Critique on mainstream media reporting on the Libyan conflict - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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This critique of the mainstream media will focus on the 2011 Libyan civil war where the intervention of NATO led to the ousting of Gaddafi. It is argued that media bias takes shape in several forms. Firstly, a study by Baum and Zhukov based on research data evidence demonstrates that the news reporting by mainstream media in non-democratic states lean towards the protection of the status quo in Libya while democratic states media show a preference towards regime change. The media coverage in non-democratic states under-reported protests and non-violent collective action by regime opponents while at the same time largely ignored government atrocities, and over-reported caused by rebels. The study found the opposite patterns of media reporting in democratic states. If anything this highlights the protection of state interest in the media reporting in democratic and non-democratic states. Libya under Gaddafi was a non-democratic dictatorship so it is quite plainly obvious the media in non-democratic states is hesitant to promote democracy and opts to be bias by seeking the protection of the status quo perhaps fearing an inadvertent effect of promoting democratic values reporting bias towards regime change could have a regime change spill-over effect in their own countries. By the same token media bias leaning towards protection of the status quo in democratic countries is against the national interest and national values of the democratic system they live under. Hence the political bias of media in non-democracies showing a pro-incumbency bias and the media bias in democratic states demonstrating pro-challenger bias point towards a dependency influence of the political context in which the new organisation is based. Furthermore the media in democratic states have more profit maximisation motives, appealing to the political values of their consumers, in their reporting rather than the evidence of motives toward state preferences of self-preservation in non-democratic states’ media firms. This is in line with Pilger’s argument who states that the Western capitalist economic system in democratic countries mean that the Western media are also commercial entities engaging in the pursuit of maximum profit tailoring their reporting to the taste of their national audience in the marketplace and as a result Pilger calls the mainstream media the corporate media because its bias reflect the vested interests of the corporate world and the Western media is an extension of the established status quo capitalist order.

Secondly, the Western mainstream media shows a clear bias towards the national interests of their respective states in that they fail to highlight the abuse of NATO’s United Nations Security Council mandate given to NATO. The mandate granted to NATO to intervene in Libya was based on the modern doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which under international law allows intrusion, by the international community under UN authority, of another sovereign state’s sovereignty to protect civilian lives from war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity in the event that the state being intruded against is unable or unwilling to protect the lives of their own people from such international crimes. NATO’s bombing quickly turned from simply protecting the lives of innocent civilians from atrocities by their own government to a military intervention to achieve regime change by ousting Gaddafi which sparked intense debate about the relationship between R2P and “regime change” in the Security Council. Russia and China approved the resolution to trigger the R2P mission in Libya, and hence did not exercise their veto powers in the Security Council, felt betrayed by NATO’s deviation from the original intended mission sanctioned by the Security Council. This later became a problem when United Nations’ R2P missions in the Syria civil war, which potentially could save many innocent civilian lives, could not be triggered due to Russian and Chinese oppositions in the Security Council meaning no resolution could be passed to authorise the international community to intervene in Syria. The Russians and the Chinese feared another R2P mission in Syria could again be abused by the West by conducting another regime change mission to oust Assad in Syria to attempt to spread Western liberal democratic ideals in the middle-east as the neo-conservative Bush government tried to do in Iraq. The fact that the West acted beyond their UN mandate in Libya could rarely be found, if any could be found at all, in the Western mainstream media but is common public knowledge in scholarly work. The abuse of power of the R2P mission in Libya can be said to constitute a breach of international law.

In conclusion we can see that when we or our allies breach international law it is not reported, or if it is, the report is minimal with a spin towards justification or even exoneration. However when our foreign adversaries commit the breach of international law our media will jump at every opportunity to highlight this fact. This selective reporting, whether due to conscious or unconscious bias, dominate the Western mainstream media meaning if people want an alternative perspective or the other side’s view of the story in international conflicts they would have to go to non-mainstream media sources. What is reported in the mainstream media shapes popular opinions, beliefs and values in the popular and political culture in this post-modern age of instant communications and 24/7 news cycle. In Western liberal democracies, where freedom of speech and freedom of the press are bedrocks of the political and social system, international law and international relations are represented with an inherent pro-Western selective subtle bias. Arguably the mainstream media operates as a tool of promoting the realist policies of self-interest of Western governments to preserve and maximise their power and influence on the global stage as an extension of the realist’s theory of how and why nations behave in international relations. It is the political elite that defines the national interest and instill in the public’s mind what is being done in their name in promoting the national interest so it is the responsibility of a free independent press in a democratic state to participate in negotiating and debating the meaning of elastic political objectives, such as ‘international security’ and ‘national interest’, rather than merely handing down ready-made politically expedient definitions of them as constructed by the political elite without question.

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