The role of media and public opinion in foreign policy February 13, 2014
Overview • Public opinion and foreign policy • Media and foreign policy • Procedural versus substantive criticism and influence • Media, public opinion, and theoretical perspectives • New technology and the ‘war on terror’
Public opinion, media and foreign policy • Not traditionally a lot of focus on media and public opinion in IR • More focus on foreign policy, but even here not traditionally a lot of focus • FP has tended to look at role of media through impact of societal groups on decision-making • Understanding foreign policy processes at the international level requires analysis of state-level influences on foreign policy decisions
Pluralist model: No one group or set of interests can dominate Media and public are independent from political influence and can act as a constraint on government Assumes that power is dispersed throughout society Two models for understanding the role of the media
Elite model: • Power concentrated within elite groups able to dominate politics • Media & public opinion subservient to political elites; media only a mouthpiece for government • In this view media isn’t really independent and instead works more to mobilize public support for government policies
Public opinion and foreign policy • In a democracy, we expect that the pluralist model should be true • A government is supposed to be responsive to public opinion • Challenge is that we see differing views of the public: attentive, mass, non-attitudes, irrational • Clashing ideas about ability of public opinion to influence foreign policy
Public opinion & media Pluralist: public opinion is independent of government and the media (media as objective and public capable of forming an independent opinion) Elite: public opinion (and media) either irrelevant to policy makers or a pre-established audience for policy makers Media are central to the public opinion/foreign policy nexus.
Media and foreign policy • Within democratic states, the media is supposed to facilitate a full and open debate on important issues within the public sphere. The news media includes: • Television news & current affairs programming • Newspapers • On-line media (a little bit outside traditional model) • Acts as watchdog, agenda-setter, news index, etc.
Conversely tend to think of the elite model applying more to authoritarian governments • Media is controlled by the state • Media acts as mouth-piece for the state • Almost more propaganda rather than news
The impact of media? • In his memoirs, US President Nixon wrote: • “More than ever before, television showed the terrible human suffering and sacrifice of war… the result was a serious demoralization of the home front, raising the question of whether America would ever again be able to fight an enemy abroad with unity and strength of purpose at home.”
The Vietnam effect • The Vietnam War seen by many as key turning point in US in understanding the impact of media on foreign policy • Start to see new arguments and research on the impact of the media on policy development
Children fleeing napalm Source: Photograph taken by Bettman (8 June 1972). Distributed by Corbis
Execution of an alleged Vietcong prisoner Source: Photograph taken by Eddie Adams. Distributed by PA
Indexing,priming & framing • Indexing - media follow elites both in terms of framing issues and setting the news agenda, don’t set out on their own • Priming - ability of media to prepare and direct public to the issues on which they should judge their leaders
Framing- the way information is presented influences how public perceive specific issues • Korean airliner vs Iranian airliner being shot down
‘Procedural’ criticism and influence: describes media criticism and influence that relates to debates over the implementation of policy decisions. ‘Substantive’ criticism and influence: describes criticism and influence that relates to the underlying justifications and rationale for particular foreign policies. Procedural versus substantive criticism and influence
Find that mainstream media criticism tends to be more at procedural level rather than challenging the underlying justifications for policy choices
Media, public opinion, and theoretical frames The relationship among public opinion, media and foreign policy can be integrated with major IR schools of thought: • Realism • Liberalism • Critical approaches
New technology and the ‘war on terror’ • Have seen rise in new forms of communication technology: Internet and global media (CNN & Al-Jazeera) • We would expect that this would make states unable to suppress ‘bad news’. • Critical question: whether peoples of the world have become any more, or any less, informed about global affairs.
The ‘War on Terror’ • For liberals, the appearance of new issues, such as the ‘war on terror’, challenge their claims for the existence of a more adversarial and independent post-Cold War media • For realist and critical approaches, the ‘war on terror’ and its impact upon media autonomy and public perception of global affairs, confirms subservience of both to broader political and economic forces
Conclusion • Media has important influence on public opinion and FP • Media can be seen as democratic force holding state accountable (pluralist) or mouth piece for the state, mobilizing the public to its cause (elite) • New technology has potential to make it harder to states to control message, but verdict still out