic and official views on the horrific attack conducted by a terrorist organization in Pakistan.
While the Indian news channels blamed the whole Pakistani nation for the attack, the Pakistani coverage tried to prove that the attack was actually hatched in India. The coverage on both sides missed the real issues of interstate politics, the role of conservative forces in each country and the terrorists’ tangible purpose of the attack to infuriate tensions between the two nations.
TV news channels in this case, if not newspapers, contributed a great deal of irresponsible, sensational and unrealistic coverage which further increased the huge gulf of trust and animosities between the people of two countries. Not only the privately owned media did follow the official and popular ideology of confrontation, they terribly failed to investigate the truth behind the attack.
In Indian and Pakistani media the coverage was extremely biased, emotional divided on the Hindu-Muslim lines, further exaggerating the hatred and mistrust between the two countries. Clearly, in this case, the media served the purpose of terrorists and conservatives in both countries.
Corporate media all over the world tend to be more balanced and rational when they cover internal events within their national boundaries. But when it comes to international coverage, more often they follow the popular, official and mainstream ideological positions. This biased media coverage further contributes to interstate violence and conflict.
In assuming this role as warmongers voluntarily, news media flare up the war hysteria and promote conflict and tension between rival nations. In this role the mainstream media do not kill people directly; they create a mindset to destroy the perceived “others.”
If this warmongering role of news media is a worldwide phenomenon, how can we identify media messages and improve the overall coverage? Citing trials of the leaders of the Nazi propaganda machine after World War II, Hamelink also argues:
“Once the perpetrators of crimes against humanity are brought to justice, it usually is too late for the victims. It is therefore of utmost importance that public expressions of “elimination beliefs” are spotted–and exposed! – as early as possible. An International Media Alert System (IMAS) is needed to monitor media contents in areas of conflict. This system would provide an ‘early warning’ where and when media set the climate for crimes against humanity and begin to motivate people to kill others.”
To him, to eradicate hate messages of media, people should establish an alert system to monitor media messages and have better knowledge of how negative images of the perceived “enemy” are being created by media anchors, reporters and participating “experts.” Within this context, media workers and participants all become harbingers of the “elimination belief.”
In other words, when the mainstream news media tend to manufacture confrontational ideologies through news coverage that lead to terrorism, violence and warmongering, analysts and media organizations themselves should establish a news monitoring system to avoid this alarming trend.
Despite the much trumpeted concept of objectivity, media have never been objective in covering news. The modern mass media with their global reach have a serious responsibility to promote peace, not war.