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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

The Media at War. Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century
Susan L. Carruthers

London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 2000
321 pp. Index. Bibl., ISBN 0-3336-9143-1

Exploring the role and position of mass media during conflict, the book reiterates the embeddedness of mass media within the state's framework, challenging the current paradigms of the ' independent fourth estate' and 'watchdog' function. Going from World War I to Vietnam, and from the Gulf War to Kosovo, Carruthers shows how mass media has less to do with 'mirroring reality' than with local interests and cultural perspectives, as trapped within the social institutions and expectations in which they operate. War is just a 'magnifying glass' (p. 13) for peace time, when media's temporary abandonment of its own freedom and values, whether done unconsciously or not, in favor of national cohesion and patriotic manipulation can be more properly observed. Not only that media can inflict a bond between audiences and the front, but at the same time depends on both of them: to the first it has to sell a story (and subsequently readjust according to pre-established patterns and stereotypes), while the seconds are the source of information. Thus wars follow a successful narrative of Us-winners versus They-losers, where enemies are de-humanized so as to justify the military actions. Ultimately, this conclusion merely reinforces the nationalist perspective over mass media as a community-building and binding tool. The book is divided into six main chapters, according to the temporal phases and nature of war: media before war, media and 'total war', media and 'limited war', media and terrorism, media, globalisation and 'other people's wars and media after war. Although a compilation of existing writings on communication, propaganda and manipulation, the book is an interesting and pleasant lecture for those interested in how mass media affects and models inter-ethnic relations in welfare times, while constructing powerful stereotypical images based on ethnic, cultural or religious differences.

Despina Dumitrica, Central European University

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