Its An Operational Environment Media
There is abundance of literature explaining the crucial role of media in influencing the public opinion and thus the government policies. Agenda setting theory (McComb and Shaw 1972), parameter setting, indexing and Gate Keeping theory (Kurt Lewin, 1947) put forth some of the most important aspects of media influence. Moreover, the introduction of the new technology increased the potential of the media's impact. In the words of Piers Robinson, "it transformed the potential of the news media to provide a constant flow of global real time news." (Robinson, Piers; The CNN Effect: The Myth of news, Foreign Policy and Intervention; p.7; 2002; Routledge; Abingdon). It became increasingly possible to report the major media event instantaneously. In this context, an increased impact of mass media on public opinion and policy making became a significant question of study. To quote Soderlund, Briggs and Hildebrandt from 'Humanitarian crises and intervention: reassessing the impact of mass media', "media do indeed influence public opinion to a significant extent, including, at the extreme, the CNN effect." They further add, "Decision makers can actually lose control of the policy process to powerful television images."This essay would therefore discuss the role of mass media in driving intervention during humanitarian crisis. In order to study the impact of the news coverage during humanitarian crisis, CNN effect - which defines media driven intervention will be explored and discussed with apt examples. The main aim of the essay would be to discuss what can be regarded as CNN effect and to what extent can media influence, policy decisions during humanitarian crises. While discussing the CNN effect, the most popular example of Somalia would be discussed. The next step would include comment on the relevance of the CNN effect especially after the events of 9/11.The Essay would finally conclude by drawing an interpretation of the role of mass media in humanitarian crisis.The CNN Effect:It could be said that media started shaping the policy agenda since the time of Iraq and Somalia crisis in 1991 and 1993 respectively where it drove the US government towards humanitarian intervention. It was argued that journalists were freer to cover the stories they wanted. Such an impact of the media has been termed as CNN Effect.Talking in the context of humanitarian intervention in Somalia in 1992, George Kennan explained CNN effect. In Kennan's words, "media coverage of suffering people in Somalia had usurped traditional policy making channels, triggering an ill thought out intervention (Robinson (2002); The CNN Effect: the myth of news, foreign policy and intervention; p.10; London; Routledge). The placement of troops in Somalia by President Bush after seeing the picture of starving refugees was highly questioned in order to assess the CNN effect. In simple terms, CNN effect can be explained as a theory that suggests compelling images of human crises forces the policy makers to intervene in situation that is otherwise not in their national interest.A wide variety of scholars have tried to assess the extent of the working of CNN effect. Different scholars and theorists with a wide range of perspectives and methodologies have arrived at different interpretations of the working of CNN effect.Steven Livingston in 'Clarifying the CNN Effect: An examination of media effects according to type of Military Intervention' suggests three different perspectives towards the understanding of the working of CNN effect. He states, that the CNN effect can be explained as a policy agenda setting agent, an impediment to the achievement of the desired policy goals and lastly, as an accelerant to policy decision making. Taking up media as an accelerant, Livingston explains that post cold war, the technological development increased media's potential to deliver news instantaneously. This caused acceleration in the policy making process as the media reports demanded an instant analysis from the policy makers. As Livingston explains, even before the policymakers could gather information on the event and assess the matter, the correspondent was there to ask for their opinion on it. This also had an impact on the State department. In the words of Livingston, "the State Department was completely cut out from the scene because till the time the desk officer framed a report it was already too late." (Livingston, Steven (1997); 'Clarifying the CNN Effect: An examination of media effects according to type of Military Intervention', p.6; Harvard College) For instance, even today when some event takes place, within seconds the 24 hour news channels have the whole report prepared with an analysis of who to hold responsible for the situation and the assessment of the immediate action taken.Moving on to, Media as an impediment, Livingston explains that media related policy impediment works in two ways, as an 'emotional inhibitor' and as a threat to 'operational security.' This could be said to be the most important element of influence in the time of crisis. Media news package with pictures of human suffering spread all over can be said to have the strongest influence.Lastly, he explains CNN effect talking in terms of media as agenda setting agents. There is no dearth of literature to prove the agenda setting function of the media. The way in which media reports an issue, to a larger extent decides how much attention would that issue attract in the policymaking circles. In other words, media lists the priority issues for the policymakers to follow. Media reports aren't the only factor working towards this but they have a larger role to play. For instance, an extensive media report on 6 people dying in a gas leak in a city might attract more attention than 100 people dying of a communicable disease in the village. Due to the extensive media coverage and follow up on the issue, the policymakers would be forced to take an action towards the first incidence in order to go with the popular voice of the media and the public opinion.The conceptual approach undertaken by Mermin (1997) and Livingston and Eachus (1995) look at CNN Effect as a question of political control. (Robinson (2002); 21) These researchers treat the CNN effect as responsible of setting news agenda rather influencing policymakers. In the words of Robinson, these researchers treat CNN effect to work, if "non elites are setting the agenda" and "not to exist if elites are setting the agenda." Their research does not treat the case of Somalia as the working of CNN Effect. This can be well noted when Mermin (1997), concludes that if it is observed that media brought Somalia on the television and drove the policymakers to think about intervention in the humanitarian crisis, it should also be noted that it was brought on television in the first place by the "powerful, outspoken allies in Washington, whose efforts to get Somalia on the news have been indispensible." Explained in simple terms, what these researchers want conclude is that if the journalist started reporting Somalia on their own, then it would have been the media setting the agenda for the policy makers. But if the government officials or the bureaucrats discussed the issue before it was reported, then in that case the media relies on elites sources and is 'passive' and 'non influential'. However, the major drawback one can find out in their research is that they concentrate only on the news sources i.e. elite or non-elite and not the media coverage which is the most important aspect to analyse the working of CNN effect. Another point in discussion is that the analysis of Livingston and Eachus (1995) appeared before the intervention actually took place. Therefore, the researchers analysed the CNN effect only on the basis of 'Operation provide help' which was a relief operation for Somalia crisis.As stated by Susan L. Carruthers in 'Media at war', to an extent the strong CNN effect is related to 'uni-linear media influence'. (Robinson (2002); 40). This explains that the media influences the policy makers to choose to intervene in the crises, if they think that the media coverage might be positive. They act keeping in mind the advantages the future media coverage might fetch for them. The other way round they might even chose not to interfere if they think that the media coverage would be negative.This can be closely linked to the explanation of CNN Effect by Livingston and Riley (1999). They explain that the media affects the policy makers when the policy makers are personally affected by the media coverage. They are forced to act not with the aim of changing the political policy but with the aim of protecting their own image in front of the flashing cameras of the media. However, this is labelled as a weak CNN Effect as this can only affect the policymaker to act for personal reasons rather than changes in the policies. The hypotheses put forth by Livingston and Riley does not hold true in horrendous situations. For instance, the horrifying 9/11 attacks not even a single policymaker would be able to think of personal gains and coverage in media amongst such a shocking situation. This suggests that the media has little role to play in driving intervention during humanitarian crises.Robinson developed a Policy interaction model to describe the CNN Effect. According to Robinson, there are two significant factors shaping the media impact on foreign policy. These are policy uncertainty and media framing. Policy uncertainty refers to the presence of 'undecided', 'no' or 'wavering' policy. (Robinson (2002); p 26-27) Taken individually, undecided policy implies the presence of an unstable policy. No policy simply means, that there exists no policy on a particular issue and when the media report such an issue, policymakers are clueless on how should they react. And finally, wavering policy implies that there appear a lot of changes in the policy due to lack of attention and commitment from the policymakers' side. On the other hand, Policy certainty implies the presence of a well defined and well documented policy. Therefore it can be said, higher the policy certainty, lesser the impact of media.Robinson discusses two forms of media framing that pressurize the government to follow the policy of non intervention - distance framing and support framing. By distance framing he implies the "the style of coverage that creates emotional distance between the audience and the people suffering in the conflict." (Robinson (2002); p 28) The second form of media framing driving the policy of non intervention is support framing, which dissuades the government policy. The media coverage that drives intervention during humanitarian crises, according to Robinson, focuses on the victims facing the crises. Media coverage of this kind doesn't focus on any political or social issues. The journalist giving such a report would plan the story in such a style that it just shows the suffering of the people. The report will portray the people as helpless victims who require immediate relief.In his Policy-Interaction model, Robinson categorizes the CNN Effect as Strong CNN Effect and Weak CNN Effect. According to him, the CNN Effect works strongly when the media coverage significantly influences the policy process and the media reports are sustained over a number of days. A weak CNN Effect as described by Robinson is when, the media influences a particular politician and not the policy making process. In other words, the policy maker exerts action to save his own image and not for policy. And, it is quite clear that in such a situation, media coverage cannot drive intervention. He doesn't see Acceleration as a strong CNN effect as he says that it just fastens the media process and doesn't actually influence the policy.Robinson's explanation of the CNN effect is thorough as compared to the rest and the claims that he makes are more reliable. The theory seems more applicable as he based his theory not just on interview based research but included archival material. He also relied on the analysis of the media content and framing. It cannot be said that CNN Effect is the only factor that works towards driving the policymakers to take a decision to intervene but the two factors that he suggests, i.e. policy uncertainty and media framing go a long way in influencing the policymakers towards a decision of intervention.Working of CNN Effect - Analysing the case of Somalia:One of the most significant political issues for the US government in 1992 was the Somalia Crisis. There were three stages of the operation in the Somalia crisis. The first stage was 'Operation Provide Relief'- where the main aim was to provide relief through airlift to the starving population of the collapsed State of Somalia. The second stage started with the deployment of 28000 US troops in December 1992 and was named as 'Operation Restore Hope'. Finally with the election of Clinton, the operation moved to its third stage - Withdrawal of all US troops.Initially, the US government decided not to intervene in the Somalia crisis but soon after the intense media coverage of the famine struck state, pictures of people starving to death and armed conflict, the government decided in November to intervene in order to provide relief to citizens through airlift.
To quote Jon Western, from 'Sources of Humanitarian Intervention; Beliefs, Information, and Advocacy in the U.S. Decisions on Somalia and Bosnia.' - when the meeting of United States national security council took place, it had three options to consider:
(1) Increasing U.S. financial and material support for the current UN peacekeeping forces in Somalia
(2) Coordinating a broader UN effort in which the United States would provide logistical support but no ground troops
(3) Initiating a U.S.-led multinational military intervention in Somalia.
After the consideration of the three options, the US government made an announcement of intervention. However what exactly have the troops got to look after wasn't made clear.
While specifically looking at media coverage, it can be observed that the media did actually report the crisis in Somalia. The intensified coverage of the famine struck State and the armed conflict brought the issue to the priority list of the government. However, one cannot help but agree with Robinson, when he says that the news coverage heightened after the declaration to intervene by George Bush senior. To put it in the words of Warren Stroble in 'Late-Breaking Foreign Policy: The News Media's Influence on Peace Operations', the media coverage followed the announcement and not vice versa. Even when the Operation Restore Hope started and was on the pathway of success, there was no media coverage. But in 1993, as soon as military faced troubles, the media was back on its foot. The media reported each and every casualty with horrifying images. The video images of a kidnapped, beaten soldier and a dead US airman been dragged through the streets with the people cheering was the most horrifying event that the media lenses captured. The news channel showed polls that didn't support the decision to intervene. As Livingston explains, the media acted as an impediment to the policy of intervention which finally called for a policy change. As Robinson puts it, the words used by the media coverage became critical and distancing. (Robinson (2001); 949) Thus, with the election of Clinton came the decision of withdrawal of all troops from Somalia. This happened as the media reflected the support of the public for the operation, which fell after the viewers were choked when they witnessed the horrifying images and listened to the critical news narratives.9/11 - Did CNN effect work?
9/11 attacks completely changed the global scenario. It changed the way US looked at its foreign policy. Immediately after the attacks, the President declared a 'War on Terror' soon after the declaration; US marched to the battlefield to fight wars with Afghanistan and Iraq labelling them as States breeding terrorism. The suffering of the victims of 9/11 and the repeated telecast of the image of the hijacked plane crashing into the Twin Towers dominated the whole scene.
To start with, the situation in Iraq's situation was not so worse that a humanitarian intervention was required. When compared to the earlier cases of Somalia crisis, the case of calling for intervention in Iraq seems to be very weak. The horrendous attacks changed the scenario to such an extent that intervention seemed a helping hand offered by another State, not to provide relief and rescue but for forwarding one's own national interest. Everything was portrayed in such a manner that it seemed as if the people in Iraq were suffering under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Negativity floated around Saddam Hussein's description in the media. He was shown as a leader breeding terrorism in his own State and working against the welfare of people and that the people of Iraq need to be liberated. To quote Robinson from 'The CNN Effect Revisited', "the war on terror has pushed humanitarian concerns down." He aptly remarks, "The question of humanitarian intervention has been subservient to U.S. objectives aimed at containing and eliminating the al-Qaeda network." (Robinson, Piers (2005) 'The CNN Effect Revisited', Critical Studies in Media Communication, 22: 4, 344-349). War on terror was used as an excuse to justify the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by the British and the American policymakers. They always portrayed that these nations posed a security threat as they possessed the weapons of mass destruction.
Taking the explanation of CNN effect from the perspective of Robinson's Policy interaction model, we look at policy certainty and media framing as two factors proving the working of CNN effect. The announcements made by the Bush administration, made it pretty clear that the government was well decided and well planned on what to do and when to frame a particular policy. There was no lack of attention or commitment on the part of the government official. This fact is embedded in the invasion of Iraq that came quickly after the declaration of the war on terror. That is to say, the government had all planning in place and it was definitely not the media influencing or accelerating the decision. Going by Robinson's principle - higher the policy certainty, lesser the influence - one can conclude that the CNN effect was weak in this case.
The government also made sure that they provided loads of information on the issues they wanted to become the primary agenda and not what media sets. Thus, in a way the government completely managed the media. The media coverage never gave away any hints of anti war sentiment. A study was conducted by Sean Adey, Steve Livingston, and Maeve Herbert in 2005 in order to analyse the media coverage. They concluded that largely the reportage was objective. Media did not put forth the audience any bloodshed, the reports were mostly about justification of invasion of Iraq, talks about the security threats, the plan and policies ahead. For American viewers in particular, the portrait of war offered by the networks was a sanitized one free of bloodshed, dissent, and diplomacy but full of exciting weaponry, splashy graphics, and heroic soldiers. (Adey, S., Livingston, S., & Herbert, M. (2005). Embedding the truth: A cross cultural analysis of objectivity and television coverage of the Iraq War. Press/Politics, 10, p.18)
Another interesting observation that Robinson makes in the context of 9/11 is, initially during the time of cold war, an ideological bond existed between the journalists and the government as both opposed communism. As Robinson, puts it in 'The CNN effect revisited', this anti communism has been replaced by 'war on terror' and thus the ideological bonding remains intact which accounts for further weakening of the CNN effect.Concluding thoughts:
Just after the images of a kidnapped, beaten soldier and a dead US airman been dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, were flashed across the television screens , a decision was taken by the Clinton administration to withdraw all troops from Somalia. Looking at just this aspect of the whole crisis, one would conclude that US intervention in Somalia crisis was driven by media but that would be an oversimplification of the media influence.
While policy un/certainty and media framing, the key points of the policy interaction model proposed by Robinson, do explain the media influence, however, these alone cannot drive a nation towards intervention. CNN effect can be read as one factor influencing the policymakers to take such a decision but it certainly isn't the only factor. Media, at the best can bring certain issues on the priority list of the government. Intervention, as Livingston puts it," is not because of the media influence but also because the nation can see other chances of success." Thus, it's never the media alone, though it is one of the most important elements in the combination driving the policymakers towards intervention during humanitarian crisis.
Article name: Its An Operational Environment Media essay, research paper, dissertation