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Role of the Media in informing the public Report (Assessment)

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Introduction

Media plays an important role in informing the public. The traditional role of the media was informative, entertainers and educators but this has significantly changed with the changes in technology, increased competition and increased deregulation. These changes have also changed the impact of the media on the sociological and cultural aspects of society.

Taylor p.1 says that the extent to which the public gains understanding of the issues surrounding their livelihoods heavily relies on the way the media reports. One of the areas in which the media has a significant influence on the cultural and sociological aspects of the society is with regard to conflict.

The role is news is not just informative but also social as described by Maleek and kavoori p.5. The most important part of the news has now become the fact that it is prepared under different social and cultural circumstances. However this is not an important part of international journalism especially for independent media houses Bercovitch,Kremenuk and Zartman pp 1,

The media is an important tool in enhancing international conflict.conflict and resolving it. This ability of the media can be seen from the Rwandan genocide where the media was used to spread the news of the death of the president and this sparked the genocide BBC news 1998.

More often the crises originate from within national or international boundaries. The world’s media is therefore critical in the way it presents the international crises because the news content commands a world reach and have diverse responses. (Taylor, 2003, p.1)

The media must work towards extending the information about the crises without intensifying the responses in order to avoid further emergent of international crises. This paper seeks to explore the special challenges that journalists encounter when reporting international crises and the strategies they have employed to overcome them.

Discussion

Media plays an important role in informing the public (Taylor, 2003, p.1, Hess p.1). Media practitioners have the capacity to cause tension as well as calmness among the public. When reporting international conflicts the challenge becomes even intense when covering military war zones.

According to Taylor, the media must be sensitive on the information it gives so as to avoid disclosing important information to the adversaries (Taylor, 2003, p.9). the meadi also has to be careful as it has an impact n the way countries respond to conflicts. Fro example the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia was prompted by media images ( Hess p 2).

Military operations are guided by the need to censor media coverage in order to avoid exposure of their secrets to the adversaries (Taylor, 2003, p. 9). But for a society to be democratic, the media must be free to report its findings in an independent and objective manner. The conflict comes in when the media has to report the truth of the incident.

However, this is not always the case. In other societies who are led by authoritarian or dictatorial government, the media functions as their government’s mouthpiece. Independent media reports both sides of international disputes. The military in a country army decide to use censorship of information hence controlling what the public receives.

They may take deliberate steps of removing ‘risky’ information from the copy and only providing what protects their interests hence denying media practitioners the freedom of reporting both sides of a story. Military officers may at times scrutinize the media contents before their transmission hence limiting media’s freedom (Van Ginneken, 1998, p. 64- 91).

The other challenge that media practitioners face comes from the gate keepers of the media house, the editors. The selection of what is news and what should feature on a news channel determines whether an event is newsworthy or not. This is a direct challenge to media practitioners because covering disputes and wars puts their lives at risks too.

Although the editors may emphasize on in-depth coverage of such news events, this may be hard to observe because of the safety of the place. More so, journalists work for news organizations whose owners have different interests. This therefore dictates editorial content (Taylor, 2003, p. 12).

Taylor continues to argue that most governments since 1914 have continued to manipulate media content at the interest of public. This mostly happens when the government’s troop is involved in a war with another nation. This is a situation that was witnessed during the First World War; journalists were restricted from the locations where war was intense causing a lot of deaths and destructions.

The media was also expected to exercise democratic freedom of protecting the military from their enemies by not covering the gap between the civilian fronts and the domestic fighters that was reducing (Young, & Jesser, 1997, p. 22-25).

On another case during the Second World War in Britain, BBC was formed in order to check on media coverage and to represent the state’s responsibility towards its people. During the war, media felt the need to observe media ethics of reporting both sides of a story. Contrary to this, the nation expected the media to be patriotic to the home nation hence position a challenge to the journalists about the news values they cover.

Journalists also face the challenge of whether to work as adversaries or to cooperate with the military. Taylor argues that there exists corporation between the two rather than a conflict (Taylor (2003, p 13). The justification for this is that, if the whole truth about wars was revealed, researchers argue that by so doing, the media would create tension among the public and the military would loose public morale.

This therefore brings in mutual interests between the journalists and the soldier in the field. However, other scholars argue that this relationship can be harmful in journalist performances.

Taylor (2003, p. 15) argues that, due to this kind of a relationship between military soldiers and media practitioners the media approached the Defense Department in America to clarify about their ‘unpatriotic coverage’. Journalists are therefore forced to censor information so as to have a peaceful co-existence and relationship among the two parties (Young, & Jesser, 1997, p. 22-25).

Cultural proximity is a factor that keeps on affecting foreign news coverage in international crises among journalists. Journalists tend to cover stories about people in whom they share a language, look similar and have the same preoccupations.

Over the past, bed news has remained a constituent in determining newsworthiness as compared to god news, hence a habit in news coverage of international crises. Galtung & Ruge, 1965, p. 62-90). During war times even in the freest societies, there are legal or constitutional rights that limit media practitioners in their coverage of news hence a limitation on the information that the public receives. Here, the media voluntarily takes on the role of propagandist and governments patriots at the expense of their profession.

This is in contrast to what happens in an authoritarian system of rule (Taylor, 2003, p.14). This was a case seen during World War II where the newsreel was highly controlled to only show only the enemies dead and with very little information on the news stories. In the Great Britain, almost all media and foreign correspondents operated on Northern Ireland under manipulation. This was based on the interest of security for the journalists’ countries.

According to Galtung and Ruge, stories that relate to global powers get much attention than those related to lesser influential nations. Further more, the rich and powerful people get more coverage than infamous individuals. Journalists play a critical role in the process of transmitting global media content just as their sources.

But the question that emerges is the extent to which the reporters remain as neutral observers of events and developments. News stories are voices about events form the reporters’ voices. However, Van Ginneken (1998) argues that most news items are not sourced from direct eye witnesses, he argues that even for the New York Times, most of its major stories come from officials from the U.S government often communicate through press releases, official government proceedings as well as press conferences.

This shows how much the government can control the kind of information that the public receives. This is indirect censorship of news content which in turn obscures journalists’ freedom. The understanding of propaganda and censorship should be implied to mean the relative power and not exclusive, to deliberately get some things more or less on public and to allow some issues more or not out of public. This is often referred to as news or information management (Willcox, 2005, p. 37).

Media manipulation and propaganda was more witnessed at the end of Vietnam War where former US president, George Bush insisted that an investigation be carried out on media propaganda and manipulation (Young & Jesser 1997). Carls Bernstein, a reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine in his research indicated that, journalists were secretly getting information from Central Intelligence Agency.

This showed the extent to which media coorporated with the Agency for its existence. This is because some critic al information can only be sourced from the horse’s mouths- Intelligence department. The media appears to be highly vulnerable because of the high dependency of official sources (Van Ginneken, 1998, p. 96).

Galtung and Ruge argue that various news factors are frequently followed across various media organizations. These factors are used when determining what news will be covered on broadcast or newspaper media. The scholars attempt to show news practices across diverse cultures.

The researchers focused on broadcast and newspapers news to come up with a list of factors that they believed were to be the main factors when determining news contents. News factors studies attempts to show why coverage of international news in one country being may be different from another.

From their study,Galtung and Ruge found out that the frequency of an crises event determines its media coverage. The scholars argue that events that take place too soon and in line with the organization’s policies are often reported as compared to those that take place gradually. From their study on coverage of foreign news in the four Norwegian newspapers, it is clear that long term occurrences receive limited coverage.

Continuity of some events guides journalists in determining foreign news coverage. As observed by Galtung and Runge in their study of about how four Norwegian newspapers covered the foreign news of three intercontinental crises in Cuba, Congo and Cyprus, stories that already have some previous news coverage get consistent coverage.

This is because the public already have knowledge about the underlying content hence less ambiguous to the news audiences. On the other hand, it becomes difficult to report events whose understanding requires one to be familiar with the complex background information about the same events.

Unexpectedness of some international crises makes foreign reporters focus more on the trends of the international crises and covering less content on an every day occurrence. Galtung and Ruge say that the prominence of a story highly depends on competing stories and not just on the values of the news. This is because, in the media industry, stories compete with each other for space and time allocation.

Galtung and Ruge theory explains that the more an event follows these criteria then the more it will becomes a news item in a newspaper. Additionally, the scholars say that the more factors an occurrence meets, the more likely it becomes news. International crises involve events that have individuals’ actions reflect human interests hence the more they are covered than domestic ordinary stories.

Strategies in overcoming the challenges

Several internal and external forces influence reporters’ decisions on coverage of news events. These challenges result into unethical reporting among journalists. However, in the rapid growing media industry, every journalist should aim at attaining relevance and writing news stories that the audience find interesting. Audience’s interests is determined by the change value it contains and the significance of the change to the individual’s or group’s security (Bercovitch, Aleksandrovich, Kremen, Kremenyuk & Zartman, 2009, p. 603).

Journalists and media houses must objectively set the agenda. The media dictates what the readers think about. Writers, publishers and editors determine what the thoughts of readers through emphasizing on what is important to the public.

This is the power that the media has in setting people’s agenda (Seib , 2003, p. 151). Hand in hand with these is the power that other news sources have on setting media agenda. According to a research conducted by McCombs and Shaw, crime, international news and terrorism also have the power to set the agenda for the media world.

The importance of the camera in news cannot be overstated. What viewers actually see forms their opinion of what is happening in the world. For news to be natural a lot of staging and composition is required (Allen & Seaton 1999).

Television staff have to overcome the challenge of misinformation due to lack of enough visual information or availability of too much information that makes it hard to choose what to use for the news. For instance in the case of involvement of the French in the Rwandan genocide information about the French helping to stop the war was in plenty but no information was available relating to the French assisting the Hutus to continue with the massacre (Allen & Seaton 1999)

In line with media images, the General Assembly of European NGOs adopted a policy to ensure that the images that were represented of the Third world were as objective as possible so as to avoid undermining some civilizations. This is because what viewers see forms a basis for their view of the world (Bercovitch et al, 2009).

News people have to make many decisions when making the picture for use in news. Some of the decisions include the positioning of the camera and the details that require coverage. This then forms part of the decisions by the viewer. With regard to the picture framing some of the important considerations include the direction that the camera is pointing to, the distance from the subjects and the vertical orientation of the camera that is aerial view or a worm’s view.

Other important considerations are the choice of the lens and the lens angle which determine the frame of the picture. The sensitivity to light of the lens is also of importance to the picture. Some aspects of light such as shadows and bright spots, contours and contrasts and the incidence of light may be used to enhance certain aspects of the picture. Further the picture that the viewer get in news is further edited by removing the part that are not suitable for viewing and that conquer with their idea of normality.

Quality of a picture can be improved by cropping and highlighting. Cropping involves cutting off parts on any side of the picture so as to remain with the part that deserves the focus. Highlighting involves correcting contrast by making certain things stand out and making others fade into the background.

Pictures can also be improved by correcting the color through copying or adding some elements from one picture to another this has especially been used to align picture to the obsession with skin color which can at times be seen as racist.

This was especially important in showing pictures of breasts with the sight of white women breasts being considered as illegal thus if a black woman had breasts which appeared whiter the pictures had to be corrected to appear darker. The meaning of a picture does not depend on the amount of editing but rather on the interpretation of the individual viewer but the editor can help in forming a certain opinion by labeling the picture or in new by having commentaries.

The news should be structured in such a way that the items that deserve the highest priority are given this and the order follows a preordained script. For major news brief flashes may have been shown during the days so as to make viewers eager for the evening news (Hess, 1996). Various parts of the news include the trailer and leader. The other part is the opening piece (which is usually one major headline and one opening piece).

Another part of news that was introduced so that news could be more optimistic was the tail piece (Malek & Kavoori, 2000). This is a funny or touching human interest story that comes to the end of the news. Another important part of news with regard to global news is the way that the anchors take leave.

This should be pleasant and should be done in such a way that the viewer is held to the end. Another characteristic of news is the separation and categorization of news which implies that the new are grouped into separate individual pieces and also these parts are brought together to make the news.

Modern journalism requires news anchors to be not only good looking people with good voices but also accredited journalist or editors. However it is very clear that the real control of news rest with the producers as is seen in the natural presentation of some pre recorded issues. The correspondents and reporters are usually at the scene of the news so as to add credibility to the news that is given since they are seen as eye witnesses.

Conclusion

The coverage of crisis is a challenging task to journalists in all areas. Objective and accurate coverage and reporting is very important so as to ensure that the news does not favor any side of the conflict or put pressure on any side. The ability to cover real time events is of great importance with regard to crisis reporting. Being able to point out relationships between news is important so as to be able to report to any viewer globally.

This has to be done by connecting the events and building on events. The journalists have to be able to use current reporting and picture techniques so as to come up with good accurate and well displayed news. Modern technology especially helps t improve picture quality and enhance the quality of the news contents.

Also conflict reporting requires that the system of reading news be such that the news is properly conveyed and the relationship with the viewer is maintained and enhanced. This involves the proper use of the pictures and also the involvement of the journalist and news anchors so as to ensure that the news session is both informative and interactive.

Reference List

Allen, T., & Seaton, J (1999). The media of conflict: war reporting and representations of ethnic violence. Zed Books.

Bercovitch, J., Aleksandrovich, V., Kremen, K., Kremenyuk, V., & Zartman, W. (2009). The SAGE handbook of conflict resolution. London: Sage.

BBC news 18 December 1998.Rwanda:How the Genocide Happened, Carrutherers, S. (2000). The media at war. Communication and conflict in the 21 century. London: Macmillan.

Galtung, J. & Ruge, M. 1965. The structure of foreign news. Journal of peace research, 2: 64-91.

Hess, S. (1996). International news and foreign correspondent. Brookings Institute.

Malek, A., & Kavoori, P. (2000). The global dynamics of news: studies in international news coverage and news. Stamford, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing.

Seib, P. M. (2003). The global journalist: news and conscience in a world of conflict. Oxford: Rowmann & Littlefield.

Sobel, R., & Shiraev, E. (2003). International Public Opinion and the Bosnia Crisis. Lexington Books

Taylor, P. M. (2003). International Crisis reporting: Journalism under pressure.

Van Ginneken, J. (1998). Understanding global News: a critical understanding. London: Sage.

Willcox, D. R. (2005). Propaganda, the press and conflict: the Gulf War and Kosovo. London: Routledge.

Young, P., & Jesser, P. (1997). The media and the military. From the crimea to desert strike. London: Macmillan.

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