The recent conference, Media and War: Challenging the Consensus, highlighted the need to challenge media narratives promoting misleading information in the public sphere
Controversy and criticism are regular bedfellows in debates surrounding the media and they were just as present at the ‘Media and War: Challenging the Consensus’ conference which took place on Saturday 17 November 2012. Co-hosted by Stop The War Coalition, Sage Publications, and Goldsmiths University of London, it was a meeting of minds which included contributions from John Pilger, Rizwaan Sabir and Chris Nineham.
Des Freedman of Goldsmiths’ Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy introduced the objective of challenging the consensus surrounding the reporting of war by British and Western media outlets. This took place against a backdrop of escalating violence within the Gaza Strip and representations of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as the recent intervention in Libya.
Speakers attempted to address whether coverage of the War on Terror (WOT) served the military or the public. Michelle Stanistreet, National Union of Journalists (NUJ) General Secretary, explained what she saw as the rise in pro-war media narratives in the wake of 9/11. In the build-up to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, only 1 of 175 Murdoch-owned outlets worldwide published anything not in favour of military action, according to Stanistreet’s research. She pointed to the distinct lack of critical voices within mainstream media, particularly as journalists often have to tow an editorial line, with those failing to meet these expectations facing disciplinary action or threat of summary dismissal.
Former Associate Foreign Editor for The Guardian, Victoria Brittain, added that her work with war experts – the families of those who had disappeared in Guantanamo and Belmarsh – revealed just how poor a job our media had been doing in picking apart the rhetoric of the WOT. She stated, “I have realised how completely illegal and evil the WOT has been.”
Peter Oborne echoed the sentiments of his co-panellists, highlighting the tactics used by the press to support military force, ranging from jingoistic sentiments of supporting “our boys” no matter what the cost, to more veiled calls to oust “monstrous” dictators a la Saddam, Qaddafi or Assad. The author of Muslims under Siege challenged Stanistreet over the NUJ’s calls for independent regulation of the media, which could potentially put the media into government hands.
Seamus Milne saw room for positivity as he argued that the Left had been completely vindicated in light of the last few years. He pointed out that the arguments and predictions made by Blair, Bush, Rumsfeld and others in the name of democracy and human rights, and in defence of the WOT, had utterly failed to come to fruition. However, it didn’t escape him or any of the audience that this ideological “victory” didn’t translate positively for the countless victims of the bloody blunders which have characterised Iraq and Afghanistan. As the session closed, we were reminded that this conference was mainly preaching to the converted and that the battle of ideas was far from won “out there” – in the outside world.
Conference workshops analysed the rising trend of Islamophobia within the media as well as looking at ways in which the media’s ills can be changed. Both themes were brought together in the final plenary, entitled ‘Humanitarian Interventions: Reframing The War on Terror’.
Shazia Arshad, of the Enough Coalition, introduced the Islamophobia Awareness Month campaign, launched to counter and deconstruct the negative connotations produced by constantly framing Muslims as singular, bad, violent and terrorist.
Professor David Miller underlined websites such as SpinWatch and Wikileaks as being crucial in highlighting the bias of mainstream media outlets and acting as a counterweight to the think tanks and organisations flooding the information environment with manufactured news.
John Pilger emphasised the endemic problems plaguing the press, notably saying that “journalists are not taught to look in the mirror of their own societies.” He pointed out that enquiries such as Leveson acted merely as a distraction, as opposed to offering a vehicle through which to make the media more accountable and that information alone would not change the world. He called for the re-invigoration of the Media Workers Against War campaign to bring to light the fact that mental and physical struggle was needed to counter governments and media organisations which partner them.
The conference ended on the latter note, having underscored the difficulties that journalists face, particularly within mainstream organisations, in challenging the neo-liberal consensus which has become the norm when reporting on conflicts, as well as scrutinising the failure of media coverage to hold the government to account on a raft of issues.
Whilst certainly thought-provoking, the conference failed to create a consensus with regard to finding plausible solutions to the problems identified, perhaps because the range of activists, students and journalists involved occupy diverse and sometimes opposing positions within or without the mainstream of media and society.
Image taken from: http://abdelxyz.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/media-and-war-challenging-the-consensus-event/
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.