War of Images

The Caucasus conflict was a central topic at the “European Television Dialogue” on 20 November, in particular the way the media reported it. Quote of the day today comes from Deutschlandfunk’s reporting of the discussion. Talking about the different ways of dealing with information and foreign correspondents, Stephan Stuchlik, correspondent for the main German television station ARD, said:

On the second day I tried to get into Tskhinvali. I waited for seven and a half hours at the border, and I only managed to get into South Ossetia with extremely Russian methods. Whereas the Georgian side immediately understood: aha, we need to offer journalists a service. There were little buses going from Tbilisi, driving people there and saying: Something really awful has happened here; here are the relatives, feel free to ask them. (my translation; full text here).

Deutschlandfunk’s report continues by telling listeners how Stuchlik tried to get his editors to cover the victims and eyewitnesses who spoke of Georgian atrocities. His reports met with disbelief:

You could see that the three days of anti-Russian reporting had left its mark. Not only on the public, but also on my bosses and the news editors.

And once again, we see the dispositif at work: Journalists are based in Tbilisi, are bussed into the region by their Georgian hosts. It fits a certain expectation that the Russian army will have been involved with atrocities. The Georgian leadership activates welcoming information managment techniques; local news and bloggers are onside. At the same time, the Russian side fends off the western journalists (annoying them in the process by making their work more difficult) rather than welcoming them into their information zone. Thus is hegemony is fed.

I still think one of the most interesting things about the conflict, however, is that – contrary to Stuchlik’s comment – the first three days of reporting did not leave its mark on very large swathes of the public. Why, in this one incident, did so many people not believe the reporting? They usually have a good deal of faith in western reporting when it comes to Russia, but not this time. Answers on a postcard to…

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