On 11 December 2012, Dr. Chiara De Franco presented her book «Media Power and the Transformation of War» at a book talk organised by the NATO Multimedia Library (NATO Headquarters) and chaired by Dr. Jamie Shea.
Dr. Chiara de Franco is Research Fellow in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London in the United Kingdom. She is also manager of the Foresight: Early Warning and Preventive Policy group at the university. Prior to that, Dr de Franco lectured in International Relations Theory and War Representations at the University of Florence in Italy, and in European Affairs at the Florida State University.
Dr Shea started the presentation by stressing some of the reasons why readers should choose Dr De Franco’s book. Firstly, the author debunks a lot of myths about the power of the governments and the power of the media; she shows how the media really do operate in the real world; and she also describes circumstances in which the media have influence as well as those in which they have less. However Dr Shea added that the book is not a manual for any spin doctor.
Dr De Franco based her research for “Media Power and the Transformation of War” on the media coverage of two wars: Kosovo and Afghanistan following the events of 9/11.
The book examines ways to improve relationships between the military or governments and the media. Dr De Franco highlights perceptions that policy-makers or the military may have about media power, suggesting that a paradox exists where the more power politicians believe the media have, the more they try to manipulate them. She refers specifically to the fact that important resources are invested by governments or military organizations just to anticipate and build any potential media cover of a specific event.
Dr De Franco’s scientific observation of the conflicts in Kosovo and Afghanistan showed her that journalists in the field are always key players. She argues that embedding journalists in the field can even be a successful strategy used by governments trying to find a way to constrain the power of the media.
The author also observes that when there is no formal diplomatic relation between parties in a conflict, the media tend to become the diplomatic channel. According to her, the fact that in certain cases diplomacy is conducted by journalists questions policy makers as well as the media.
Picking up examples from the conflicts she observed, Dr De Franco shows that media make great use of historical narrative: historical analogies are ready-made narratives which, says Dr De Franco, can be very powerful, often just by chance.
Shea and De Franco agree on the following point: the longer the war, the stronger the media. Dr De Franco also explains that when the enemy can speak, governments tend to lose control of the narrative in a way that is not immediately clear to them.
‘This is a penetrating study of the power of television that goes well beyond the conventional arguments and ‘evidence’. By placing the presentation of two cases (Kosovo and Afghanistan) in a larger framework of power, de Franco advances our understanding of the strategies used by both the media and the decision makers […] a work that will be read with profit by readers interested in international relations, foreign policy making, the media (particularly television) and the general ‘attentive’ public.’
Friedrich Kratochwil, Professor of International Relations, European University Institute
‘A lot of myths surround the role of the media in shaping both perceptions and actual policies in recent warfare. Some view the media as a simple tool cynically manipulated by government spindoctors. Others, by contrast, portray journalists as the tireless champions of truth and moral values against governments too willing to shirk their responsibility to stop gross human rights violations […] The great merit of Chiara De Franco is to show that the reality is much more complex. Using impressive research and fascinating interviews with key players, she gives a whole new interpretation to familiar concepts such as ‘the tyranny of real time’ or ‘media power’. De Franco’s complete and wise policy recommendations are essential reading for anyone who believes that both media and governments need to do a much better job in the future in explaining wars to their citizens at home.’
Dr Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO and former NATO Spokesman.