Her new book, Kill the Messenger examines the recent history of the media’s role and influence on cultural and political conflicts from the Holocaust, to the Rwandan genocide to WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring. It’s a five-part book illustrating the influence of media on society and the human condition under varying cultural and political climates. Media can make a big difference, the book resolves, from fomenting mass rage and genocide upon a wave of propaganda in Rwanda to creating and enabling a bridge to conflict resolution with the help of international NGOs in neighboring Burundi.
AS: Is there a primary theme in Kill the Messenger that alludes to a particular pattern that drives media toward influencing the public for better or worse?
MA: The overarching theme is that media can be used for good and bad… in the cases where you have this awful combination of extremists controlling the media and ethical journalism being silenced or diminished, you can have some really dire consequences.
In the worst case scenarios, when ethical responsible journalism is largely silenced and you end up with this hegemonic message that is of an ideological, specifically extremist nature, you can end up with genocide — Rwanda, the Holocaust, and what we saw in Bosnia. Of course it’s not just the media you have to have all these other circumstances into play… but if you look across history what you find is a lot of these conflicts start when extremists take the microphone.
On the other side, we saw some transformations in the Middle East that happened really fast this year. It looked like they happened fast but they’d been brewing for years. I argue that mass media and journalism have been bringing about political transformation for decades. We saw South Africa go from being an Apartheid state to a multiracial democracy. That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have diligent, relentless journalism and journalists looking deeply at these issues and uncovering the abuses and showing the inequities that were occurring in South Africa.
Taiwan and Mexico happened at the same time — two single-party authoritarian rules fell [Mexico’s PRI and Taiwan’s KMT in 2000]. And it took decades. And a lot of trouble by a handful of small journalists — it wasn’t the mainstream establishment — that showed people how the system was inadequate and not just or fair.
The ways people silence journalism range from killing them and torturing them to limiting access to not employing journalists with something important to say. There are also financial constraints, with the internet and the way some information is freely dissemminated — in some cases inaccurately.
Read my complete Q&A with Maria Armoudian at KCET’s The Public Note.