For the purpose of this review I have chosen to discuss three separate newspaper articles regarding the war in Iraq. Firstly, I chose an article from ‘The Observer’, entitled ‘Free after 50 years of tyranny’, written by Julie Flint at the beginning of October, 2003. This article was written shortly after the United States (US) and Britain declared victory for the West, but there was still much controversy regarding the legitimacy of partaking in the war.
Flint dismisses Britain’s fears of going to war, indicating the end result has justified the efforts we put forward, and depicts anti-war activists as ignorant; ‘the anti-war lobby has refused to listen to those Iraqis who supported war over continued tyranny.’ (Flint, 2003) She praises ‘the Brits’ and tends to blame US troops for any mistakes that were made. She claims that ‘Western reporters detail, quite properly, the misdeeds, the crimes even, of the occupying forces. But this is only part of the story.’ (Flint, 2003)
The second article, ‘Pentagon was warned of Iraq chaos after war’, was written from New York, by David Teather and was published on October 20th 2003 in ‘the Guardian’. This article discusses a report, which was allegedly released to the Pentagon and US officials before the war, which warned of the danger in invading Iraq in relation to the reconstruction of the country. The article details the accuracy of this report in foreseeing the threats of occupying Iraq, and criticises the Pentagon, and inherently the US, for being ill-prepared; ‘the Pentagon could have been better prepared for the post-war situation’. (Teather, 2003) There is no blame assigned to Britain for this mistake within the article.
The final article I have chosen was published in ‘the Mirror’ on the 11th October, and is titled ‘Was it all worth it?’ This article reports on a memorial service held for ‘Britain’s fallen heroes in Iraq’. There is a focus on the anti-war stance taken in the service, by the Archbishop of Canterbury and family of the ‘fallen heroes’, and the innately awkward position of Tony Blair at the service. ‘Dr John Moses, outspoken Dean of St Paul’s, said earlier: “The backdrop of the service is that the nation is divided on whether we were right to go to war.”‘ (Newton Dunn, 2003)
At face value, these articles all provide reports on three separate, but related, events during the aftermath of the war in Iraq, but it is necessary to take into account certain factors when absorbing media. Bird, (1997: 336), asserts that ‘news offers more than fact – it offers reassurance and familiarity in shared community experiences.’ I believe this is a very important factor when reading any media, as ‘stories’, or articles, will always be influenced and shaped by the intended audience.
This is evident in these three articles. ‘The Mirror’, a tabloid press, appeals to wider society, and in general the less educated, or is read as a source of entertainment for the educated. This paper provides a relatively rebellious article, sensationalised in the text for the readers’ enjoyment, for example they include the blasphemous call of a heckler towards Tony Blair; ‘And a heckler shouted: “You bastard!” at Mr Blair as he left St Paul’s Cathedral.’ (Newton Dunn, 2003) However, the more conservative broadsheets, ‘The Guardian’ and ‘the Observer’, offer comparatively nationalistic, and what appear to be more factual reports, aimed at their well-educated reading audience.
For example both these papers use numerous references to official reports and surveys in their articles. As Thompson explains (in a dated, but still relevant account of ‘how to read a newspaper), (1939: 117), ‘the supply of news print has become a matter of commerce; and the result is that the controllers in effect regard their reader as an automation which will buy a copy if it is made to work in the right way.’ This varied content within the news and media is viewed as healthy for the system, and the British public: ‘In news organisations, conflict, disputes, disagreements are expected and defined as appropriate.’ Different ‘news organisations’ will inevitably hold differing opinions on world events, and this variety within the media provides a range of viewpoints for readers to consider, emphasised through the divergence of these articles.
However, there are further determinants in the diversity of reports on post-war Iraq. Ettema, (1997: 44), states ‘journalists live and work within an encompassing social and cultural context that powerfully and implicitly informs their attempts to make sense of the world. Journalists have no alternative but to draw upon intellectual tools – theory and concept, myth and metaphor – of their place and time in the world.’ For example, if these events had been reported in an alternative country’s media, they would have been reported very differently. This can be seen in the critical references to the US as an agent in the war, as opposed to Britain, ‘critics who argue that the US government has mismanaged the situation.’ (Teather, 2003) Surely if we were to look at American media in the post-war months they would have had alternative scapegoats; we are getting a kind of ‘culturally-acceptable’ truth.
Additionally, journalists find themselves responsible for determining which news is reportable, and which the British public need to hear. ‘Journalists ability to decide what is news has constituted the expertise that distinguishes them from non-reporters. Already by the 1920s, “media professionals had themselves adopted the notion that professionals are more qualified than their audience to determine the audiences own interests and needs” (Tuchman, 1978b, p. 108).’ (Zelizer, 1997: 402)
This is evident in the content of the articles printed in the three separate papers. The tabloid’s main focus within the article is on sensationalising the events, promoting an anti-war attitude, whilst the broadsheets believe their readers to demand further ‘factual’ knowledge, which is given through statistics, details of reports, and quotes from government officials. The determining factor of ‘what is news’ for each paper is different, depending on the audience, so readers of different papers will hear partially different news.
What is significant in both broadsheet articles, and to some extent in the tabloid, is the blame being aimed at the US for the war. Reese, (1997: 424), asserts ‘the news media play an essential role in maintaining the authority of the political system.’ Media reaches the public all across Britain, even without a television or newspaper it travels by word of mouth through conversation. ‘Media reproduce a consistent ideology without being instructed directly by the state.’ (Reese, 1997: 425) Post-war, the British government faced opposition and anger for the war in Iraq, and the blame had to be directed.
The media assisted this direction in repeatedly pointing towards the US; ‘US-led campaign in Iraq’, (Flint, 2003), and ‘the US government has mismanaged the situation.’ (Teather, 2003) Was it not an Anglo-American alliance, led towards Iraq by two leaders, Bush and Blair? Even in ‘the Mirror’s’ article, which is more critical of Britain’s own leader, the aim is to sensationalise the story and provoke thought and discussion. Reeves, (1997:425), states that ‘journalists may frequently conflict with representatives of government and business, but this is a reformist antagonism that does not threaten underlying hegemonic principles.’
Further consideration of media influences inescapably leads to their financial support. ‘The content of the news media inevitably reflects the interests of those who pay the bills. The argument, in other words, is that the financiers – or the paymasters, as we can call them – or the group they represent will not allow their media to publish material that frustrates their vital interests.’ (Altschull, 1997: 259) This possibility of bias must be taken into account when critically analysing any piece of media, but is difficult to establish as the investors are not obviously publicised.
In conclusion, I believe that although these articles provide different accounts of opinions post-war, they all have an underlying meaning, which is the intended unification of British public, in one form or another. The broadsheets intend to restore confidence in the government, by blaming the US for leading us to, and mistakes in, the war, and by insisting that the efforts provided by the British soldiers were indeed worthwhile.
The tabloid, however, aims at creating a unified remembrance for the human element in the war, an element that will touch all groups within society, so appeals to the wider reader. The diversity within these articles is inevitable, as different peoples accounts will always vary, as opinions do, and this cannot be ruled out for journalists. Other forms of bias within the articles can be associated with the financial supporters, the editor of the paper and their individual views and the intended audience of the paper. All of these factors must be considered when analysing any media piece, in order to understand the intended meaning.
Altschull, (1997) Boundaries of Journalistic Autonomy, in Social Meaning of News, Dan Berkowitz, Sage Publications Inc., U.S.A.
Bird, Dardenne, (1997) Myth, Chronicle and Story, in Social Meaning of News, Dan Berkowitz, Sage Publications Inc., U.S.A.
Ettema, Whitney, Wackman, (1997) Professional Mass Communicators, in Social Meaning of News, Dan Berkowitz, Sage Publications Inc., U.S.A.