The Role of the Media in War and Peace

July 14, 2014

 

“The conflict.” It’s usually one of the first things we talk about on a given day; most nights it’s the last thing we talk about before we sleep. Whether it’s a red alert notification seen on a phone or an idea that resurfaces from conversations passed, it always comes up. Finally, I asked Tal, an Israeli student at Hebrew University, “Do you ever get sick of talking about ‘the conflict’?”

 

He smirked, “All the time.”

 

Nevertheless, discussion of the conflict continues. Today in our political science course we discussed the relationship between the media and government in Israeli politics. Professor Shinar outlined the development of media sources in Israel, from printed press, to radio broadcasts, to cable networks. Though public broadcasting in Israel had existed since 1932, the establishment of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in 1948 encouraged the government to decide how it would handle the media. In a concept not so foreign to Americans, we learned of the heavy influence politicians have on media sources, particularly due to the fact that roughly 10% of Knesset members are former journalists. As a result, politicians are able to use relationships with journalists as well as legislative work in order to persuade voters.

 

In relation to the current situation of Israel and Palestine, we discussed the ways in which the media fuels the conflict. Media sources, both foreign and domestic, draw attention to the reactionary acts of violence and aggression occurring between the two sides. However, being that this is a political science course, we would be in remiss to accept such a superficial analysis. The root of the conflict lies not in the difference in of Arab/Islamic and Israeli/Jewish ideologies; rather, it is a conflict of cultures that results from the exclusivity expressed by each side in their general refusal to accept the other. The asymmetric nature of the conflict further complicates the situation, as it causes motives to stray from nation vs. nation to nation vs. movement.

 

The media’s ability to exacerbate issues by highlighting the actions of extremist parties on both sides rather than providing coverage on peace processes is congruent with the reporting philosophy “if it bleeds, it leads.” In relation to the conflict of reciprocated attacks between Israel and Hamas, news organizations have recently chosen to report primarily on Israel’s decision to continue firing towards Gaza in response to their rejection of the proposed ceasefire. While there are claims by Hamas that they were not consulted in the process, many news organizations have only briefly mentioned such an issue, choosing headlines that revolve around continued violence, “As cease-fire with Hamas fails to take shape, Netanyahu says, ‘Our answer is fire,’” (The Washington Post) and, “Israel Resumes Strikes on Gaza After Hamas Rejects Cease-Fire,” (Newsweek). For the purpose of holding an audience, news outlets neglect to follow end-of-conflict models that would promote and spread ideas of reconciliation. As a result, the media often strays from the ideological concepts that carry the possibility to transform a conflict, holding the public’s attention to violence rather than rationality.

 

Anna Bagley

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