Sunday, November 8, 2009

The drums of war

Hanson's description of how new ICTs are undermining traditional diplomacy caught my attention this week, possibly because I just attended a conference on cultural diplomacy. While I agree that ICTs have definitely challenged traditional diplomatic practices, I'm not entirely convinced that diplomats can't take advantage of ICTs to further their objectives--either by helping them to transmit their reports faster or to communicate more effectively with their networks at home and abroad.

The other aspect of this week's readings that I really responded to was the focus on war coverage. So exactly how much influence do the media have in determining the course of a war? After finishing this week's readings, I'm a bit muddled. It seems as though the media can't deter a war-bent country, nor can they persuade a government to intervene in foreign affairs if that government is not already so inclined (the one exception, noted by Kai Hafez, being occasional humanitarian crises). And yet, the media do play an important role in broadcasting, framing and legitimizing policy decisions. But what if the media were to fiercely oppose a government's intention to go to war? Hafez suggests that this is unlikely, as citizens of war-bound nations (journalists included) tend to rally around patriotic symbols and ideas, which is a little disheartening, as it suggests that such decisions are generally made before they are introduced to the public sphere.

As citizens, how much room do we have to hold our government accountable? The CNN effect has been widely debunked. And even Manuel Castells, who acknowledges how ICTs have been used by oppositional bodies notes that the people in power are equally adept at using them to perpetuate the status quo and further their own aims. I'd like to believe that war in Iraq wasn't inevitable, but it seems that once a government has decided on a foreign policy plan, it's difficult (and unlikely) for the press to sway them. As citizens, that increases our responsibility to stay informed--not just through the mainstream media, but through alternate sources--to question information and decisions and use what resources are available to promote the common good, both at home and abroad. Of course, there are many people who would agree with Sir Humphrey Appleby that the citizens of a democracy not to be informed, but rather "to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity."

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