The early years of the 21st century is marked with a sense of insecurity both by the individual and the state. No one feels safe because of the threat of terrorism that is perpetrated by groups who fight for reasons of ideology, religion, or for plain criminal intent. The state, however, also made use of terrorism to maintain its own interest which it cloaks surreptitiously using legitimate justification such as the utilization of war to preserve national security and protection of its citizens but by putting in peril lives of people in places where it conducts operations to fight the supposed terrorists.
A discussion on terrorism and how it influences the consciousness of the people who live in this period in history is incomplete without the inclusion of the media in the formula. Terrorism should then be discussed on a broader discourse platform. This can only be done if the role of media in depicting real-time news scenes and the constant replaying of these scenes before billions of media consumers all over the world is thoroughly considered and rigorously peered into.
In the Philippines, the people’s conception and opinion of terrorism is shaped mostly by the far-reaching and intensely democratized television. It is interesting to note that Filipinos, at least in general, empathize with the United States and are supportive of the actions made by the US against Iraq, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups in the Middle East. These international terrorist groups turned out to have strong connection with other terrorist organizations in the country, specifically the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah. Despite the unpopularity of American intervention in Iraq among Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines remains a loyal ally of the US in this fight. Opinion polls conducted during the height of the war against terror declared by the Bush administration also indicates that most Filipinos are supportive of the deployment of American troop in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This popular opinion during the time came about, although direct causality is difficult to establish, when local media started using film clips syndicated from their media partners in the United States, specifically Fox News Channel, which provided local TV networks with videos that were taken directly from the war zone. In fact, the country’s biggest network, ABS-CBN, got most of its video from the Channel.
Because media outfits in the Philippines syndicated film clips gathered by the American news channel, these clips which replayed infinitely quenched the thirst of the people for information about the place where their loved ones are employed as contract workers. But this did not come without a price—the Filipino nation became an avid supporter of the Bush administration’s rabid war against terror. The nation accepted without question the prevailing idea at the time: “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorist.” No one question the assumption and the possibility of the existence of other perspectives. And the people, at least the public in general, swallowed the agenda that the rightist Fox Channel advocated—that is, the perpetuation of the war waged in Iraq.
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, a documentary film by the director Robert Greenwald, criticizes the type of journalism espoused by the Fox News Channel headed by the media mogul who owns the network, Rupert Murdoch. The documentary asserts that Fox is biased toward extreme right lines in Washington that strongly support the war waged in Iraq. This predisposed leaning of the network conspicuously runs in opposition to the channel’s claim of fairness and balance.
The one-hour-and-a-half film, which was unfortunately not released in cinemas, examines the expansion of Murdoch clout in the American and global media industry, and how this strong presence eventually led to a concentration of media ownership in his hands thereby leading to the infringement of press freedom and curtailment of objectivity—values people in the industry hold with utmost value.
It will be helpful to use a framework in understanding the role of Fox News Channel in creating the shared consciousness of the audience and how the use of these clips that were syndicated by different media outfits all over the world, the Philippines including, also affected the prevailing popular opinion about the war in those countries.
The idea of ‘news frames’ refers to the interpretive structures that journalist use to set particular events within their broader context (Norris et al 10). The essence of framing is selection that will give priority to some facts, images, or development over others, thereby promoting one particular interpretation of events (11).
Through frames, apparently scattered and diverse events are understood within regular patterns. Without knowing much, if anything, about the particular people, groups, issues, or even places involved, the terrorist and anti-terrorist frame allows us to quickly sort out, interpret, categorize, and evaluate these conflicts. In international affairs, framing serves several functions by highlighting certain events as international problems that affect American interests, identifying and explaining the source of any security threat, and offering recommendations for particular policy solutions designed to overcome these problems.
The use of terrorism frame serves several functions by linking together disparate, almost unrelated facts, events and leaders and also by naming perpetrators, identifying victims, and attributing blame. On the other hand, it can also function to forward an agenda that serve the interest of the people who control the media organization.
Outfoxed fully captured, although in a rather prejudiced fashion, this blatant use of framing by the Fox News Channel through Greenwald’s careful utilization of the different ‘news frames’ that have been a result of careful documentation resulting in a film that is as telling as it is harrowing and that would pin the channel firmly to the ground for its lack of independence and obvious bias.
However, the film also erred in one, major aspect. It failed to get the side of the Channel as well as that of Murdoch. It would have been more effective had it attempted to erase any feel of propaganda that enmeshed it all throughout. It is a victim of the very problematique it aimed to critique. This lack of balance in reporting diminishes it into a card-stacking propaganda material aimed at discrediting the already discreditable Fox News Channel.
Framing Terrorism the News Media, the Government and the Public. Pipa Norris, Montague Kern, and Marion Just, eds. New York: Routledge 2003. 10-11
Hammond, Philip. Media, War, and Postmodernity. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2007. 46
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. Robert Greenwald director. Film documentary. Brave New Films.