Military and the Media:
on Both Sides
The Military and the Media
By Alan Hooper, Gower, 247 pages, $38
Reviewed by Murray MacAdam
It was estimated that in March, 1982, 700 million people — one-sixth
of the entire world — were involved in some kind of war. No wonder
military matters have assumed an important place in the news, as
a casual glance at any newspaper will affirm.
Yet research indicates that misunderstanding and mutual ignorance
between military officers and journalists is widespread. Relations
have been strained between the military and the media from the
outset of war reporting early in the 19th century to the present
The Military and the Media studies the relationship between the
military and the media, the first book specifically on this topic.
Author Alan Hooper, a veteran British naval officer, shows how this
relationship has been affected by rapid change in the technology
of communications, and by changes in society and the military.
The study, based on first-hand research, is certainly a detailed
one. It includes personal observation by Hooper of the news process
in the press, radio and television, interviews with military and
media personalities, and visits to military establishments to see
what they teach regarding the media. An outline of media fundamentals
provides a sound foundation for case studies which follow on the
wars in Vietnam, Northern Ireland and the Falklands.
Much of the book discusses the problems inherent in reporting
generally and war reporting in particular. War reporting is often
distorted from the start due to the problem of access; reporters
can only report what they can see. Another limitation today is
that most reporters have not had direct experience themselves of
Television news can be limiting due to the lack of time for reporting
anything other than the bare facts, resulting in "headline"
news. It can also distort an issue due to the sensationalism of
a particular event, such as the famous television footage from
the Vietnam War of a child burned by napalm screaming in pain.
The desire to use the media for propaganda purposes can be particularly
troublesome during wars. A section on Northern Ireland is most revealing
in this regard. Biased reporters in Northern Ireland can always
find someone to tell them what they want to hear to reinforce their
Media tactics used by both sides in this conflict make the task
of establishing the facts of an incident difficult. After a rebel
has been killed by British troops, IRA supporters have been known
to remove his weapon and present reporters with well-briefed "eye
witnesses" to affirm that the man was murdered by the British
During the Vietnam War, the world's first experience of a television
war, few reporters had any experience of the military and thus
many of them were not well qualified to cover the war. The press
corps did include some experienced war correspondents who exposed
the "news" manufactured in Saigon.
At times Hooper's conservative bias detracts from an otherwise
well-argued analysis. He claims that the media believed the American
public had no heart for the Vietnam War and so tried to interpret
the war according to what they thought the public felt. While the
claim that "the war was lost on the television screens of the
United States" may contain some truth, Hooper adds nothing
about other reasons behind the massive anti-war movement that arose.
Hooper is also on shaky ground with a comparison made several times
in his book on similarities between the military and the media.
Both fields do share some characteristics, such as professionalism,
teamwork, and a need to make decisions under the pressure of time.
Yet while media operations certainly have their chains of command,
how accurate is it to liken them to the British armed forces, with
their rigid hierarchies and secrecy?
Despite these shortcomings, The Military and the Media is a useful
book. As Hooper notes, the link between the military and the media
is more important than ever, especially since technological advances
have dramatically altered the influence of TV. Yet most journalists
remain ignorant of the armed forces and how they operate. And the
failure of military colleges to include instruction about the mechanics
of journalism has meant that military people have never really understood
the media or their position in society.
The solution is education, through such means as a standard education
program for the military about the media, and instruction for journalism
students on the role of the military in society. Both sides have
a lot to gain by learning more about the other's work and about
the realities of war reporting.
This book could be quite valuable in educating military personnel
regarding the facts of life about the media, and in particular
about the restraints and problems associated with producing newspapers
and radio and TV broadcasts. Sections in which Hooper takes us into
the newsrooms of British newspapers, television and radio stations
go a long way to demystify the news process. For seasoned journalists
this sort of material will be old hat, but there are still some
helpful insights and interesting tidbits of information.
One drawback for Canadian readers is the book's British orientation,
which makes much of the material irrelevant for Canadians. It would
be interesting to read an analysis of the military-media relationship
in Canada, especially by an analyst more critical of the military
Published in SOURCES Summer 83
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