The end of the Cold War and Russia
I think that one of the developments attracting the most attention in the world now is the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Let me explain the roles the media have played in reporting this war in Ukraine.
Firstly, various arguments are cited concerning the causes of this war. For example, often they are made from the perspective of irrational thinking of President Vladimir Putin, victim mentality due to NATO’s expansion, or expansionistic ethnonationalism, in which Ukrainians are regarded as the same ethnic group with Russians.
However, here we tend to overlook the international political developments since the end of the Cold War.
After World War II, a common recognition that the great nations should not attack and colonize minor nations was internationally generated, and that was established as one of the principles of the United Nations Charter.
This is a great principle for sure, but it can be said that this principle was somehow maintained at that time because of the Cold War.
In fact, conflicts of ethnicity, religion, and economic disparity surfaced, but the United States and the Soviet Union narrowly managed to contain the conflicts and keep the balance.
However, in 1990s, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Cold War ended. At that time, recognition of the defeat of socialism and the victory of liberalism spread worldwide.
In the background, firstly, a considerable sense of relief that the threat of nuclear war had gone owing to the end of the Cold War was shared globally, and mainly Western media described the sudden end of the Cold War as the complete victory of the Western liberal system.
Media articles and reports about the peace that arrived after the Cold War were very easy for the general public to understand and accept as a result of winning the Cold War.
Then people in the West started to look down upon Russia and treat the country as minor nation, even though in fact it still had a vast national land, natural resources and industries, and military power including a huge number of nuclear warheads.
This brought resentment (emotions of anger, enmity, hatred, and accusation) to people in Russia, including President Putin. That was never reported enough in Western countries.
It was an incomprehensible situation from the perspective of the world and Japan, when President Putin exposed his simmering feelings against the international political system centering on the United States. Aiming for recursion, Putin pushed through economic reconstruction, which was a challenge for Russia after the debacle of the Soviet Union, and made accomplishments to a certain extent.
In 2014, after Russia suddenly annexed Crimea from Ukraine and was expelled from the G8, I had an opportunity to meet and interview Putin.
At that time, he said that the G8 meeting was thought to be a place where major countries gathered and discussed matters to determine international rules, but in truth it was a place where G7 leaders met just to approve what the U.S. has proposed. He said he felt pleased for being liberated from such a role as subordinate to that of the U.S.
Such recognition and feelings of President Putin may be difficult to understand for Japanese people, who have continued to accept American values and believe the values are the foundations for Japan’s post World War II success.
Japanese media tend to focus on Putin’s irrational thinking in analyzing the war. I think there is no doubt Putin himself is the biggest cause of the war, and he should be blamed as the most responsible person for starting this act of inhumane aggression.
But international reporting should widen its coverage to various sub-causes which led Russia to the invasion.
War reports which only make people feel pitiful
Some argue that Ukraine should have been more diplomatic and made compromises with Russia.
However, there is the reality, for example, that Poland, which had similar economic power to Ukraine during the Cold War era, has made remarkable economic growth and became more affluent after it joined the EU and NATO. It is natural for Ukraine to follow Poland.
Western oriented people in Ukraine think its domestic affairs are frequently interfered with by Russia, and Ukraine cannot establish a democratic political system or conduct economic developments as long as Ukraine is a junior brother of Russia.
President Putin is not prepared to approve Ukraine’s wishes because the schema of the U.S. versus Russia also applies to Russia versus Ukraine.
Putin said about the G8 meeting that Russia refused to become subordinate to the U.S. under the international political system built by the U.S., but on the other hand Russia positions Ukraine as its subordinate under the system built by the Soviet Union in the past.
Russia, which does not accept American values, is forcing Ukraine to accept Russia’s values. This is a self-contradiction. It could be that Putin’s resentment is so severe that he has lost all his sense of rationality.
If the media had analyzed the background and meaning of the end of the Cold War and the resentment of Russians more elaborately, unnecessary conflicts and tragedies may have been avoided, and how the world views Russia and how Russia views the world could have been different.
It is very important to review reports during the time leading up to the war.
War reports tend to focus mainly on citizens who have suffered damage, and have the tone of claiming that therefore the states must agree to stop fighting to end such dire situation.
Of course, it is necessary to convey the dire situation of citizens. However, if they end up only making readers and viewers feel pitiful, the reports will not fulfill their roles.
Ukrainians are currently feeling that they need to fight hard for the future of Ukraine, even if they are now victims.
If they continue to be treated as a dependency of Russia, even if a superficial peace existed, real human rights and freedom of expression could not be obtained, and they would be forced into a situation where they cannot determine matters by themselves.
When images of destroyed buildings, a pregnant woman being carried on a stretcher from a bombed hospital, and a sobbing young child are shown, we tend to think that it is better for Ukraine to surrender, so that such a painful situation could be avoided. However, the media should also convey that they are currently fighting and living with sacrifices, so that such a situation will never happen again in the future.
I think that only when there are such multiple reports, will readers or audiences be able to think for themselves and make their own judgements about the war. Reports that only stress the misery and make people feel pitiful in the first place are in a sense not sufficient for a full understanding the developments
Media can trigger people to think for themselves
One of the reasons for the reporting that makes people pitiful is that the media in Western countries, including Japan, are operated by private companies.
When compared with state-run media, while commercial media have the freedom of the press and can criticize governments without restrictions, because they are viable by selling their news, they offer content that attract interest from readers and audiences.
In that sense, images that evoke the misery of war and pitiful feelings appeal to readers so much that the media like to increase the amount of such reports.
Moreover, in recent years, peace journalism is attracting attention. Surely, few people dislike peace. Thus, appealing for peace is difficult to oppose.
However, journalism which does not convey the reasons why Ukrainian people are fighting and for what reasons Russians launched the invasion, can become an empty peace theory and never be responsible journalism.
We tend to judge by looking at the world based on the history and values of our own country. However, other countries have their own history and values, and their judgements sometimes can be very different from ours.
One of the roles of international reporting is to give us a viewpoint which we can see ourselves relatively and objectively by conveying various ways of thinking in the world. In that sense, in this war in Ukraine, much deeper reporting is needed.
In recent years we often hear the term “constructive journalism,” which not only reports the facts but also proposes solutions. Given the plethora of problems in the world, constructive journalism sounds attractive.
However, finding a solution is very difficult not only for journalists but for anyone. What is right and what leads to a solution? The correct answer is not easy to find.
The answers may be developed when each of us thinks for him/herself, makes his/her own judgements, makes his/her own voice heard, and takes actions.
I think that the media can play a significant role in delivering information which will be the foundation of such thoughts and actions.
Finally, I would like to ask all of you not to accept one-dimensional reports.
We like to choose reports which are convenient and comfortable for us. By doing so, we will be immersed in a filter bubble and likely fall into an echo chamber where we mistakenly perceive that our way of thinking is absolutely correct.
Please always be skeptical about reports and try to access different media as well. Having various viewpoints will be a step forward towards improving your own thoughts and judgements.
* The information contained herein is current as of March 2023.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.
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