Friday, March 09, 2007

Marvin Kalb has published a new study about the way this summer's Israel/Lebanon War was reflected in media report. The abstract says:

"Based on content analysis of global media and interviews with many diplomats and journalists, this paper describes the trajectory of the media from objective observer to fiery advocate, becoming in fact a weapon of modern warfare. The paper also shows how an open society, Israel, is victimized by its own openness and how a closed sect, Hezbollah, can retain almost total control of the daily message of journalism and propaganda."

Here's one excerpt that caught my eye:

"... the Israelis were quickly accused of hitting civilian targets with an indiscriminate callousness amounting to war crimes. On August 3, Human Rights Watch specifically accused Israel of war crimes.8 Few seemed to note that before the war, on May 27, Nasrallah had actually—and publicly—embraced the guerrilla tactic of hiding soldiers among civilians. "[Hezbollah fighters] live in their houses, in their schools, in their churches, in their fields, in their farms and in their factories," he said, adding, "You can’t destroy them in the same way you would destroy an army."9 By war’s end, it was clear that Nasrallah was right. Hezbollah, though severely wounded, remained a fighting force in defiant objection to all U.N. resolutions calling for it to be disarmed.

Israel defended its military operations by citing two relevant articles in international law: using civilians for military cover was a war crime, and any target with soldiers hiding among civilians was considered a legitimate military target.

Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, framed her government’s argument in cold language. "When you go to sleep with a missile, "

(via:)

Having read the entire study (38 pages) I concluded that we are now firmly within a whole new media-dominated era, where ethics and rationality are trumped by decontextualized, fast, easy to digest images. The advance of technology seems to encourage a need for unambiguous messages, in small, swallwable, sugar-coated capsules. In other words, the more advanced our technologies, the more simplified we want life to be. Context, understanding, knowledge, these take time, personal commitment, sophisticated thinking. Our media cannot provide these kinds of information and news. There is no time and the attention span of viewers and readers* is very short. Emotions and sentimentality are much easier to pander to, much more satisfying than asking questions and urging scepticism.

When I first read the following quote, written by an acquaintance of mine about three years ago, I did not get its prophetic insight into the very foreseeable future. As I read the Kalb's study, I remembered it:

"The amount of data and the speed at which it is transmitted may magnify small anomalies into systemic failure.

More is less.

Conversely, what, in perspective, are small (on the scale of a war) events are magnified by hypermedia into hyperevents, which may be inherently uncontrollable.[..]

Hi-tech armed forces get lots of data, really fast, and launch a lightning strike on a perceived threat.

Small errors in data are magnified by all that blistering speed, and, oops--mistakes happen.
Hypermedia picks up this relatively small event, acceleration and amplification turn it into a hyperevent."


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* Viewers and readers whould be more appropriately tagged as : consumers of news and information.

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