The Media Coverage of the South Ossetian Conflict

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The media coverage of the South Ossetian conflict in 2008

In order to understand the ins and the outs of the South Ossetia conflict, this paper will be focused on the information war waged by both parties: the Russian media propaganda and the pro-Georgian bias in the Western coverage of the conflict. For this, I have selected different reports – from TV or newspapers – in the Russian, American and French press.

With regards to the Russian press, I will try to cover the spectrum of the Russian media and to show how the pro-Russian bias is noteworthy even in the most liberal publications. All Russian journalists seem to take part in the “war effort”. I will analyze the TV news reports that were broadcast on evening, August 12, 2008, on the Channel One Pervyi Kanal, the Russian TV Channel with the widest audience. This channel, which is majority owned by the Russian government, has been criticized for the pro-government bias. I will also study a report in Kommersant, a commerce-oriented daily newspaper with a large circulation, which is generally considered as one reliable source of information. The article, written by Olga Allenova on August 9, 2008 is entitled “The first peace-building war”. Then, I will examine a report “Georgia-200” done by an embedded journalist, Arcady Babchenko and published on August 13, 2008, in Novaya Gazeta, a Russian opposition newspaper well-known for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian affairs. As for the Western press, I think that the American and French coverage are of particular interest because the United States is a strong ally of Georgia and France claimed to be a more neutral actor in the conflict as its President Nicolas Sarkozy – at this time President-in-Office of the European Union – negotiated the cease-fire. Thus, I have selected two TV reports: “Georgia and Russia fight to control South Ossetia” broadcasted on August 9, 2008, on France 24, an international news channel, which aims to present a non-Anglophone view of the news, and “Mighty Russia presses advantage” by Susan Flory, broadcasted on Reuters – US Edition – on August 10, 2008. I will also analyze an article “South Ossetia: an Empire piece of confetti became a pro-Russian separatist enclave in Georgia” published on August 10, 2008 by the French correspondent in Russia, Marie Jégo, in Le Monde, a well-respected French daily newspaper focused on offering analysis and opinion. There is another very controversial report “The things I have seen in the warring Georgia”, written by the French philosopher, Bernard Henri Lévy and published in this newspaper that I will study. Then, I will analyze an article “Russia and Georgia Clash Over Separatist Region” written on August 8, 2008 by three reporters in Gori, Michael Schwritz, Anne Barnard and C.J. Chivers for The New York Times. To understand how the information was manipulated during this conflict, I will examine in detail the language, the sources, the images and the tone of these articles and search for any bias in the presentation of the news.

1. The language, the sources, the associated images and the tone used by the journalists: how do they affect the presentation of the South Ossetian conflict?

a. What is the story about?
Is a “war” or a “conflict” happening in South Ossetia in August 2008? The choice of the word, especially in the titles, reflects the journalists’ purpose. Those, who are trying to dramatize things overuse the term “war”, and those, who put things into perspective employ the word “conflict”. Indeed, “war” can be defined as a state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict, whereas the word “conflict”, which is more neutral, refers to a clash of interests involving not necessarily armed actions. Russian and American journalists are describing the situation in South Ossetia as a “war”: they do report the number and the kind of weapons used, the evolution of the armies’ positions, the feats of arms… This...
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