A new role for the media

I returned from Chicago on March 19. Safely and happily home without incident on the eve of war, I was assaulted by the barrage of radio coverage that night—and ever since.
Increasingly, I resented the pre-emption of my favourite programs in the interest of speculative and anticipatory exchange among media “anchors.” When that changed to reporting real attacks, it made me feel worse.
A German-Canadian, I was a World War II refugee as a baby; my father was a four-year prisoner-of-war in Russia. At age 10, I had Dutch children show me how the Germans had destroyed their dikes and I felt horrified and guilty.
I can see no good in war at all.
But instead of turning the radio off, I have switched to reflection on the part played by the media. I now suggest the media are drastically transforming the way war is waged.
With luck, they will contribute to shortening this one greatly.
Here are some things that have changed tremendously since the last war, invasion, or other wrongful act against any large group.
1. The Chinese government has now permitted greater freedom to its media so that more than a billion more people get to understand and think in real time about what is going on.
2. All around the world, people discuss the issues and their concerns, and are forming protest groups on the Internet.
3. That, in turn, strengthens the protest demonstrations in large centres around the globe.
4. The presence of media people from many countries at the war sites, and the different national interests they represent, makes “spin” messages and suppression of the truth about what is going on in the battlefields very difficult.
5. Where at one time nations and their armies had months or weeks before credible information got out to the general public, that time is now hours and even minutes.
I suggest media groups no longer are just vying to be the first with an exciting piece of news; rather, they have a real stake in being the first with truth.
About that last point: Perhaps I’m dreaming. But information black-outs are no longer possible. The equipment and procedures we otherwise resent because they assemble personal information and destroy privacy may, in this situation, serve everyone well.
When we hear that people are dead who an hour earlier had brought us a news bulletin is almost as shocking as when a relative is killed. Unless we become immune to these issues to the point of losing our humanity, we will turn up the pressures against war.
I’m even wondering whether the media are so totally consumed with describing this war blow-by-blow because they are expecting it to be over quickly. I certainly wish it—though I expect much fall-out when the acute battles are over.
I am coming to see the media differently—as a major power for mobilizing and solidifying critical opinion worldwide. But how can we contain its excesses and harness its power in everyone’s best interest?
Linda Wiens is a strategy planning and implementation consultant, workshop facilitator, president-CEO of Quetico Centre, and executive director of the Prairie Crossing Institute in Chicago.

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