for our e-mail list for updates and socially responsible
1015 18th St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202 429-8900
Fax: 202 429-8905
Media's Role in the Public Perception of
Over the past 50 years, the mass media has established
itself as the chief source of the American public's perception
of national security. Dating back to World War II, media has been
the link between the public and the government via newspaper, radio
and television. Media advancements, particularly in radio technology
were crucial to the spread of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. Due
to today's technological advances, the American family has
access to live media coverage of events. Immediate viewing of 9/11
and the recent war with Iraq have been made possible, thanks to
the adoption of embedded reporters and real time coverage. Advancements
in the media have allowed for a public that is more aware of current
threats to national security.
Along with the awareness that the media has generated for American
society, there exists a rapidly growing demand for news reports.
After 9/11, a very shocked and alarmed America was searching for
answers. Not surprisingly, they turned to the media for facts about
what went wrong, who was responsible and why tragedy struck. Additionally,
changes in the new terrorism alert status heightens the nation's
sense of insecurity and desire for the facts; consequently, the
public turns to the media to keep informed on such issues.
While the media is the public's main link to daily news, they
are not always a reliable and credible source of information. It
is important to note that the media, like any other industry, must
provide products and services that are appealing to the consumer.
Media outlets are ultimately owned by corporations who must adhere
to their own corporate missions and operational budget. Recently,
Communication Commission (FCC) relaxed ownership laws of newspapers,
television and radio stations; this decision created much controversy.
In support of these acts, FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy
stated that "given the rules we adopt today…it is simply
not possible to monopolize the flow of information in today's
world. Indeed, the fall of Communism in the 1980's and of
military dictatorships in the 1990's shows that diverse viewpoints
cannot be suppressed even by authoritarian governments, much less
by private media companies." In dissent of the acts, fellow
FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein claimed that " as big
media companies get bigger, they're likely to broadcast even
more homogenized programming that increasingly appeals to the lowest
common denominator. If this is the toaster with pictures, soon only
Wonder Bread will pop out." Congress is now continuing the
debate as some Congressmen are working to overturn the ruling.
This revived interest in safeguarding media coverage highlights
America's desire for the most accurate and up-to-date news stories.
Deeming what is newsworthy is not always a simple task. Executives
and editors have the challenge of finding the balance between their
corporate ownership, their paper's or station's integrity, and the
flood stream of news. Journalists must then take informational leads
and write a concise and attractive piece, taking into account several
points of view. In the case of security threats, the pressure to
capture an accurate portrayal of the situation is further complicated
by the limited governmental access journalists have to information.
As one embedded journalist reports, "the discomforts and dangers
of the war were easily dealt with; accurately conveying the reality
of it to the readers back home was not."
When working toward a better-informed nation, it is crucial to acknowledge
the tedious work the media must undergo in order to prepare news
reports on security issues. With this in mind, today's scientists
and future scientists must work with journalists and editors in
order to create a more accurate picture of today's national security
issues. Without an informed debate, vague reports on national security
threats can evoke strong emotional responses. Scientists and security
experts are needed to create this debate around both current threats
and policies made to protect the nation.
This is not a new concept. In 1955, Albert Einstein and Bertrand
Russell drafted a manifesto
calling for scientists around the world to become active in political
affairs. They encouraged scientists to assemble in conference to
discuss resolutions to the nuclear crisis thereby creating the Pugwash
Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Today, organizations such
as Pugwash, the Federation
of American Scientists, and the Union
of Concerned Scientists are taking part in campaigns to promote
the reliance on sound scientific research in effective policy decisions.
Scientists must work with the media to create an educated electorate,
thereby, putting well-informed public pressure on policy leaders
around scientific issues affecting national security. Aspiring scientists
and current scientists need to understand that their roles must
extend beyond the research laboratory.
Today's policies are quickly trying to catch up to the scientific
and technological advancements of the last 20 years. Covering this
story takes a collaborative effort. This brief includes four articles
that will present the differing perspectives on this issue, as well
as, three ethical questions that exhibit the scope of this debate.
In addition, statistics and interviews with experts on this issue
have been gathered to create a better understanding of this topic.
Finally, a list of suggested movies, speakers, web sites, books,
and articles provide further research on the subject area.
-Submitted by: Matt Mosgin, 2003