Social Construction of Political Realities via Mass Media in the Kosovo War

by James Graham

How many people can place Kosovo on a map? Compare this to three years ago. The difference between then and now is that the mass media learned of the situation and turned Kosovo into a politically important part of the world. With such great interest the governments of the western world could not avoid becoming entangled in the conflict. Once actively involved they were able to count on their own mass media to produce supporting propaganda. Likewise the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's intervention allowed the Yugoslavian government to reconstruct the NATO countries as enemies of the Serbian people.

Political reality is socially constructed through a process of manipulation aided by the mass media. Social construction can include the socio-historical context, propaganda agents, media methods, a social network and a cultural rim of government, economy, events, ideology and myths. In this way enemies and friends are constructed out of countries the populace barely understands. Political reality is also dependent on perceptual relativity, based on past experiences and common beliefs. Social and political truth is relative and is often shared within a country or culture.

Television, print and radio together comprise the politically important mass media. All are controlled by a small elite group and cross ownership is common. A leader is inherently newsworthy so has easy access to mass media. They use this exposure to set the political agenda often by merely discussing certain topics. Being able to define an event or issue assures political power. The average person turns to the media for help in understanding events ensuring access to the media means control of public opinion. Politicians can manipulate the mass media by nature of their position.

America's mass media closely follows the government's agenda. Reporters like most people suffer from elemental patriotism which clouds their outlook. Their overwhelming wish to think positively of themselves, their institutions and their leaders is the foundation of their patriotism. It is indoctrinated in American citizens from childhood that the people rule strengthening their belief. Reporter's patriotism also contains an element of laziness; it is easier to accept the government line than research your own evidence. The government also rewards conformity through use of leaked information and exclusive stories. Such a restricted menu of sources strengthens the media's inclination to adopt a patriotic agenda. Market forces, internalised assumptions, self-censorship and a lack of outside coercion maintain the link between the media and the government. The end result is that if a story fits America's patriotic agenda it is given prominence, frequency and helps construct the contest between good and evil. America's media was always likely to support their government's actions in Kosovo.

No democratic western government can act in the face of substantial media condemnation and consequently overwhelming public opposition. Fortunately for NATO Kosovo presented the media with readily identifiable political symbols. The Kosovar Albanian refugees the helpless and suffering victims while the NATO pilots and Western politicians were the compassionate heroes. In Slobodan Milosevic the media also had the perfect villain. Myths of Serb atrocities were common before and after the NATO bombardment and served to construct the Serbs as enemies. Through the use of such political symbols the western media aided NATO governments to gain the support of their citizens.

Social Construction of Political Realities in the Kosovo War

Social Construction in the Kosovo War (Part 2)
Social Construction in the Kosovo War (Bibliography)