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Should war reporting be patriotic

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  • Category: War

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There was a recurring theme on the images readers and viewers see on the television, the newspaper and the internet. Using different images indicative of war as backdrop, a reporter stands still and narrates the latest development in a global armed conflict that involves two or more countries, the focus of the report including the intensifying level of hostilities, the recent and updated casualty count, and the narrative of the dead and of the dying. The images that alternate the play of words include a vast show of military power: state of the art weapons, air, land and sea war machines, troops and logistic support.

It is the act of reporting war as it unfolds, and like a television drama filled with the different ingredients that includes a thickening plot, issues of conflict and a long list of antagonists and protagonists, people wait for the latest developments via the reports about the war transmitted coming from the hostile area, aboard a warship or while holed inside an abandoned building in fear of being shot by a sniper. War journalism and war correspondence is a very dangerous job, but as the old adage has it, it is a tough one but someone has to get it done, and in every generation and in every major war.

There are veteran journalists that finally get to write their 33s and their ###s while there are those who are given the chance and be christened under fire to take the place of those who left the profession that very few can and will pursue. Death is a very near and constantly lurking neighbor of a war correspondent reporting in a very hostile area where the level of conflict is high. This was the case for many journalists coming from different parts of the world who rolled the dice and took the risk and lost.

Popular World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle made his last stop in the Pacific battlefront after being shot by a machine gun being fired by the Japanese army (Seaton, 1999, pg 15). In the effort to cover the Iraq war, many veteran journalists met their death there including Steven Vincent, who, according to Allbritton (2005) was the first American journalist who was kidnapped and killed in Iraq after the war in the country began on March 2003 (Allbritton, 2005). There was also ITN’s Terry Lloyd, whose death in Basra was even surrounded with intrigue and political issues (Online News Hour, 2003).

There was Mazen Al-Tomaisi, who was killed while in tour of duty in Baghdad after a missile was fired close to his position as he was filming, taking his life instantaneously (CNN. com, 2003). And there was Australian cameraman Paul Moran who died in northern Iraq during the early months of the Iraq war (Godoy, 2003). During the Vietnam War, a number of war correspondents were killed, including the Associated Press’ Peter Arnett, the Columbus Inquirer’s Charlie Black and United Press’ Charlie Eggleston (The Albuquerque Tribune, 2008).

Three of the 45 war correspondents who died during the duration of the war, not counting the 18 other war correspondents who went missing while chronicling troop the action in Vietnam, while during the war in Afghanistan, Knightley (2001) reports about the death of seven correspondents in just seven days (Knightley, 2001). The media has been targeted more actively in more recent wars because of political reasons – a Belgrade TV station was bombed by NATO while Muslim media outfit Al Jazeera’s Kabul office was reported attacked by the US.

These two incidences are just some of the reasons why organizations are raising their voices and asking for the investigations of such cases. Reporters Without Borders claim that the United States is guilty of war crimes directed at the media and reminded the rest of the world how journalists covering the war is subject to the protection of the Geneva Convention. Other organizations including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemn such acts and supported RSF in their demand for an official investigation of US’s action during the Middle East hostilities (Knightley, 2001).

The nature of war – Many perceive the nature and origin of war as just any or both of the two things – as a means to implement a policy and as an act of active and overt aggression to another country, state, locale or group of people for personal and political reasons. During the age of war reporting these reasons disappear inside a blurry line, and sometimes, the reporter has the power to tell the people about the real nature and reason of war, and people would believe him or her, resulting to the creation of a public opinion, even when the reporter’s story about the nature of war is both a full-fiction and a half truth (Evans, 2003, pg 7).

Truth, after all, is a matter of perspective, and when the reporter only presents one perspective, the people are denied of the chance to see the real nature of the war and in the process misjudge the nature of a particular war because of the knowledge and information deficiency it suffered having listened and believed to a reporter who helped shaped their opinion about the nature of war.

During the reporting of the Iraq war, many members of the press who are citizens of countries that are in alliances with the US who fought Iraq would have easily sold the idea that the nature of the Iraq war is merely the antagonizing of a country against a smaller country for economic gain or because they are fueled by the vision of a madman that the US hanged later on. The act of war is an open act of military aggression designed to hurt or kill the civilians and force the government of Kuwait to yield to the demands of Iraq (BBC, 2006).

But during the duration of the war reporting on the Iraq war, was there any news agency that focused on the real intentions of Iraq and help manipulate the opinion of the people that Iraq is the one that is unduly receiving acts of aggression from countries which do not have a more moral or more sufficient grounds to justify their actions and their participation in this particular armed conflict?

During the Vietnam War, was the US portrayed as mere war mongers that took part in an armed conflict that does not concern them simply because of the desire to show and flex global military muscle and use the Vietnam military actions to send a caveat to the rest of the world that the US is not the country they want to mess with, even at the expense of sending soldiers that died in vain while some contributed to the extensive pillaging, rape and destruction of Vietnam – the classic nature of war manifested by the undertaking of bad actions versus fellow human beings.

Since the time that men were able to display a collective and concerted effort hat features aggression and intent to kill – the waging of a war – the wars that happened in human history have been motivated by different reasons. Historians and chroniclers were already undertaking the tasks now left to the care of modern day war journalists and correspondents even before the time that the idea of modern day reporting is not yet created and established.

Although these kind of war reporters are not yet equipped with the technology to enable them to broadcast or reach the number of audience that the modern day mass media is capable of, they resorted to other data keeping and management. They write and paint on the walls, they integrate wars on their literature, and they pass the stories of war through oral tradition from one generation to another.

Even during this time, bias in war reporting is exercised, although they may not be aware of it or they do not yet have the moral responsibility for fairness in reporting – journalism, after all, along with its tenets and foundation, is established long after the battles of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar were fought and won.

The nature of war has not changed much today – the reasons for going to war is still pretty much the same as during the times when soldiers use bows, arrows and swords instead of missiles, guns and grenades. Some wars are fought because of political disputes, while others were fought largely because of the strong dislike of global leaders with one another.

War and the reporting of humanity – During the duration of the reporting of an ongoing war, most war correspondents put extensive efforts in reporting of not just the exchange of gunfire and missiles but also about the effects of war on the civilians and their lifestyle and how the coming of war has changed it. Almost all of the countries where actual battle happened experienced extensive devastation, and most war reports focus on these hardships as an appeal for the ending of the war and to inform the rest of the world about the harsh realities of war.

These reports on the effects of war on the civilians and the resulting ill-effects that war brought upon the civilians often becomes the rallying point for non-government organizations to organize relief operations in conflict-stricken areas; some can only express sadness, horror and grief over the predicament of those caught in the crossfire, the images being fed to television screens and on the front pages of the newspapers and on Internet websites (Kishan, et. l. , 2003, pg 177). The aspect of humanity in war reporting is one of the few types of war reporting that is bereft of bias and discrimination; often, the compassion stems from sympathizing to fellow humans who suffer by being caught in a war they do not wish to have in the first place (Perren, 2005). Reporters talk about starving children, about women who are being raped and men who are being executed.

They talk about burning villages, about the destroyed crops and livestock, of institutions that fail to function completely because of the eruption of war. They talk about the dead, most of them were not even buried because the rest of those who are alive are fleeing the location of conflict; they talk about the short term and long term effects of the violence of war on children – physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, they talk about wounds, some would never heal even with the passing of time and the inevitable ending of the war.

The reporting of war with focus on humanity is not geared at achieving any political gains, save for the ending of the armed conflict and the opening of lines where help towards those who are victimized by the war can pass through. Because of the absence of bias and discrimination in war stories that focus on story angles with a linchpin on sensitivity towards the assault on humanity made by the effects of war, these articles communicate more effectively towards its target audience.

While these news reports may not elicit the feeling of patriotism among those who managed to be exposed in such types of war reports, these stories enhance feelings which are greater and more universal than patriotism – love, caring, compassion and mercy (Harper, 2008). But equally alarming is the fact that while reporters undertake the tasks of letting the world see the misery of the people affected by war through their reports that focus on humanity, some people actually do not take this kind of action very kindly.

Knightley (2001) quoted a reporter who believes that the reason why the war correspondents are being shot at even when identifying themselves as non-members of any of the forces engaging in armed exchange, war correspondents still earned the ire of some of the people in the belief that in the effort to report the state of human life in the area, they are acting like ‘leeches sucking away at their misery’ (Knightley, 2001). War and the media – The outbreak, progression, end, effect and result of war is one of the most important news materials ever since journalism began.

This is the case because war is a concern to almost everyone – it affects the different aspects of social life, including the economic, religious and political facet of everyday life. War affects those who are directly involved in wars as much as those who are not directly involved in the conflict. War results to hunger, rape, murder, pillaging; it is one of the many causes of the loss of homes, culture, lifestyle, art, industry and human life (Institute for War and Peace Reporting).

War adds to the different kinds of pollution as it contributes to the destruction of different ecosystem thriving in the planet. War is a business to some, an event that allows them to earn money at the expense of these terrible after effects. It is because of these significances of war that makes war something which elicit interest among individuals coming from different social sectors. Because of this, the television, radio, print and the Internet press are all always hot on the heels especially in the recent development of a war happening in any part of the globe.

But as journalism and war moved forward with a relationship characterized by a relatively peaceful coexistence (save for the few isolated cases of violence directed to the members of the press working as war reporters and war correspondents), politics somehow managed to mesh itself with how journalism and the reporting of war was undertaken. Soon, there were those theorizing about the probability of the existence of bias when it comes to war reporting.

There was even a reference about the bias in reporting in a popular work of fiction, indicating that the reporting of war came to a point that what matters to those who present the news is not anymore about the truth and about what has happened and what is happening, but more importantly, about what news that the higher echelon of the society may find something as appealing to their senses as well as to their own interests.

In the movie Full Metal Jacket directed by acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick, the lead character Sergeant James T. Joker” Davis (played by Matthew Modine), during his stint as a war correspondent during the Vietnam War, was instructed by his assignment editor Lieutenant Lockhart (played by John Terry) to present his news stories in a way that will create more positive publicity for the war effort in Vietnam, even if it means mentioning bogus and imaginary Vietcong soldiers killed by US soldiers during skirmishes, a move that was obviously disliked by Joker but is something that he cannot do anything about.

Those who believe that theories about how the media today is being used so that publicity can be given to a certain war effort in favor of a group or an institution follows the same thinking – that support and justification for war can be achieved by letting the people know of things that can influence their state of mind and opinion, especially about things that they do not have any means of disproving, with those scheming on this type of strategy owing it to the greater good, that the act of lying to the people is an act that will be justified by its outcome, while some explains that these little acts of padding the truth and exaggerating news stories is done to improve the state of patriotism and to elicit support from the people (Whitehead, et. , al. 2004, pg 93). Regardless of the reason, war is not the first to tempt news and news reporting towards using its influence and power to manipulate public opinion and belief.

Even without war, the practice of selective news presentation, exaggeration of stories, emphasis on particular story angles and other acts to distort and manipulate the state of truth in the minds of the people is a practice done in other field, especially by entities who are involved in the inner politics of different institutions – military, education, social welfare, law enforcement, election and public office, healthcare, etc. The sometimes twisted relationship between the media and war is no different from how other institutions and social events manipulate the opinion and belief of the people based largely on the influence of the media towards the shaping of opinion and belief.

Because of the complexity of the nature of war and the extent of the involvement of top brass individuals which cannot be easily accessed by anyone, it is hard to disprove news materials as much as it is hard to prove that there are serious cases of misinformation, information manipulation and exaggeration when it comes to war and how the media acts upon such event through the motions dictated by their line of work. Still, it is important to remind the people that the world now is not naive to such acts of manipulation and information control in the reporting of war. Allan and Zelizer, writing the Rules of Engagement for the book Reporting War: Journalism in Wartime, quotes BBC war correspondent Katie Adie, ‘ saying that ‘the principles of reporting are put to a severe test when your nation goes to war. To who are you true?

To the principles of abstract truth or to those running the war machine; to a frightened or perhaps belligerent population, to the decisions of the elected representatives in a democracy, to the exclusion of the dissenting minorities, to the young men and women who have agreed to put their lives at risk on the front-line? Or are you true to a wider principle of reasoning and questioning, asking why they much face the risk? Let me put the question with stark simplicity; when does a reporter sacrifice the principle of the whole truth to the need to win the war? ‘ (Allan, et. al. , 2004, pg3). War reporting: The nature of bias and why it is natural – When a reporter finds himself or herself inside the intricate web created by the undertaking of war in a global setting, he or she can easily notice the fact that the truths and the facts surrounding a war are all very big, blurry and confusing.

In the process of making sense about things, the reporter often unknowingly trespasses the boundaries that war reporters should always be conscious of every time, making war reporting a beat that is not as ordinary as other perceive it. War reporters end up being confused about the ideals of militarism and patriotism and about other different things. Most often, the question is this – the news report is something which is someone else’s gain during war. The reporter now is just responsible for making sure that the only gain either camp can expect from such news story is a gain in popularity because of the war and the resulting criticisms that will follow the proponents of war.

Boyd-Barrett (Allan, et. al. 2004, pg 25) argues that war reporting as a genre ‘plays into the hands of power and this nowhere is more apparent than the media’s failure to identify the metanarrative or grand strategies that explain the links between different wars over extended period of time’ (Allan, et. al. , 2004, pg 25). According to Boyd-Barrett, the media is itself a casualty in war reporting because the essence of the media and its role in mass communication and in the dissemination of the truth is ‘killed’ during war because according to the author, the reporting of war is commonly done in a way that constitutes bias and discrimination favoring the party that is more influential in the war at question.

Boyd-Barrett adds that ‘in effect, therefore the genre of war reporting serves a propaganda purpose. Its generic character has been exploited by state and other propagandists in ways that cripple the capacity of media consumers to make useful sense of the world’ (Allan, et. , al. , 2004, pg 25). The dent in the practice in the reporting of news regarding the progress and effect of war is not just focus on the bias being place by the reporter, editor or the news organization upon a certain news material or issue. Another equally important problem in the fairness of the reporting of the war stories is the attitude of the reporters and top brass editors regarding what to report and what to disregard (John, 2006, pg 81).

Usually, the reasons that are being considered do not include truthfulness, timeliness and significance, rather, the expected attitude of the readers towards it (are the readers not interested anymore, will it create a reaction that the news agency do not like, are there other considerations that the agency is considering like the preferences of corporate sponsors etc). When this attitude is infused in the selection of stories and in the picking of what to report and what to throw in the dustbin, the editor is already being irresponsible and is already moving away fro the duty he swore to undertake – the reporting of the truth. If the truth is that one Iraqi civilian was killed during a shootout, then it shoot be reported even if it means that these may result to an outcry and feeling of indignation that the country cannot risk experiencing.

Some may say that this attitude is highly idealistic, but the start of corruption and bias in the reporting profession is once the reporter and editor starts to make other considerations other than what is ideal. This ideology, in fact and all the more, should be maintained despite the very difficult situation that reporters face when undertaking their jobs inside hostile and volatile conflict areas. Boyd-Barrett notes that ‘Reporting war, especially combat, has always been typically dangerous, demanding great resourcefulness in gathering and transmitting information. Journalists may unthinkingly subscribe to or knowingly comply with the objectives, ideologies, and perspectives of one of another side to a conflict’ (Allan, et. al. , pg 26).

Some war correspondents who believes in the indignity of the war placed upon his or her own country of origin cannot help but put a noticeable tinge of bias in his or her news reporting, either by directly reporting about it, by insinuating the justification for such indignation or by providing news that shape the view and opinion of the viewers similar to how the reporter feels about the nature of the war. This act cannot be easily tagged as bias reporting, and yet, the absence alone of the voice of one of parties involved in the conflict is biased reporting already. The gravity of the sin of disparity now lies in the personal motivation of the reporter, something which is rather very difficult to prove, since news reports also pass through the editor, who provides his or her approval of the story before it is printed or broadcasted. War reporting: How is it done? – War reporting is like any other beat reporting.

But while it may sound easy and manageable at the very least based from the idea that war correspondence is similar to beat reporting, Stuart and Zelizer were both quick to clarify that ‘war reporting… constitutes a litmus test of sorts for journalism more broadly. While the role of war correspondent has long been associated with a certain romantic lore, in actuality it is beset by an array of problems associated with allegiance, responsibility, truth and balance. Such problems arise from time to time in the daily implementation of ordinary, everyday modes of journalism, of course, but their apparent lack of easy resolvability in wartime poses challenges that raise questions about the practice of journalism in more forms that just reporting the war’ (Allan, et. al. , 2004, pg 3).

Editors from the different media entities send their reporters to the closest possible location wherein they are close to the area of conflict while at the same time close and in touch with the different individuals whom they need to interview for information, feedback and quotes, usually high ranking military officers and government officials who have a direct participation in the war. There is sense of excitement, thrill and even the feeling of exclusivity that comes with being granted the right to cover war as a journalist since not everyone can do it on a whim – for one, wars are not as often as robbery or holdup that a police beat reporter gets a load of during his or her career as a police beat reporter, and two, most news organizations send their best reporters in the field for this kind of assignment.

Knightley writes that despite the risks of death, injury and the high level of post trauma stress disorder presented by the job, many individuals still pursue the career of being war journalists and war reporters because of many reasons, including the fulfillment of the duty to act as source of information that many people need, the sense of adventure and because many considers this job as the ‘quick path to fame and fortune’ (Knightley, 2001). And yet, this privilege comes with a high price and the cost of it is the surrendering of your chances are returning home alive to the whim or turn of Fate. According to Allan and Zelizer, journalists who are sent to cover war should be prepared to take the risk of being killed when covering war and doing war stories and accept the fact that even when in that predicament, the reporter is not a hero, that being a reporter witnessing and chronicling war as it happens is something that ‘is of our own choosing’ (Allan, et. al. , 2004, pg 4).

The same opinion was aired by Al-Ghalib (2004), who believes that because of the level of risk and danger that a war reporter is facing, he or she is responsible for minding his or her own safety at all times, a state of mind which is relative since war correspondents attune themselves to the scare factor when it comes to the possibility of being injured or getting killed while covering war. Al Ghalib explains that war correspondents experiences being ‘accustomed to the constant presence of danger’ (Al-Ghalib, 2004) that dictates how a reporter would define a day as being terrifying and being a relatively normal experience – those new to the experience would pick would pick the former while those who managed to adjust to the risk and danger would pick the latter. Most war correspondents are given particular story angles to develop and report back, as well as the time frame allotted for these story angles.

Television, radio and Internet reporters sometimes provide an hourly update, especially during the start of the war or during the important stretches of the war (i. e. undertaking of key assault, capture of important leader, the nearing end to the conflict, etc). Reporters for print are given deadlines and are expected to submit the best and comprehensive story that they can come up given the time frame allotted for them. Sometimes a media center is set up so that information coming from different offices and agencies can be forwarded to just one location and everyone can be made aware of such developments, usually done through the sending of press releases.

Some reporters are contented on monitoring the press releases and the press center communication lines for the latest news, while others go out and interview different people in search of a better story angle that is exclusive to the reporter or in search of an entirely new story angle which the reporter can develop. Technology played an important part in how war reporting is undertaken. During the World War II, the reporting of the development of war coming from the European Theater of Operation (ETO) took quite sometime (Roth 1997, 298), unlike today when satellite feeds, telephone patches, emails and Blackberries are available so that war reporting is faster and more real time, the action being reported from the scene as it happens.

During the time that the reporter is assigned in an area suffering from armed conflict or full scale war, he or she is expected to exercise the principles that she learned in school while being taught the proper and correct tenets of journalism (Balguy-Gallois, 2004, pg 3). But because war is in itself a being that has the power to change and influence even the most unbiased and unperturbed individual, reporters and the news that they bring is often, appreciated, assessed and gauged with its objectivity already suffering serious dents caused by the doubts of those who listen, see or read the news and feels that the news about war is generally one-sided, if not all together bias.

Either one of the two parties (Editors and Reporters) involved in the armed conflict do not have existing connections and liaisons with the press that is why the news stories focus on the development on one side of the conflict or the reporter himself/herself has developed his or her own opinion already about the war and acts upon his or her own judgment and accord, as a result of how war impressed upon the reporter new truths, new paradigm and new practices that is necessary and unavoidable during war. As Allan and Zelizer explained, the reporter, once ‘confronted with the often horrific realities of conflict’ throws any possibilities or chances of being a ‘distant, remote and unaffected’ reporter ‘out of the window in a hurry’ (Allan. , et al. , pg 3).

Protocols on war reporting: Why is it important? War correspondents follow a certain protocol when undertaking the tasks of reporting during times of war, particularly because of two important reasons – safety and integrity in the delivery of the news. The Geneva Convention outlines a particular protocol especially for journalists to protect them from hostilities during their coverage of war. Before the era of media-targeting and before the time when the media was still not considered as very ideal targets for soldiers of warring groups, war correspondents follow dress codes to help in their identification so that they are not accorded the level of hostility and aggression reserved towards members of the enemy unit. Knightley notes about the particular color of the outfit of war correspondents reporting during the American Civil War (Knightley, 2001).

Today, the protocol is not to identify one’s self as an unarmed individual representing a media entity but to embed one’s self in a military unit and wear the same camouflage vests and helmet as the unit does so that he will not be mistaken as the enemy and be shot at by the same unit he was with in the first place. There were also other official protocols that some consider as very time consuming and very bureaucratic like the sending of letters of request to join armed troops in a military movement and to film particular military actions. Because of the fact that this particular protocol hampers the ability of the reporter, some war reporters risk injury or death by not following war reporting protocols and in the process places not just their lives but the lives of other people as well in harm’s way (Pilger, 2003, 122). Conclusion – War reporting cannot be patriotic simply because the goal of journalism is the identification of unbiased truth.

Journalism is not a tool which should not be used for the gains of a country or a state, and that includes using it to rally people and stir patriotic emotions. Most of the time, countries are guilty of war crimes, and it is the job of the reporter to let his or her audience know about this misdeed, even if it was the reporter’s own country which is guilty of such crime. Journalism cannot be patriotic because it cannot and will not take sides in a conflict; it is designed as an avenue which both parties can use evenly so that they can air their sides and in the process be heard by the people. The only value that journalism knows, may it be during war time or peacetime, is fairness and impartiality, and patriotism is not consistently synonymous to any of the two aforementioned values.

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