The role of media is equally important as the role of governments and state in relation to conflict. This article claims that the current attitude of media and the rush to compete for the dominance on the release of news-breaks constitutes a dangerous dynamic that can influence policy makers erroneously towards war. To illustrate this point the article refers to the current crisis in Ukraine.
The crisis of Ukraine has resuscitated the fears and the tensions of the possibility of a relapse of the cold war, and the war by proxy dynamics that affected the world since the end of the Second World War and the fall of the Berlin wall. The support of armed groups under different agendas by the USSR and the US across the globe is not something new. However, the environment on which these events unfold has changed dramatically, as now the information flows at a speed that government and geo-strategic plans cannot control.
Observing the first moments of the internationalization of the Ukrainian crisis after the fall/ousting/sacking (depending on your political bias towards it) of Yanukovych, highlights the speed at which information is delivered (yet not analyzed). On those days, information went from the tension, and the declarations of concern by the involved actors, to claims of escalation and almost overtures to war such as the claims portrayed in international media about ultimatums for the surrendering of the Ukrainian troops in Crimea by Russian forces. In most of the news outlets the sources cited an Interfax news report, which was later dismissed by the Russian government. In this case there are only two possibilities: news outlets did not verify the Interfax bulletin sources (something central to the journalism profession), or the Interfax agency changed the information (without a rectification). In both cases this points to mediocrity in the exercise of the profession of journalism (either by the people citing Interfax or by Interfax itself). Incompetence on journalism in relation with tensions between nuclear powers is beyond irresponsibility and stupidity.
The memories and past experiences should remind us of the dangers of the irresponsibility of media on international crisis. Could we imagine this kind of thoughtless behaviors in crises such as the Missile crises in Cuba? What could have happened if mediocre journalism had informed the actions of Khruschev or Kennedy?
It would be unfair to compare completely both situations, as 60 years ago platforms such as twitter, Facebook, internet, satellite television, cell phones, hindered the flow/dissemination of information and gave time for reflection.
Nevertheless, we can refer now to the existence of a television democracy. As politicians are more concerned with their public support and the popularity of their actions, this brings politics beyond the scope of analysis and reflection, to the sphere of performance where the action of politicians can be in some cases conditioned as the participants of a “reality show”.
The decisions of politicians are no longer merely informed by advisors, which gave a “rational” assessment of these situations to suggest ways of action, but now the role of media and public, are central. This can be understood as a strengthening of democracy and participation of citizens in the allocation of policy decisions. However this is only valid on the premise of accurate and unbiased information.
As information is flowing at an ever increasing pace, we are seeing more often in different media outlets the use of media by unconfirmed sources (especially in war ridden or crisis scenarios), or the use of information from Twitter, used as “factual” information. Where competition, rather than rigor drive the quest for information, we can expect the loss of accuracy. A clear example of this trend is the incompetence/naivety/mediocrity of the information displayed by CNN and the case of the missing plane from Malaysian airlines.
Despite the fact that media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine has become less Schizophrenic, and has become more accurate depicting both sides of the crisis (Russian-Ukrainian, Russian-US, Ukrainian-Pro Russians Ukrainians) the mistakes are still being made, having as the last example of this the diffusion of information related to the evidence of Russian forces supporting the pro-Russians in east Ukraine. As a further scrutiny of this information has brought to the fore the inaccuracy of it, it might be the case that it is too late to do ex-post verification of sources, the damage may have been already done.
It is said this information schooled the declarations of the Secretary of State of the US in support of the operations of the Ukrainian government against the armed groups in the east of the country. In a process that seems to resemble a snow ball effect we, are now seeing military drills in the west of Russia as a response, where the dynamics of escalation seems to be gaining momentum in a childish game of playing chicken (with real weapons). As rectification of information on International Relations issues might be futile on the verge of war (some media is referring to the possibility of a third world war) we might be adrift in troubled waters because of the mediocrity of some journalists.