The realities of war: Recognising and planning for the decisive role of media on the urban battlefield

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Future conflicts will increasingly occur in cities where destruction of property and loss of life has always been greater and more concentrated than on other terrain. This greater cost will now be more visible because of extensive and decreasingly controllable media coverage, and the increased interest will combine with new sources of information flow that the military will be unable to control. Most media research shows that in wartime the domestic mainstream press tend to be broadly supportive of the military, but urban war is different. Unfamiliar and unexpected events provide windows of opportunity where reporters have a ‘clean slate’, in the absence of any pre-existing narrative.
Since contemporary audiences have little understanding of war generally, war among civilians and insurgents is incomprehensibly brutal, and because prior understandings of the likely costs are not pre-established among politicians or public, audiences make simplistic moral judgements. If the military fights in cities without establishing both media understanding of urban war and processes to influence the public narrative, the consequence may be problematic policy direction. This study uses a framing analysis of newspaper reports of urban battles to examine the way media messaging might indirectly influence military urban operations, especially by shaping popular and political demand for more aggressive or less aggressive actions than optimum military practice. The findings include recommendations for enhancing Army-Media processes, which feedback from journalists suggests are troubled.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationSaint-Cyr Coetquidan
PublisherEuropean Society for Military Ethics
Commissioning bodyAustralian Army Research Centre
Number of pages266
VolumeOccasional paper 3
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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