Media Frames

Jannie Botes

Assistant Professor, Program on Negotiations and Conflict Management, University of Baltimore

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: The reason why I think the relationship between journalism and conflict is so important is because everything that we know about conflict other than the conflicts that we are involved in ourselves, we get through the media. What do you and I know about Northern Ireland unless you've academically studied it or read it out of the media or perhaps know somebody from there. Most people get their information about conflict from the media. That is the first thing for me on the relationship between journalism and conflict. If we then accept that in a democracy, we the people should have an impact on how a conflict is resolved or a say in it or let our elected officials know what we think or lead them somewhere or expect them to do something. All that is based on is our knowledge of the case itself, which we got from the media.

So the ideas that we get from the media, how the media frames these issues, and how they for instance get the parties in the dispute; all of that we use to base our ideas of management of transformation. Or how it could be transformed or ended. All that we base on the information that we get from the media, therefore how they report conflict directly impacts everybody because I would go as far to saying that 8 out of 10 times we frame our knowledge from what we got from the media. One thing that I found very interesting was that when I lived in South Africa was that now and then Time magazine would report on South Africa and make a big boo-boo. What scared me was if they got a fact really wrong was not so much that it would change the world, but I said to myself, I got lots of my information about the world from reading Time magazine every week, so if they just make one or two big errors in every story that I read every week, as they make it on South Africa every now and then, how distorted does my view of that conflict become? That was always a fascinating question for me.

Q: I have something to say about that actually, I was reading in the Nation the other day and someone was complaining about the correction section in the NY Times because the fact that they have a correction section presumes that the rest of the paper is right!

A: I read the same thing. So you know, therefore, ultimately, how media frames conflict, who they talk to, who is defined as the parties, whether they report the conflict only as an event, or as a social process all helps to frame the conflict. Whether they report it as a social process in terms of something that escalates or de-escalates. All those factors, I think play a role and explain to us the importance of the relationship between journalism and conflict because we base our understanding of this on the way they report it.