The Dynamics of Mediatized Conflicts

by Mikkel Fugl Eskjær (Volume editor) Stig Hjarvard (Volume editor) Mette Mortensen (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook VI, 221 Pages
Series: Global Crises and the Media, Volume 3


This book engages with the mediatized dynamics of political, military and cultural conflicts. In today’s global and converging media environment, the interrelationship between media and conflict has been altered and intensified. No longer limited to the realms of journalism and political communication, various forms of new media have allowed other social actors to communicate and act through media networks. Thus, the media not only play an important role by reporting conflicts; they have also become co-constitutive of the ways conflicts develop and spread.
The first part of the book, Transnational Networks, addresses the opportunities and challenges posed by transnational media to actors seeking to engage in and manage conflicts through new media platforms. The second part, Mobilising the Personal: Crossing Public and Private Boundaries, concerns the ways in which media framings of conflicts often revolve around personal aspects of public figures. The third part, Military, War, and Media, engages with a classic theme of media studies – the power relationship between media, state, and military – but in light of the mediatized condition of modern warfare, in which the media have become an integrated part of military strategies.
The book develops new theoretical arguments and a series of empirical studies that are essential reading for students and scholars interested in the complex roles of media in contemporary conflicts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For The Dynamics of Mediatized Conflicts
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Three Dynamics of Mediatized Conflicts
  • Part One: Transnational Networks
  • Chapter One: The Mediatization of Environmental Conflict in the ‘Network Society’
  • Chapter Two: Mediatized Transnational Conflicts: Online Media and the Politicisation of the European Union in Times of Crisis
  • Chapter Three: Communicative Figurations of Financial Blogging: Deliberative and Moralising Modes of Crisis Communication During the Eurocrisis
  • Part Two: Mobilising the Personal: Crossing Public and Private Boundaries
  • Chapter Four: Personalised Scandalisation: Sensationalising Trivial Conflicts?
  • Chapter Five: Ritual Performance in Mediatized Conflict: The Death of a Princess and a Prime Minister
  • Chapter Six: Mediatized Asylum Conflicts: Human-Interest Framing and Common-Sense Public Morality
  • Part Three: Military, War, and Media
  • Chapter Seven: Mediatization and Globalisation: New Challenges for War Journalism
  • Chapter Eight: Imagining Influence: Logic(al) Tensions in War and Defence
  • Chapter Nine: Mediatized Death in Post–Arab Spring Conflicts
  • Conclusion: The Mediatization of Conflicts: Prospects and Challenges
  • Author Bios: The Dynamics of Mediatized Conflicts – Peter Lang
  • Index
  • Series index

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Three Dynamics of Mediatized Conflicts


Media studies have a long tradition of considering how media influence the representation and public perception of conflicts (e.g., Allan & Zelizer, 2004; Carruthers, 2000; Thussu & Freedman, 2003). Especially in the case of military and political conflicts, the presence of propaganda and bias in the media has been a major field of enquiry. Such studies continue to provide valuable insights, but a growing awareness has emerged within media studies that the media’s discursive framing of conflicts is only one of several important ways in which media have come to influence conflicts in contemporary society. Aside from reporting on preexisting conflicts, the media increasingly play both performative and constitutive roles (Cottle, 2006a, p. 9) for the development of conflicts in contemporary society. In this book, we build upon these insights and seek to theoretically and empirically develop the perspective of ‘mediatized conflicts’. Conflicts are not only ‘mediated’ through various forms of mass media and social network media; they have also become ‘mediatized’ owing to the general process of mediatization in contemporary societies. Accordingly, we will pursue the argument that the media may add a series of dynamics to conflicts, namely, amplification, framing and performative agency, and co-structuring.

To theorise and analyse the various ways in which mediatization interacts with and influences conflicts, this book takes a deliberatively broad approach. Our notion of conflict covers armed, political, social, ethnic, cultural, and environmental conflicts. It ranges from political contestation to physical confrontation. ← 1 | 2 → However, the conflicts typically imply a public dimension: they are located in a public setting, involve public figures, or pertain to public or institutionalised activities. In this sense, conflicts refer to disputes between stakeholders which may or may not be formally organised but which are usually recognised as representing certain aims or interests. A working definition of conflict thus entails socially disruptive situations in which two or more actors (individuals or collective entities) recognise that they have differing goals, interests, or opinions and act (or plan to act) in order to change the balance of power between them (see also Cottle, 2006a, 2006b). To suggest that conflicts are socially disruptive does not imply that they are necessarily undesirable from a normative perspective. Conflicts may be socially functional or dysfunctional depending on their context (Putnam, 2013). Consequently, the concept of mediatized conflicts denotes how media and information technology may come to influence the balance of power between stakeholders, for instance through the ways in which media make strategic communication imperative for the maintenance of public legitimacy. Based on this broad notion of mediatized conflicts, this book seeks to open an interdisciplinary field for studying the interactions of media and conflicts, involving diverse research traditions such as media studies, journalism studies, political science, sociology, cultural studies, media anthropology, and environmental studies.

Our approach to mediatized conflicts has been informed by two recent lines of developments in the literature on media and conflict. First, the notion of conflict employed in this book encompasses a number of related phenomena that share certain dynamics. During the past decade, we have witnessed a growing body of studies on media and crisis (Cottle, 2009), media and disasters (Cottle, 2014; Pantti, Wahl-Jorgensen, & Cottle, 2012), media and terror (Kavoori & Fraley, 2006), media and armed conflicts (Hoskins & O’Loughlin, 2010), media and risk (Allen, 2002; Anderson, 2006), and media and social movements (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012, 2013). Stepping further back, we find adjoining research fields that also touch on questions of conflicts such as media scandals (Thompson, 2000), media rituals (Cottle 2006b; Couldry 2003; Rothenbuhler, 1998) and media events (Dayan & Katz, 1992; see also Couldry, Hepp, & Krotz, 2010). These various notions are interrelated in the sense that they frequently entail some sort of conflict (e.g., scandals), intend to quell conflict (e.g., rituals), reconcile conflict (e.g., events), eradiate conflict (war), instigate conflict (terror), or carry the potential for future conflict (disasters). While it is necessary to recognise the differences between various types of social conflicts and the particular contexts in which they appear, this book’s inclusive notion of conflict allows us to consider the dynamics of mediatized conflicts across various types of conflicts (see also the final chapter of this book).

The second line of development is a new and more complex understanding of the role and function of media in relation to conflicts. The diverse nature and ← 2 | 3 → complex interrelations of modern conflicts have fostered growing recognition that various conflicts are being increasingly influenced and shaped by the omnipresence of media and information technology. Our notion of mediatized conflicts is based on the recognition that media today connect nearly every aspect of public and private life in new and unprecedented manners, thereby altering the structural and political impacts as well as personal and social significance of conflicts. In short, the social and cultural conditions of mediatization have to various degrees entered the study of conflicts (for studies specifically on mediatized conflict/war see Cottle, 2006a; Horten, 2011; Maltby, 2012; Mortensen, 2015).

The main assumption behind the concept of mediatized conflict is that the media have become integral to the social processes through which conflicts are defined, recognised, and in some cases resolved by social actors and that media are utilised for particular interests during conflicts. Conflicts have become ‘mediatized’, meaning that conflicts are not only represented and played out in media-saturated social environments but also that media have a profound impact on conflicts themselves, in terms of both internal organisation and external development. The emergence of digital media has both intensified and altered the interrelationships between media and conflict in today’s global and convergent media environment. No longer limited to the realms of journalism and political communication, various forms of new media allow other social actors to communicate, establish relationships, and act through private and semi-public media networks. During times of conflict, this presents new opportunities and threats for individuals and organisations seeking to manage the flow of communication and control social networks to their own advantage.

The mediatization of conflict may be considered a side effect of the general mediatization of culture and society (Hepp, 2013; Hjarvard, 2013; Lundby, 2014a). Various social institutions or domains such as politics (Esser & Strömbäck, 2014), religion (Hjarvard & Lövheim, 2012), and organisations (Pallas, Strannegård, & Jonsson, 2014) have become mediatized and thereby dependent on the media for their routine, day-to-day practices. Conflicts are, however, especially influenced by the mediatized condition of contemporary society because they usually include an intensified fight over the ‘hearts and minds’ of various groups of supporters and opponents. By definition, conflicts involve contestation of existing power relationships and mobilisation of communication resources to coordinate organisation and action; produce public legitimacy; and gather, spread, or contain information. Since media systems are interwoven with existing power structures (e.g., elite dominance of news media, social stratification of media availability and use), social actors may have different communicative resources at their disposal. However, over the course of a conflict, the networked nature of today’s global media environment may enable disadvantaged groups to challenge existing power holders despite their initial, structural disadvantage. Conflicts may also call into question the ‘normal’ mediatized ← 3 | 4 → condition of culture and society. Declaration of martial law is a very visible example of measures that may restrict the normal flow of information and the independence of news media, but conflicts may also involve less overt measures changing the mediatized condition from the normal day-to-day routines of society. As a result, our understanding of ‘mediatized conflicts’ builds on general theories of mediatization and takes into account the disruptive and extraordinary nature of conflicts.

By applying mediatization theory, this book illuminates how media are implicated in conflicts by conditioning or shaping the development of conflicts and by serving as a means by which social actors manage and communicate conflicts. The aim is to develop the concept of ‘mediatized conflicts’ through a series of empirically grounded studies. Mediatized conflict is studied with a global outlook across different political, social, and cultural contexts. The book places particular emphasis on the influence of digital media while also taking into account the overall, converging media environment.

In this introduction, we first consider the theoretical background of ‘mediatized conflicts’ by examining key contributions in the study of conflict and mediatization, respectively. Secondly, we present a theoretical framework that highlights the various dynamics governing mediatized conflicts as well as the various outcomes of mediatized conflicts to which the combination of these dynamics lead. In accordance with our framework, we propose that amplification, framing and performative agency, and co-structuring constitute the core dynamics of mediatized conflicts and that the specific combination and actualisation of these dynamics may either reduce or intensify conflicts and to varying degrees transform or perhaps even induce new conflicts. Our framework thus suggests that the interplay between media and conflict should be studied in a historical, social, and political context as well as it is possible to identify some general dynamics at work across diverse contexts. Following this general perspective on mediatized conflict, the structure, themes, and individual chapters of the book are presented.


During the conflict in Gaza in the summer of 2014, a so-called Hashtag War played out in which the contending parties strived to gain the upper hand on social network sites in the local and international battle for public opinion (e.g., Finighan, 2014; Mackey, 2014). Political leaders, government officials from Israel and Hamas, NGOs, activists, journalists, and citizens alike took part in disseminating and mobilising pictures and words on social network sites. Much of this information seeped into the established mainstream news media’s coverage of the conflict. The coverage included videos produced by Israeli soldiers and subsequently uploaded to social network sites by the Israeli army or the soldiers ← 4 | 5 → themselves as well as some of the numerous videos issued by Hamas showing attacks on Israeli soldiers. Political leaders used social network sites as the initial link in the chain of news to disseminate their messages. Representatives from the press published reports on Twitter, which were also quickly appropriated by the mainstream media’s coverage of the conflict (e.g., Withnall, 2014). For example, an iPhone photo by a Danish newspaper correspondent showed cheerful citizens from the Israeli town of Sderot seated in plastic chairs and eating popcorn on a hilltop to watch the Israeli military’s bombardment of the Gaza strip. The photo was first published on Twitter under the headline ‘Sderot Cinema’ and was rapidly circulated and mobilised as part of the ongoing conflict. As a consequence, the image became the eye of an international media storm in which the contending parties argued over its authenticity, veracity, newness, generalisability, and so on.

The deep and intricate infiltration of media into conflict constitutes more the rule than the exception of how contemporary conflicts are fought and communicated. Owing to the proliferation of digital media and what José van Dijck (2013) terms ‘cultures of connectivity’, a veritable landslide of information from areas of conflict has accumulated over the past decade, forming a stark contrast to the tight management of information conventionally exercised by nations involved in conflict. This development in the interrelation between media and conflict might be conceptualised in terms of a movement from mediation of conflict to mediatization of conflict. By ‘mediation’, we understand the use of a medium for communication and interaction (our notion of ‘mediation’ is thus grounded in media and communication studies and not in conflict studies, where ‘mediation’ often refers to various reconciliatory measures, such as negotiation). In contrast, ‘mediatization’ denotes the changing relationships between media, culture, and society, which create new conditions for communication and interaction (Hjarvard, 2013). Along the same lines, Cottle writes that mediation suggests that the media constitute a ‘neutral “middle ground”’ while the concept of mediatization seeks to ‘deliberately capture something of the more complex, active and performative ways that the media are involved in conflicts today’ (2006a, p. 9).

To introduce the scope and effect of this shift from mediation to mediatization, it is beneficial to undertake a brief historical overview of the literature on media and conflict. Consultations between mass media and states were traditionally seen as decisive for media representations of conflict. Today, media and communication are incorporated into practically all operational, strategic, and political levels of conflict: Various actors hold the ability to produce, distribute, and mobilise material, and media content circulates across platforms, most important, between social network sites and the mainstream news media. Consistent with this movement from mediation to mediatization of conflict, this section argues that earlier models for understanding the relationship between media and conflict do not suffice in today’s digitalised, connective, and convergent media landscape. ← 5 | 6 →

Research on the relationship between media and conflict has typically focused on the news media’s role in shaping the population’s perception of the conflict (e.g., Allan & Zelizer, 2004; Messinger, 2011; Thussu & Freedman, 2003; Tumber & Palmer, 2004) and the communicative strategies deployed by belligerent nations, primarily censorship and propaganda (e.g., Culbert, Cull, & Welch, 2003; Lasswell, 1927; Taylor, 2003 [1990]; Welch, 2005). These two perspectives are mutually dependent insofar as the management of information and control over access to the combat zone exercised by state and military determine the conditions under which the news media cover conflicts. Conversely, censorship—and to an extent propaganda as well—has been instituted in response to the rise of war reporting since the mid-19th century (see also Mortensen, 2013).

The literature on media and conflict has often framed the interrelationship between media and state in terms of the distribution of power, that is, either as struggle or collaboration between the two parties. On the one hand, a tendency prevails across different historical contexts to credit the latest media technologies and their practitioners with innate power to revolutionise the flow of information from conflict zones. A famous case in point was the widespread belief that the Vietnam War constituted the first ‘living room war’ because of the way in which television reports from the frontline (allegedly) diminished public backing. Hallin’s seminal study (1986) challenges this interpretation by asserting that the critical approach did not become significant until a shift in political climate from 1967 resulted in increasing dissent—in other words, reporting remained largely loyal to government policy as long as elite consensus ruled. Later examples of the propensity to attribute power to media innovations include the proclaimed ‘CNN effect’ in the 1980s, with the introduction of 24/7 live television from the frontlines, which was likewise later contested by researchers (e.g., Livingston, 1997; Perlmutter, 1998; Robinson, 2002, 2004). As the most recent offshoot of this framework for understanding the media-conflict relationship, the public uprisings in a number of countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere have been labelled the ‘YouTube revolution’, ‘Facebook revolution’, ‘Twitter revolution’, again prompting researchers to provide nuance to these catchphrase models of explanation.

On the other hand, running counter to this technological optimism and determinism, other scholars have argued that the news media tends to be essentially loyal to government agendas in matters of conflict and national security (e.g., Boyd-Barrett, 2004; Thussu & Freedman, 2003). Per the famous dictum by Chomsky and Herman (1988), the mainstream news media are predisposed to ‘manufacture consent’ owing to their business models and journalists’ inclinations to rely on elite sources and remain faithful to national interests. Seizing a middle ground, Robinson (2002, 2004) draws on Hallin (1986) to propose a more differentiated and historically variable ‘policy-media interaction model’, which outlines ← 6 | 7 → three degrees of media influence according to the level of elite consensus and policy certainty.

How and to which extent the thorough mediatization of conflict alters the basic distribution of power in relation to media and conflict remains a pertinent question for further empirical study in relation to different types of conflict. It nonetheless seems fair to say that concepts such as the ‘policy-media interaction model’ may not be capable of standing as independent theoretical frameworks in connection with a number of contemporary conflicts. One important reservation towards applying ‘the policy-media interaction model’ to the current media landscape is that it mainly takes a top-down perspective by focusing on the interrelations between public authorities (government, military, etc.) and the mainstream news media. Owing to cultures of connectivity, however, more actors have been enabled to take part in the production, distribution, and mobilisation of information about conflict. Accordingly, the study of mediatized conflict encompasses both top-down and bottom-up perspectives as well as internal and external dimensions (see also Mortensen, 2015): The state, military, and other authorities deploy various media to inform the public and frame their interpretations of the conflict in question at the same time as they increasingly use media as an integral part of their own work practices such as police surveillance and military warfare. Nevertheless, citizens, activists, grassroots individuals, whistle-blowers, insurgents, and so on use media to gain visibility, mobilise support, organise activities, and contest the legitimacy of authorities. Digital media have created a much more complex communication environment in which the possibilities for controlling and monitoring information flows and for leaking information have become manifold. By opening up the possibility for the interplay, antagonism, or merely co-existence of these two dimensions, our understanding of mediatized conflict may facilitate empirical approaches, which take into account how different actors engage in struggles and negotiations over the forms and contents of information disseminated from conflictual situations. This in turn suggests that mediatized conflicts may have different outcomes and involve different scenarios than the ones implied by the traditional ‘policy-media interaction model’.

The inclusion of a bottom-up perspective on mediatized conflicts stipulates a changing gatekeeping role for the established news media. In the new media environment, news media have lost their traditional monopoly on conflict reporting—the most conspicuous example probably being the way in which breaking news events are often first visually documented by on-site participants or eyewitnesses equipped with mobile camera phones. In consequence, mainstream news media often function as brokers of sorts between the two dimensions. While they still constitute the most important platform from which the authorities can communicate to the public about conflictual events, other actors involved in the production and distribution of information also frequently seek to attract the attention ← 7 | 8 → of the news media to reach a larger audience. At the same time, the news media are themselves an active partner for the obvious reason that conflict makes up a major journalistic turf, entailing various forms of interaction with actors and other sources.


The process of mediatization concerns the structural transformation of the relationships between media and other social spheres. In this process, other social spheres become dependent on the media and their various logics, that is, their institutional, technological, and aesthetic modus operandi (cf. Hjarvard, 2013; Lundby, 2014b). This growing interdependency is characterised by a dual development in which the media have developed into a semi-autonomous institution in society at the same time as various media have become integrated into the workings of other social institutions such as politics, education, and family. As a result, the media are simultaneously present ‘out-there’ in society at large, exercising influence on the public attention as a whole and present ‘in-here’ in the various social settings in which a variety of different media are employed for the practice of ‘doing politics’, ‘doing family’, and so on. The development of the news media as an important gatekeeper for public information and opinion over the course of the 20th century is the paradigmatic example of the media’s rise to the status of a semi-independent institution, yet other forms of mass media such as the film industry, magazine press, and public service media have become important semi-autonomous providers of public information and opinions in the broader cultural field as well.


VI, 221
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Transnational networks mobilising social media media
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. VI, 221 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Mikkel Fugl Eskjær (Volume editor) Stig Hjarvard (Volume editor) Mette Mortensen (Volume editor)

Mikkel Fugl Esjær (PhD, University of Copenhagen) is Associate Professor in the Department f Communication at the University of Aalborg. His most recent publications include articles on Media, risks, and climate change. Stig Hjarvard (PhD, University of Copenhagen) is Professor in the Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication at the University of Copenhagen. His most recent book is The Mediatization of Culture and Society (2013). Mette Mortensen (PhD, University of Copenhagen) is Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication at the University of Copenhagen. Her most recent book is Journalism and Eyewitness Images: Digital Media, Participation, and Conflict (2015).


Title: The Dynamics of Mediatized Conflicts
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