The coverage of the multi-sided war on IS in Syria by AJA and RT.
Thesis DisciplineMedia and Communication
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
International divisions over Syria’s internal crisis have shaped the map of the war against international terrorism which has erupted amid anti-government protests. Since September 2015, Syria has witnessed a multi-sided war on the Islamic State organisation (IS) as the US-led coalition and Russia fought against this transnational armed organisation in separate military campaigns with the stated purpose to eliminate IS threats at home and abroad. Then, many political actors that have divergent policies in Syria and different approaches towards fighting IS, participated in the war against that common enemy.
The news media have devoted close attention to the situation in Syria and contributed to shaping the role of each military campaign; then, they have an influence on how this conflict can be imagined. Therefore, this study is intended to examine and compare how the multi-sided war on IS was reported by transnational news media to Arab viewers. It takes the Doha-based AJA and the Moscow-based RT Arabic as case studies. The research is qualitative. It relies on a sample of (480) news reports [240 reports from each broadcaster’s YouTube channel] tracking a one-year period, from 1 October 2015 to 30 September 2016. It applies Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) as a research method to examine how this multi-sided war is framed throughout the governance, the military and the humanitarian aspects.
The study shows that these transnational news media supported their governments. So, it confirms Samuel Azran’s (2013) conclusion that AJA is a hybrid network whose independence is limited by the boundaries of Qatar’s crucial interests. Also, the study supports previous research on RT’s role as a tool of Russian public diplomacy.
This research contributes to studies on media and public diplomacy as it examined the coverage of a multisided war on terror in transnational media. It concludes that when states that have different counterterrorism policies fight against a common enemy, their media will reflect that political divergence, rather than emphasising the shared global counterterrorism objective. The degree of convergence in anti-terrorism approaches between a political actor and the state from which the media operate has an influence on how the media portray the role of that actor in the war against the shared enemy. The closer the policy proximity between a political actor that is engaged in the conflict and the country in which the media operate, the more likely that actor will be framed positively. For instance, AJA’s framing of the US-led military campaign, which involved Qatar, was less critical than its coverage of the Russian military intervention, in Syria. RT represented the US-backed SDF and the Russian-backed Syrian army as liberators. However, the anti-IS operations which were conducted by the opposition factions, that fight against the Russian-backed Al Assad regime, were not represented as liberation actions.
Furthermore, the study showed that transnational media outlets that are sponsored by authoritarian regimes may adopt significantly different reporting styles and so align with their governments in different ways. Unlike AJA, RT adopted a propagandist reporting style to support its sponsor’s policies. Thus, this study contributed to understanding of the complexity of the operations of power in transnational media outlets and showed how the coverage of a global war against a common enemy is still driven by the national and regional policies of the countries from which the news media operate.