In our new modern digital age, we are experiencing a major shift in our patterns of media consumption. For the better part of the last century, we only had access to written media, especially in regards to the spread of news. In contrast, today, we on a much larger scale make use of audio-visual media to get this information. Moreover, due to the advent of communication technologies, we are more interconnected than ever before! This leads to a mass exodus of media covering a larger base of people than ever before. In such an environment, representation of said groups, disenfranchised or not, becomes paramount of global peace and cooperation. As such, their representation in the media is the cornerstone to their perception. It is therefore a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the media creator to do a fair and apt job in their representation of such groups. This is our focus for the coming month!
In this article in particular, I am choosing to focus on the representation of conflict in western media. This is a heavily contentious topic and as such I will be refraining from discussing any particular conflict but will focus on their nomenclature choices made by media outlets while covering said conflicts.
As a former non-western resident, I was quite unaware of terminology used to cover conflicts. Back home, media outlets did not use many of the same buzzwords used by western media. For example, “tensions”, “clasgh” or “struggle’. Part of the reason was that the general viewers would not be able to understand them, and the other part was that the viewers seemed to prefer harsher, more truthful nomenclature choices such as “battle”, “war” or “skirmish”. So having grown up with this, I then came into contact with western media’s coverage of conflicts, especially conflicts in the east, and was very confused regarding the language used by them. They used softer, more veiled adjectives and verbs to describe wars, genocides and onslaughts. This confused me, as I would see the same groups be covered on both media, where one side seems to represent the conflict as small and unimportant, and one portraying it chock full of egregious horrors associated with conflict. I felt that the western media was misrepresenting the scale, intensity and horrors of these conflicts which in turn misinforms their viewers which leads to untrue perceptions of the viewers. This upset me to the point where I would consciously correct anyone using the lighter more digestible terms for the conflicts.
I then tried to look into how these media outlets covered conflicts in the western world, and I found that western conflicts were much more accurately represented in severity and scope, sometimes they were over represented! One could chalk this difference down to cultural misunderstandings or a lack of context, however I feel that that's not all to it. I believe that due to the west’s colonial history, the subconscious of the media outlets make them non-consciously elevate the colonisers' conflicts while reducing the importance for the former colonies' conflicts. This I believe is a carry over from the golden age of colonialism and this unconscious reporting needs to be reflected on and analysed to help create a fairer and more just system of representation for all in the west and the east. No system can be perfect, but we should keep working to improve it by reflecting on our own presumptions and prejudices!