Diversity, autonomy and control in news media coverage of modern warfare : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Defence and Strategic Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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The influence of the news media in time of war has been argued about since the Crimean conflict and became a major issue in more recent history over the US withdrawal from the Vietnam War. This thesis seeks to contribute to the debates by exploring the news coverage of incidents in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict and post-invasion Iraq conflict to determine whether there has been an increase in that influence. Some analysts see an increase in influence arising out of the rise of the “new” internet-based and digital news media applications, including social networking sites, citizen journalism, dedicated on-line news sites and audience and specialist group news-related sites, and the linkage of these with traditional news outlets. They argue that increased diversity of coverage by an increasingly aggressive, adversarial news media, who have become participant actors in modern conflicts, is symptomatic of this increase in influence. This thesis concludes that there was unprecedented diversity in the coverage of three signal events in these the post-invasion Iraq and the Gaza conflicts and evidence of increased aggression by the news media as adversarial actors. But it did not find that there was substantial enhancement in the autonomy of the news media to the point where they presented a serious challenge to the control of the power holders in society. The evidence suggested that while there has been movement by the news media on a news media autonomy – power holder control continuum, it has to be kept in perspective. Such movement as occurred has been largely countered by the power holders (in these instances the political and military directors) through formal and informal forms of censorship and by adapting or adopting the new news media applications to their own purposes. This thesis takes a social constructionist approach applying quantitative and qualitative frame analysis in a single study, to the news content concerning the two conflicts, of an international range of multi-platform (print, broadcast and internet-based) news media outlets as revealed by their digital archives. Linking these three types of increasingly inter-woven media, and especially including a variety of internet-based outlets, represents an extension of recent trends in news media content research. This approach raises issues and challenges. But it necessary given that today large proportions of audiences obtain information on which they base their views and opinions from not one, but several news media platforms. Further research using this approach is urged as is the further development of the approach itself to keep pace with the rapidly evolving “new” news media (formed around bloggers, citizen journalists, the casual “everyperson” reporter and the interpersonal networks), increasingly interacting with or complementing more traditional forms of news media. Implications and lessons raised by this thesis for the principal actors, including suggestions for improving the sometimes difficult military-news media relationship, are also set out.
News media coverage, War in mass media, News media influence, Gaza, Iraq, Digital news media, News censorship