Reporting military conflict and human rights abuse: the Australian press and Bougainville, 1996

Roberts, J 2002, Reporting military conflict and human rights abuse: the Australian press and Bougainville, 1996, Masters by Research, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Reporting military conflict and human rights abuse: the Australian press and Bougainville, 1996
Author(s) Roberts, J
Year 2002
Abstract In this thesis, I study Australian press reporting of the Bougainville War (1988-1997). My focus is the reporting in three newspapers which are commonly understood to be part of the ‘quality press’: the Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. I concentrate on their reporting of three incidents which occurred in 1996, in the southwest of Bougainville. Two of these incidents (which occurred at Simbo and Malabita) look like significant abuses of human rights and the other involved a battle between the BRA (Bougainville Revolutionary Army) and PNGDF (Papua New Guinea Defence Force) troops (at Kangu Beach). The Papua New Guinea (PNG) government also alleged that human rights abuses took place during that battle.

I ask two questions:

•How did the three newspapers report these incidents?

•How can we best understand this process of reporting?

I argue that there was a dichotomous pattern in the reporting. The three newspapers portrayed the victims of the BRA (at Kangu Beach) more sympathetically than they portrayed the victims of the PNGDF (at Simbo and Malabita).

I further argue that both the ‘liberal’ model – which emphasises factors such as journalists’ access to reliable sources – and the ‘political-economic’ model – which emphasises factors such as the government’s role as a major source for news – provide some understanding of the process of press reporting. However, I argue that the political-economic approach, as exemplified by Herman and Chomsky (1988), provides the most satisfactory way to understand this process. The news presentation, in this case, is best understood as reflecting domestic power interests in Australia.

I firstly review the literature on mass media reporting of war before turning to a detailed description and analysis of the reporting of the three cases. In this description and analysis, I use a theoretical framework which draws mainly on the political-economic approach of Herman and Chomksy (1988) and the cultural approach of Cerulo (1998).

I then discuss the reporting using evidence from interviews with the key journalists who covered the incidents in 1996. To understand the reporting, I compare the heuristic value of two approaches to the study of war reporting: the ‘liberal’ (conventional) approach, which sees the mass media as playing an adversarial role in society and the ‘political-economic’ approach, which sees the mass media as playing a legitimising role.
Degree Masters by Research
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Social Science and Planning
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