What is it about?

In war, the killing of civilians is an omnipresent reality. The media reporting of such unlawful killings, however, varies drastically according to who died and who did the killing. This paper compares two similar war-situations - Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq - regarding their news coverage. In Aleppo, the Syrian government and its ally Russia - both official enemies of the West - were fighting what they called 'terrorists' (al-Qaeda) occupying Eastern Aleppo. In Mosul, the US and its allies - the 'us' - were fighting against what *they* called 'terrorists' (ISIS). In both cases, the consequences were massive civilian suffering.

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Why is it important?

The results show that the casualties in Aleppo received much broader, more detailed and emotional coverage. The killings were directly attributed to the actions of the Syrian government and Russia and people inside the war zone were allowed to frame the narrative. The casualties in Mosul, by contrast, were covered more as an event, as something that just 'happened' and agency was seldom attributed. The narrative was mostly framed by US officials. This exemplifies a major problem in news reporting - the dependency on (Western) official sources, whose agendas and vested interests are thus widely reflected in the moral evaluations and cause-effect relations in news stories on international conflicts.

Perspectives

What I think is very important is that we become critical readers and realize to what extent news sources frame and naturalize war narratives. As passive news readers, we tend to more or less accept the moral presuppositions of who is good and who is bad in a conflict, whereas a close study of the situation shows that the real picture is much more complex and there is rarely such a thing as 'good guys' and 'bad guys'. I hope that this article may help some people to see how news articles can be critically questioned and that it is imperative to do so if we wish to avoid more senseless wars being waged in our names.

Johannes Scherling
Karl-Franzens-Universitat Graz

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This page is a summary of: A tale of two cities: A comparative study of media narratives of the battles for Aleppo and Mosul, Media War & Conflict, August 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/1750635219870224.
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