Media Framing Informs and Influences

The media, like any other communicator, influences by what it says and how it says it, as well as what it doesn’t say. The media provides a window to the world by describing the goings on of the local council or of far away places. Surrounding this window is a frame that helps highlight facets of the events and issues to help the reader make connections. The reader opinion is thus shaped by the quality of the framing by the reporter.

Here’s a quick look at two recent news stories of the same thing. One frames the discussion and the other does not. One is for US audiences and the other is not. Which do you think would generate a more positive view of the profiled activities?

Here are the first five paragraphs of news item titled “US military Tweets to counter Taliban”:

The U.S. military in Afghanistan is launching a Facebook page, a YouTube site and feeds on Twitter as part of a new communications effort to reach readers who get their information on the Internet rather than in newspapers, officials said Monday.

The effort, which officials described as a way to counter Taliban propaganda, represents a sea change in how the military can communicate its message.

"There’s an entire audience segment that seeks its news from alternative means outside traditional news sources, and we want to make sure we’re engaging them as well," said Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan.

The military on Monday announced the death of U.S. service member the previous day from non-combat-related injuries in southern Afghanistan by posting the news on Twitter hours before announcing it in a more formal press statement.

The military is also encouraging troops to post stories and photos on Web sites in an effort to portray daily life in Afghanistan, including stories about development projects that may not make the news.

Now here are the first five paragraphs from a different source:

The Taliban “never lie.” So says one of the insurgent group’s usual spokesmen, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, speaking via cellphone recently from an undisclosed location.

The insurgents are agents of peace, he declares. Meanwhile, Canadian and other coalition soldiers in Afghanistan “kill innocent civilians, especially women and children. They are the cruelest in the world.”

The Taliban and their adjuncts can say whatever they like, of course, with no fear of reprisal. They follow no rules, and they are seldom held to account by western journalists and war correspondents, who tend to focus more on coalition armies.

Yet Taliban media strategies are becoming more sophisticated. They work hard at getting out messages to local populations, and at shaping public opinion, here and abroad.

Even their most outrageous claims can become conventional wisdom. Once accepted by Afghan civilians, Taliban propaganda often filters into western media stories where it can be interpreted as fact.

Granted, the stories aren’t equal in length. The first is 318 words while the second is 1,245. The title and simplicity of the first story conveys a sense of silliness, I mean really, using Twitter to counter the Taliban? This is opposed to the second story which, by its title and opening, says there’s an information way going on and it’s about time we armed for it.

The trouble is few Americans read the second story or anything like it. They read the first and fail to understand even the purpose of using information as they read stories like this.

Here’s the first news story: US military Tweets to counter Taliban by Jason Straziuso, Associated Press

The second news story (recommended reading): NATO moves to counter Taliban propaganda machine by Brian Hutchinson, CanWest News Service

4 Replies to “Media Framing Informs and Influences”

  1. Agreed that the second story frames the communications challenge faced in Afghanistan as a much more effective call to action; but the content of the report – that we are still trying to wage this information war through technology – is very depressing, and betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the operating environment – i.e. what ‘works’ in Afghanistan, that after 7.5 years there is pretty worrying.First and foremost we need strategy not satellites. And in writing that strategy, we need to understand that communications networks and environments familiar to us in the West, are not the most effective or trusted channels in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.
    Or even relevant for that matter: our targets… “including popular social networking sites such as Facebook”. Really?,.. Really??
    For a good response to this, check out Lorelei Kelly’s Huff Post blog piece last week:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lorelei-kelly/our-president-in-cairo-mu_b_211745.html
    The three paragraphs on Afghanistan are here:
    American involvement in Afghanistan-Pakistan confronts us with perhaps the toughest communication challenge in the mix. Our present policy combines both counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, i.e. protecting civilians and going after the bad guys. It thus relies on both coercion and consent — often at the same time. The case against the predator drone strikes, in fact, is emblematic of this policy struggle. Are the strikes worth it if they engender so much anger that the population turns irretrievably against us? That they become impossible to persuade? Are we offering them any compelling alternatives? I would argue not enough.
    Afghanistan is definitely not going to tilt toward consent through technological means. This is where western strategic communications needs a complete revamp. For example, the International Assistance Security Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) plans to install new satellite transmitters across the country, ostensibly to move anti-insurgent messages as quickly as possible. Targets are to include traditional information sources and new media, including popular social networking sites such as Facebook and possibly using local cellphone systems to transmit counter-insurgency messages to villagers via text-message. Um. does ISAF know that only 28% of Afghans are literate? Or that only 18 in 1000 people uses the Internet? (and most of those are likely in Kabul) Having worked in Congress, it makes me wonder whose cousin is getting the satellite contract because they can’t be spending these resources based on a real strategy for victory.
    Success in Afghanistan is going to require a completely different type of community engagement — one that is basic and implemented Afghan to Afghan. Even more, it must be truly bottom up and put local power ahead of federal power because Kabul is not uniformly recognized as a credible nor legitimate authority. Americans and other foreigners are going to be involved on the periphery — if at all. I don’t know exactly what success looks like, but it would most likely include all sorts of person to person interaction: activities, meetings of significant community leaders and include roles for observers, validators, surrogates, convenors… a fantastic challenge of coordinated human communication — one that can’t be done by ISAF or any outsider. Kabul could possibly be a coordinating hub… a city as facilitator… but this type of strategy would require us to work on the margins, step back, let go, not know what’s going on necessarily, and accepting it.

  2. definitely agree with this post…I do have the same problem in my country too about the influence of media

  3. I want really call a silliness using facebook to counter propaganda. It´s a way to spread your own truth, your perspective (in this case, the one of the U.S. Military). It´s true that, taking into consideration the figures of literacy of the huffingtonpost one must recognise that such messages now probably only reach the Western world but literacy (and english), ict and new media will be more and more present among the population of Afghanistan, right?Furthermore we shall don´t forget the power of images, which U.S. Military´s use in these new strategy and which can potentially be picked up by local tvs and medias.

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