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Pablo Medina Uribe

Media Theory
Spring 2014
The New School
How News Media Create Reality
Linda Polman, a Duch !ournali", arri#ed in Sierra Leone in 2001$ % wa" he year in
which he &'rican counry "igned a peace reay wih he (e#oluionary Unied )ron, a
group ha had waged a "eemingly purpo"ele""*bu noably "anguinary*guerrilla war
'or o#er a decade$ Polman had gone here o ry o 'ind a rea"on 'or all he de"rucion
ha had occurred$ % all "eemed poinle""$ &ccording o Philip +oure#ich, who
recouned Polman," e-perience in an aricle in The New .or/er, 0he con#enional
wi"dom wa" ha Sierra Leone," ci#il war had been pure in"aniy1 en" o' hou"and"
dead, many more maimed or wounded, and hal' he populaion di"placed*all 'or
.e, Polman "ared o under"and he rea"on behind hi" madne"" when "he 'ound ou
ha 'ormer rebel leader" had "ared o label hem"el#e" 0humaniarian wor/er"2, and
al"o when "he iner#iewed one o' hem who called him"el' 03olonel 4andamme2
5pre"umably a'er 6elgian acion mo#ie "ar 7ean83laude 4an Damme9$ :e old Polman,
"pea/ing in he local dialec1 0Them N$+$;$ wi'e" <aid wor/er"= done reach already 'or
come coun how much "ic/ and pi/in <children= de na di <are in he= area$ They,re my
pi/in and my "ic/, anyone who wan" o coun hem ha" o pay me 'ir"2 5+oure#ich9$
The #iolence ha had plagued he counry wa" "een by i" perperaor" a" merely a
bu"ine"" opporuniy when peace came$
6u hen, why "o much brualiy> Sierra Leone had become in'amou" 'or i" large
number o' ampuaion", a pracice ha had no culural "igni'icance and o''ered no clear
miliary ad#anage$ ?a" i !u" a way o' "ending a me""age o' 'ear> & way o warn heir
enemie" o' wha could come i' hey dared o 'igh hem>
No @uie$
& rebel leader ha Polman 'ound in he ciy o' Mi/ani made hing" clearer1 0you people
loo/ed he oher way all ho"e year"2, he "aid o he Duch !ournali", 0here wa" nohing
o "op 'or$ A#eryhing wa" bro/en, and you people weren, here o 'i- i$ 5$$$9 % wa" only
when you "aw e#er more ampuee" ha you "ared paying aenion o our 'ae$ 5$$$9
?ihou he ampuee 'acor, you people wouldn, ha#e come2 5+oure#ich9$
The ($U$)$ had buil a narrai#e ha made hem ino naional heroe"$ They had made a
wager1 he more brual heir acion" were, he higher wa" he li/elihood o' he
inernaional communiy paying aenion o Sierra Leone 5and he higher he pro'i" hey
go 'rom he peace proce"" would be9$ They were righ$ A#en i' i wa" rue or no ha
hey were alway" rying o help heir counry by creaing mindle"" #iolence, a" heir
hin/ing wen, hey were righ in hin/ing ha he inernaional communiy would reac
only when he new" media "ared o repea a narrai#e, when an ea"y o remember
label wa" applied o he counry$ ;nly hen people abroad would be able o pinpoin
Sierra Leone, ma/ing i "ynonymou" wih one o' i" problem"$
6u hi", o' cour"e, i" no an i"olaed ca"e$
%n 201B, a" "he re"earched he "eemingly ari'icial in'laion o' rape repor" in he
Democraic (epublic o' he 3ongo, !ournali" Laura :eaon "po/e wih Maria Ari/""on
6aaC and Maria Sern, e-per" in he region, who old her ha Dmo" emergencie"
cener around one "ory and one caegory o' #icim"$ %n Liberia, i wa" he child "oldier",
in Sierra Leone i wa" mainly he ampuee", and in he D(3 i wa" he raped womenD
:eaon 'ound ou ha in Lu#ungi, a own in he ea"ern par o' he counry, local" had
decided o lie abou he number o' women ha had been raped on a rebel raid in &ugu"
o' 2010$ They had in'laed he number", in par becau"e hey didn, wan o "ignal and
o"raciCe he women who had been indeed raped, bu al"o in par becau"e hey /new
wha wa" he label ha wa" being applied o hem1 a Unied Naion" o''icial had
declared he Democraic (epublic o' he 3ongo he 0rape capial o' he world2 in &pril$ &
narrai#e ha re#ol#ed around "e-ual #iolence wa" he /ind o' "ory in he D(3 ha
would ha#e brough inernaional media co#erage$ So he local" lied, in hope" ha he
inciden would bring aenion and, e#enually, 'inancial help o heir region$
&enion did come, wih "orie" in he inernaional new" media reporing
ha a" many
a" B00 women were he #icim" o' "e-ual #iolence during he 'our8day aac/$ 6u, due
o he image ha he media creaed abou wha i" and wha happen" in he D(3, he
help ha came wa", mo"ly, inade@uae$ :eaon e-plain"1
%n a 2012 repor
publi"hed by ?ageningen Uni#er"iy in he Neherland",
re"earcher" Nyn/e Douma and Dorohea :ilhor" e-amined how 'unding o
addre"" he ho" o' challenge" 3ongo 'ace"*'rom i" predaory army and police
o i" aby"mal !udicial "y"em and he ma""i#e inernal di"placemen o' i" people
*i" apporioned$ They 'ound a di"proporionae 'ocu" on rape$ D<T=he "e-ual
#iolence budge i" nearly double he "iCe o' he budge 'or all "ecuriy "ecor
re'orm aci#iie" 5E9 and !u" under hal' he "iCe o' he enire peace building ru"
'und,D Douma and :ilhor" wroe$ )unding 'or inernally di"placed people*here
were an e"imaed 1$4 million in ea"ern 3ongo during he period hey
in#e"igaed*i" le"" han hal' he 'unding 'or "e-ual #iolence$
:ere, he new" media creaed a counry where he bigge" and mo" urgen problem
wa" "e-ual #iolence, and he acual counry*where "e-ual #iolence i" !u" one o' he
many imporan i""ue" ha i 'ace"*acceped o be ran"'ormed, becau"e, in urn, i
ga#e i" inhabian" he opporuniy o be in he media, i a""ured hem he righ o e-i"$
1 0Some 200 ?omen +ang8(aped ;#er 4 Day" Near 3ongo U$N$ 6a"e2, The :u''ingon Po"$ 03ongo
leader" begged U$N$ o proec ci#ilian" o no a#ail2, De"er New"$ 0Ma"" (ape" in 3ongo (e#eal" U$N$
?ea/ne""2, The New .or/ Time"$
2 Douma, Nyn/e, and Dorohea 7$ :ilhor"$ Fond de Commerce?: Sexual Violence Assistance in the
Democratic Republic of Congo$ 2012$
)rench "cholar 6ernard Siegler, al/ing abou he ma"" producion o' global T4
newor/", argue" "omehing ha can apply o mo" conemporary new" oule"1
wha re"ul" 'rom hi" "elecion proce"" and near in"ananeou" ran"mi""ion o'
in'ormaion i" he indu"rial 'abricaion o' he pre"en1 an e#en become" an
e#en*i lierally a/e" place*only in being 0co#ered$2 %ndu"rial ime i" alway"
a lea" co8produced by he media$ 03o#erage2*wha i" o be co#ered*i"
deermined by crieria oriened oward producing "urplu" #alue$ Ma""
broadca"ing i" a machine o produce ready8made idea", 0clichF"2$ 5GG9
Thi" i" why ho"e who"e realiy i" being mediaed by new" media ha#e o adap o i"
'orm", o i" myh"$ &nd hi" i" why :eaon repor" ha, in he D(3, 0organiCaion"
/now ha heir program" are more li/ely o be 'unded i' heir bene'iciarie" are #icim" o'
"e-ual #iolence*and women /now ha hey will ha#e a beer chance o' acce""ing
medical care, "chool 'ee", microcredi, and hou"ing i' hey repor being a "e-ual8
#iolence "ur#i#or2$
)or romanic" o' !ournali"m hi" migh "eem li/e a glich, !u" a 'ew ca"e" o' non8
ob!eci#e reporing, o' no accuraely porraying 0realiy2$ 6u media are ne#er neural$
They are alway" "ub!eci#e and here'ore hey in#arianly creae new realiie"$ Thi" i"
no "omehing new$ &lready in 1HG0 :an" Magnu" AnCenberger "aid ha
e#ery u"e o' he media pre"uppo"e" manipulaion$ The mo" elemenary
proce""e" in media producion, 'rom he choice o' he medium i"el' o "hooing,
cuing, "ynchroniCaion, dubbing, righ up o di"ribuion, are all operaion"
carried ou on he raw maerial$ There i" no "uch hing a" unmanipulaed wriing,
'ilming, or broadca"ing 52IJ9$
)orm aler" conen, o' cour"e$ 6y conaining i, 'orm mu" alway" "hape conen in one
or oher way$ The medium alway" add" in'ormaion o he me""age ha i con#ey" and
ine#iably become" indi#i"ible 'rom i$ ;r, a" Mar"hall McLuhan "aid, 0he per"onal and
"ocial con"e@uence" o' any medium*ha i", o' any e-en"ion o' our"el#e"* re"ul
'rom he new "cale ha i" inroduced ino our a''air" by each e-en"ion o' our"el#e", or
by any new echnology2$ 519
So, in he paricular ca"e o' new" media, where he conen i", allegedly, e@ui#alen o
he realiy ha "urround" u", and he poliical "rucure" ha underlie i, he reporing
become" indi"ingui"hable 'rom wha i" being repored$ (ealiy i" no alered by he
mediaion o' he new" indu"ry, raher i i" manu'acured e#ery ime i i" being repored$
Neuraliy i" hu" impo""ible in media$ So wha do, e-acly, he new" media creae wih
heir co#erage> %n hi" re"pon"e o he a'oremenioned AnCenberger e-, 7ean
6audrillard build" on hi"1
% i" 'al"e ha in he pre"en order he media are 0purely and "imply mean" o'
di"ribuion$2 ;nce again, ha i" o rea hem a" he relay o' an ideology ha
would 'ind i" deerminaion" el"ewhere 5in he mode o' maerial producion9K in
oher word", he media a" mar/eing and merchandiCing o' he dominan
ideology$ % i" 'rom hi" per"peci#e ha he relaion media producer8ran"mier
#er"u" irre"pon"ible, recepi#e ma""e" i" a""imilaed o ha o' capiali" #er"u"
"alaried wor/er$ 6u i i" no a" #ehicle" o' conen, bu in heir 'orm and #ery
operaion, ha media induce a "ocial relaionK and hi" i" no an e-ploiai#e
relaion1 i in#ol#e" he ab"racion, "eparaion, and aboliion o' e-change i"el'$
The media are no co8e''icien", bu e''ecor" o' ideology$ 5$$$9 he media are no
e#en, "omewhere el"e or poenially, neural or non8ideological 5he phana"m o'
heir echnical "au" or o' heir "ocial u"e #alue9$ (eciprocally, ideology doe" no
e-i" in "ome place apar, a" he di"cour"e o' he dominan cla"", be'ore i i"
channeled hrough he media$ The "ame applie" o he "phere o' commodiie"1
nowhere do he laer po""e"" onological "au" independenly o' he 'orm hey
a/e in he operaion o' he e-change #alue "y"em$ Nor i" ideology "ome
%maginary 'loaing in he wa/e o' e-change #alue1 i i" he #ery operaion o' he
e-change #alue i"el'$ &'er he (e@uiem 'or he dialecic, i i" nece""ary o oll
he (e@uiem o' he in'ra8 and "uper"rucure$ 52L09
New" media creae" realiy and i doe" "o while impo"ing i" ideology, i" own #i"ion o'
how he world i" and wor/", uno i" reporing$ The Sierra Leone and he Democraic
(epublic o' he 3ongo e-ample" migh "eem e-ce""i#e or radical o u", bu i i" only
becau"e we are "eeing hem 'rom an ou"ider per"peci#e1 we are only in'ormed abou
hi" counrie" by media ha are clo"e o u" 5and o wha we con"ider o be 0realiy29, bu
'oreign o hem 5and o wha i" locally con"idered 0realiy29
Member" o' he "o8called 0inernaional communiy2 recei#e in'ormaion 'rom he"e
counrie" and learn abou heir problem" mo"ly by he mediaion o' heir new"
newor/", o' heir own "ocieie", ideologie" o#er oher place", culure" and #iew" o'
wha i" i ha "urround" hem$ &nd i' he 0inernaional communiy2 i" 5or i" "een a"9 he
one eniy or concep ha ha" he power o change hing" in he"e &'rican counrie",
local" are now aware ha hey ha#e o pac/age heir problem" in a way ha be'i"
ho"e 'oreigner", ideologie"$
The wo ca"e" % ha#e cied are wo aci#e reading" o' how media wor/, o' how he new"
are no only pa""i#e #e""el" o' in'ormaion, bu are indeed a 'orce ha a''ec 5and no
only di"or" or reimagine"9 he realiy o' ho"e who are being repored on$ Siegler
e-plain" hi" "aying ha
i can be "aid ha he media coproduce" ha which a/e" place, here meaning
ha i produce" i" e''ec" and "o anicipae" wha will happen$ There i" nohing
inrin"ically no#el abou hi" "iuaion1 i i" he #ery law o' memory ha i mu"
precede i"el'$ &" a re"ul, he pa" o' he pre"en i" ne#er "iuaed behind i bu
ha" 0alway" already preceded i2 5a" :eidegger "ay"9 wihou deermining i$
5Siegler L09
B Thi" i" no o "ay ha local media can ob!eci#ely porray a counry, or a region or e#en a neighborhood$
6u in ha ca"e, he di"pariy o' how he counry i" percei#ed by inhabiing i and how i i" percei#ed by
'ollowing he local media i" no "o e#iden, and here'ore manipulaion" and recreaion" are no "o
Thi" i" no immediaely e-plici, bu i i" ingrained in he con"ciou"ne"" o' media
con"umer"$ % migh be why 3olonel 4andamme cho"e o bear ha name*by
imper"onaing a 'amou" acion mo#ie hero, he migh become acual hero and hi"
crime", !u" li/e he one" commied by 4an Damme," characer", will be "een a" merely
nece""ary mean" o achie#e greaer good$ ;r con#er"ely, i' he heroic narrai#e doe"n,
cach on, 3olonel 4andamme can hope o be 'eared, a" he i" a""ociaed wih he
#iolence o' ho"e who can /ill wihou con"e@uence"$
Siegler add"1
he media i" ne#er "ai"'ied wih 0coproducing2 e#en"$ e#er more o'en, hey
produce$ There ha" oday occurred a #eriable in#er"ion in he relaion beween
li'e and media1 he media now relae" li'e each day wih "uch 'orce ha hi"
0relaion2 "eem" no only o anicipae bu inelucably o precede, ha i", o
deermine, li'e i"el'$ %n he ri#alry among he media, hi" relaion ha" become
dri#e8oriened*'or "uch i" he law o' he "en"aional*and ha" promoed boh
he "aging o' errori" ac" and he ordinary pornography o' ele#i"ion$ ?ha hi"
mean" i" ha he media oday de"roy" he "uperego a" much a" i pre"er#e" i,
which i" o "ay ha i de"roy" he #ery condiion 'or he ran"'ormaion o' dri#e"
ino de"ire, ha i", ino "ocial energy$ 5Siegler L19
There i" no "eparaion 'rom li'e and how he in'ormaion abou li'e i" being
di""eminaed$ Tha i" why a ci#il war can be waged !u" o creae headline" and why he
inhabian" o' a remoe #illage in he 3ongo can ran"'orm heir realiy by manu'acuring
how he are repored on in he new"$
6audrillard, 7ean$ 0(e@uiem 'or he Media,2 in ?ardrip8)ruin, Noah, and Nic/ Mon'or,
ed"$ The Ne!ediaReader$ 4ol$ 1$ M%T Pre"", 200B$
Douma, Nyn/e, and Dorohea 7$ :ilhor"$ Fond de Commerce?: Sexual Violence
Assistance in the Democratic Republic of Congo$ 2012$
AnCenberger, :an" Magnu"$ D3on"iuen" o' a heory o' he Media,D in ?$ 7$ T$ Michell
M Mar/ 6$ N$ :an"en 5ed"$9, Critical Terms for !edia Studies 53hicago M London1
Uni#er"iy o' 3hicago Pre""91 2JHN2GI, 2010$
+oure#ich, Philip$ D&lm" Dealer"1 3an .ou Pro#ide :umaniarian &id wihou
)aciliaing 3on'lic">$D The Ne "or#er 11 520109$
:eaon, Laura$ 0?ha :appened in Lu#ungi>$2 Foreign $olic%$ March 4 520109$
:or/heimer, Ma-, and Theodor ?$ &dorno$ DThe culure indu"ry1 Anlighenmen a"
ma"" decepion$D Dialectic of &nlightenment, 1H4G$
Maa", Peer$ 0The Toppling$2 The Ne "or#er 1 520119$
McLuhan, Mar"hall$ DThe Medium i" he Me""aege2 in 'nderstanding !edia: the
&xtensions of !an$ 51HI49$
Siegler, 6ernard$ DThe %ndu"rial A-erioriCaion o' Memory,D in ?$ 7$ T$ Michell M Mar/
6$ N$ :an"en 5ed"$9, Critical Terms for !edia Studies 53hicago M London1 Uni#er"iy o'
3hicago Pre""91 2GGN2LL, 2010$
0UN o''icial call" D( 3ongo Orape capial o' he worldO2$ 663 New"$ &pril 2L 520109$

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