ICAR Courses Address Gulf between American and European Media Coverage

Posted: March 10, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Fran Rensbarger and Tara Laskowski

Richard Rubenstein, professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR), has been zeroing in on the differences between the way American journalists and news reporters from other regions of the world cover conflicts. His new courses, Media and Conflict and Media Skills for Peacemakers, which grew out of two world conferences on media coverage of conflict, allow students to examine how the print and broadcast news media cover serious social conflicts, why this coverage is often inadequate, and how it can be improved.

Last year, as a result of severe differences seen in press coverage between European and American news media on the Iraq War, a group of interested people from ICAR, the European Parliament, and the People’s Program in Chicago decided to convene a small conference in Brussels. “Mass Media Coverage of Violent Conflicts: European and American Perspectives” was attended by Aidan White, secretary-general of the International Federation of Journalists; Glyn Ford, member of the European Parliament; David Milliner, publisher of the Chicago Defender; and Annabel McGoldrick, cochair of the British organization Reporting the World.

“The discussions were so interesting that we decided to hold a larger version, including African, Asian, and Latin American perspectives, in Washington, D.C., in November,” Rubenstein says. The conference, “News Media Coverage of Violent Conflicts: European, American, and Global Perspectives,” also addressed concrete suggestions for the education of journalists and the formation of new journalist and scholar networks.

As a result of these two successful conferences, ICAR developed the three-credit course, Media and Conflict, for Mason students. Drawing on some of the conclusions the global conference attendees reached in their discussions, the Media and Conflict course allows students to explore the role of the news media in society and examine the differences in coverage of conflict around the world. For example, Rubenstein found that European and third-world coverage of the war in Iraq and other international conflicts was generally superior to coverage by the U.S. media.

“European and third-world coverage often provided richer and more relevant contextual information, was more thorough in covering the impact on civilians, and reflected a wider range of political views,” says Rubenstein. He says the reasons for this might have to do with the fact that European and third-world journalists are trained differently—with more focus on history and social science rather than just journalistic techniques—and that other journals and broadcast stations are publicly-supported and “reflect a tradition of independent inquiry and resistance to government censorship.”

However, another interesting finding Rubenstein discusses in his courses involves the coverage of “internal” social conflicts. Rubenstein finds that U.S. coverage of its own conflicts—involving race, ethnicity, national origin, religious diversity—were considered more comprehensive, accurate, and creative than the coverage of similar issues in Europe or other regions. He believes it has to do with both the history and the current state of the country. “In part, [the difference in coverage of internal conflicts] is because of America’s long history in dealing openly with such issues, beginning with the antislavery press of the 19th century, and because of the tendency of some Europeans to deny that such problems exist on a systemic level in their countries.” In the course, students also study the way journalistic enterprises are structured throughout the world.

To add to the knowledge of the role media plays in resolving or exacerbating social conflicts, the one-credit Media Skills course teaches students in conflict analysis and resolution how to relate to the news media and the public with a more hands-on approach by writing press releases, letters to the editor, and op-ed pieces, as well as organizing public forums and giving interviews.

Rubenstein hopes that by adding the two courses to ICAR’s course list, students will become more aware of the availability and effectiveness of nonviolent alternatives to force, and also will become more perceptive media analysts and improve on their interpretive, writing, and oral skills.

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