To a high degree, newspapers mirror the viewpoints of the political elite, a bolster to the 'elite-driven media' theory about editorial viewpoints, according to a new analysis in thejournal Media, War&Conflict.

The scholars from the University of Copenhagen elite-driven media theory may explain why support for the war efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have been remarkably consistent in the small, non-belligerent nation of Denmark.

While political discussions concerning the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have been heated in some countries (America, for example, until President Barack Obama was elected, then protests stopped), political parties and public opinion in Denmark have generally been supportive of the war efforts during the last decade, despite the high level of involvement by Danish forces and – relatively speaking – high level of casualties. Danes overall seem to feel like they were harbingers of the problem the world sees with Muslim countries. A decade ago the liberal country nonetheless enacted tough new immigration reform designed to keep out the disenfranchised most likely to engage in acts of terrorism.

The new analysis, conducted by media researchers from The University of Copenhagen, covered five national dailies and their editorial stances on the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

"Our research demonstrates, as the 'elite-driven media' theory suggests, that the editorials reflect dominant viewpoints among the political elites: When the elites are in agreement, the newspapers display a similar agreement and reproduce dominant arguments. When political elites disagree, it makes room for a higher degree of diversity among the newspapers," says Professor Stig Hjarvard who conducted the analysis with his colleague Associate Professor Nete Nørgaard Kristensen.

Limited focus on the soldiers' experience

The four national newspapers Jyllands-Posten, Berlingske, Politiken, and B.T. have generally been supportive of the Danish military efforts, particularly in the case of Afghanistan and Libya. During the invasion of Iraq there was disagreement among the newspapers, mirroring the political divisions in the Danish parliament and public opinion in general. However, when dominant political parties reached consensus about the subsequent deployment of Danish troops in Iraq, critique in the newspapers became less dominant.

"The analysis clearly shows that the arguments in favor of military efforts have to a large extent concerned humanitarian ideals and general international obligations towards alliance partners in the 'war against terror'. The editorials of Danish dailies have only to a limited extent dealt with the specific assignments, problems and consequences Danish soldiers have been facing during the three wars," explained Nete Nørgaard Kristensen who points to the niche newspaper information as the only media in the analysis that departs from the overall pattern.

To a higher degree, this newspaper has been able to develop and sustain editorial viewpoints independent of existing consensus among the political establishment.

"Such niche media as Information may, therefore, play an important role for sustaining alternative arguments when the political elites and the major news media display a high level of consensus," Kristensen  says.

Stig Hjarvard concludes, "Considering the important role of national news media in framing the public agenda during these three wars, the existing news media supply may not be sufficient to ensure a diverse representation of arguments and viewpoints when politicians have decided to go to war."

Citation: Stig Hjarvard, Nete Nørgaard Kristensen, 'When media of a small nation argue for war', Media, War & Conflict April 2014 vol. 7 no. 1 51-69 doi: 10.1177/1750635213516560. Source: University of Copenhagen