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A comparartive media study of the Falklands War

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Introduction

A comparartive media study of the Falklands War The analysis of media coverage is tricky in any time period, with debates raging over the role and aims of the media in conveying information to the masses. The situation is further complicated during periods of crisis - historically, the media has been used to spread propaganda, through the popular press in the First World War, and the radio and cinema in its successor. It was the television coverage of the Vietnam War which shaped the way broadcasting was perceived - for the harrowing shots of wartime behaviour was said to strike American morale so deeply, as to ultimately lose the war. It is in such an atmosphere that the media confronted the Falklands Crisis. In fact, this conflict was unique in being inaccessible save by Naval crossing. Thus the British government was able to exclude any independent or foreign journalist from travelling the 8,000 miles with the Task Force, allowing select teams from Britain to make the journey, as long as they conformed to the strictest censorship. The Glasgow University Media Group (1985) examined the production process of news during this period, and here I explore their analysis, chiefly of the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano. This highly controversial act took place on the 2nd May 1982, with the first bulletins coming out on the 3rd May.

Middle

At home, peace marches were ignored_ and displays of patritotism emphasised_. And with regard to diplomacy, "Argentine intransigence" was blamed for the failure of the Peruvian and UN peace proposals. We need a wider framework of analysis than this, of course, and to be fair, the Glasgow Media Group do look at "normal" journalistic practices. These include the constraints imposed by the "lobby" system_ and conforming to the journalists rulebook. The overall conclusion was that journalists have a broad consensus of agreement and appeals to authoritative sources, that blinds them to probing issues. Even when individuals or parties are attacked in the media, it is rarely "the system" itself which is questioned. Leonard Downie Jnr (1985) picked up on overt constraints. Forced to operate from London, he found he was misled and denied facts a great deal. There was the premature release of good news (such as the re-capturing of Port Stanley half a day before the Argentines had actually surrendered), and the delaying of bad news. The television newtworks were prevented from broadcasting live from the task force, and film sometimes took three weeks to arrive in London. He noted that normal British journalism had constraints like the Official Secrets Act and the "D-notices" system_, as well as libel cases. The British also lacked a Freedom Of Information Act like that of the US - all of this meaning British reporters are less likely to break away from the guidelines laid down in the Falklands.

Conclusion

government did not succeed in strangling the media completely, is due to the audience having no clear concept of broadcasters being social entities, worthy of judgement. So since the media were seen as a national heritage, they escaped major public criticism. It is.wrong to say that showing the horror of war will influence the outcome of it - it may be a reason, but social and political events are far more important._ The Glasgow Media Group talked of dramatic, emotive sentiments being relayed on the news, but the scope and effects of such dramatisation is limited, especially if we see the audience as capable of critically discerning news items. The Glasgow Media study was a fine example of content analysis, but content analysis is far from perfect. Bell (1991) said that this quantitive practice of counting the frequency of key themes needed supplementing with other methods, providing a good linguistic analysis_ that does not "prematurely attempt to decode what underlies the language." Let us not conclude too hastily, then, that the media deliberately conformed to the official line. Where this did occur, it was through censorship or covert manipulation, often against the wishes of the journalists involved. So we can reject the claim from Harris that the intensity of the Falklands merely highlighted the standard practices of the media, for it was a period of quite unique constraint upon journalists both at home and abroad - hopefully one which is never to be repeated.

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