Role of media in wartime.
The media is undoubtedly one of the most important influencers in our day-to-day lives, if not the most important. With both positive and negative sentiments circulating around the media even in times of peace, the effects of media are only compounded during wartime, when opinions are divided, and people become easier to sway. What role does the media play during wartime, and how much does it affect its viewers?
Of course, we are all familiar with popular political comics that spark many opposing sides. A longstanding source of entertainment especially when the tension is high in any country, political comics, parodies and quips play a huge role in swaying and influencing viewers. There are numerous posters of most wars and their political agendas, and the creation of political cartoons tends to come from both the authorities and individuals alike. These political cartoons usually portray the perspectives of their creators and sometimes call for action, providing a different view into the conflict in a region especially for those not caught in the heat of the tension.
Some schools of thought are that wartimes may be too hectic for the press to reliably cover – and besides, would the country allow civilians into the fray? How many would risk their lives to become reporters on the battlefields?
Surprisingly, many of the press reporters do. The historical effect of media in wartime has varied according to the region, the timeframe and the exact war. For instance, during the Civil War, the military usually kept reporters off the battle grounds despite the first amendment. The First World War fifty years later saw a tight grip on media coverage, with the military taking control of all radio communications and censoring all photographs.
Furthermore, the Espionage and Sedition Acts were soon published by Congress, dampening the capability of the media. It became illegal to publish anything disrespectful to the government, the flag or the uniforms of American troops, disqualifying most types of wartime media content. This had dire results on 75 American newspapers, which lost their mailing privileges within just a year of the war. Some were forced to change their editorial positions.
Things were different in the second World War, though. A military office of censorship was created, allowing the press to apply for credentials from the office – which meant that they were able to publish limited content, although most of it would still be vetted by the military. As such, the media coverage was largely skewed during this time and the content covered could even be called propaganda. “Insider” information and rumors, such as the creation of the atomic bomb, was kept under wraps due to the stringent checking of the media.
What was the case in the United States was not the case in other countries, however. The media releases in other parts of the world were mostly less restricted, although their effectiveness varied across regions. In Vietnam, the war meant it was increasingly difficult for the authorities to keep a tight handle on the content published in local media channels. The further the war got, the more the American press came up with questions and concerns on the news, implanting their views in the minds of the majority. The authorities learned from this event. In the coming wars, more restrictions were put on the press similar to what the United States did. Although the amount of media coverage was still extremely high, the content was strictly managed by the military.
In the wars of Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, people were divided by ethnic and religious conflict. It is undeniable that journalists both local and foreign played a key role in sculpting the public’s opinion and bringing attention to the conflict there. In fact, not only were individuals affected but also the United States government, which slowly changed its views on how it perceived the conflict. Throughout the war, the Bosnian newspaper Oslobodjenje (“Liberation”) was going strong, telling of the spirit of the Bosnian people. The publication was headed by Kemal Kurspahic, the first editor-in-chief to be elected by its professional staff. He championed the practice of press freedom and human rights and has been awarded numerous recognitions for this act. The press staff worked throughout the war, producing a publication every day despite the ongoing tension. They faced a disaster on the night of June 20, 1992, in which their 10-story office building was caught in crossfire and burned down due to its close proximity to snipers, machine gunners and artillery positions. Some of the staff were present in the building and took refuge in an underground atomic bomb shelter to continue work on their next publication while others fought the fire. According to Kurspahic, just five minutes after the fire was put out, the next newspaper issue was completed and released. The valiance of the press reporters in the face of near death helped to spark hope in the readers of the newspaper, inspiring them to think that everything was possible, and hope was possible. To this day, many credit Oslobodjenje for promoting a spirit of tolerance and understanding, allowing the conflict to boil down.
Another opposing example is of the conflict in Georgia, where it was often difficult for press reporters to ascertain what was really going on, as most of the information made available by the authorities on both sides of the conflict was contradictory. To neutralize the reports a little, there was global television coverage in real time, which helped the reporters to formulate more accurate content.
As such, some people would say that the true role of the media in wartime is not to influence and shape the public’s opinions, but rather to cross-check any claims made by the warring parties and to determine what the real truth is.
With the rise of technology these days, it is becoming increasingly easier for the media to maintain a presence despite conflict in the region. Although the authorities can still block access to contradictory publications, such as with China’s well-known “Great Firewall”, there are still easy ways to circumvent that when there is a will. For example, the protests ongoing in Hong Kong were covered daily by numerous people in the media, from everyday civilians posting status updates on their pages to professional news reporters making their way there to catch a slice of the action. As long as the Internet is around, it is doubtful that there will ever be a tight lid on the latest news in a warring nation.
In summary, the influence of the media in wartime cannot be denied, regardless of whether it is used for influencing public opinion or getting to the truth of the matter. There can also be positive and negative effects of daily media coverage depending on how it is used. In this way, the media can be a double-edged sword, both paving the way to the heart of the conflict and also scattering people when it is used irresponsibly.