Jo Groebel, the director of the German Digital Institute, spoke with DW-WORLD.DE about the media coverage of the Middle East and why violence dominates news reports while peace is seldom mentioned.
Images of death can influence public perceptions
Professor Jo Groebel has written and edited numerous books about new media and the Internet. He also co-wrote "Aggression and War: Their Biological and Social Bases," which dissects human aggression and war. Until recently, he was the Director General of the European Institute for the Media.
DW-WORLD.DE: In a general sense, what have you observed from the current conflict in the Middle East and the role that the media has played?
Jo Groebel: In the Middle East there is the situation of political violence and the role of individual versus national aggression. Are these the actions of individuals who are caught up in the continual fighting or individual acts of violence? The role of communication and media in these situations shows that there is a certain unbalance. They were not presented as victims on the Israeli side, and people reacted to individual pictures -- especially from Hezbollah -- which were presented differently to Israel. My assumption is that Israel cared less about public opinion and people started to feel more sympathetic to Hezbollah, which was a reaction to the images of violence and death that were shown on the Hezbollah side. Although these events were still present on the Israel side, they were not shown as constantly.
Use of media for propaganda: Hezbollah television Al -Manar
What is your perception of the recent coverage of the conflict in Lebanon?
There is the whole question of what gets more attention -- war or peace? The problem is that by being violent you get more attention, and this is has more news value. People are more interested in the negatives than the positives. From a rewards point of view, getting more attention means more publicity of the cause.
In this conflict, at the moment, there has been confirmation, especially from the Hezbollah side, that there has been manipulation of media by showing certain images. A few years ago, there was footage of a young child looking into the camera and this same type of image appeared recently in Lebanon, whether this is a coincidence is questionable. One tends to compare the recent conflicts to what happened in Iraq about three years ago, where there were major discussions about the reporting and embedded journalists who were working in Iraq. In the case of recent events the discussion only started a couple of days ago, before that there was no discussion.
An embedded Time magazine journalist has up close experience with war in Iraq
There are three main issues that have influenced the coverage of the current conflict. Firstly, this is considered another kind of war. People are used to seeing conflict, but unlike Iraq, which held bad public opinion, the conflict in Lebanon was not a surprise and inevitably lacked extreme impact. Secondly, people expect propaganda and therefore could be immune to, or even cynical about, the images that they see in this conflict because of the images that came from Iraq. Thirdly, people get used to this sort of conflict. If more people had died, it would have made big news. In the case of Germany's coverage, it was in the news every 24 hours and there was permanent coverage. However, for other European news it was amongst the top stories of the regular news bulletin, but there was not much more than coverage.
Considering the recent development of a peace deal between the fighting parties, how do you think media audiences take this sort of outcome, in light of what you said previously about the expectation of conflict in the region?
My assumption is that no one will assume that peace will happen. However, all the sides that are involved in the conflict have both confirmed their will to act and to open dialogue. There is some credibility to this process and hope for periodical peace. But there is no assuming that this is will be certain.
Are there any notable differences of the media coverage for the Israel and Hezbollah conflict compared to other conflicts around the world?
What I find particularly interesting is the use of what is called amateur or informal media, like Weblogs, web images and such, that has been applied in professional conflict reporting. This has meant anyone who has access to camera and the Internet, can post pictures on the Web. If you receive an image from someone who is actually there and has actual images, that can seem to be more credible information.
However, there are ethical dilemmas with this situation and ideally, a journalist is the one doing the stories and taking the pictures, because they are working by a code of ethics and have a certain standard of objectivity and do not have the same local ties as someone living there. This is important, to be cautious about amateur photographs, because they can be digitally changed and manipulated and the impact that the pictures publicized by Hezbollah have are an example of this.