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War 2.0: Political Violence & New Media « Previous | |Next »
October 8, 2009

War 2.0: Political Violence & New Media is a two day conference at the ANU hosted by the Department of International Relations. The context for me with respect to foreign correspondents is the importance of the image in war --they are a weapon of war in their own right---and the blurring between news and entertainment, which doesn't bother to explain what the over-all picture of the conflict is. Moreover, the mass or corporate media do not play the role as an effective Fourth Estate in war, whilst the new media technology are helping to shape how we interpret these conflicts.

The questions addressed by the symposium are good ones. They are questions such as:

What is 'new' about new media? How have the transformations in media technology influenced media-military relations? How have these transformations impacted upon traditional media actors? How are war, conflict, terrorism and violence represented; what are the consequences of these representations? In what ways has new media technology empowered marginalised voices in war, conflict, and terrorism? And how has the transformation of the media landscape impacted on the way states conduct their foreign policy?

I've been watching the live feed of the talks yesterday and today, and I've able to participate through twitter's conversation that updated itself in real time behind the speakers. The podcasts of some of the keynote talks and panel discussions are here. These are big pluses, and they are due to the internet and digital technology.

The theme of the conference was set by James Der Derian's opening key note speech. The background is his Virtuous War: mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network. In this text Der Derian updates the Eisenhower's concept of the military-industrial complex to take account of technological changes. He maps the implications of Eisenhower’s warnings over the “unwarranted influence” of the arms industry by the Hollywoodisation of global conflict.

He also connects this to the concept of the network society, where the power of capital is seen as being located in patterns of flow rather than points of accumulation. Der Derian connects the technological onward march of the military with the spread of neo-liberalism, which has seen state prerogatives, up to and including the monopoly of legitimate force, subordinated to the overriding priority of increasing corporate profits.

The importance of the image in war---eg., the war on terrorism-- is that we have an image war played out in living rooms about the conflict. So the Pentagon's war machine tries to control through their visual framing, the new media technology enables the terrorists to construct their own visual framing of the war for their target audience. However, this visual framing doesn't address the strategic purpose of a war in Afghanistan. How does it affect our national interest? Is the strategic purpose a good one? What are we in Afghanistan for?

Who raises those kind of strategic calculus questions? Certainly not the mainstream media, which works in terms of crude simplifications of good and bad, goodies and baddies, us and them. It's the bloggers.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:05 AM | | Comments (2)


I see that Paul McGeough, the former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, foreign correspondent, argued at the War 2.0: Political Violence and New Media. symposium that the internet has not democratised news:

I don't buy it. My fear is that when we finally realise that the reverse is the case - that the internet is a tool of ignorance, for robbing societies of valuable pillars of democracy - it'll be too late. The internet cultivates ignorance by encouraging people to pursue their own narrow prejudices, to drill down into their own sectional view of life and the world ... by linking them to endless sites and blogs with which their first site of choice agrees.

I could not read the Guardian or New York Times without the internet. That is a big plus for me. I can now read other accounts of the Middle East than that offered by Paul McGeough. How does that cultivate ignorance?

McGeough is wrong. It's the old media view of the internet as dystopian.

Firstly, I could not have participated in the conference without the internet.Though the conference was in Canberra and I was in Adelaide I was able to watch and hear because of the live feed. In pre-internet days I would have had to fly into Canberra and stay in a hotel.

Secondly, Twitter enabled me to make comments on what I was hearing and to ask questions.The time devoted to questions was very large and the audience was very well informed.

Thirdly, the blog publishing platform provided me with a means to write about the bits of the conference that I found of interest and informative.

I cannot see how that is pursuing my own narrow prejudices, drilling down into my own sectional view of life and the world ... It was educational. I learned from it by being exposed to people and ideas that were new.