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It Is Simply Too Much. Why Media Fail to Deal with Unsettled Ethnic Conflicts in the Post-Soviet Space

Doreen Spörer-Wagner
University of Zurich
Doreen Spörer-Wagner
University of Zurich
Open Panel

Abstract

Conflict research attributes crucial importance to the set-up of political institutions to pacify multi-ethnic conflict societies. Empirical evidence, however, shows that the rearrangement of power between former warring parties doesn’t necessarily prevent a recurrence of violence. Citizens’ acceptance and support of conflict resolution measures plays also a decisive role. In this paper it will be argued that the media are a crucial mechanism to shape citizens’ confidence in a new post-conflict order. Through providing reliable information about conflict resolution and reconciliation efforts, the media can provide an important basis for dealing with the past of ethnic war crime and terror. In war-torn settings the media’s role, however, is compromised by former conflict parties’ attempts to control the reporting. Even more, in the post-Soviet space, traces of past authoritarian regulation may prevail and interfere with the selection of balanced news and the framing of conciliatory topics. As a consequence, public’s learning from the media about ethnic reconciliation will be affected unfavourably, and so the social integration of former opposing ethnic groups into a new post-conflict order can fail. Empirically, the focus of the proposed paper is on post-Soviet Georgia. The country has experienced two unsettled ethno-territorial conflicts since its declaration of independence in 1991. Based on an analysis of media structures and regulations covering the years 1991 till 2010 and a content analysis of the most used political news media, it will be shown that ethnic conflicts between Georgians and the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia could not been solved yet. News reporting in sterotyped friend-foe frames mainly resulted from the incomplete democratization and the ethno-linguistic division of the Georgian media, and has further polarized between the opposing ethnic groups over the years.