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Reporting the 'War on Terror'
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The second session starts off with Douglas Kellner, presenting on the reporting of the Iraq wars. There has been a move from a fairly tightly controlled pool system in the first Iraq war, where reporters were held to tightly drawn contracts and media corporations sued the Pentagon after the war because of these restrictive measures, to the idea of embeddedness. Embedded UK reporters were found to be just as critical as other reporters and news anchors, but the case was rather different for U.S. reporters - the framing of stories here was very much in line with the intended message of the Pentagon.

In the first Iraq-Kuwait war, CNN was virtually the only Western news outlet which provided direct coverage - and all other outlets fed off the CNN footage. This is markedly different from the present situation, where many U.S.-based and European as well as a good number of Arab news organisations reported on the war. However, coverage in the U.S. still differed strongly from that in other countries, and the first footage of war casualties on CNN was relatively shocking to U.S. audiences who had long been told that bombings were precise and limited in their impact. The language used was also carefully constructed, of course - from the subtle differences between 'war in Iraq' and 'war on Iraq' to the 'Saving Private Jessica' incident to Bush the Lesser's landing on the aircraft carrier.

At the same time, the rise of citizen media must also be acknowledged, and it was from here that the main negative images emerged - from the Abu Ghraib images which U.S. soldiers themselves had taken to the Haritha massacre which was covered by Iraqi journalists on digital cameras and mobile phones and distributed initially without the help of major media networks. This makes managing the media spectacle far more difficult for the political actors.

Challenging the 'War on Terror' Frame

Stephen Reese is the next speaker; his interest is particularly the 'war on terrorism' frame. Scholars have so far examined terrorism in terms of its conflict between nations and insurgents, but the Bush administration has taken a somewhat different approach; journalists have enabled this policy frame by a relatively uncritical acceptance of this approach - especially perhaps in the implicit link between 9/11 and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq which the administration has constructed. The consistent and unthinking use of 'war on terror' rhetoric by journalists has played very directly into the hands of the Bush camp.

This also links to definitions of terror in general. The government definitions tend to exclude state-sponsored terror, and scholars and journalists have largely followed this - terrorists have indeed also been linked with anti-globalisation movements and other opposition to key government policies. Often, the U.S. is also portrayed as a victim thrust into the war on terror, as if there had been no agency on behalf of the administration at all. Stephen has conducted a study of the use of the 'war on terror' and related tropes in public communication - this emerged strongly immediately after 9/11, of course, and peaked again in the Bush vs. Kerry presidential election race. Mostly, 'war on terror' was used in a naturalised fashion here - without quotation marks or other qualifiers (like 'so-called'), and without reference to it as a Bush administration policy: the presence of this 'war' was seen simply as a matter of fact.

Similarly, the presence of fear (of war and/or terrorism) supposedly felt by citizens was removed from the poltical realm and positioned as a natural condition of modern life; terrorism is presented as a natural force, not as problematic in any way. These terms have now become so embedded in the situation that they are unlikely to be taken critically - they have been lifted right out of the political arena.

Reporting War

Howard Tumber is up next, with a paper on war reporters. The context of this is the question of war correspondents coming under direct threat from combattants; where this is the case, what are the motivations of journalists for posting in such dangerous environments? Part of this is related also to the move towards an increasingly informationalised war. (It should also be noted that in addition to the journalists themselves their camera people, drivers and translators are also often directly in the firing line, of course.) Because of the extreme dangers faced by journalists in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, their training has changed in recent years - if captured, they had previously been advised to sit tight and wait for negotiations to release them; today, it is suggested that they take any chance to escape.

Interestingly, war correspondents are the most prolific writers of books reflecting on their journalistic experience, as compared to other journalistic groups. In doing so, they reflect on the conflicts themselves, but also set a standard for future journalists going into conflict situations. It appears that the adrenaline rush of operating in dangerous situations remains one of the key drivers for journalists to operate in such theatres, even if they do not necessarily own up to this themselves.

Performative Reporting

Tamar Liebes now presents on the Israeli experience. She notes that war journalists are traditionally often acting on behalf of their national community, leaving behind their watchdog role, but this is changing somewhat - the new role is a performative role in which journalists are acting as protagonists of their own stories. The objective spectator stance, in charge of turn-taking, was abandoned in favour of an advocate role or a role as investigative reporter; further, action and drama have been valued ever higher, and this then leads to a drive towards performative reporting with authenticity as its highest aim. This has to do in part with advancing technologies of reporting, where print has given way to electronic media, and the move towards more live reporting. Talking rather than writing, improvising rather than reading out are the key modes here.

The transformation of the major networks further plays into this, with CNN as an international and hence probably less patriotic network, for example. The scenes of recent wars become a place for journalistic experimentation - narratives are unending and contaminated on both sites; there are scattered skirmishes on either side, which exposes audiences to a plurality of voices from either side and where there is chaos and cruelty but also suffering and humanity on both sides. Tamar's study analysed such reporting material, where embedded reporters are acting as patriotic mobilisers while those in the no man's land between both sides act in a performative mode and engage with combattants on either side, often going where the fighters do not and providing a stage for the participants on either side.

Crossing the border into the enemy camp and thereby taking risks features the journalists themselves as the heroes of these stories just as much as those they are reporting upon. Journalists are now chasing enemies as much as are the soldiers, and in a situation where right and wrong are no longer consensual, there remains simply a race for finding the most elusive voices and the most extreme situations - yet journalists who do so are attacked by governments by giving a voice to the enemy while embedded journalists are attacked by audiences for lacking indepencence.

Towards Contextual Objectivity?

Adel Talaat Iskandar is up next, offering the idea of contextual objectivity for the assessment of conflict coverage. The journalistic mantra of objectivity is well-established and long-contested, of course - and its impact on war coverage needs to be addressed. There are two steps here: problematising war, and problematising journalism. Adel focusses especially on Al-Jazeera and Fox News and their approaches to objectivity. Fox News, of course, has made a motto out of its supposedly 'fair and balanced' stance, while in the case of Al-Jazeera the idea of objectivity did not have its existing equivalent in Arab journalism in the first place, so that the network first had to establish this idea by introducing an equivalent term.

In order to be perceived as reputable and objective in the Arab broadcasting world, there was a need to take sides to some extent, in fact. This could be seen as a form of contextual objectivity - an idea which represents the day-to-day struggle of journalists especially in conflicted environments. The desire to speak on behalf of one's media organisation and to appeal to audiences means that context becomes the fundamental dimension to delivering news; this can be observed in the case of both Fox News and Al-Jazeera, in fact. This may link to the idea of 'truth', but on a functional level journalists do not operate in this fashion; nonetheless, 'contextual objectivity' remains similarly confliced, and journalists fall onto groups still continuing to pursue the ida of objectivity or already having given up on the aim of reaching this ideal.

What we are heading towards in this argument, then, is a more elaborated discussion of journalistic principles as they pertain to war coverage. Is this imaginary of objectivity still relevant to journalistic practice, or does it need to be rearticulated in a new way?

Citizen Reporting of the London Bombings

The last speaker is Stuart Allan, speaking on citizen journalists' reporting of the London bombings. He begins with a review of some of the citizens' reports of the bombings, and the political rhetoric responding to it. How were the components of a local news story of instant global importance drawn together? The social phenomemon of citizen reporting especially as aided by mobile devices demonstrated its potential to challenge and change the journalistic reporting process. Stuart notes the late James Carey's view that the core purpose of journalism is the report, and the discussion of and challenge to what is taken to be real. The industrial processes of journalism may interfere with this process, however.

What constitutes journalists and journalism, and how reporting works, then? Interestingly, in the immediate journalistic response sites such as BBC News responded to the tension between reporting as soon as possible and making sure that no misinterpretations became established as apparent truths by posting reporters' logs as well as citizen eyewitness accounts and photos; in addition, other London-related sites and Londoners' blogs began posting their own reports and commentaries as well. The significance of participatory journalism is at stake here, and the event significantly challenged the industrial formula of news as well as definitions and ideologies of what constituted citizens, reporters, reports, and the news.

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