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Media Agenda on War against Terrorism: An Analysis of British Newspapers
The war against terrorism was started by the Bush administration after the attacks of September 11th. In this context, America attacked Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 alongside British forces and NATO allies. The present article explored the agenda of the British press regarding War against Terrorism in British press. The study conducted thematic analysis of two mainstream British daily newspapers i.e. The Guardian and The Independent. The standpoint of the British press was inferred to find out either they supported the government stance or they adopted a critical viewpoint regarding these two wars. The results indicated that the British press advised their government to adopt responsible approach to deal with the crisis. Mostly, the issues related to terrorism, Al-Qaeda, US policies and British role in the war against terrorism dominated the news agenda of the British newspapers. The press stressed on the strong role of UNO during the war against terrorism.
War against terrorism, the guardian, The Independent, thematic analysis, agenda setting, 9/11 attacks
The disastrous incident of 9/11 impacted international politics tremendously (Jadoon, Wasif, & Imtiaz, 2018). After the September 11 incident, the American government declared war against the perpetrators of this incident and the label of war on terror was projected to support its military strategies. In October 2001, Afghanistan was attacked by the US alongside the allied forces (Rose, 2002). During the Afghanistan war 2001, America started to accuse Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction and framed Iraq as a dangerous state. In March 2003, America launched the war against Iraq to topple down Saddam Hussain’s government who was labelled as the global threat for by the Western media. Iraq war was framed in the context of the 9/11 attacks (Kushner, 2005). It was stressed that the victory of Iraq was crucial to curb terrorism from the world.
President Bush used the rhetoric of terrorism repeatedly after the 9/11 attacks. He was of the opinion that terrorism was a global threat. It was pertinent to adopt uniform measures to eradicate the “axis of evil” that supported terrorist activities. In his speech on September 11, 2001, he assured that the US will not differentiate between those who committed these terrorist attacks and those who supported them (Bush, 2001). Right after the 9/11 attacks, US media (CBS, CNN, NBC, ABC) provided unusual coverage to the incident (Amy & Barnett, 2003). In the aftermath of 9/11 attacks, American media maintained its support for military action against the combatants through nationalistic themes, dramatic depiction of the stories, accusing Taliban and ignoring historical references (Eisman, 2003). But no research in this regard was found in the context of the British press. Britain supported the war on terror and was an important American ally so it was considered important to investigate the stance of British newspapers.
First 9/11 attacks and later on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq got significant coverage in the world media. News channels were flooded with news and commentaries while newspapers devoted substantial space to this crisis. This amount of media coverage made it a topic of utmost importance. So it became significant to explore that how British media covered the aftermath of 9/11 crisis and to what extent the media followed government policy in this regard. Agenda adopted by British newspapers about the reportage of war on terror were explored. The issues that were stressed and highlighted by British newspapers were explored. Two leading British newspapers namely the guardian and the Independent were analyzed.
Media treatment of War on Terror
A detailed and rigorous literature review of past researches was conducted to identify how researchers have previously dealt with the topic of “media presentations of war on terror”. It was observed that numerous researchers have studied the media portrayal of war against terrorism. The studies from the American perspective showed that Bush government repeatedly utilized the frame of war against terrorism in its media coverage. Moreover, the US press adopted a positive stance towards the official viewpoint. Ryan (2004) was of the opinion that the US media framed war against terrorism in a supportive stance and provided evidence in support of the war. Eventually, the Bush administration promoted their objectives and justified American actions against those states which support Islamic terrorism (Power, 2007).
On the other hand, Aday (2010) analyzed the NBC and FOX news coverage on Afghanistan and Iraq wars 2001 and 2003 respectively. They gave positive and neutral coverage of the issue. They also supported the standpoint of the Bush Administration. Iftikhar & Shafiq (2019) studied the portrayal of Pakistan in New York Times and Dawn. They concluded that Dawn gave favorable coverage to Pakistan in the context of war on terror while the New York Times gave unfavorable coverage to Pakistan. Fahmy (2006) noted that the Guardian gave 20% coverage to civilian casualties in Iraq and other coverage was based on military forces and political personalities from America and Britain. It was also observed that though media in Britain supported the official viewpoint regarding this crisis by focusing on government sources (Robinson, Goddard, Parry & Murray, 2009). But at the same time considerable content was observed which showed causalities and humanitarian concern during war on terror.
From the perspective of Arab media, it was noted that the media gave an antiwar perspective on Afghanistan attack 2001 (Jasperson & EI-Kikhia, 2002). Al-Jazeera network mainly showed a bleak picture and stressed on appalling impacts of war on the people of Afghanistan. Arab media used an antiwar frame for the Afghanistan war. They mostly criticized US bombardments, civilian casualties and gave prominent coverage to the opinion of Al-Qaida leaders (Lee, 2002). Moreover, Arab channels emphasized the US government to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, because continuous US support to Israel could be a contributor to the September 11 attacks (Lee, 2002). Their criticism was mostly focused on America and Israel due to Israel-Palestine conflict. Ayish (2002) while studying the Israel-Palestine conflict by Arab television channels observed that they supported the Palestinian stance and criticized Israel and the United States. Moreover, US support for Israel was framed negatively. In this conflict, Palestinian deaths were portrayed as martyrs whereas the Israeli army was framed as aggressors.
It was observed that previous studies related to coverage of 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan war 2001 and Iraq war 2003, mostly employed quantitative content analysis approach (see, Eijaz, 2011; Malik & Iqbal, 2010; Khan & Imran, 2011; Robinson, Goddard, Parry & Murray, 2009; Lewis, Brookes, Mosdell & Threadgold, 2006; Bergman, 2013). Quantitative research though provides a basic understanding of the data but lacks depth. Arghode (2012) provides a detailed analysis in this regard. A dire need was felt by the researchers to explore the present phenomenon through detailed analysis as a major research gap was present there. Therefore, the qualitative approach was employed during the present research to fill the gaps that previous literature showed. This research aimed to explore British daily newspapers’
coverage about the war on terror by employing the thematic analysis technique.
Theoretical support for the present research was sought from agenda-setting theory of mass media. The purpose of the current research was to uncover the coverage of the war on terror in the British press. The core objective of the study was to explore what issues were selected in the coverage of the war on terror and what agendas were promoted by the British newspapers in this context?
The news media had the power to set the agenda for the public and to focus their attention on a few particular issues (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). McCombs (2005) further noted that media focuses people’s attention on specific matters and consequently these matters derive policy. These issues got attention by the policymakers when the public consider these issues most important. McCombs and Shaw (1972) proposed that there was a strong association between the media agenda and the public agenda. Media sets agenda and consequently the public accepts those agendas. According to the theory, media made certain issues easily accessible for the audience or gave them prominence in media. The audience more frequently watches these issues and this process influenced public opinion (Price & Tewksbury, 1997).
While using the framework of agenda-setting, the present study explored what media agenda was set by the British press in the context of the war on terror and what stories got more prominence in British newspapers? By adopting qualitative approach, it deeply digs out media agendas and relevant themes.
The following research questions were formulated:
RQ1: What issues got more prominence in the coverage of War against Terrorism by the British newspapers (the Guardian, and the Independent)?
RQ2: What agendas were promoted by the British newspapers (the Guardian, and the Independent) to present editorials about War against Terrorism?
Data and method: Analyzing editorials of the Guardian and the Independent
For this study, the researcher employed qualitative research design. Qualitative methodology deeply explores the phenomenon and provides rich details. Thematic analysis was used for analysing the content of the British newspapers. The study analysed editorial coverage from the Guardian and the Independent from September 12, 2001, to September 11, 2003. This time period was crucial due to the September 11attacks. After 9/11 the American President declared war against terrorism and disclosed their policies and strategies for the war. Al-Qaida was accused of 9/11 attacks and war was declared against Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden. For the present study, all editorial from 12 September 2001 to 11 September 2003 about war on terror was taken as the population of the study. The researchers analysed all 444 editorials from the selected newspapers which appeared during this time period about war on terror.
The researcher explored the media agenda and relevant themes from British newspapers through the thematic category analysis technique. Various media agendas and significant issues in the coverage of War against Terrorism were identified. According to Strauss and Corbin (1998), there were three types of coding procedures for analysing qualitative data namely open coding, axial coding and selective coding. First, under open coding procedures, the researchers identified and classified the initial codes from the data. In the next step, the researchers analysed open codes and made associations among them and made subcategories. In selective coding, the researchers integrated the subcategories to form themes which consequently structure theoretical framework. The category system as discussed by Strauss and Corbin, (1998) was applied to the data and the researchers found various themes from British newspapers that consequently answered research questions of the present study. NVIVO 10 software was used for the facilitation of the coding procedure.
By analyzing the editorial coverage of two British daily newspapers, it was observed that the following agendas were stressed by the media regarding war on terror.
British role in War on Terror
· The role of Britain in war on terror
· British proxy war
· British isolation in Europe
US policies towards War on Terror
· Aggressive policies of the US against rough states
· Pro war policies of the US against Afghanistan
· Misguided policy of the US against Iraq
· US should follow UN decisions in the war on terror
· UN role in the quest of WMD in Iraq
· US attack on Iraq without UNO backing
Sort out the causes of terrorism
· How to fight against terrorism?
· Forces behind al Qaeda
· Impact of Afghanistan attack 2001 on al Qaeda organizations
British Role in War on Terror
Tony Blair’s policies related to war were observed as a prominent agenda of British newspapers. The newspapers (The Guardian and The Independent) stressed on the subsequent issues in the perspective of war on terror such as polices of the British Government, participation of British army in Afghanistan and the Iraqi wars, the outcomes of the war on Britain, the impact of pro-US policies of the British government on its relations with the European countries, and benefits and threats to the British interests.
The first theme was about the significance of UK policies and directives related to the war on terror. The UK press deliberated that Britain played a substantial role in this War. British troops participated in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. After the September 11 attacks Prime Minister Blair expressed sympathy, solidarity and support for America. But later on, The Guardian emphasized that Blair should be very careful in his support for the US. Britain should not blindly follow every strategy devised by the US as mentioned in an editorial on September 13, 2001. The Independent argued that Mr. Blair should stand for British interests and should not become part of a revengeful campaign. America was determined to fight against those values that did not suit it and Britain should keep British interests first. In the case of the Afghanistan war, The Guardian and The Independent suggested that the decision to participate in war should have been taken after consultation with the parliament.
“Mr. Blair should recall parliament if he wants to lead the nation into battle” (The Independent, September 24, 2001, p. 3).
The second theme was that Britain played the role of US proxy in the War on Terror. The Guardian
argued that though British troops were playing a central role in this dangerous war, but Pentagon hardly acknowledged it. British forces were fighting on the ground and there were many chances of British causalities. As it was an American initiative against terrorism and Britain had no control over it, the newspaper questioned: Where were the American ground forces and why were British soldiers put into trouble? It appeared as though Britain and the UN were left behind to handle Afghanistan and the US had moved its guns towards other missions. Further, the British press did not support the continuance of aggressive policies towards Iraq. British newspapers mostly pointed out that Mr. Blair was very influenced by President Bush. British policies on the Iraq war were devised by Washington. Blair did not have an independent policy regarding the Iraq war.
Third theme The third theme was British isolation in Europe. The Independent stressed in its editorial on January 23, 2003, that the extraordinary support to the United States for the Iraq war had isolated Britain in Europe. British and European public opinion was against this decision. Most of the European and other countries stressed the avoidance of war. In these circumstances, Britain had weakened its position. With no UN backing, Britain position became more complicated. ‘Britain's saber-rattling’ had scared many of its friends and enemies. Britain had doubted its commitment to Europe. European countries like France, Germany, Greece and the smaller EU countries, Russia and many Arab countries had opposed the Iraqi war.
Overall, the British press was of the opinion that Britain contributed significantly to Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Regrettably, Britain had little control over the conflict. It was the United States that made major decisions and Britain followed them. It was emphasized that the British Government should have made decisions according to British national interests and policies to participate in Afghanistan and Iraq wars and these decisions should have been made through parliament and public consent.
US Policies towards War on Terror
The second set of important issues that appeared as a major agenda of the British newspapers was US policies regarding war on terror. The press highlighted the post 9/11 policies of Bush Administration, policy of axis of evil, pro-war polices towards Afghanistan and Iraq and Bush doctrine. The Guardian and The Independent were not in favor of pro-war policies by America and Britain. Instead, the two newspapers stressed the eradication of terrorism through other measures such as better intelligence, good police work, security strategies and diplomatic options.
The first theme was the aggressive policies of the US against rogue states. British press framed War on Terror as an ‘American war’ in which Britain was supporting America. British newspapers argued that American policies regarding the war on terror were not justified. According to press, these were the policies of conservative Republicans who intentionally manipulated the events of September. The Guardian narrated that in the aftermath of September 11, President Bush adopted a belligerent stance. He did not like it when his allies make any suggestions or criticize his policies. Due to American hegemonic position, many countries already have resentments towards America and such statements would enhance animosity.
“President Bush has earned the praise of America but not the trust of the world” (The Independent, January 31, 2002, p. 3)
Second theme was the pro-war policies of the US against Afghanistan. The press discussed Afghanistan attack of 2001 and remarked that during the initial days of the Afghanistan attack of 2001, President Bush promised that this campaign would focus only on Taliban militants. Afghan civilians would be protected and food, medicine and other essentials would be provided to them. But the Bush administration was more determined to wipe out the terrorists from Afghanistan.
The Independent suggested that at this time America should pay due attention to rebuilding Afghanistan rather than opening more war zones.
Third theme was the misguided policy of the US against Iraq. In August 2002, The Independent wrote that the United States had made it clear that Iraq would be certainly attacked. The hardliners in the United States had pressed the case for war. The question was whether America would attack alone or it would be done with the UN and other countries’ backing. The Guardian repeatedly wrote against the War in Iraq and its further extension towards Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The Independent commented that US policy on Iraq was misguided, divided and stubborn. The Guardian regarded the War on Iraq as unjustifiable on humanitarian and moral grounds.
The Independent described the post-war scenario as “chaotic and depressing”. There were daily lootings and killings in Iraq. British and the US forces remained unable to control the situation. At that time, the United Nations’ vital role was required but America did not want to give any authority to the UN because the UN did not endorse the decision of war.
In a nutshell, the UK press gave immense coverage to the United States policies regarding War on Terror. The newspapers revealed policy speeches by the President and Bush administration, policies towards al Qaeda, Iraq and other suspected countries, and the US policies towards the UN. Post 9/11 policies of the United States had remained a prominent issue in the British press coverage of War on Terror.
The United Nations
Thirdly United Nations also appeared as an important agenda of the British newspapers. There were a number of editorials that discussed the war on terror from the UN perspective. UK newspapers urged US and British governments to follow the UN policies. In the case of the Afghanistan attack, UNO approved the action but it did not actively provide its support. Later on, it was emphasized that in the postwar scenario, UNO must play a leading role on the diplomatic and humanitarian fronts. Even Mr. Blair himself suggested that UNO and Middle Eastern countries should be involved in this process.
The first theme was that the US should follow the UN policies regarding war on terror. The Guardian urged the United States to show some flexibility towards UN participation in Afghanistan. For example, if Osama bin Laden surrendered, he should be handed over to UNO. It should be UNO that could initiate a legal procedure against him because it was an international body and had legal apparatus to deal with such cases. If further action against Afghanistan was required, it should be authorized by UNO.
The second theme was the UN’s role in the quest of the WMD’s in Iraq. During the Iraq war, British newspapers gave immense weight to UNO decisions over war. The press was highly critical of British and US policies regarding the Iraqi issue. They did not support the Iraqi invasion. The Independent also supported Saddam for his offer to resume the United Nations inspection inside Iraq. It stressed that the United States and Britain should respond positively to his offer.
“Saddam's offer should be accepted by western hawks as well as doves” (The Independent, September 18, 2002, p. 16)
It was stressed that the United Nations was the best institution to resolve matters related to international security. The Independent welcomed the return of the UN inspectors. It was the success of international diplomacy. By this time Saddam showed agreement to abide by United Nations resolutions because he had no other option. There were many editorials from The Independent that supported United Nations inspection process in Iraq and stressed to give more time for inspection. It also stressed that without the support of United Nations, the United States and Britain would not have the moral authority to attack Iraq. Moreover, The Guardian mentioned that America’s attitude towards the UN inspection was quite depressing and she was ignoring the UN findings. The chief inspector, Hans Blix presented his report about Iraq’s WMD’s and showed uncertainty regarding America’s allegations against Iraq’s weapons.
The third theme was the criticism of the US attack on Iraq without UNO support. The Guardian was highly critical of the attack on Iraq without UN authorization. It discussed this issue many times in its editorials and suggested that the US and British governments should follow UN instructions. In post-war scenario, The Independent and The Guardian argued that America wanted to rebuild Iraq but she could ot do it alone. The reconstruction process should be led by the United Nations, not by the US-based companies.
Overall, the role of the United Nations was frequently discussed by The Guardian and The Independent. Both newspapers suggested a leading role for the United Nations related to matters of war and post-war scenarios. In this case, the newspapers seemed annoyed with the American policies of not considering the United Nations authorization for the war. From the post-war perspective, it was stressed by both newspapers that the United Nations must have authority in the entire process.
Terrorism was also an important agenda of the British newspapers in the coverage of the war on terror. After the September 11 attacks, the British press showed its concern about the threat of terrorism and urged to take measures to eradicate it. It was mentioned in its editorial on November 21, 2002, that Britain itself was facing threats from terrorists and terrorist organizations for supporting the US struggle against terrorism. Now it was pertinent for Britain to take safety measures for the security of her citizens.
The first theme was to sort out the causes of terrorism; for example, to restrict terrorist’s funding. The newspapers stressed that it should be investigated from where the terrorists were getting funding. The other important measure was to help displaced Afghans. It would negate mullah’s claim that the War on Terror was actually against Muslims. Moreover, The Guardian recommended adopting a collaborative and focused approach to fight terrorism. The press was not in favor of attacking particular countries for curtailing terrorism.
The second theme was how to fight terrorism? For fighting terrorism, it was required to have a better security system, good intelligence and persistent police work. The wars in other countries would be counterproductive. The global nature of the threat of terrorism required more mobile and flexible armed forces, the security of important buildings and improved intelligence.
British newspapers while talking about fighting terrorism, discussed the issue of anti-terrorist laws. The Guardian in its editorials on September 19, 2001, October 01, 2001, October 16, 2001and August 01, 2002 criticized the implementation of new anti-terrorism laws in the US and Britain. According to these laws, police and security agencies could screen phone calls, emails and faxes without having judicial authority. It was argued that such new laws could endanger civil liberties. The consequences of these laws would not be satisfactory in future; they could badly affect criminal justice agencies and produce a two-tier system of justice. It was stressed that such laws did not have any place in a democratic society.
Overall, the British press was in favor of a conciliatory and collaborative approach by the coalition countries for fighting terrorism. It should wipe out the cause of terrorism and sort out grievances of Muslim countries against Western countries. Moreover, the anti-terrorist laws should not spearhead the powers of the court and disrupt civil rights.
The other issue that received the attention of the British press was ‘Al Qaeda’; however, there were few editorials that dwelt upon it. British press discussed how to deal with Al Qaeda after the war on terror.
The first theme in this context was the forces behind Al Qaeda. British newspapers pointed out that after the 9/11 attacks, Western experts generally believed that Al Qaeda and anti-western extremists were the product of the Arab world. In fact, the fault lay with western political and military strategies towards the Arab world. The cultural and political dominance of West badly affected the conservative cultures of Arab world. In this scenario, the Arab population thought that their culture, national solidarity and Islam were under threat causing resentment against the West. Likewise, Israel’s hostile operations in Palestine also enhanced animosities among Arabs. However, it was not right to consider the West as a threat to Arab countries. The threat was coming from their own lack of awareness, inequity, and their despotic and corrupt regimes.
The second theme was the impact of Afghanistan attack 2001 on Al Qaeda organizations. British press argued that now their members were fleeing towards other countries. Al Qaeda has decentralized its organization. Now Al Qaeda individuals were tasked to attack anywhere and anyone in the world. It was written in an editorial on October 14, 2002, that Al Qaeda was strengthening its roots in south Asia and especially in Indonesia against its President’s support for the war on terror policies. Similarly, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippine also showed their concerns against this organization. In Philippine, many Al Qaeda members were found and Singapore also captured many of them. Overall, the British press suggested that terrorism could be restricted through good intelligence, good police work, security measures and restricted nuclear weapon smuggling.
Discussion and conclusion
The present research investigated agenda-setting function of British daily newspapers during coverage of the War on Terror. The present research investigated the media agendas in the context of War on Terror by the British press. It is known that the War on Terror was started after the 9/11 attacks by the United States. These attacks were condemned by all European, Muslim and non-Muslim countries around the world. The US Government declared that they would fight against the perpetrators of 9/11.
Britain supported America for its struggle to counter terrorism. She facilitated the attacks in Afghanistan and its forces participated in the battlefield alongside the US forces. Tony Blair offered a shoulder to shoulder support to the United States after 9/11. British public though supported actions against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan but they were concerned about increasing casualties in Afghanistan.
Correspondingly, in the case of Iraq war, the British Government supported the United States policy but they faced immense opposition at home, from the public and media. The British press reported many incidents of protests in Britain against the government’s decision. There was much negative public opinion on the Iraq war, as was mentioned by the British press.
Keeping in mind the above scenario, the present research investigated particular agendas of British press regarding the coverage of War on Terror. As agenda-setting theory stated that media sets the agenda for public through determining the salience of issues (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). British newspapers presented some issues more prominently and repeatedly regarding war on terror. And public adopted the same opinion as was presented by the press. It was noted that British press was much interested in the role of Britain in War on Terror. British press stressed that while supporting War on Terror, British securities should not get hurt. It was also argued that shoulder to shoulder support for the United States during War on Terror would not be according to British national interest. Moreover, it was argued by the press that the British government should take decisions on Afghan and Iraq wars independently. The policies should not impinge on British sovereignty. British participation in War on Terror affected British sovereignty and consequences of this war on Britain remained prominent agenda of the British press during war on terror.
Secondly, it was noted that the British press criticized the US post 9/11 policies. British press framed the US policies as aggressive and pro-war. Particularly, the action of the United States against Iraq and threats to Muslim countries like Iran and Syria were criticized by British newspapers. Thirdly, it was observed that the press in Britain discussed the threats of terrorism for the society. In this context, British press adopted a more critical stance against Al Qaeda. It discussed the factors behind success of Al Qaeda and how the organization could be neutralized. Moreover, the British press stressed that terrorism could be controlled through improved intelligence and better police work. The press was not much supportive of the idea of waging wars against particular countries.
Fourthly, it was noticed that during Iraq war, British newspapers condemned this action. The press highlighted the anti-war agenda in reporting Iraq attacks. The newspapers highlighted the importance of the UN role in this regard. The role of the United Nations was much stressed during both wars i.e. Afghanistan and Iraq. The United Nations had been the dominant agenda of the British press. It was argued that Iraq war had badly affected the credibility of the United Nations as the sole institution of arbitration.
To conclude, it could be stated that British press set its agenda according to political, social and national interests of Britain. The public mostly got guidance from media regarding important issues in their society (Graber, 1984). A number of studies have been conducted from this perspective. It was noted that there were power relationships between the media and outside sources (Littlejohn & Foss, 2008). If there was a positive relationship between high power sources and high power media, both could affect the public agenda. Instead, if powerful media and powerful source did not have positive relationship, there would be a struggle between them. While in the case of war on terror, it was observed that the press did not have positive relationship with high power sources.
Conversely, it was also observed that, British public opinion influenced the news agenda regarding Iraq attack 2003. According to Guardian/ICM polls, the majority of British voters opposed Iraq attack (The Guardian, February 18, 2003). Similarly, the British press adopted a strict stance against the Iraq attack and even criticized British Prime Minister for wagging an illegal war against Iraq. The current research concluded that these external factors played a significant role in setting news agendas regarding the treatment of the war on terror. Moreover, the British media generally stressed the eradication of terrorism and supported collaborative efforts to achieve this aim.