COMPARINGNEWS COVERAGE ON WAR: MILITARY CONFLICT OF ALEPPO
Comparing News Coverage on War: Military Conflict of Aleppo 3
Background: Theoretical Perspectives in Media Communications 3
Al Jazeera News on Aleppo Military Conflict 5
BBC News on Aleppo Military Conflict, 8
Theoretical Implications 10
Al Jazeera 10
Comparison and Comments 12
ComparingNews Coverage on War: Military Conflict of Aleppo
Themedia are considerably the most critical source of informationrelated to conflicts and politics for many people. Therefore, theypose significant influence on the opinions, perceptions, andbehaviour of the citizens. By providing coverage on certain conflictsand not on others, and by representing the reported conflicts in aspecific manner, the media greatly impact the dynamics and results ofwar, thereby also shaping the expectation of victory of conflictgroups. On that regard, most conflict parties, such as the armedrebels, social movements, and state officials, target to make use ofthe media to promote their objectives by adjusting their actions tothe logic of media undertakings. This paper will critically assessand compare the news coverage by BBC and Aljazeera regarding thecurrent military conflict in Aleppo, Syria. To clearly drawcomparative analysis from the two media institutions above, first abackground on theoretical perspectives regarding media communicationsis needed.
Background:Theoretical Perspectives in Media Communications
Dahlberg(2011: 861) asserted that thereis a general consent that the mass media exercises an influential andpersuasive role during national wars or conflict. Causal to thatconsent is the fact that themedia technology has grown to include the use of films, radios, andpress to get to the audience. Similarly,the arrival of industrialization and urbanization has resulted in asociety that can be easily manipulated. Furthermore, DeFleurand DeFleur (2016) argue that theurbanized populations are rather defenceless from media manipulationbecause they no longer exhibit social networks that are stable andconsiderate of values in a way reminiscent of the traditional ruralcommunities (DeFleurand DeFleur 2016).In tandem with that, Fortnerand Fackler (2011: 331) recalled that mediainfluences on people were clear during the First World War period, inwhich many individuals were brainwashed and the outcome wasrepression in Europe between World War I and World War II. Thatsustained a fairly simple perception of the media as powerfulinstitutions deceiving the otherwise vulnerable and frail public. Inother words, it can be argued that the media release content thatpenetrate deeply into the public, influencing how people behave andview the conflict situation. Hence, a lot of research focuses onmeasuring the depth and magnitude of penetration the mediacommunications have on the inert and passive public ‘casualties.’
Nevertheless,a ten-year empirical study conducted by Klapper in the year 1960indicated that the media, through its contents, has no significantimpact on the public. On that regard, several other empiricalassessments were performed through laboratory experiments andsurveys, and the revelations proved that the public interpreted mediacontents selectively based on earlier predispositions (DeFleurand DeFleur 2016: 167-168).In other words, the empirical studies ended up with the conclusionthat it is the public that manipulates the mass media and not viceversa. However, that view was later criticized by Marxist andneo-Marxist researchers who believed that the power of the media ininfluencing the public could not be overemphasized. Consequently, thetheory of Marxist (Marxism), also known as the critical perspective,points out that the media contributes in bolstering overriding socialvalues and norms that make the social system justifiable. Marxisttradition believes that media, during violence, has far reachingeffects in renewing, rather than creating, the culture of conflictthrough its contents (Fuchsand Mosco 2015).
Underlibertarian model, the press has a role to ensure that the citizensstay informed and entertained, while the federal state is watched toensure that its conducts are in line with democracy. Consequently,the press is allowed to present positive and negative contents as thepublic ruled as capable of discerning what is good and bad from thereports (Fortnerand Fackler 2011).
Anothermodel, known as the social responsibility theory, directs the pressobserve professionalism and ethics in communication. The ownership ofthe media is private and independently controlled based on theavailable codes, standards, and principles, with the press enjoyingfreedom from federal scrutiny. The theory emphasizes that as much asthe media has the liberty to publish news items, it must ensure thatthe disclosures are healthy and considerate of the diverse culturesthat make up the target audience. Above all, the content must beaccurate, true, and professional in nature (Dahlberg2011: 863-864).The media is seen as a tool for enlightening the public besidesspreading propaganda for the government in office.
Therefore,there are many theories that determine the nature of content thatvarious media groups present to the public. The ensuing section ofthe paper critically assesses the reports by BBC and Al Jazeera onmilitary conflict in Aleppo, Syria, and tries to apply varioustheories to best explain how the two media institution covered theconflict news. In any case, the roles of the media in publicizingconflicts, impacting public opinions, and covering internationalreactions are nothing new. Certainly, media model human cultures,reactions, and perceptions to events. Because most of the informationconsumed by the public is through media, analysis of the two mediainstitutions mentioned above with respect to the coverage of theSyrian war would be indispensible, and a captivating means tocomprehend how the various media contents influence conflicts andpublic views.
AlJazeera News on Aleppo Military Conflict
Asa global media that serves more than 270 million audiences in atleast 140 nations around the world, Al Jazeera English see themselvesas reshaping the global media with its fact-based coverage of theunderreported happenings that impact the lives of people(Aljazeera.com2016).As depicted on its website, the latest news coverage has been moreabout the ongoing military conflicts in Aleppo, Syria. Because themedia is torn between the political heat and the need to adequatelyrelay conflict status to the culturally diverse categories ofaudiences, it would be essential to critically analyze the newspresented by Al Jazeera and compare that against the varioustheoretical frameworks in media reporting, to comprehend the natureof contents provided and their impacts.
RegardingAleppo conflict, AlJazeera’s website is full of headline-grabbing crises. Whilereporting on the heavy attacks that persisted in East Alepporegardless of the ceasefire call, Al Jazeera expressed its boldnessin sparing no details (negative or positive) about the incident. Thenews presented by Aljazeera on December 14, 2016, indicated that thecause of the renewed battle was due to the government forces’reluctance to adhere to the ceasefire deal previously signed with therebel group in Aleppo. By accessing Al Jazeera’s report that thegovernment “was reluctant to observe the terms of the ceasefire,”the public may perceive the national administration as primaryperpetrators of violence and rate it as a failed state that has nointerest for citizen safety. Besides, Al Jazeera proceeded tohighlight the social constraints the civilians faced with therekindled war that broke after the ceasefire, pointing out that thevictims trapped in the region could not access medical services, andthey were also unable to sleep at night (Al Jazeera, December 15,2016). Such reports on the suffering of the citizens facilitate morereactive responses by the humanitarian organizations through aids,for instance, East Aleppo is reported to have several United Nationshuman activists to offer health care services to the injured victims. Moreover, the media was free to gather and relay information fromeither side of the government and the rebel groups, an indicationthat its role was not purely vested on spreading federal propagandabut rather, updating the public about the occurrences in the society.In one interview with one of the rebel heads (Abdul-MuslimZeinneddin), on December 17, 2016, Al Jazeera quoted him saying “wewill fight on until victory or death.” Such coverage can poseserious fears among the public as that implied that there was more toexpect as far as the war was concerned. Additionally, the pressreport indicated that about 82 civilians lost their lives during theafter-ceasefire wars, in which Al Jazeera also quoted the claims bythe United Nations’ human activists that the pro-government forcesexecuted scores of innocent citizens, among them women and children(Al Jazeera, December 18, 2016).
AlJazeera also included videos and images on their website to givevisual impression on the nature of Aleppo conflict. In its coverageof the Aleppo military conflict on November 20, 2016, the mediapresented bombing videos in the website to inform the audience aboutthe severity of the war. Although it is acceptable to inform thepublic about every event concerning the war, such videos are quietthreatening and may cause unrest and massive migration into squattercamps. Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Aleppo war was not all aboutthe Russian military invading and eliminating the rebels in Aleppo.The media also showed sympathy concerning the social issues of theAleppo community at large. For instance, on December 17, 2016,Aljazeerareportedabout the outcomes of the conflict as outlined by the human rightsactivist Humam al-Malah that “Aleppo residents were suffering powerblackouts due to the cutting off of electricity, price escalations,increased vegetable shortage, fuel shortage, and reducing breadsupply in terms of quality and quantity.” Such coverage confirmedthat Al Jazeera also endeavoured to inform the public and thegovernment about the misery of the people so that immediateinterventions could be planned.
Aboveall, Al Jazeera was quick to report that the bombings by Russian andSyrian forces of East Aleppo were indiscriminating and againsthumanity, referring to such attacks in its headlines as humanonslaught (Aljazeera,November 17, 2016).On that regard, it published the views of diplomats who were of theopinion that such airstrikes were ‘war crimes that culminated inthe loss of lives of innocent civilians.’ While publishing on theseverity of the war, Al Jazeera emphasized that the airstrikes byRussia and Syria jets against the rebels were harsh, and presented aliving nightmare to the residents, with 59 civilians confirmed deadon December 11th,2016. The coverage on the same date (December 11, 2016) titled “Syriaand Russia pressed to end Aleppo onslaught,” featured a video wherea civilian was burying a victim of the airstrikes. Again, theinformation was important for public consumption, but the citizensmay only view the government forces as a group that does not valuehuman life and out to perpetrate onslaught. Similarly, the videos andimages of those who succumbed to the conflict may amount tosignificant tensions and increased movement to the squatter camps.
BBCNews on Aleppo Military Conflict,
BBCis a leading global news publisher known for its boldness and freedomto report facts the way they are without any interference from thegovernment. Hence, BBC latest reports about Aleppo involved a revisitto the past to explain how the war started. In other words, thismedia’s focus is not only about the war but also the causes.Nevertheless, by browsing BBC website, the audience is able to tellthat the battle commenced in 2012 when rebel forces formed againstthe then elected president Bashar al-Assad, and occupied the easternside of Aleppo while the federal state dominated the west. The twoforces enjoyed dominance in their areas until the year 2016 when thegovernment forces in the west got reinforcement from Russian troops,which resulted in fierce clashes in an attempt by the Syriangovernment to recover east Aleppo (BBCNews, November 28, 2016).From that coverage, it seems that BBC is attributing the militaryconflict of Aleppo to political instability, implying that thesolutions to end the battle should be political in nature. With thewar dominating the last half of the year 2016, how does BBC presentits contents regarding the situation?
Whilereporting about the fierce war that halted evacuation in Aleppo, BBCreiterated that the relocation of citizens did not take place becausethe government and the Russian troops failed to observe the agreementreached between them and the opposition (BBCNews, December 14, 2016).Additionally, the media focused on the social problems of theinnocent civilians due to the constant bombings in eastern Aleppo bythe Russian and Syrian jets. Consequently, they were deprived ofhealth care services because the Red Cross team found it difficult topenetrate deeper into the conflict zone (BBC News, December 23,2016). Furthermore, the media expressed endless concerns that thecivilians were starved because of inadequate food supply, or as aresult of the skyrocketed prices. Similarly, the war was reported tocause great tension among the dwellers, compelling them to use anyavenue to flee the area 50,000 were reported to have fled the areawithin the past two weeks by December 10th.BBC published that some of them lost their lives while trying toescape due to the bombings of the rebel zones by the regime forces(BBCNews, December 10, 2016).
Finally,BBC also covered the views of the government more than it did to therebels. It captured and publicized the opinions of the operatingforces and international diplomats in its press releases, and thatconfirmed how dedicated the media was to sustain democracy amid theAleppo conflict. For example, on 9thDecember of 2016, BBC reported Russia’s foreign minister SergeiLavrov confirming that Syria’s army had suspended its fireoperations to allow evacuation in Aleppo. On the same date, the mediaalso aired the concerns of human activists, quoting an official fromUN (Brita Haji Hassan) saying that the war had resulted in the lossof at least 800 lives in the past four weeks, and the injury of 3,500civilians (BBC News, December 9, 2016). However, it is worth notingthat the group that seemed to be least represented by BBC is that ofthe rebels. BBC is a highly professional media that considers thevalues, standards, and cultural positions of the audience toindependently purify the information to be released to the public.
Theabove discussions revealed that Al Jazeera collected and publicizedinformation regarding Aleppo war without the interference of theState or Federal Governments. It used its freedom to reporteverything about the conflict, including even the bombing attackimages and videos on its website as well as the miseries of the warcasualties. Arguably,Fortnerand Fackler (2011: 319) asserted that suchpress communications are only possible where the media has thefreedom to gather and publish news so that the citizensstay informed and entertained, while the federal state is watched toensure that its conducts are in line with democracy, and that it isworking to calm down the war atmosphere. The contents covered by AlJazeera can be better understood using various media communicationtheories. The first perspective is liberalism, which states that themedia has the freedom to cover both negative and positive newswithout government interference (Fortnerand Fackler 2011).On that regard, Al Jazeera can be classified as a libertarianinstitution because its focus is to inform the citizens about theconflict situation by covering everything pertaining to war (withoutGovernment scrutiny), both positive and negative occurrences. Thesecond theory is the social responsibility theory, which classifiesmedia institutions based on their ability to observe ethics andprofessionalism. As shown in the discussions above, Al Jazeera is asocially responsible institution because it covered the sufferings ofthe war victims, necessitating aid responses by the humanitarianorganizations. In any case, Dahlberg(2011), while referring to the social responsibility theory in mediareporting, outlined thatas much as the media has the liberty to publish news items, it mustensure that the disclosures are healthy and considerate of the needsof its diverse audiences, which in this case are the basic resourcesthat are in short supply due to military conflict.
BBCNews institution also displayed some aspects of freedom in itsreporting of the war by covering every detail of Aleppo conflictwithout the scrutiny of the government. However, while doing itscoverage, BBC was keen on the content it presented to the public. Forinstance, it avoided the posting of videos and images that may haveposed significant fear among the citizens. These situations can beexplained using several media communication theories. Throughout, BBCwas clear with the way it presented the news concerning the war,showing no preference to the rebels or the government, and relayingevery detail about the sufferings the civilians were facing amidstthe warfare. Its activities are in line with the theory ofliberalism, which states that the media have freedom to publicizenews independently, without government influence (Fortnerand Fackler 2011).However, as BBC published the sensitive reports, it avoided the useof heart-breaking scenes such as explicit videos of dead bodies (itonly presented pictures of concealed bodies). In that regard themedia tried to avoid situations whereby the news reported resulted inmounted fears among the audience. That reflects the specifications ofsocial responsibility theory, which clarifies that every media shouldbe professional and considerate of human ethics, covering only whatdoes not cause more tensions among the citizens (DeFleurand DeFleur 2016).Therefore, BBC is among the few media institutions with reportingthat reflect the values of liberalism and the perspectives thatemphasize the social responsibility of the news media. It conforms tothe traditionalistic ideas of professionalism by emphasizing theaccuracy of information
Alot has been said about Al Jazeera and BBC media institutionsregarding their news reporting on the current issue of Aleppomilitary conflicts. From the above considerations, severalsimilarities and differences can be deduced about the two mediagroups. Regarding similarities, BBC and Al Jazeera reported theevents uninterrupted by the governments. There were no authoritarianor soviet-communist impacts on their publishing. The published newscovered both the positive and negative aspects of the warfare,indicating that the two institutions were libertarian, or other,enjoyed democracy while covering and publishing the news on theAleppo conflict. Similarly, BBC and Al Jazeera emphasized the needsof the civilians who were trapped in the rebel zone, highlightingthat they suffered from the lack of medical care, food shortage,elevated prices, and electricity cut offs. Also, both media groupsexpressed concerns regarding the increased number of people whoperished due the constant bombings by the Russian and Syrian jets,and criticized these governments for failing to observe human rightsand instead, opting to commit genocide to overthrow the rebels ineast Aleppo. Finally, both media showed no bias in their coverage,publishing the views of the government, humanitarians, civilians, andrebels. That ensured that the audience could fully figure out thesituation in Aleppo by reading the contents presented by BBC and AlJazeera.
Onthe other hand, there were some striking differences between BBC andAl Jazeera in the way the media groups presented their contents. Themajor disparity related to professionalism, values, and ethicalconsiderations. Whereas the Medias enjoyed freedom in reporting, BBCwas more conscious of the contents to publish, and avoided suchscenarios as providing clear videos of dead bodies, which Al Jazeeracovered such in its website. Instead, BBC presented images (notvideos) of carefully concealed bodies, and that appeared more ethicalthan the live presentations by Al Jazeera, which may have encouragedthe rebels to continue antagonizing the government to have more liveslost and broadcasted besides creating serious tensions among thecivilians trapped in the rebel zones. Additionally, the two mediagroups did air the voices of all the groups involved in the war.However, Al Jazeera seemed to focus much on the views of the rebelscompared to other groups. Chalala(2013) argues that Al Jazeera started to lose its credibility in theyear 2011 when it began covering the news about the Syrian war whereit reported mostly the rebel news, thereby encouraging thecontinuation of war. According to Chalala (2013), Al Jazeera doesaltar its news to comply with the positions of Qatar government,which is argued to sustain its operations through funding. Hence,because Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, it is arguedthat Al Jazeera was left with no option than to publicize more newsof the rebelling group in Aleppo (Chalala, 2013).
Whileusing the case of Aleppo military conflict, this study has identifiedBBC and Al Jazeera as media institutions that work independently aslibertarian organizations to cover or publish news. However, itidentified BBC as a more professional institution that observes thevalues, standards, and ethical issues before releasing media contentto the public compared to Al Jazeera. Moreover, Al Jazeera wasdiscovered to emphasize more on the rebel side while criticizing theoperating forces the freedom it enjoyed in media reporting was notfully exploited as there were considerable bias, and it fed thepublic with information as sensitive as live broadcast (videos) ofdead bodies. The research analysed media content by providing atheoretical background that identified Marxism, libertarian, socialresponsibility, and soviet-communist theories in mediacommunications.
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