Conflict and the Freedom of the Press

By Das, Jayoti; DiRienzo, Cassandra E. | Journal of Economic and Social Studies, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Conflict and the Freedom of the Press


Das, Jayoti, DiRienzo, Cassandra E., Journal of Economic and Social Studies


(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Introduction

Conflict borne from ideological, economic, political, or religious differences and disagreements has plagued societies for as long as records have been kept. Today, those with access to the internet, television, radio, or newspapers, can seek regular updates from a variety of news media regarding the status of local, national, and/or international conflicts as it is unfolding. The updates provided by news media can portray a sense of continued suffering and loss, or perhaps offer hope that a resolution and ceasefire is near. As Puddephatt (2006) discusses, attitudes and opinions toward a particular conflict, as well as its likely outcome, can be strongly influenced by the news media. In other words, the approach and perspectives a news media outlet takes in sharing and disseminating information on a conflict can shape public opinion and, in extreme cases, influence the outcome.

History offers several examples of news media influencing public opinion and inciting violent conflict as well as pleading for conflict resolution. As Puddephatt (2006) describes, media sources served as agents for extreme nationalism during the wars in the Balkans that continually fueled tensions, resulting in the collapse of former Yugoslavia. Further, Puddephatt (2006) notes the role of some Rwandan media sources in directly inciting genocide as well as offering other examples such as the Soviet Union and the Nazis who used their control over the media to create weaker societies that they could more easily manipulate. Recently, according to the, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the Turkish government radio and television regulating body, fined a number of Turkish news channels for "harming the physical, moral and mental development of children and young people" by broadcasting coverage of the Gezi Parid Uprisings in Taksim Square, Istanbul, Turkey (Hiirriyet Daily News, June 12, 2013). Sixty-two Turkish journalists were later imprisoned for ignoring government warnings to cease broadcasting and publishing information regarding the uprisings.

Alternatively, several international media outlets have recently called upon the global community to act to resolve the conflict in Syria. Over the past several decades, international media has become increasingly involved in exposing the conflicts and suffering in several Sub-Saharan countries and have continually pressed for international aid and support. Given the power of media to influence public opinion by either fueling tensions or calling for resolution and peace, the question arises as to how this power is affected by press freedom. In other words, what is the relationship between freedom of the press and conflict?

Pal (2011) finds empirical evidence that unregulated media can reduce different forms of socio-political instability, suggesting that a free media can serve to promote peace. Pal (2011) theorizes that unregulated national media has a greater ability to share news on an international stage and this international exposure can lead to external pressure on governments to act in the best interest of their citizens, which includes resolving conflicts. Fish and Kroenig (2006) offer evidence that conflict is negatively associated with more democratic nations; considering that greater freedom of the press is generally found in more democratic nations, this study offers further evidence that greater press freedom is associated with a more peaceful nation.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that in some countries where media is highly regulated, such as China, Singapore, Qatar, North Korea, and United Arab Emirates, there is also relatively low levels of conflict. While past research has generally found that greater press freedom is associated with a more peaceful state, one can also point to several examples of countries with highly regulated press freedom that experience relatively low levels of conflict. …

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