Foreign Policy and Media: A General Perspective

foreign policy makers are the ones who drive media attention towards certain foreign events, and even determine the way those events are being framed (manufacturing consent

There is a great discussion about the relationship between media and foreign policy formulation. Many journalists, policy-makers and scholars argue that there really is little doubt that media profoundly affect the foreign policy process.

Some of the studies have established the fact that media of a country favor and promote foreign policy of the country, particularly during times of crisis or war. It is also confirmed that the media of a particular country plays a pivotal role in framing public opinion not only within the country but also persuade masses of other states.

Media formulates foreign policy by shaping public opinion. Media is involved in all stages of foreign policy formulation processes and political leaders take media into consideration in its national and international aspects. Involvement of media in this regard is complex.

When an external, international event occurs, political leaders learn about it from media. This information is processed through various image components and than the policy or decision formulating process is set in motion. Media advisors and public relation professionals participate in this procedure; officials consult with them and consider their advice. Finally, they take the media into account when they outline their policy and match to it the suitable media tools.

In order to demonstrate how media have revolutionized foreign policy construction process, the image of the Soviet missile crisis in Bay of Pigs, during John F. Kennedy’s government is often mentioned. During first six days of the crisis, Kennedy and his advisers had the chance to deliberate in secrecy about which course of action they were to take.

Capability of keeping the situation in secret kept foreign policy makers from dealing with “public hysteria” or media pressures. However, perspective has changed significantly due to the changed world scenario with the end of the ‘Cold War’ and technological developments in the field of communication.

These days live news coverage provided information to the audiences 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world, with no regards for diplomatic secrecy. These contextual changes redefine the relationship between the media and foreign policy decision-making process, though there is a great debate about its accomplishments and limitations.

Previous research studies on foreign policy decision-making portrays media mainly as a tool for delivering messages only during the course of action, but the last decades exposed that this point-of-view minimizes actual role of media, which is much more complex.

Although media does not make policy, but rather that media is mobilized (manipulated even) into supporting government policy especially with reference to foreign events. Glenn Snyder and his colleagues stated that ‘Decision makers act upon and respond to conditions and factors that exist outside them and the governmental organization of which they are a part. Setting has two aspects: external and internal. Setting is really a set of categories of potentially relevant factors and conditions that may affect the action of any state.

They describe internal setting as a human environment composed of culture and population and include public opinion. If we adopt a revised perspective on this setting, the media may be a major component of this environment. It can be described as the tool which expresses the non-governmental interpretations and expectations of the various members or groups of the society, as well as a tool to express government policy in state-owned ‘or dominated’ media.

Mass media as an environmental factor in a specific state involve six variables: first, the political communication regime in the state under consideration, second, the communication policy adopted by the government of that state, third, the political economy setting of the mass media, fourth, the various communication channels and technologies existing in that country, fifth, the typical functions performed by media channels and finally, news values, the criteria that lead media ‘gatekeepers’ to include items and events in the news.

Relation between state and press is divided into Four Theories of the Press: the Authoritarian, Soviet, Social Responsibility and Libertarian and two additional theories included ‘Development’ and ‘Democratic-Participant’. These regimes are characterizes as; who owns media? How are media financed? Who appoints the editors?

Finally, is the content of the media controlled or censored? In an authoritarian regime, for example, government owns, finances, appoints the editors and controls and even censors the content of the media. These theories define the specific press-government relation which provides the ground to set the main rules of the communication policy of the government towards the media which finally influence the foreign policy.

The government on the basis of Communication Regime pattern states the communication policy’s goals such as; promoting competition and pluralism in the media, minimizing regulations, preventing cross-ownership, allocating broadcasting frequencies, protecting copyrights, etc.
Similarly, most of the modern mass media are motivated by economic criteria, namely profit and business considerations.

Although media does not make policy, but rather that media is mobilized (manipulated even) into supporting government policy especially with reference to foreign events.
Following are the other trends which define this field;
Advertising; the primary income source for media organizations
Concentration of media to merge into large corporations
Acquiring of media organizations by non-media corporations
Media organizations become part of multi-national global corporations and these corporations tend to;
become media monopolies
try to increase their audiences by using the most modern technologies
have strong political and other ties with governments

The abovementioned trends are typical of democratic or developing states and define economic setting of mass media. Free-market media economics is limited in authoritarian states where the media are state-owned. Therefore, media regime and communication policy also define to what extent commercial processes such as concentration and globalization are possible in a given state.

The communication regime, communication policy and economic background provide basis for the fourth dimension i.e. the existence of the various communication channels, from print, radio, TV and modern multimedia interactive technologies. Moreover, variety of channels includes national media environment operating in the state and international channels penetrating from abroad using new technologies and opening the state to an international media environment.

In the modern democratic state with commercialized media there is hardly any way to differentiate between these two media environments, and they can be viewed as an integrated media package of internal media and press and international media sources. In authoritarian states where media are not located in an open market, media package is unilateral exclusively internal because no external-inter-national influence is allowed.

Through their professional performance, mass media provide components of internal foreign policy decision-making package through following distinguishing roles ;
Surveillance of the environment
Correlation of the parts of society in responding to the environment
Transmission of the social heritage from one generation to the next.

Foreign-policy environment demands three of the relevant roles including informative, correlative, and mobilizing. In performing these functions, the mass media integrate the national society as part of the internal environment.

Reporters inform public of international, foreign and security events; journalists (analysts) provide background, interpretation and commentary on the information. Thus media provide support to the established authority and its norms, especially in times of crisis or peace process. Here the press performs its mobilizing and recruiting role, thus creating a joint media-government environmental component. It is important to note that there is a possibility that media can also go against the government in some cases.

News values determine the criteria that lead editors to include items concerning war, peace or any other foreign-policy events in the news. It directs journalists to follow rules in making such decisions, or do they act spontaneously?

Therefore, media coverage of certain events has potential to drive the policies that foreign policy makers conduct regarding the events covered. Secondly, foreign policy makers are the ones who drive media attention towards certain foreign events, and even determine the way those events are being framed (manufacturing consent).

Media effects on foreign policy decision making can not be ignored. One of the important media effect is that it accelerants the process of foreign policy making, in this modality, media are presumed to shorten the time of decision-making response. Yet, media can also become a “force multiplier”, a “method of sending signals” to the opponent. This effect is most plausible to appear in conventional warfare, strategic deterrence, and tactical deterrence.

Second effect is media as impediment; this takes two forms, as an emotional inhibitor, and as a threat to operational security. It is presumed, public support is undermined by media coverage of casualties. As a threat to operational security, media are said to compromise success of an operation by broadcasting it and, thus, revealing strategic information to the enemy, frustrating the success of the operation. This kind of effect is likely to appear during conventional warfare, tactical deterrence, peace making and peace keeping operations.

The third likely effect of the media on foreign policy making is that of the media as an agenda setting agent. It is presumed that the coverage of humanitarian crises puts the issue in the foreign policy agenda and drives intervention.

Therefore, it can be concluded that media and foreign policy decision-making process influence one another, sometimes directly, others indirectly.

By: Dr. Anjum Zia

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