Impact of New Media on Civil and International Conflict

Critically discuss the impact of the new media on civil and international conflict situations in the contemporary era. (Use examples to illustrate your argument)

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Austin Alagba


In this essay I am going to elaborate on the role that the media play on civil and international conflict in today’s world. I will start with a brief introduction of war and its causes and effects, the roles that the media plays and the impact of their coverage before, during and perhaps after the conflict.

War as we know is characterised by extreme violence and violence goes with the destruction of people, human societies are deeply affected by wars as residential areas, public infrastructures, hospitals and the very basis of human existence are destroyed. Education is completely denied the youth, no hope and aspirations for the future. Crops for livelihood will be completely destroyed and causes stagnation all over the place, no economic development, and no access to basic needs. Suffering lingers, poverty and backwardness become the people’s heritage.

The last two decades have witnessed a lot of conflicts that are mainly dominated by civil wars which are classified armed conflict, very deadly and devastating takes place between the people in the same country, and these countries are usually experiencing sectarian or political transitions/changes, because it (democracy) is sweeping across the countries of the world today. And as nature will have it, such changes must not come without opposition and violence.

When these wars occur the media is used as a tool. The mass media is the platform through which the people receive information. This information can be transmitted either through radio, television broadcasting, newspapers/magazines, internet or mobile phones. This makes the media very powerful and influential. Because of its ability to inform the entire population at the same time could produce a positive or negative result.

The media’s role in spreading incorrect information or hostile propaganda becomes an issue of great significance. For the fact that these wars often occur in remote areas and have complicated histories, the international community’s view of them will depend to a large extent on how journalists present and explain the conflict. On the other hand some of the deadliest conflicts receive little or no publicity in the global media. An example was the Sierra Leone war which received little mention globally (Hamburg, Vance, 1997) a number of examples in the 1990s suggest that the impact of media reporting may generate political action.

Michael Beschloss wrote in 1993 that the war in Bosnia was only “the latest example of an overseas crisis in which hunting television pictures arouse the American people to demand their government do something.”(Rotberg, Weiss, 1996) also in the late 1980s before the Bosnia war there was famine in Somalia that killed a lot of people through starvation that led to the decision of the United States to launch Operation Restore Hope. It was the presence of media and their reporting clearly the true situation at hand that made it politically difficult for the government not to intervene to rescue the situation. The presence or absence of media attention may mean life or death for affected populations.

Accuracy is one of the most important concerns about media reports, this is particularly important when distance and time limitations are involved so as to avoid delays before the situation gets out of hand.

The role mass media play in today’s conflicts around the world is very important. This role can be classified into two different categories. The media could take:

An active part in the conflict and has responsibility for increased violence,
Or stay independent and out of the conflict, thereby contributing to the resolution of conflict and alleviation of violence (conflict and the role of the media, 2006).

The role taken up by the media in any conflict at any period whether before and after depends on a complex set of factors. This strictly depends on the media’s relationship with the actors in the conflict and the independence the media has to the power holders in society.

It is because of the challenges and difficulties that the media faces during conflict that led to the establishment of International Media Support (IMS) in 2001. This was prompted after the Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia massacres that took place in the 1990s; situations in these conflicts and in fact other conflicts in the past where the media was being manipulated and used as a tool to fuel violent conflict.

For instance, during Rwandan genocide the media (radio and newspaper) means were used to instigate killing, mobilize the majority, the Hutu’s to constantly remind them about the already made plans to totally wipe out the Tutsi minority. The international media turned a blind eye, and before the world could actually know what was going on nearly a million people had been killed.

The purpose for setting up the IMS:

To support local media so as to maintain operations and conduct their work as professionals.
To work and enable media to seek to promote peace, reduce conflict,
Strengthen democracy and bring about dialogue in close partnership with local media
And media support organisations nationally as well as internationally.
Taking broad sector approach to media development, this means the media sector must be addressed to achieve well-functioning and independent media that ensures a free media environment, a strong media infrastructure and professional media content.

South Eastern Europe is one such region where ethnic tensions have had such a disintegrating effect. In the last decade, political and civil changes in the region have changed citizen’s ideas on democracy, civic participation, and cultural tensions. Throughout the New Europe, hate speech has been increasingly in general use online (Gaines, 2000). Racist and nationalistic discourse continues to be spread widely on regional media. Press radio, and television programs all increase to the severity of already existing tensions (Thompson, 1994). George Krimsky (1996), cofounder of the International Centre for Journalists (ICJ), notes that “irresponsible and inaccurate journalism (or its wicked cousin, the hate-mongering media) can fan the flames of violence in ethnic or communal confrontations.”

Irresponsible journalism has played a huge role in the increase of conflict in the region, that media practitioner Maida Bebic of radio Kameleon in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovinian, has announced, “The media started the war in the former Yugoslavia; they will have to end it, too.” (Cited in Burton, 2001)

The international community can help to prevent conflict and assist people affected by war to recover. This can be achieved through different ways. This can be achieved through building local capacity in broadcast and print media, and introducing new media, in order to produce and distribute objective and accurate local content.

In the developing world radio broadcasting is particularly very vital considering the availability of other media accessibility, like internet, satellite television or smart phone which could be scarce or limited and plus the high rate of illiteracy and poverty; majority of the people can afford radio, so it can be used as a medium to dispatch information.

Independent journalists face very serious challenges in the conflict areas, and some of the journalists/editors get harassed, kidnapped, put in prison, even murdered. There is need for every government, especially government from the developing countries to stop harassing and jailing journalists. Egyptian government is holding Aljazeera journalists in prison and has now sentenced some of them to ten years imprisonment on false accusations including other journalists that were also sentenced to serve several years imprisonment, and some of them like Peter Greste have spent over three hundred days in jail without trial. All these arrests and detentions are to intimidate and silence journalists and to tag them with bad reputations (The Print edition, Al Jazeera, June, 2014) some of these journalists have been sentenced in absentia, without them being present in court.

Rather than government putting journalists in prison, they should provide them with security, especially international journalists; make environment conducive and if possible provide training facilities for them so as to be able to execute their job even though they are already working in a war-torn zone.

It is very vital and essential to encourage the use of media to promote peace, nonviolent problem solving and decent understanding between ethnic groups.

UNESCO has long supported the development of local independent film, radio, television, and internet-based media in developing and transitional countries, including in conflict and post-conflict areas. UNESCO’s extensive work program includes sponsoring research and knowledge-sharing conferences, defining best practices, offering in-field professional training and financial and operations support (Stauffacher, 2005) beyond media development, it has employed innovative techniques in conflict zones; for example, funding NGOs in Afghanistan to create travelling cinemas that move from village to village to present educational and health information.

UNESCO held a conference in Belgrade in May 2004. This was to support the media in violent conflict and countries in transition and the concluding Belgrade Declaration. (World Press Freedom day, 2004)

Conference was organised in Copenhagen for two days the 26th and 27th of November 2004 to build upon the conclusions presented in the Belgrade Declaration from the UNESCO conference. The subject of discourse of the conference was the perplexing situation facing media development in the wake of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid operations in conflict-affected areas. The need for rapid and effective dissemination of information from aid organisations and peacekeeping forces sometimes collides with the development of an independent media sector (IMS, 2004)

The attitude towards the media in Burma, Myanmar is now much more clearly defined, though not for better. Even the lowest attempts to report the facts are ruthlessly crushed. The military Junta keeps a strict control on the media, leaving no freedom either to local or foreign journalists. The Burmese press operates under strict censorship and citizens risk jail if they are found guilty of giving false information domestically or internationally (Herbert, 2013) International Media Support has been working to assist in alleviating the problems of strict control on the media for some time now. IMS is carrying out a comprehensive media development programme comprising a wide range of activities including working to support policy reforms, capacity building of media and journalists. IMS in collaboration with Myanmar Peace Centre providing conflict sensitive journalism training workshop throughout the country.

The BBC Afghan Education Projects (BBC AEP). The aim of this program is to bring reconciliation among different groups and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in other to avoid an epidemic in post-conflict Afghanistan. BBC AEP produces these programs in different formats, drama, soap opera, educational features and cartoon magazines, all these reach more than half of Afghan population. (Stauffacher, 2005)

In Sri Lanka and Nepal the journalists are under constant harassment and intimidation because of civil wars and internal conflicts going on in these places. The Sri Lankan government who is fighting against the Tamil separatist movement, imposed direct censorship of military news under emergency regulations (Herbert, 2013, p. 104)

The Philippines president Joseph Estrada took office in1998, since then several developments has brought his administration’s commitment to freedom of the press into question. He has been accused of curtailing media freedom in a country that has embraced the principles of free expression in recent times. The Philippians most widely circulated paper the Philippian’s Daily Inquirer was being boycotted in retaliation for criticizing the government.

Turkey is said to have the most number of journalists in detention more than any other country in the world. Those journalists are advocating for the independence of Kurdish people and at such being thrown in jail.

NGOs play very important role in media development. For instance, All Africa Global Media is a multimedia content service provider, systems technology developer, and the largest electronic distributor of African news and information worldwide. The website posts over 1000 stories daily in English and French and offers multilingual programming as well as over 900,000 articles in a searchable archive.


This essay has highlighted the critical role and importance of the media during wars and crisis and of course the power and influence they have. Most conflicts occur in domestic political settings where there are signs that the means of mass communications continue to increase in importance, this is suggesting that continued efforts are needed to understand the role of national media in conflict.


Blankson, I. A, and Murphy, P. D. (2012) ‘Negotiating Democracy: Media transformations in emerging democracies’ (Google eBook) Suny Press

Blondel, Y. I (2003) ‘Violent conflict and roles of the media’ Uppsala University Publishers

Hamburg, D. A and Vance, C. R. (1997) ‘Preventing deadly conflict’ DIANE Publishing

Herbert, J. (2013) ‘practicing global journalism: Exploring reporting issues worldwide’ CRC Press

Puddephatt, A. (2006) ‘Conflict and the role of the media’ International Media Support Publication

Rotberg, R. I. and Weiss, T. G. (1996) ‘from massacres to genocide: The media, public

policy, and humanitarian crisis’ (Google eBook) Brookings Institution Press

Stauffacher, D. (2005) ‘Information and communication technology for peace: The role of ICT in preventing, responding to and recovering from conflict, Vol. 198 United Nations ICT task Force.

The Print Edition, (June, 2014) ‘Egypt Court sentences Al Jazeera journalists, Al Jazeera Publications

Thompson, E. P. (1994) ‘Witness against the beast: William Blake and the moral Law’ Cambridge University Press