Nov 5, 2009

International Media and the Framing of Tehran and Kabul

Robin Brown begins the 'Spinning the War' piece with a quote from Karl Von Clausewitz that perfectly embodies both the Brown and Hafez pieces on global media "War is nothing more than the continuation of politics".

As both readings prove, much of the way the people of the world see the 'War on Terror' is based on the media. According to Robin Brown, "as Politics and society change so does the nature of war," thus, since we live in a multimedia world with a 24 hour news cycle the portrayals and framing of the 'enemies' and 'enemy nations' have a lot to do with how the 'War on Terror' and issues framed around it are perceived.

For instance, in class I made the statement that though Twitter played a huge role in Iran's Green Revolution, to present it as a revolution made possible by American companies (let's not leave out the roles that Facebook, Youtube, Google Maps, and Flickr all played as well) makes it more of a novelty, a one time phenomenon. In reality though, the power of the Green Revolution was that it gathered together masses of people in Iran. This was an important development as many critics have cited Iranian apathy with Ahmadinejad's original rise to power. Iranians of all ages, sexes, and classes were marching in the streets. Whether it was mullahs marching in the streets, Ayatollahs dissing Ahmadinejad, declaring fatwas or calling the election illegitimate, the Green Revolution brought people from all spectrums of Iranian society to the streets both in favor of and against the government. It was more than the Event-Centered definition of news that Hafez points to.

There was little talk of the significance of a movement in Iran that engages all people, not just students (as in 1999) and that harkens back to the original revolution of '79 (calls of Allah hu Akbar). It also went against the traditional geographic tropes that the media uses to break down the world. As Hafez says, spatial representations like the 'The West' and 'The Islamic World' rarely define the central themes of very real places. Mousavi was not calling for the overthrow of Iran's theocracy, in fact, it must be asked if many people in the West truly knew Mousavi and his possible Administration would have stood for. The Green Revolution was not the traditional idea of conflict represented in the international media - Democracy vs. Islam. These people felt robbed of their vote for a man who by all Western standards was probably not too dissimilar to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in many ways, but more important the candidates, the people of Iran demanded that their voices be heard. This was not Al Gore vs. George Bush in Tehran, this was a vocal outcry for their votes. For the Iranians to prove that they do have a voice.

To further complicate these spatial definitions, when Ahmadinejad and Khameini both reverted to the red herrings of Zionism, Israel, and Imperialism, the people of took to the streets shouting “No to Gaza, No to Lebanon, I‘m giving my life to Iran.“

Brown goes on to talk about how the media shapes perceptions of supporters, neutral groups, and opponents influences whether someone will become involved in a war and how they will participate. This notion of shaping a conflict plays very well into the U.S. representation of Afghanistan. Much has been said about Afghanistan being a land of cultural turmoil, constant war, and oppression but very little is ever said about the time between the 60s and early 80s that many people refer to as Afghanistan's 'golden age.' The Western media only presents the post-Taliban Afghanistan of death and destruction but rarely reference the period in which there was development, stability, Afghan professionals, education, safety, and professional educated women. Yes, this may have only existed in the larger cities and the nation still faced many problems, but it is important for the people of the United States in particular to know that we are more than just bombs and burqas and yet that is never presented in the mainstream Western media. Why?

Does it make it easier for the U.S. to fight the war and imply that they must bring advancement, development, education, and success to Afghanistan? If anything, the United States is doing themselves a disservice because now many anti-war activists are using a 'cultural difference' as reasons why the United States should pull out of Afghanistan. In reality though, these things existed in Afghanistan before the U.S. and before the Soviets - a fact that both Afghans in Afghanistan and the American people must be reminded of.


  1. This is a really insightful post, Ali. I particularly liked what you said about Ahmadinejad's rise to power being tied to apathy. Maybe that's where the true strength of the press lies -- in making people care. Hafez suggested that media don't set policy so much as follow it, but Brown focuses a little more on how the media actually does influence foreign interventions--namely by shaping and framing perceptions. Even Brown seemed to feel that this power was limited, but the media have played a role in transmitting emotional images and ideas.

  2. Regrading you question about why Afghanistan is only portrayed in the Western media in context of the current military conflict:

    I can't postulate as to what the non-English Western press reports on, but I get the impression that the major English-language media outlets (TV in particular) focus almost exclusively on international events and issues that have an impact on or relevance to the lives of English-speaking audiences. Mainstream news outlets are not-- or traditionally were not, at least-- designed to be a forum for cultural exchange or in-depth education. They are supposed to deliver newsworthy information, and providing historical background is not always their strong suit.

    Of course, there are "special reports" scattered throughout the weekly programming; and I don't think that 24-hour news outlets would be able to fill up their schedules without human interest stories here and there. In various classes we've heard about the dangers of reporting in Afghanistan and the language and cultural barriers that reporters face in the region. Perhaps news outlets are content to get their softer stories from places or people who are easier to access.

    I wonder if your discontent is representative of the feelings of other ethnic groups living in the U.S. and accessing English-language Western media for news about their "home country." Do you think that outlets like Al-Jazeera do a better job of presenting a multifaceted Afghanistan, or do they also focus primarily on the conflict?