Pro-conflict and pro-cooperation coverage: The San Juan River conflict
This paper analyzes
media coverage of the San Juan River conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
It is a long-lasting conflict over the shared management of a river basin
located along the border between the two countries. In March 2002, the
governments of both countries agreed to change their approach from confrontation
The aim of this study is to see how the Costa Rican press covered the
conflict during confrontation, and after its change to co-operation, in
terms of pro-conflict versus pro-co-operation coverage. Two major newspapers
were selected: La Nación (LN), and La República (LR).
A total of 81 news stories were content analyzed in two different periods
of time: July 1998, when the confrontation reignited, and June 2002, after
the change to co-operation.
This study applied a two-dimensional scale. It has 12 sets of indicators.
Six sets indicate pro-conflict coverage of the conflict; the other six
indicate pro-cooperation coverage.
The results for the 1998 coverage analysis show support for conflict and
confrontation rather than co-operation:
- In the analysis of LN in 1998, pro-conflict and confrontation coverage
is higher compared to pro-cooperation coverage regarding the variables
"conceptualization of the San Juan River conflict" and "negative
evaluation of Nicaraguan actions." Thus pro-conflict coverage is
dominant in this newspaper.
- The analysis of LR in 1998 shows a dominance of pro-conflict coverage
in three variables: the "evaluation of Nicaragua's actions"
has the highest score, followed by "evaluation of Nicaragua's rights
and intentions" and "negative emotions." However, the "conceptualization
of the San Juan River conflict" is oriented to co-operation rather
In sum, four variables score pro-conflict coverage, versus one that scores
of the 2002 coverage analysis show a decrease of pro-conflict coverage
and an increase in pro-cooperation coverage:
- LN presents a shift from pro-conflict to pro-cooperation coverage in
its conceptualization of the San Juan River: the "conceptualization
of the San Juan River conflict" is predominantly oriented to cooperation.
There is no predominance of pro-conflict coverage in 2002. Thus, LN changes
to pro-cooperation coverage after the political agenda changed from confrontation
- LR manifests a dominance of pro-conflict coverage in two variables,
and the "conceptualization of the San Juan River conflict" as
In sum, two variables still show the predominance of pro-conflict coverage,
while two variables exhibit pro-cooperation coverage.
the results allow us to identify two trends:
1. A decrease in pro-conflict coverage and an increase in pro-cooperation
2. A resistance to change to pro-cooperation coverage despite the change
to cooperation in the political agenda.
are useful in assessing Costa Rican press support for cooperation and
the de-escalation of conflict. Peace is an important axis in Costa Rican
foreign policy. Contrary to findings about the media as policy makers'
tools, the two newspapers LN and LR lag behind in favoring the policy
that supports co-operation and peace. Thus, the two newspapers endorse
media culture's preference for conflict, confrontation and drama. The
two newspapers' resistance to change to pro-cooperation coverage also
indicates their attachment to seeing the San Juan River basin as a border
river. To think about the region as a river basin is still an innovation.
Usually innovations generate resistance, so the two newspapers exhibited
resistance to the innovation.
On the author:
Sonia Gutiérrez Villalobos, Ph.D., born 1948 in Puntarenas, Costa
Rica. 1976 Licenciate in Literature at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).
1990 Master's degree in Communications at the University of Kentucky. 1995
Ph.D. in Communications at the University of Massachusetts. Works presently
at the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales (IDESPO) at the Universidad
Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA). Publications inter alia: Support for the U.S.
Administration During the Panama Invasion: Analysis of Strategic and Tactical
Critique in the Domestic Press (1994, with Rush and Hertog), Three Theories
to Test Press Support (1996), Los Medios y la Cultura de Paz (2001, with
Kempf), Media and Reconciliation in Central America (2002, in: Gilboa, Media
Diplomacy in the Arab-Israeli Conflict).
Address: Apdo 1882-3000, Heredia, Costa Rica. eMail: firstname.lastname@example.org