Another Strategy: Building Consensus
Television has become a pivotal resource for exercising a novel strategy designed to bring people to a particular side by carefully involving and engaging the audience in the news reports and in so doing making the viewer part of the war effort. This subtle act of influence and persuasion could be felt when viewing a recent television segment covering the war with Iraq. While the overt aim of the news coverage is to inform or educate the audience, the manner in which the information is presented by television news creates an almost inviting atmosphere that draws the audience in what could be characterized as passive-aggressive participation, where the audience can partake of events in the relative safety of their homes. The appeal to national pride is obvious. The ultimate purpose is building consensus.
What is important to note is the means by which television news media has managed to transform the horror of war to a consumable and entertaining event. We see for example, real and graphic animations of military ordinance being used. The reporting provides rather extensive information about the nature of these weapons and especially about their accuracy. The viewer is never informed of the destructive power of these "smart" weapons, which amounts to human losses. For example, one is told how a cruise missile is launched and how it is able to fly virtually undetected over large distances and how it is capable of changing course during its path of flight, but the audience is never told about the explosive force of this missile once it reaches its target. By shifting and focusing the discussions primarily on the technical specifications of weapons instead of emphasizing their devastating and destructive effects, television reports can assume an analytical posture while remaining relatively silent about the human cost and tragedy involved. "27 missiles were fired," is detailed numerical information about the number of missiles launched, but it really has no moral content, no direct relation to the lives of the audience, and no meaningful news-worthiness. Such reporting may inspire awe in the nation's scientific achievements and pride in the military possessing these advanced weapons, but it shifts focus from the real causes of hostility that exists between people and nations. Thus, through specific representation of facts, and using visually appealing shots, television redirects the attention of the viewer to the rationale for building and using weapons of destruction. The issue is not merely "packaging" of news, but rather of shaping the viewer's opinions.
In the news segment, in addition to the news host, a number of high-ranking retired officers share their knowledge and opinions about the campaign and the strategies they would have used. In this manner, as in Monday night football game, the viewer becomes a passive participant, indirectly sharing in the drama that unfolds. The viewer begins to feel more confident about the course of the events, especially as he has given purview vis-à-vis the "expert" analysis.
Television news reports may not be able to change opinions completely, but negative views can be subtly softened through the careful engagement of the viewer. By presenting a message that stimulates such basic emotions as pride and prowess, by diminishing the sense of fear, by reassuring the audience of the minor losses suffered by friendly forces, and by providing value-free data, television news reports instills a favorable attitude about the war in the audience and helps shape the debate about the war in the pro-war direction.
About the author:
A. Lalehzadeh is currently a UCSC (University of California, Santa Cruz) student-- studying film and digital media.
... Payvand News - 3/28/03 ... --