Two experiments focusing on de-escalation oriented coverage of
War coverage has a
strong bias towards the promotion of conflict escalation and - though
less pronounced - this bias often survives in post-war coverage as well.
Even after the end of war, only a minority of journalists frame conflict
in a firmly de-escalation oriented way. Do they have a chance to reach
the public? Will their reports be respected by the audience as more balanced
and unbiased? Will they have an impact on the audience's mental models
of the conflict? Or will the audience continue to cling to its prejudices
and reject news articles which do not affirm the enemy images that emerged
The present paper investigates these questions by means of two experimental
In the first experiment, news articles on three events in former Yugoslavia
after the fall of Milosevic were presented to a total of n = 128 subjects,
representative of the readership of the German quality press: (1) violent
conflicts in Southern Serbia (December 2000), (2) the extradition of Milosevic
to The Hague (June, 2001) and (3) the treaty between Serbia and Montenegro
(March 2003). For each of the events, four different types of articles
were used: moderately escalation oriented articles from prestigious German
newspapers (Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche
Zeitung) and three variants of these articles, (a) with increased
escalation-oriented framing, (b) with moderate de-escalation oriented
framing and (c) with more strongly de-escalation oriented framing of the
Each subject was asked to read one article on each of the three events
in chronological order and after each article (a) to narrate the reported
events in their own words and (b) to fill out a questionnaire designed
to measure the acceptance of the articles as unbiased, well-balanced,
interesting, etc. The subjects' mental models of the reported events were
inferred from their narratives by means of quantitative content analysis.
The second experiment measured the acceptance of the articles only, but
not their impact on the readers' mental models. Besides that, it employed
the same design and used the same instruments, but with some modifications:
The original articles stemmed from an Austrian regional paper (Vorarlberger
Nachrichten), and the sample of subjects (n = 126) was recruited from
its readership. The reports about the treaty between Serbia and Montenegro
were replaced by reports about Kostunica's reaction to Rugova's victory
in the Kosovo elections (November, 2000), and the more strongly de-escalation
oriented text versions were replaced by escalation-oriented ones with
reversed partiality (pro Serbia).
The results of the studies speak in favor of the peace journalism project.
De-escalation oriented news articles were never accepted to a lesser degree
than the other text versions.
With text material from the quality press and its readership, they were
even accepted to a higher degree and resulted in less polarized mental
models of the events.
With text material from the provincial press and its readership, no difference
could be found with respect to the acceptance of the various texts versions.
The results indicate, moreover, that the provincial audience was less
interested in post-Yugoslavian affairs and more strongly influenced by
traditional news factors like personalization and negativism.
On the author:
Wilhelm Kempf, since 1977 Professor for Psychological Methodology and
Head of the Peace Research Group at the University of Konstanz, Germany.
Special areas of interest: nonviolent conflict solutions, the construction
of social reality by the mass media. Recent books: Konflikt und Gewalt
(Münster: agenda, 2000); Los Medios y la Cultura de Paz (with Sonia
Gutiérrez Villalobos, Berlin: regener, 2001); Journalism and the
New World Order. Vol. II. Studying War and the Media (with Heikki Luostarinen,
Göteborg: Nordicom, 2002); Constructive Conflict Coverage (edited
by the Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution: Berlin:
of Psychology, University of Konstanz (www.uni-konstanz.de),