Thursday 7 April 2022

Forgetting To Remember: News Coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian War.

Six O'Clock Stories: The journalism to which we are nightly subjected is not intended to supply information, it is intended to be affective – that is to say it is aimed almost exclusively at arousing our feelings.

WATCHING THE NEWS coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian War is a struggle. The entire Western news media, our own included, have hurled themselves into the fray on the side of “the brave Ukrainians”. There is nothing in the news coverage that encourages us to contrast and compare the events we are witnessing now, with remarkably similar events a great many of us have witnessed in the recent past. There’s nothing that encourages detachment, reflection or the exercise of sober judgement. As the war unfolds, our news bulletins have come to resemble George Orwell’s “Five Minute Hate” from Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The thing to bear in mind as you watch the news coverage is that it is the product of a whole team of journalists and technicians. They are the people who decide what is shown and how it is edited. They are the people who write the autocue script for the news anchor/s to read in front of the cameras.

What you are watching is a carefully constructed narrative which, in its essentials, does not change from broadcast to broadcast. We are supplied with a cast of heroes and villains to cheer on and condemn. An occasional nod in the direction of fairness and balance may be inserted, but any serious challenge to the dominant narrative will be contradicted more or less immediately. Nothing is permitted to blunt the emotional impact of the coverage. The journalism to which we are nightly subjected is not intended to supply information, it is intended to be affective – that is to say it is aimed almost exclusively at arousing our feelings.

Pause here and think about that for a minute or two. At war with Ukraine is a nation in possession of more nuclear devices than any other nation on the planet. With each passing day the Western news media’s portrayal of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, grows increasingly lurid. He has become a devil-like caricature: someone who is clearly either mad or bad – probably both.

The people responsible for our nightly news bulletins do nothing to dispel this characterisation, indeed, they reinforce it. No one anywhere appears to have asked themselves: “Is it wise to go on demonising Vladimir Putin? Is it prudent to promote the imposition of an ever-increasing number of crippling sanctions upon Putin, his supporters and the Russian people? If he truly is as mad and bad as the Western media is suggesting, might such tactics not cause him to lash out with his nuclear weapons?

Take, for example, the massacre of civilians at Bucha. Right across the West, Putin is being branded a war criminal, and calls are growing for him to be put on trial in the manner of Goering and Hess at the end of World War II.

Except that nobody knows what happened in Bucha – apart from the fact that many civilians lost their lives. There has been no independent investigation; no collection of evidence and eye-witness testimony, no patient piecing together of a timeline. The forensic work simply hasn’t been done.

The world simply does not know if the killings were the result of a deliberate policy, formulated by Russian commanders, at the behest of Putin; or, whether they were the awful consequence of terrified and panicky conscript soldiers who had seen dozens of their comrades killed and wounded as their armoured column was blown to pieces by the Ukrainian armed forces – fellow Slavs who, they’d been assured, were their friends and compatriots.

Inasmuch as he ordered the invasion of Ukraine, Putin is culpable. Without his order, the terrible events of the past few weeks would not have happened. In that sense, the Russian President does indeed have blood on his hands. But to hold him guilty of a war crime: without evidence, without witnesses, without a trial; isn’t that asking for trouble?

What incentive is the West giving Putin to negotiate a peace settlement? What is it doing to reduce the chances of the Russian Bear, backed into a corner, lashing out with his thermos-nuclear claws?

Moreover, as John Minto so rightly points out in his latest post, if Putin is a war criminal, then so are the men who launched the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. As anyone who has watched the disgusting video, released to the world by Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, of the crew of an American Apache attack-helicopter opening fire on a group of unarmed Iraqi civilians and journalists in Baghdad, on July 12, 2007, surely understands, there are no “goody” countries and “baddy” countries. The United States is no less guilty than the Russian Federation of plotting and waging “aggressive war” on a fellow member of the United Nations.

But, as John writes:

There were no sanctions against the US, UK and Australia, there were no US soldiers, military leaders or politicians held to account. There were no arms sent to help the Iraqis facing overwhelming odds in their fight against the US and its allies. There were no moves to charge George Bush (US President), Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister) or John Howard (Australian Prime Minister) for war crimes before the International Criminal Court. 

[In fact, the USA refuses to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court! – C.T.]

As our nightly news bulletins are put together over the course of the day there is scant evidence that anybody on the “team” is raising these sorts of objections, or demanding at least some effort be made to place what is happening in Ukraine in its historical context. While it is true that many younger journalists would only have been children in 2003, that is certainly not true of their senior colleagues. As experienced journalists they should all have vivid memories of the Iraq War and its many crimes.

What that means is that, in putting together their coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian War, New Zealand broadcasters and publishers are either unconsciously, or deliberately, suppressing all recollection of the events that have shaped the last thirty years.

One almost hopes they are doing so deliberately: that, at least, would suggest they believe in something – no matter how bereft it might be of historical understanding and/or moral purpose. The alternative explanation: that the past has simply dropped out of their day-to-day consciousness, and that they receive the Ukraine “story” ready-made from “sources” they see no need to interrogate or challenge; is much, much scarier.

It was the Czech novelist, Milan Kundera, who said it best:

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 7 April 2022.


mikesh said...

People also seem to be regarding Putin as a sort of modern Napoleon Bonaparte, out to conquer the world. However it seems unlikely that Russia would threaten, these days, Europe or any other country, except one it thinks threatening its own security.

John Drinnan said...

Well said, The disturbing fact for me as that you give ups hink that media should question this state of affairs, people notice the failure. They react by distrusting mainstream media and journalists.. So called public broadcasting has an added responsibility. imo.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

At least one journalist put a question to an American representative about this very matter. National radio of course, because you can guarantee that commercial radio just wants the clicks that general hysteria brings.
Having said that let's face it, war crimes have been institutionalised in the Russian army since World War II at least, and however you explain them, there is still no excuse for them. Those guys – conscripts or mercenaries – won't be prosecuted, whereas the US and the Brits have at least prosecuted the occasional war criminal. Although in the American case it's more in the breach than the observance.

David George said...

I've little faith in the media either Chris, I don't assume for a minute that they are speaking the truth.
The questions of extent and how far up the chain of command the responsibility lies remain unanswered, but that atrocities took place should surprise no one; these things happen in war. The utter depravity of the rape of Nankeen would be hard to surpass, but then there's the likes of Genghis Kahn for example.

There's a very good book "Ordinary Men" by Christopher Browning that chronicles the transition of, well, ordinary men, into cold blooded killers during the German occupation of Poland. What the hell happens to people, can any of us say we're immune to it?
Here's a brief intro to the book:

Anonymous said...

It truly is a propaganda machine. Some of my family and acquaintances are hooked into the narrative of the MSM and are agonising over the war. I'm not watching any of it from any source. The whole reason for the war is the US wants this war and has provoked it, as usual. Ukrainians are the bait and the victims.
I can't stand to watch TV or the news since last year even though it's been a lifetime habit. It's been non-stop Covid up to the non-stop Ukrainian war. Not to mention the ever pervasive advertising propagandas such as the 3 Waters fiasco and slower speeds on the roads dipstick people. There is nothing on TV that makes anyone feel good. The reality shows are contrived for drama with lying and cheating shown as part of everyday life. Our media should be pruned and weeded then regrown to create a standard of broadcasting that can be aspirational rather than deeply depressive. I would like to see Programme Managers interviewed to explain "what were they thinking?" when they decided to promote the garbage they are responsible for putting out on national media for general consumption.
The outlook is not hopeful short of a revolution of some sort.

Glenn Webster said...

The above only applies if you restrict your news to mainstream media.

Tom Hunter said...

What you are watching is a carefully constructed narrative which, in its essentials, does not change from broadcast to broadcast. We are supplied with a cast of heroes and villains to cheer on and condemn.

NO! Really? You mean vaxxers and "anti-vaxxers", or actually any citizen that refused to cooperate with all the rules and regulations.

An occasional nod in the direction of fairness and balance may be inserted, but any serious challenge to the dominant narrative will be contradicted more or less immediately.
I do recall seeing one interview on Newshub with the Otago university professor for Pediatric Health care, who pointed out that kids probably didn't need vaccinating because they were at such low risk from Covid-19. But it got buried by the opposite messaging.

Nothing is permitted to blunt the emotional impact of the coverage. The journalism to which we are nightly subjected is not intended to supply information, it is intended to be affective – that is to say it is aimed almost exclusively at arousing our feelings.
Again... No! Really?

Welcome to modern "journalism".

Tom Hunter said...

Assuming the previous comment gets trashed perhaps you'll appreciate the fact that nothing is new under the sun. Here's Tom Wolfe (yes, yes, I know, get your crosses and Holy Water out), writing about the US press in The Right Stuff:

It was as if the press in America, for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal, an animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a single nervous system. In the later 1950’s (as in the late 1970’s) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone should be established and should prevail; and all information that muddied the tone and weakened the feeling should simply be thrown down the memory hole.

And he gives a specific example of how this worked WRT the astronauts and regular, boring test pilots:
As a matter of fact, today, in Phoenix, what was it the local reporters wanted to ask Chuck Yeager about? Correct: the astronauts. One of them got the bright idea of asking Yeager if he had any regrets about not being selected as an astronaut.
Yeager smiled and said: ‘No, they gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, too fly the X-1 and the X-1A, and that’s more than a man could ask for right there. They gave this new opportunity to some new fellows coming along, and that’s what they ought to do.’

‘Besides,’ he added, ‘I’ve been a pilot all my life, and there won’t be any flying to do in Project Mercury.’
No flying?

That was all it took. The reporters looked stunned. In some way that they couldn’t comprehend immediately, Yeager was casting doubt on two indisputable facts: one, that the seven Mercury astronauts were chosen because they were the seven finest pilots in America, and two, that they would be pilots on the most daring flights in American history.

The thing was, he said, the Mercury system was completely automated. Once they put you in the capsule, that was the last you got to say about the subject.
Whuh! –

‘Well,’ said Yeager, ‘a monkey’s gonna make the first flight.’
A monkey?-

The reporters were shocked. It happened to be true that the plans called for sending up chimpanzees in both suborbital and orbital flights, identical to the flights the astronauts would make, before risking the men. But to just say it like that!…….Was this national heresy? What the hell was it?
Fortunately for Yeager, the story didn’t blow up into anything. The press, the eternal Victorian Gent, just couldn’t deal with what he had said. The wire services wouldn’t touch the remark. It ran in one of the local newspapers, and that was that.

Welcome to 2022 and coverage of Covid-19 in GodZone.

Archduke Piccolo said...

The coverage of that war in this country affects me, by a damned sight. That I am to be treated like one who doesn't understand complex issues (insofar as they ARE complex), who can't read between the lines - who has absolutely no agency or thought but what I am told to believe or think; frankly, it makes my blood boil.

Some of us might remember the National Government's bullshit narratives of event in 1981.

Unfortunately, it seems very few people question the official narrative now emanating from the US and NATO, and seem to get bally upset when anyone does. Ordinarily I object to the expression 'sheeple', but sometimes it seems all too apt.

Going by the track record over the last 30-plus of the United States, of NATO, of the main stream media, and even of this country, I'd a bloody sight sooner believe the Russians' narrative than any of the babyfood drivel served up in our mainstream propagandamedia. If only we got to hear their side - and that WITHOUT the West filtering through their malinformation processes.

Ion A. Dowman

Guerilla Surgeon said...

One thing you can say about the mainstream media – well two things I guess – they tend to use fact checkers, and they know how to spell Nanjing and Genghis Khan. Unless someone is absolutely perverted enough to rape a type of cotton cloth.
I trust the mainstream media to mostly get their facts right, I also trust them – some of the more commercial ones anyway – to slant the news in a way that gets clicks. I trust them not to outright lie, which is more than you can say for some of the more esoteric sites out there which tell lies so blatant that only the stupid would believe them. Unfortunately, there is a lot of stupid around. I trust them not to be Fox or Alex Jones, or any one of the myriad of nutty so-called "news" sites that seem to have sprung up since the Internet.I trust them to have access to people on the spot, either locals or people they've sent over there. I (mostly) trust them to interview reputable experts.
Again I would ask, if we don't trust the mainstream media, who do we trust? Certainly not people like Sean Hannity, or organisations like RT.

The best things in life are "hot water, good dentishtry and shoft lavatory paper."

Genghis Cohen

The Barron said...

"the Otago university professor for Pediatric Health care, who pointed out that kids probably didn't need vaccinating because they were at such low risk from Covid-19"

93,577 Covid19 cases 0-9 years old, 140,724 cases 10 -19 years old. The pediatric cohort has disproportionately spread the disease through Pasifika and Maori communities. Because of vaccination, New Zealand has been able to manage the health system but there has been one death of a child under 10. Fiji had many children that died in their outbreak.

' The study - published in JAMA Network Open this week - followed more than 3000 children who presented to emergency departments and tested positive to the virus from 10 countries, including New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

It aimed to find out how frequently children presenting to emergency departments and infected with the virus experienced severe outcomes (such as myocarditis, neurological, respiratory, or infectious problems) and what were the risk factors.' - RNZ 13.01.22

Pediatric Long Covid will likely follow the pattern of pediatric CFS / ME. Percentage numbers will go up with age, 95% will have life long problems. 25% will be severely disabled. NZ has not kept the statistical record, but both British and Australian surveys has CFS / ME as the cause of the most missed school hours. Suicide rates are thought to be very high, especially when combined with other risk factors (Maori, Pasifika, young, poverty).

Since you revisit the anti-vax / mandate argument - I will leave you with one of the American 'founding Fathers', John Jay [co-author of the Federalist Papers with Hamilton and Madison, fist US Chief Justice -

"Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers."

thesorrow&thepity said...

Well we could read articles from independent Russian news agencies...... oh wait!... they all got closed down over the course of 20 years, whilst the Kremlin waged a war of intimidation & murder against Russian journalists.

Do you honestly mean RT, the Kremlin's propaganda mouthpiece, for getting a "contrast & comparison".

The old leftie baby boomers are akin to a cargo cult, desperately crying out "Vlad come back, Vlad come back", hoping that their champion against the "hypocrisies of the West" will return to them.
It's time the left had a good look at itself in the mirror & admit that their "hero" was a figment of their imaginations, an apparition of their wishes.
A chimera; the lefts fantasy always at odds with the beasts actual actions (such as blowing up Moscow apartment building to start the 2nd Chechen War).

If I wish to "compare & contrast" the Kremlin in the rare moments when it's being honest, I'll quote a Russian rocket, the scratches & indentations over its writing showing it's message was written BEFORE it was aimed at a train station evacuating women & children

"for the children"