The Coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict by the Polish Media (2014-2015)

by Róża Norström (Author)
©2019 Monographs 248 Pages


In this book, the author examines the media coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict by six Polish media outlets in 2014 and 2015. Using content analysis and in-depth interviews, the author explores how cultural and historical factors, as well as the national security threat to Poland, affected the media image of the conflict. Despite differences in editorial line, level of political parallelism and type of medium, the Polish media largely spoke with one voice. Interviews with journalists uncover how they view their role in reporting on the conflict, and how national prejudices had an impact on their work. The military and economic threat to Poland, resulting from Russia’s actions, was the dominant tool of domestication used by the media to bring the dispute closer to the public.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 Theoretical perspectives of the conflict coverage
  • 1.1 Character of the conflict
  • 1.2 The Polish media system
  • 1.3 The role of the media in the conflict
  • 1.3.1 The media coverage of conflicts
  • 1.3.2 The domestication of conflicts
  • 1.4 Analysis of earlier studies
  • Summary
  • 2 Research methodology
  • 2.1 The theme, subject and aim of the research
  • 2.2 The scope of the research
  • 2.3 Research hypotheses and research questions
  • 2.4 The research project “Ukraine 2014 – media war and the war in media”
  • 2.5 Research methods and tools
  • 2.5.1 Content analysis
  • 2.5.2 In-depth interviews with journalists
  • 2.5.3 Desk research
  • 3 The analysis of the conflict’s coverage
  • 3.1 Dominant issues and sources
  • 3.1.1 Covered topics
  • 3.1.2 Sources
  • 3.2 Definition of the conflict
  • 3.2.1 Nature of the conflict
  • 3.2.2 Terminology used to describe the conflict
  • 3.3 The perspective of the dispute
  • 3.3.1 Dominant and secondary actors
  • 3.3.2 The main coverage perspective and contexts
  • Summary
  • 4 The analysis of the domestication of the conflict
  • 4.1 Impact of historical references
  • 4.1.1 Frequency of historical references
  • 4.1.2 Comparisons to historical events in the coverage
  • 4.1.3 Vladimir Putin compared to historical figures
  • 4.2 Consequences of the conflict for Poland
  • 4.2.1 Military threat
  • 4.2.2 Economic sanctions
  • Summary
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • List of Figures
  • List of Pictures
  • List of Tables
  • References
  • Index


This book is dedicated to the coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict by traditional Polish media outlets in 2014 and 2015, and presents the results of my doctoral dissertation. I wanted to study how the selected media and journalists presented and domesticated the events in Ukraine, and also how the parties to the conflict were described. Although the presentation of external wars and armed conflicts by the covering state should be neutral, the scientific literature shows that this is not always the case and that many different factors influence it (see Zelizer and Allan, 2002; Shoemaker and Cohen, 2006). Context-oriented factors, that is those referring to the relationship between the covering and the covered state, as well as event-oriented factors, which are determined by the specific nature of the event, should be taken into account. It seems that both groups of factors might have affected how the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was perceived by Polish journalists. The proximity of the dispute and Poland’s ambiguous relations with Ukraine and Russia, as well as the hybrid nature of the event, seem like important things to consider. Context-oriented factors can determine if the recipients will consider a news story as important and relevant to them – whether it is seen as “ours” or “their” event.

The role of the media when covering military actions has been quite widely dealt with in the scientific literature (see Eskjaer et al., 2015; Knightley, 2003). How to define what “coverage” means seems clear, but it is strongly dependent on the nature of the event it concerns. It is associated with how events and entities are presented, as well as how much attention the media pays to specific issues, which indicates their news value. This definition will be used for the purposes of my research. One should take into account the fact that wars and armed conflicts are mainly international events (see Cottle, 2009; Ross, 2007), therefore they are covered differently than national issues. Furthermore, the intense, brutal and generally negative character of the phenomenon (see Święs, 2007; Chang et al., 1987) may make it harder for journalists to stay impartial (Russ-Mohl, 2013).

How the national media system functions, and the influence of the external environment on it (see Dobek-Ostrowska, 2007; McQuail, 2000; Pokorna-Ignatowicz, 2013), is of considerable importance in the case of the media’s coverage. The Polish media system, according to Mancini (2015) and Dobek-Ostrowska (2012), is characterized by hybridity, which puts it close to both the polarized pluralist model and to the liberal model. The way Polish journalists approach a given issue can be influenced by market logic and the political ←9 | 10→parallelism of media outlets, which will be reflected in the news stories they present.

An important factor is also how the event is defined. In this book I will refer to it as the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The dispute in Ukraine is sometimes described as a hybrid war, due to its military and informational nature (Pacek, 2018). But in my study the term “conflict” will be used, as it covers more than only military warfare (see Brown and Stewart, 2015; Bierzanek, 1968). The conflict is also defined as an inter-state dispute. Baluk and Doroszko (2017), Bebler (2014) and Riabchuk (2016) are some of the scholars that have used this definition and called it the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

The aim of the study is to describe how the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was covered by the Polish media in 2014 and 2015 and to conclude if the fear of it spreading to Poland, as well as historical and cultural patterns, influenced the coverage. The purpose of the study is also to check if the crisis in Ukraine was domesticated by the Polish media. This seems to be interesting, especially due to the proximity of the conflict. Both newspapers and television programs will be analyzed to see if the Polish media spoke with one voice during the coverage of the conflict in Ukraine. Another possibility would be that differences resulting from the medium’s editorial line, the type of media, and the degree of relations with political actors affected the perspective of the dispute visible in the materials. This study will go a long way in explaining the importance of this conflict to the Polish media and society. That is to say, how much space and attention the media paid to the war in Ukraine. This event had a direct impact on the military and economic security of Poland. Therefore it seems to be important to check what kind of perspective – pro-Ukrainian or pro-Russian – was shown in the analyzed materials. It should be noted that Poland’s political and historical relations with the parties to the conflict are ambiguous. It can therefore be expected that the perception of the actors that are involved in the conflict by the Polish media will be marked by these patterns.

References to both Polish and foreign scientific publications are included in the study. When writing about the role of the media in armed conflicts, I refer to Rodgers (2012), Tumber (2004), Nohrstedt and Ottosen (2014), McLaughlin (2002), Hallin (1986), Zelizer and Allan (2002) and Piątkowska-Stepaniak and Nierenberg (2007). The domestication strategy, which has also been examined in my book, has been explained by Taradai (2014), Gomez Rodriguez (2007), Olausson (2013) and Joye (2015). When describing the news factors and their influence on the coverage, I referred to, for example, publications by Galtung and Ruge (1965), Gross and Kopper (2011), Shoemaker and Cohen (2006) and Golan et al. (2010). Issues regarding the Polish media and the Polish media system have ←10 | 11→been described by, among others, Nowak (2014), Dobek-Ostrowska (2007 and 2012), Jakubowicz (2003), Bajomi-Lazar (2014) and Głowacki (2017). The characteristics of the analyzed dispute have been described by Lakomy (2016) and Parulski (2016), among others.

Although in the scientific literature, albeit to a greater extent in the foreign than in the Polish, the role of the media in presenting armed conflicts is quite extensively covered, it seems that there is a lack of empirical research, which in a comprehensive manner could describe these issues. In particular, studies are missing that would take into account the role of various types of media in covering a given armed conflict in the same time period, and which would be complemented with in-depth interviews with journalists. The state of research on the media coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict also seems to be limited in some ways. There has been little research carried out in the longer perspective, and which also takes into account the above-mentioned issues. I noted that much more research and publications on this subject have been made abroad than in Poland. The number of publications on the role of the Polish media in covering this story is rather small, and they usually concern the press market.

An initial analysis of the research material and relevant literature made it possible to create two research hypotheses and eleven research questions. The research hypotheses that will be tested in the study are:

H1:  An anti-Russian perspective is dominant in the Polish media coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

H2:  Stressing the threat to the economic and military security of Poland was the dominant tool of domestication of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict by the Polish media.

The research questions with a detailed discussion on the methodological aspects of the study are presented in the second chapter.

Three research methods were used in the analysis – quantitative-qualitative (hybrid method), qualitative and comparative. These research methods have been supplemented by desk research, which is defined as a research technique.

The first research method is a quantitative-qualitative content analysis, which was used to analyze 1 726 research units with a code book consisting of 38 questions. The hybridization of the method, meaning the combination of quantitative analysis and frame analysis, allowed for an in-depth look at how and through what mechanisms the six Polish media outlets – the most popular tabloids, quality newspapers and television news programs – covered the conflict from 1st of March 2014 to 31st of March 2015.

←11 |

The second research method used in the study has a qualitative character and was meant to supplement the content analysis. From April 2015 to January 2018, eleven in-depth interviews were conducted with journalists who covered the conflict in Ukraine during the selected research period. Ten of those journalists were employees of the media analyzed in this book, while one came from another medium. It was decided to include him in the list of respondents anyway due to his professional experience. The interviews were semi-structured, which made it possible to spontaneously ask follow-up questions and bring up issues that were not planned.

Comparative analysis is another research method that has found its application in the study. By comparing the results of the content analysis, it was possible to find similarities and differences in the different media’s approach to covering the conflict. Furthermore, the answers given by the journalists were also compared to each other. This was interesting since the respondents came from different media outlets, and also because they covered the conflict from different places. Some of them were in Warsaw while others worked on the spot.

Secondary data, such as the Centre for Public Opinion Research’s report on the Polish people’s perception of the events in Ukraine, were also put to use in the research. It was possible to check if the way the conflict as well as the parties participating in it were presented by the media, correlated with the views of Polish society.

The choice of methods and techniques is justified by their character and the possibilities they offer the researcher. In addition, it seems that together they allowed for a comprehensive analysis of the way in which the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was covered by the Polish media. The content analysis combined with elements of frame analysis resulted in numerical data on the frequency of covered issues and sources of information, along with information about the attributes given to the actors in the dispute and the contexts used by journalists. It seems that using content analysis in this way could, in a sense, minimize its limitations, namely how it is mostly quantitative. On the other hand, I realize that the qualitative factors of the method are usually characterized by a dose of subjectivism, which is why it was necessary to also do in-depth interviews. The interviews were used to help further explore the results of the content analysis, especially to answer why something was presented in a certain way. This seems like an unquestionable advantage of combining in-depth interviews with content analysis. The use of the comparative method seemed necessary in turn considering the diversity of the studied media. The desk research has helped to broaden the research perspective and to see if the journalists’ description of the events in Ukraine reflected the views of the media organization and perhaps the views of ←12 | 13→the society to which they belong. I realize that the applied research methods, as well as the empirical nature of my study, do not result in a complete reflection of reality. However, with the aim of describing the coverage and domestication of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict by Polish journalists, as well as the influence of context-oriented factors – such as history and security concerns – it seems that the selected techniques and research methods, despite their limitations, have been chosen and applied properly.

This book consists of four chapters. The first one presents theoretical assumptions on the media coverage of wars and armed conflicts. I present a brief characteristic of the nature and causes of the conflict, explaining its hybridity and significance for Polish national security. Next the Polish media system is described. I define the concept of the media system, characterize its structure, and point to the role of its external environment and how it could affect the media coverage. I refer to Hallin’s and Mancini’s models (2004), and write about the hybridity of the Polish media system. The selected theories and strategies related to the role of the media in the conflict are also described in the chapter. I outline event-oriented and context-oriented factors in the coverage of foreign events. I define the concepts of war and peace journalism, write about the problem of journalistic partisanship, and the demonization and dehumanization of “the enemy” by the media. Domestication – its definition, typologies, and the factors that may determine the effectiveness of this strategy is also discussed in this chapter. Finally, the state of Polish and foreign research on the media coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is presented.

The research methodology is described in the second chapter. The theme, subject, and aim of the research as well as research hypotheses and research questions – divided into main and specific research questions – are described. I further outline the scope of the research and the criteria for selecting the research period and the media qualified for the analysis. I also referred to the international research project “Ukraine 2014 - media war and the war in media” in which I participated and which constitutes an important contribution to the empirical part of my research. The research tools and methods used in the study – including the way they are constructed and used, as well as their advantages and disadvantages – are also presented.

In the third chapter I discuss the results of my content analysis and in-depth interviews with journalists. I present a list of the most commonly covered topics and most quoted sources of information. The dominant conflict perspective visible in the media, and how the dispute and actors involved in it were defined, has also been analyzed. Moreover, the journalists’ views regarding their role in covering the conflict in Ukraine and problems related to it, as well as the impact ←13 | 14→of prejudices and national stereotypes on how the parties to the dispute were perceived, are discussed in the chapter.

The analysis of the domestication of the conflict is presented in the fourth and last chapter of the book. The mechanisms of the media’s domestication of the dispute are characterized with attention given to the use of frames and historical contexts in bringing the dispute closer to the audience. Attention is given to the frequency of historical references, comparisons to historical events and comparisons of Vladimir Putin to historical figures. The chapter also presents the extent to which the consequences of the conflict for Poland, such as the military threat and economic sanctions, were used by journalists when domesticating the dispute in Ukraine.

In the conclusion I verify the research hypotheses and try to answer the research questions. I refer to the legitimacy of the research techniques and methods I used, as well as write about problems that arose during the making of my research. I also suggest topics for further study that can complement and develop the analysis.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
National prejudices Domestication Russia Ukraine Poland Media image
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 248 pp., 21 fig. b/w, 21 tables, 3 graphs

Biographical notes

Róża Norström (Author)

Róża Norström, PhD, has participated in several Polish and international research projects, such as Ukraine 2014 – media war and the war in media. She is the author of a number of articles and chapters in the subject of media and communication and political science.


Title: The Coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict by the Polish Media (2014-2015)
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250 pages