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Role Of Media in Times of War

Role Of Media in Times of War

By SamyakPurkait

Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

Iraq, Syria, Palestine (Gaza), Ukraine – what is the common link between all these names? The answer is that all these countries are currently war stricken. There has been intense fighting resulting in hundreds and thousands of casualties, both civilian and military, in these places over the past few months and years. These conflicts have been covered by the media and dished out to us on a platter in the comfort zone of our drawing rooms. While war coverages are nothing new, the advancement of technology, the media coverage, these days, have become so vivid and accurate that it beats any thriller or fiction.

War reporting is a hugely challenging and may be a satisfying job. The job requires the war correspondents to travel to the most conflict-ridden parts of the world and provide written accounts, photos, or film footage from the action theatre.  By the very nature, it is dangerous but may be a rewarding form of journalism. Syria today is reportedly the most dangerous country in the world, a feeding ground for terrorist groups abducting reporters, aid workers and anyone else who dares to cross the border. Many journalists have been killed since the Syrian conflict began.

Depending on the quality of coverage, newspaper sales may increase in wartime and television news ratings go up. Famous personalities like Winston Churchill, Al Gore and Ernest Hemingway were war correspondents. However, the news from the war front is never palatable and the gory pictures splashed across TV screens and newspaper pages hit us hard. While at times there may be some censorship on news, quite often it is a no-holds-barred policy. As a result, we get information which is disturbing in nature. Today’s war machinery is sophisticated and lethal and quite often the conflict zones do not remain demarcated. As a result “their” wars become “ours” and the consequences of wars do not just remain limited to the warring nations. This leads us to question:  where is our civilisation headed?

Among the recent wars, the Persian Gulf War or the Iraq War was marked by the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the U.S. network, CNN. The reporters embedded with the troops provided a coverage the likes of which the world had never seen before.

It is   in this context that we need to understand and question the role of media in the coverage of war. We need to ask ourselves a basic question: is it necessary to cover in detail a gruesome event like a war by the electronic media? Is it necessary to show to the world the nerve shattering images of mutilated bodies of dead and injured children, of women who have lost everything looking vacantly at   destroyed houses? Are the media houses driven only by the profit motive?

One form of argument can be that media helps us get the true story based on which the world community can intervene swiftly to end the conflict. . But then the dangers of any war are known to the civilised society from time immemorial. People read about past wars to know the devastating consequences but even then, almost inescapably the seeds of future wars are sown in the just concluded ones. Faithful reporting, therefore, does not act as a deterrent. Another line of argument that can be put across is that the media coverage of the war encourages terrorist groups like Hamas to carry on fighting. We need to remember that Hamas and other forms of terrorist outfits thrive on publicity and it is the intense media coverage that provides these groups the required publicity that they crave for.

It is also a fact that media coverage brings to the forefront the actual happening of these wars. It helps to unravel the true face of a war. It also helps to bring to the spotlight war crimes and other outrages caused by the war.

But the media houses should act responsibly and wherever necessary, censorship should be applied. A reporter needs to be faithful to his job and not to his boss. Sensibilities of the general public should be respected. We have to remember that atrocities vividly aired by the media will lead to reprisals and will further the conflict. A reporter’s job should not be only to show to the world the events as they unfold but also to analyse the root cause and help achieve a cessation of hostilities first and, then, find a lasting peaceful solution to the issues. Media houses, due to their sheer penetration and power, can do wonders at times of conflict, provided they act with restraint, without being too concerned about the bottom line.

 Samyak is someone with wide variety of interests from social work to politics to sports etc. A fun loving extrovert sort of person, he is always willing to participate in constructive forums which help hone his soft as well as hard skills. A keen observer of political events and always willing to scratch the surface and go deeper into the political actions of politicians.

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