Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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1.3 Preview: The media and 9/11

Introduction by David Herbert

David Herbert

Hello, and welcome to the media section of this course. I'm David Herbert, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the Open University, and I'm responsible for sections 6-8 of the course. I wrote section 8 myself and asked Mark Banks and Ben O'Loughlin to write section 6 and section 7, respectively.

The media play a crucial role in shaping how we understand people, places and politics. In section 6 Mark Banks, Reader in Sociology at the OU, looks at how television frames our view of events such as 9/11. So you’ll begin with the question ‘What is the role of television in creating the ‘spectacle’ of war, and in particular, how did the televising of the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 affect its social and political impact?’ You’ll then examine how both terrorists and governments are now involved in what critics have termed an 'image war' – a battle to control public opinion by manipulating the daily flow of media events, images and discourses - that is ways of writing and talking. You’ll then consider how the power of the media is double-edged, because it’s not only used by the state and government to try to shape or influence public opinion, but it also provides a platform for various opposition groups to question or challenge the policies and actions of these elite interests. In this context, you’ll examine the role of the ‘embedded reporter’, asking the question ‘How free are television and newspaper journalists working within military units to report the facts as they see them?’ In response to this, section 6 contains an interview with Stewart Purvis, former chief executive and editor in chief of ITN, who was in charge of ITN at the time of the Iraq war in 2003.

In section 7 Ben O’Loughlin, Lecturer in International Relations at Royal Holloway and Bedford College, University of London, asks the question ‘Who influences who in the relationships between political leaders, the media and citizens?’, and with a special focus on the role of journalists. First, you’ll examine Chomsky’s view that the commercial interests which shape news production and their relationships with political elites influence what counts as news to such an extent that any alternative voices have little chance of being heard. However, contrary to this view there are some examples where journalists have broken news stories that challenge political elites. One example examined took place during the Vietnam War, and you’ll consider Hallin’s argument that journalistic criticism can influence politics if there is already a division of opinion amongst political elites. This, however, remains a fairly conservative account of the circumstances under which journalists can challenge the political status quo. So you’ll also consider other examples of the political impact of journalists breaking news stories that challenge the interests of political elites.

In section 8, you’ll turn your attention from journalists to the public as viewers and readers of news, though again concerned with the impact of post 9/11 developments on democracy. New technologies have had a big impact on how we receive news this includes the multiplication of channels; the inclusion, even in mainstream news outputs, of non-Western sources of news such as al-Jazeera; and the development of interactive technologies using the internet. In some ways these changes push us to become more active viewers of news, having to choose between more sources and potentially having more perspectives available to us; yet we can also choose to select only those sources that don’t challenge us. It’s also arguable that commercial pressures in the market place produce increasingly similar global news ‘products’, dominated by a few powerful news organisations. So you’ll look at examples of how audiences are reacting to these changes, beginning with an American study of how the news channels that people watched shaped their understanding and misunderstanding of certain key facts in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. You’ll then look at a study that questions the British government’s motives and policies in its emphasis on public security post 9/11, asking whether what’s been called the securitization of politics may be used to hide or mask other political issues. A third study examines how mostly Bangladeshi youths in Tower Hamlets in the East end of London viewed and interpreted the news post 9/11. This links to an audio transcript which focuses on British Muslims and the media post 9/11. Ammar al-Ghabban, the author of that study, and other experts are interviewed on how different audiences interpret British media coverage of Islam and Muslims, the development of a British Muslim press, and the impact of government security policies on British Muslim youth.

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