The media plays a key role in all stages of foreign formulation of policy. Indeed, political players consider the media to be a key input, when making a decision that has internal as well as external effect. In addition, the media environment is taken into consideration, when carrying out publication or in the media management stage. The input of media in making decisions is a complicated process. In essence, when an event occurs in the international arena, the media relay the information to the political players. It is after receiving information from the media that political leaders sit down to set in motion the policy formulation process. Moreover, media advisors as well as public relations personnel take an active role in policy formulation by offering their advice. Finally, political leaders consider the media, when defining their policy and match it to the suitable media tools. Studies indicate that foreign policy decision making in the past did not take media or this complex role, played by the media. The media was seen as an input in the process, their working was providing information to the political class. However, this is a superficial understanding, and there is a need to understand the proper place of the media in foreign policy decision making.
The mass media, through their professional conduct and performance, provides useful components for foreign policy making decision. Studies show that there are five main function that media plays in the making foreign decisions;
a) It is a surveillance tool of the international environment
b) It is a correlation between the parts of society that respond to the environment
c) It is a tool for the transmission of social heritage
In dealing with the foreign-policy environment, only three of these functions are of paramount importance: the informative, the correlative, and the mobilization function of the mass media. In executing these activities in the foreign environment, the mass media assimilates the national values and considers them as part of the internal environment. Reporters provide information—international proceedings, foreign events, and security issues— to the members of the public.
On the other role, the media are avenues that provide support for the established authority and its norms or values, and more so, during times of turmoil or crisis. It is in this role that the media undertakes its role of mobilizing and recruiting. Through mobilizing, the media creates a “joint-government environmental component.”
The British Broadcasting Corporation, as a leading broadcaster in the UK, has two and sometimes opposing roles in its mandate. The BBC is an avenue that provides information to the public and the government. It is in this role that foreign decisions are influenced. At the same time, the BBC serves as an output media environment. It serves as a ‘sounding board’, where the government spokespersons operate, and which compels leaders to relate to it, while making their decisions. This double-sided role of the corporation is due to its agenda setting as well as the framing perspectives, adopted by the media house.
History of the BBC
The BBC is the mouthpiece for London as well as the former colonies of the famous British Empire. Several managers from radio producers started the company in 1922, with John Reith being appointed as the general manager. It was, indeed, a prolongation of the radio stations of Joseph Stalin in Russia with a mandate to provide propaganda for the British markets. At that time, the main medium of communication was the radio since the corporation did not accept television technology arguing that it was not easy to see “around corners.” In 1927, the British Government converted the corporation to a monopoly to be run by a board of governors assisted by a director general. However, the quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization came to accept television after the invention of the periscope in 1930. Nowadays, the BBC “is the only communist broadcaster left running in the world outside Asia and Russia”
The BBC World Service, also funded by the FCO, is an independent source of world news, and broadcasts information about Britain and its culture. Its task is to present an objective, balanced and impartial service of news and analysis, to give a truthful picture of Britain and British opinion. In addition, it transmits information to its audience as full offering of cultural life in the United Kingdom and abroad as resources permit to promote the spread of English. It is a point of some importance that, although the FCO pays a significant role, it does not completely rule the BBC. The BBC enjoys an enviable degree of independence—reinforced by the 1993/94 broadcasting agreement with the FCO. Though this freedom occasionally makes it difficult for the government to use the World Service in direct support of specific foreign policy goals, it ensures a wide audience of listeners who are disposed to believe what they hear.
Tension has always been experienced to those who want to use broadcasting for ideological ‘propaganda’ purposes and those who favor more neutral, information-oriented approach. In this matter, Britain, on the whole, has been on the side of the angels, calculating that the benefits of describing the United Kingdom honestly, warts and all, are reflected in enhanced credibility. In terms of the License and Agreement annexed to the BBC’s Royal Charter, the external services are simply enjoined to broadcast ‘in the national interest,’ and it is left to the broadcasters themselves to interpret this injunction.
The World Service broadcasts worldwide in English 24 hours per day and in 39 other languages to an audience of about 140 million. It has been estimated that 80 per cent of the audience for international radio listen to BBC News. Despite the fact that BBC broadcasts fewer hours per week than the United States, Russia, China and Germany, the ultimate message, conveyed to the society, is precarious. As such, it attracts a larger audience than any of them, probably because of its enviable reputation for veracity. The BBC is the largest English-language teaching operation in the world. It produces a complex mix of teaching programmes, a re-broadcasting service, and specialized television video films, publishing and marketing material.
The corporation has not accepted free market and is determined to maintain propensity to communist ideals that it has consistently held since time immemorial. Currently, the BBC operates as an independent organization that is not influenced by advertisers or commercialism. The BBC World News has been known for its propaganda in enhancing the political regime in the system. Both the World War I and World War II were aired through BBC, and the whole information was choreographed by the government in order to instill fear to the listeners. The trend towards popularization in BBC talks during the latter half of the 1930s traces a similar tendency in its approach to classical music. BBC plays a key role in the Enlightenment of the late eighteenth century, especially in the French revolutionary and American independent movements. For the meditations on the problem of reconciliation, democratic rights with intellectual and moral inequalities are vital. There are two different, though equally challenging, perspectives on elitism and popular culture.
BBC’s reputation has been hyped by the streams of positive attributes and implementation undertaken in order to outline the main activities in the society. Post Office was under any illusion as to the BBC’s interest in conveying vital information to the society. However, its reputation was affected, when the Telegraph information highlighted the BBC had buried the story on a teenage girl who had been sexually abused. The Telegraph prompted that the BBC had acquired all the information concerning the sexual abuse, but the Corporation declined to act on the matter. Savile was a renowned BBC presenter. His life was marked with futile experiences that included sexual assault on teenage girls.
The Guardian Paper, one of the most valued papers in the United States, issued positive information on the reputation of BBC. The paper provided an article that argued about the success of BBC in educating individuals on the threat of cancer in the society. In fighting war globally, the media analyzed the strategies, in which the U.S. militants were undertaking its activities. On 1 June 2003, following the military campaign to end terrorism, BBC showed a documentary about al-Jazeera’s coverage, which included the controversial footage, albeit with the soldier’s face disguised. The Sun launched a ferocious attack on the BBC for doing this, but the Guardian treated the documentary sympathetically; in a comment article the Daily Mail attacked the BBC. Subsequently, the Paper praised the programme for showing a view of the war that was likely to be more truthful than what UK viewers had seen during the invasion.
In addition, the same issue was highlighted by Independence Paper, devoting approximately twice as much space as any other sampled title. Its coverage is dominated by frequent references back to Collins’ ‘eve-of-battle’ speech, by denigration of his Iraqi and American accusers, and by supportive statements by fellow soldiers. Though the BBC respondents and presenters highlighted that the information provided was largely mythical, it is clear that the Independent Paper had a hidden agenda of spoiling the reputation of the company. In tandem with BBC perception of the whole scenario, the Telegraph story argued that the transcripts of the Pentagon’s briefings show that no false information was given out. However, journalists who chose to interpret some of the events in the most ‘heroic’ light were not corrected, and were, perhaps, encouraged to fill in gaps in the official account.
During the Iraq war, evidence about the presence or absence of weapons of mass destructions (WMD) inside Iraq appears to have been largely lacking: this can be seen from the mixture of near-silence and ambiguous reports in the media on the subject. While discoveries of things that night have been parts of WMD, development or deployment were trumpeted by the US administration. Acceptance that they did not amount to much was significantly less publicized.
In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, inspection teams were deployed in Iraq to search for weapons. It rapidly became apparent that they were finding nothing: in the memorable phrase of a US officer, ‘we came to bear country, we came loaded for bear, but we found out the bear wasn’t here’ (Daily Telegraph, 12.5.03). The failures had already been noted in the Washington Post in the late March, but this was little noticed in UK media (Guardian, 30.5.03). In May 2003, all sampled UK titles reported on the dossier changed after it was prepared by the intelligence services. The allegation broadcast was that in making the presentation of the facts more dramatic, the government had exaggerated some details, notably the claim that the WMDs could be ready for operational use in 45 minutes. Crucially, other allegations suggested that the intelligence service personnel were not contended with the government's used their material and that the government knew one of the details to be false.
It is in this context that the tortuous process, through which evidence was produced, and the name of the BBC’s source eventually revealed. What seems uncontroversial is that allegations prominently repeated in the media, in combination with the doubts already expressed in the US, created a climate in which the pressure for public evidence in some form was difficult to resist. Given the conflict between the BBC’s allegations and the government’s defense of its statement and the strength of feeling involved, the identity of the BBC’s source became a crucial element in the profile of the event.