Migration – Humanitarian or Security Issue?

The aim of this essay is to explore and discuss critical issues of human security with relevant application of the framework of securitization suggested by the Copenhagen School. Specifically, this essay will argue that since the end of the Cold War western governments have placed an emphasis on securitising the relocation and resettlement of victims of forced displacement. Furthermore this essay suggests, drawing on the ideas presented by Hammerstad (2010) and Suhrke, in Newman & van Selm (2003), that through the securitisation of the displaced persons from areas of conflict and political unrest Western governments have been able to justify further conflict and constructed a vacuum which has caused net migration of displaced persons to increase. This essay concludes that until forced displacement is treated as a humanitarian issue and not a security issue migration will continue to be a contentious issue within the global political sphere.

To effectively achieve this the essay will; establish an underlying framework from constructivist theory drawing on Wæver (1995), Neumann (2010) and McDonald (2011) of the Copenhagen School to apply to the human security issue of forced displacement and migration, analyse trends in the rate of displaced persons globally since the end of the Cold War as well as noticeable changes post-September 11, and finally, comparatively analyse the issue of securitisation of forced displacement and migration in a case study that explores the issue across Australia and Europe. Further to Hammerstad (2010), Suhrke (2003), Wæver (1995), Neumann (2010) and McDonald (2011) this essay will also be supported by key readings from Gleeson (2016), Klocker & Dunn (2003), Huysmans (2000) and others which will be cited appropriately throughout.

The twentieth century brought with it many advances in international relations theory as detailed security studies became prevalent on a global political stage post-Cold War. Though widely acknowledged by scholars to have been ambiguous by definition, as society progressed so too did the state centric focus of traditionalist security theory (Neumann 2010; Wilkinson 2007). At the centre of this revolution of socially aware theory the Copenhagen School proposed that any referent object can be securitised when facing an existential threat, from entire nations to smaller collective groups sharing a common identity, provided they hold a perceived value within their community (Wæver 1995; Wæver 2003; Wilkinson 2007).

This shift in focus saw the prioritisation and securitisation of specific individual issues and threats to national interests become more justifiable as genuine security threats where this may have not been the case previously. Williams (2013, p.72) asserts that this approach in the context of post-Cold War International Relations encourages the broadening of security to include any manner of pressing and hitherto neglected concerns such as poverty, climate change, and, most relevant to this piece human rights. This specificity builds on the underlying principles of social constructivism which, while encouraging the inclusion of ideas, culture, identity and interaction in international relations (Agius 2016, p. 71), has strong opposition from Rationalist theorists who claim that it cannot be observed empirically (Agius 2016, p. 84). In the context of this essay’s subject matter, the securitisation of displaced persons, the interpretation of the Copenhagen School’s approaches is in line with Hammerstad (2010, p. 241) who states that the process of securitisation in this respect is a hermeneutical circle in which, “the way we talk about a phenomenon helps shape how we react to it… our actions and their consequences in turn help shape how we discuss the phenomenon”.

Based on this understanding of the Copenhagen School and the social constructivist theories, and the subjectivity of their application. Suhrke (2003, pp.97-98) offers perspective from the other side of the argument recognising legitimate occurrences where the relocation of asylum seekers may be legitimately securitised for fear of the speed or volume of migratory persons entering a new country. This is recognised, however, as having more to do with a nation’s infrastructure and ability to cope with resettlement of the migrant populations and not their willingness to abide recognising that the societies that formed the backdrop of the Copenhagen School’s explorations were strong industrialised states. This interpretation of Suhrke’s is vital to appreciating the securitisation of forced displaced persons through the remainder of this essay as it is these same strong and stable industrialised nations currently looking for alternatives to helping with the currently high levels of displaced persons globally.

 Since the end of the Cold War, and more recently the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, heightened levels of international conflict have seen the total number of displaced persons globally rise to an estimated 65.5 million as of 2018 (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2018). The gravity of this most recent figure can be better appreciated where Odhiambo-Abuya (2003, P. 237) shows that the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the total number of displaced persons at the end of 2001 was an estimated 5 million, a figure which has increased more than thirteen times. While the UNHCR figures account for both internal, those who are still living within their native countries borders but forced away from their native home, and external displacement the two are not mutually exclusive as both cases are brought about as a result of conflict or civil unrest which, in a modern geopolitical sphere, can be considered threats to international security which should be addressed as the obligation of each country who is in a position to assist (Ayoob 2010, p.81).

Odhiambo-Abuya (2003, p. 236) recognises this as being caused by many modern conflicts being typified by non-state actors such as terrorist groups or militias, as opposed to tradition state versus state conflict, though as can be seen by the United States and Allied Forces ‘War on Terror’ these traditional conflicts still play a part. Further to this Internal Displacement is often an afterthought of the international community who feel it is the obligation of local governments to provide for their people (Cohen 2001, para. 6) and as such intervention may not come from outside forces until such a time that conflict is unavoidable, as has been the case in the Middle East, which in turn causes a shift in migration as civilians seek to flee the violence. A contemporary example of this can be seen with through the mass-migration of Afghan and Iraqi refugees to Australia in late 2001, following the events of September 11, when international intervention was made into already ongoing conflict.

The securitisation of displaced persons, particularly refugees, in Australia since the turn of the twenty-first century has been characterised by the narrative of the “boat people” (Bolger 2016, p.13; O’Doherty & Lecouteur 2007, p. 1) and the perceived threat that they pose to the Australian people and their way of life. For a country which regards itself as one of social and cultural progression (Hancock 2017, para. 17; Social Progress Index 2017) Australia’s approach to the resettlement of migrants throughout this period and into the current day has been polarising in international political discourse (Australian Institute for Progress 2015, p. 3; Crowe 2016, para. 1). The Pacific Solution legislation which passed through parliament on September 21st 2001 (Commonwealth of Australia 2002, p. 291; Phillips 2012, para. 2) in the wake of the Tampa affair, which saw a Norwegian freighter rescue a sinking boat carrying refugees (Klocker & Dunn 2003, p. 73; Commonwealth of Australia 2002, p. 1), the securitisation of displaced persons in Australia had begun. The public were desensitized to the influx of refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East and the legislation saw the use of smaller pacific islands, notably Papua New Guinea and Nauru, as well as the Australian territory of Christmas Island used to detain asylum seekers until they were eligible for on shore settlement, processing  or return to their country of origin (Karlsen 2016; Refugee Council of Australia 2016, para. 1).

The then Howard government set about systematically demonizing legitimately displaced persons as a threat to Australia and eventually, in October 2001, would publicise allegations that refugees had intentionally thrown children off of boats in an attempt to force a rescue and settlement in Australia (Head 2004, para. 3; McGrath 2004). These allegations were later investigated and found to be falsified and used to wilfully mislead the Australian public (Commonwealth of Australia 2002, p. xiv) but not before the general perception of displaced persons in Australia had become one of severe negative connotations. A study published in the Australian Journal of Psychology found that more than half (59.8%) of individuals surveyed held negative attitudes towards refugees on a set of data collected in 2002, twelve months after the aforementioned Tampa affair and Children Overboard incidents (Schweitzer, Perkoulidis, Krome, Ludlow and Ryan 2005, pp. 17-18).

Over the years that closed out the decade, and in subsequent elections, immigration policy remained one of the top priorities in Australian mainstream politics, with election campaigns built by both major parties on the securitisation of asylum seekers (McDonald 2011). By 2011, despite a decrease in the overall number of migrations to Australia, the securitisation of the issue meant more than half of people surveyed felt that immigration numbers were increasing (Wilkie 2011, para. 7).  By engaging the Australian public with this perceived security threat, with Government ministers even going as far as to claim ‘an undeniable link between illegal immigrants and terrorism’ (Klocker & Dunn 2003, p. 71), the Australian government was able to justify its involvement in international conflicts in the Middle East as an allied partner of the United States and the ‘War on Terror’ (Aslan 2009, p. 112; Gleeson 2016, p. 85).

In committing themselves to this conflict and the escalating violence in the Middle East the Australian government was in effect contributing to the creation of further forced displacement and following a vicious circle in which they were assisting in creating the very asylum seekers that they were then refusing entry into their country. Humanitarian groups, including the Refugee Council of Australia and the UNHCR, raised concerns with the validity and legality of the Australian approach to immigration policy (Archbold 2015, pp. 137-158; Bhuiyan & Islam 2013, p.33) not only for the immediate impact it had on the displaced persons seeking refuge but also on the precedent and example it set for other western countries, particularly in Europe where the issue was also coming to prominence, to go against a moral obligation to lend aid where possible.

Similarly to Australia the intake of forced displaced persons has been seen to fluctuate generationally, peaking around times of great political instability and conflict. As this has been the case this essay focuses specifically on recent developments since the end of the Cold War as the body of evidence would otherwise be too great to contain in a single discussion. Since the conclusion of the Cold War there has been an ongoing struggle for power across each of the three sectors of Europe. The Eastern bloc, characterised by ex-soviet states and borders into Asia and the Middle East, has existed in a state of near perpetual conflict since this time. The dismantling of Yugoslavia, unrest in the Balkans and war in Kosovo throughout the 1990’s saw millions of persons displaced within Europe itself (Cohen 2001, para. 3) while conflict continued from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Europe’s doorstep (Reuveny & Prakash 1999, pp. 693-708). As tensions in the West towards the Middle Eastern states of Iraq and Afghanistan escalated into war following September 11, 2001, there began an influx of displaced persons into mainland Europe. As the conflict moved through the Middle East and into Syria over the decade the mass-migration of displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers reached its peak in the summer of 2015, when millions of Middle Eastern and African natives began travelling by land and across the Mediterranean sea  seeking admittance en masse in numbers not previously seen in Europe since the aftermath of the Nazi regime at the conclusion of the second world war.

The ‘European migrant crisis’ as it became known lead to the widespread securitisation of immigration as, in the wake of jihadist style terror attacks in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom, European governments and International intelligence agencies reported concerns that the crisis was being used by Islamic terrorist cells were smuggling trained jihadists amongst the genuine refugees with the explicit purpose of committing further acts of terror across Europe (Faiola & Mekhennet 2016; Reuters 2016). This securitisation lead to widespread fear across Europe and destabilised faith in the European Union, leading a resolute United Kingdom to vote to secede following a referendum where voters were promised full control over their borders and a stop to the relocation and integration of displaced persons into their country.

One of the key issues in the securitisation of migration in Europe is the blanket European Union (EU) regulations implemented via the Dublin Convention which creates a more restrictive and control oriented approach to the resettlement of asylum seekers (Huysmans 2000, p. 756). By enforcing a set guideline across the Union it becomes harder for member states to ignore their responsibility to aid in the humanitarian process of resettlement. As the European migrant crisis unfolded the issue became not the task of resettlement but with who the responsibility lied to undertake it. Ultimately the threat of action resulted, at least in the case of the United Kingdom, the member state feeling that the EU had too much power over the immigration policy of their country despite their active participation in the conflicts which had contributed to the crisis itself. In a 2017 report published by Chatham House public attitudes of United Kingdom citizens were found to default to negativity when asked about immigration with a strong link made between displaced persons and a threat to national security and sovereignty (Dempster & Hargrave 2017, p. 10). Similarly to the earlier case study focused on Australia this combination of public opinion combined with government securitisation of the minority group lead to widespread fear and vocal disapproval, in this case of both the displaced persons and of the European Union itself for seeking humanitarian assistance. 

While the situations are noticeably different between the two continents analysed in this papers case studies the approach to the securitisation of forced displaced persons in Australia and Europe share several key similarities. Most notably the securitisation of refugees as a threat to national sovereignty and individual security, an indifferent approach to their relocation with a predisposition to attempt to shift the burden onto other countries and, with respect to Hammerstad (2010, p. 241), the contributions of both Australia and the United Kingdom to the hermeneutical circle of conflict which aides in the creation of forced displacement. In the instances outlined in the case studies both shared in the public action of securitising Middle Eastern immigrants.

The handling of the Tampa affair and the children overboard issue, publically citing Middle Eastern refugees as potential terrorists, was much the same as in Europe where it was suggested that jihadists were being smuggled across the borders amongst those seeking legitimate humanitarian aid. The key difference between these two cases however is that the European concern was found to be legitimate with several arrests made as a result of joint operations through European Police (Faiola & Mekhennet 2016; Reuters 2016). This highlights the importance of using securitisation as a tool to assist in the development of the international narrative as stated by Suhrke (2003). In the European case study the United Kingdom’s approach to the Dublin Convention for managing the relocation and settlement of refugees can be seen as having direct parallels to Australia’s attempts to force the Norwegian government to take responsibility of the individuals that were rescued during the Tampa affair (Klocker & Dunn 2003; Commonwealth of Australia 2002). When this approach was unsuccessful the Australian government then attempted to return those individuals to their point of origin in Indonesia which was also unsuccessful before eventually having no choice but to take them in for processing. Unlike the United Kingdom, who were bound by European law, Australia was not able to avoid their humanitarian responsibility under the United Nations charters both countries remained vocal in their desire to return migrants to their point of origin.

This aversion to fulfilling a humanitarian obligation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights further demonstrates the separation that exists and is perpetuated by Western governments in the securitisation of migrants to take the safety to people rather than take the people to safety (Schmeidl 2003, p. 145). The third and final comparison in this critical analysis considers each of the points that have been raised throughout this paper and considers them with the application of Hammerstad’s (2010, p. 241) proposition of a cycle of conflict. Both Australian and European forces continue to be a presence in active conflicts around the world with the war in Syria and the Middle East continuing to threaten the lives and residency of millions. This state of affairs only deepens the potential for the refugee crisis to grow and further delays a timeframe in which resettlement for displaced persons to return to their native land, if at all possible. Until conflict can be resolved the situation will continue in a state of perpetual warfare and as such the displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers will continue to exist without a national identity.

This paper has considered the current state of securitisation of migrants from a critical approach with the application of social constructivist theories from the Copenhagen School and demonstrated how the issue is escalated by the use of conflict as a means of resolution and dehumanising of the individual displaced persons. Throughout the exploration and discussion of human security in this essay a recurring theme, particularly in the two case studies, has been the securitisation of what is very much a humanitarian issue. Regardless of the progress that is made by international bodies in the quest for conflict resolution the displacement of people from affected countries will remain to be an issue long after the fact. This serves as a realisation that displacement and issues of human security must be treated as humanitarian issues and not security threats as this securitisation can only serve to continue perpetuating a divide between sovereign publics and those displaced who come seeking asylum. Without systemic change at an international level migration will continue to remain a contentious issue within the political sphere as illustrated in the Australian and European case studies. Ultimately it is the responsibility of international bodies to see displaced persons not as a burden of the state but simply as people who are doing their best to survive.



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Going Danish: An Introduction to the Copenhagen School

The aim of this short essay is to introduce the Copenhagen School and social constructivism as political theories which will be analysed further in a later paper. This essay will analyse both the merits and disadvantages of the Copenhagen School and social constructivism, arguing that the theories of the Copenhagen School have the potential to revolutionise international security but, ultimately, are left in the shadow of long standing traditionalist values. This will be achieved by analysing the merits of the Copenhagen School theories, supported primarily by Wilkinson (2007), followed by an exploration of the disadvantages of the theories which inhibit its overall influence in the political sphere. Thereafter this essay will discuss where and how these notable characteristics, both good and bad, are applied in modern global international relations. This essay will then conclude by suggesting how revised application of the Copenhagen School theories could bring about constructive social change to modern international relations. Further to Wilkinson (2007) this essay will also be supported by key readings from McDonald (2011), Wæver (1995) Neumann (2010) and others which will be cited accordingly.

The merits of the Copenhagen School lie within the theory‘s approach to the evolution of security from that of the traditionalist military state into an overarching social construct which can be applied to any referent object, be it state or other collective group identity (Neumann 2010; Wilkinson 2007) , through the interpretation of what security does (McDonald 2011). Where as traditional international relations theory focus on practical application and empirical analysis (Burchill, Linklater, Devetak, Donnelly, Nardin, Paterson, Reus-Smit & True 2013) in the protection of the state and its sovereignty the Copenhagen School suggests that any referent object that is facing an existential threat can be securitised in so far as it has a perceived value within it’s community (Wæver 1995; Wilkinson 2007). By breaking down the state into smaller collectives, be they political divisions such as the military and economy, or into collective groups of race or religion, objects can be securitised more specifically (Wæver 2003). This securitisation can occur through traditional broadcast media channels but is more likely to occur through the actions pertaining to the localised referent objects and groups such as protest or lobbying (Wilkinson 2007). A contemporary example of this occurring within the framework of the Copenhagen School is given in Wilkinson (2007, p. 15-16) when the Kyrgyzstani government was overthrown citing, amongst other factors, an insufficient level of attention being paid to domestic security analysis in favour of the traditional regional and formal politics. This lack of attention resulted in the securitisation of opposition to the government and eventual revolt starting at a local level and ending in the toppling of a government. While this is an extreme example owing to a nations revolution it does well to showcase how, when securitisation actors are scaled back from the state and focused on a smaller referent object, they can enact genuine social change. The rise of this political event without the assistance of mainstream media also showcases how in the social media age social constructivism can be utilised to encourage political change.

Like all international relations theories the disadvantages of the Copenhagen School are highlighted when they are demonstrated in a way that is detrimental to society. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage in this sense then is the subjectivity of these theories of social constructivism. With only a series of frameworks and no prescribed method on how to use them the question of ethics arises, particularly when posed against delicate issues of international diplomacy such as migration. While it may be convenient for a government to create a narrative of fear in its population and a threat to their national sovereignty it may not necessarily be ethical or aligning to the Copenhagen Schools penchant for human rights (Diskaya 2013). A notable example of this, as documented by McDonald (2011), occurred during the 2010 ‘resecuritisation’ of asylum seekers for the first time since the Howard government’s Children Overboard scandal of 2001 (Head 2004; McGrath 2004). Just as the Howard government had done previously both major Australian parties brought the subject of asylum seekers to the forefront of the political narrative in the lead up to the election and in doing so stimulated a national debate on the validity of their migration into the country. By these actions the Australian govenrment enacted the securitisation of the group making them a target for those traditionalists who wanted to jingoistically protect their nations sovereignity. The end result created a narrative whereby the asylum seekers, now seen as a threat to the Australian way of life, were able to be either refused entry on arrival or detained in detention centres, with public support. Another contemporary example of this can be seen in the manner which the United States have approached the conflict in the Middle East and the “War on Terror” (Williams 2013). By securitising the threat of Islamic extremism and creating a perception of countries filled with dangerous weapons the US was able to justify a war effort which was then responsible for the securing of natural resources (Juhasz 2013). Not only doe these examples demonstrate how the theories of the Copenhagen School can be utilised to effectively enhance a chosen position within the political sphere but it also highlights the importance of educating the public to better understand them and pressure those with power to use them ethically.

Considering both the merits and disadvantages that have been outlined in this essay the underlying point of contention then becomes how are the theories of the Copenhagen School applied to international relations and, in doing so, how are they interpreted. The benefits of social constructivism can be seen throughout Europe and the EU where individuals are granted freedom of movement between member nations are free to settle within the local communities. Depending on the political views of those interpreting this theory however this is not always necessarily a good thing. Many far right European movements believe that this is a threat to their freedoms, similar to the manner in which the Australian government presented the asylum seekers in 2010, and attempt to securitise these migrants which again brings about the issue of the theories subjectivity. Were the theory more rigid in its application then it may have the potential to become more widely accepted in international relations, though by the same token were the theory to become too rigid it could gravitate more towards that of a traditionalist theory which would undermine it’s position of social exploration. Similarly the issue of subjectivity can be explored again when considering conflicts between two states, as opposed to factions and referent groups within them. While the Copenhagen School encourages securitisation of local socio-political practices (Wilkinson 2007) it is not uncommon for nations which may share similar religious beliefs, such as those in the Middle East, to find themselves at odds over any manner of difference from traditional land ownership to historical disputes and even division of natural resources. There may be any number of causes for conflict however it is the manner in which the opposing sides frame the issue that determine its interpretation. Similarly to the United States using a war on terror to secure resources so to may a perceived religious dispute, such as that between Israel and Palestine, be used to frame a dispute over land. Ultimately, in both instances, the disputes eventually fall back to traditional measures of security which end in conflict.

Based on the theories demonstrated in this essay for the teachings of the Copenhagen School to be effectively applied positively to international relations the political sphere would need to better understand how they are utilised and have been utilised in the past. As this would require acknowledgment of past instances where perceived threats may have been embellished to appear as more dangerous to the populace than they were there may be reluctancy from traditionalist states to commit this level of transparency for the sake of progress. This is somewhat ironic as, by virtue of the specificity in which of the Copenhagen School theories can be applied, traditional security could be enhanced by diversifying how each manner of the state is securitised. Ultimately, regardless of theoretical approach, the securitisation of states will remain in the hands of the governments who serve and it is therefor the obligation of the people to better understand how they want to be protected and exercise their democratic rights accordingly.



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Neoliberalism, New Media & The Political Discourse

With the rise of convergence and social media culture the influence of mainstream media outlets in political discourse is greater than ever before. The public can now engage in live media, whilst simultaneously commentating with their peers, in a way that can influence politics like never before. With the application of theories from Harvey (2005) and Phelan (2014) this essay will explore the development of these changes since the second world war and provide insight on how they have been shaped by neoliberalism. This will be achieved by exploring three key areas. The first will explore briefly the history and use of propaganda and how it has developed since the second world war to modern times. The second will look at the rise of convergence and increased scrutiny of media influence and will briefly analyse the influence of Rupert Murdoch in the modern political landscapes. The third and final aspect of this essay will be to look specifically at the influence of neoliberalism on the media and explain its unique relationship with the public.

Throughout this essay certain specific terminology will be referenced frequently and, unless otherwise stated and appropriately referenced, should be considered with the following definitions in mind. As neoliberalism is a broad term, for the purpose of this essay, will be defined by Harvey (2005, p. 2) as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes mankind is best served by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills, characterized by free trade, strong private property rights and the free market, within an institutional framework created and preserved by the state”. When considering then its application with specific reference to the media the first understanding should be of Phelan (2012, p. 116) who believes that “Neoliberalism is articulated as the general name for the capitalist present… mainstream journalism is neoliberal because it is produced within a corporate media infrastructure governed by the ideology and priorities of neoliberal capitalism”. While these two definitions will form the basis of the discussion other secondary references will also be included and further clarification provided when necessary.

Over the course of history politics and the media have shared the public sphere. The emergence of the fourth estate, the term coined by Henry Fielding in the 1750’s acknowledging the existence of journalists as a collective (Bainbridge, Goc & Tynan 2011, p. 40), has given the media legitimacy within the realm of political discourse. While initially only responsible for providing press coverage and a public record the utilisation of mass media to further political agendas has been prevalent since the Napoleonic Wars (Hanley 2005), however, propaganda as it has become known today was revolutionised by the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels during the Second World War (Diggs-Brown 2011, p. 49). From 1940 onwards the National Socialist regime were able to influence the greater German public with strategically developed film and print media. This media was engineered in such a way to create feelings of jingoism, that would aid the growth of nationalism and strengthen the hold of the regime over the nation (Kallis 2005). Though not the first, the use of mass media to distribute political messages and influence the public in Nazi Germany was the most prolific of its time, so much so that many approaches developed by Goebbels and his party are still utilised today.

Since the end of the second world war the use of propaganda has, arguably, become less sinister however it’s use has also become more prevalent. Considering the legacy of the likes of Goebbels, the term still holds many negative connotations though does still appear in political discourse. In the modern political landscape propaganda is often referred to by more subtle terms, such as spin (Bainbridge, Goc & Tynan 2011), and where Goebbels intended to stir strong feelings of empowered nationalism it is now a means of encouraging constituents to exercise their democratic rights in a way which benefits the party. A contemporary example of this in recent Australian politics was the ‘Children Overboard’ incident, where the Howard government in a push for re-election with policies of tighter border security (Head 2004), alleged that asylum seekers had threatened to throw children out of a boat to secure rescue and entry into Australia (Arlington 2004). While the Howard government were aware at the time that these claims may not have been true (McGrath 2004) they proceeded with making them public to attempt to influence voters. Ultimately, despite the claims later being found to be false (Arlington 2004) the election campaign was a success and the Howard government would go on to serve two more terms. Whether this came about as a direct result of the campaigns propaganda can only be speculated, however, given the political climate at the time it can certainly be attributed.

Considering the implications of the historical development of propaganda and the fourth estate it is easy to see how media scrutiny has developed since the early nineteen hundreds. With the rise of convergence, defined by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (2012, p.5) as, “…the merging of the previously distinct platforms by which information is communicated”, and the dawn of the social media age media scrutiny of political discourse is at an all-time high (Plaisance 2013). The ability for the common person to provide individual commentary to the masses through social media has seen the reliability and integrity of mainstream media called into question like never before; particularly around issues of global politics. This outlet essentially allows any individual to become a member of the journalists fourth estate, even calling into question the legitimacy of this title, now being proposed as the “fifth estate” (Bainbridge et. al 2011, p. 46). How different things might have been even for the Howard government if the children overboard affair had occurred in the age of social media and was subject to round the clock scrutiny from both local and international audiences. On the other side of this discussion, despite this heavy scrutiny, the ability for mass media outlets to share stories quickly over multiple platforms means that information can still be spread quickly and their agendas can be supplied to more people than ever before. As technology advances further already there has been issues raised over the ability to mine data and use geolocation to tailor distribution of political materials to influence individuals (Cadwalladr 2017). Not only is this form of convergence ethically questionable but it gives even greater powers to media owners to dictate what is consumed.

Distribution of mainstream media, despite these recent challenges, has still seen unprecedented amounts of influence in the political sphere in recent times. While part of this can be attributed to the media as a means of mass communication the role of media ownership and control cannot be understated. The most notable example of a media controller with great political influence is Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. From his historical support of the Australian Liberal Party (McKnight 2013) to the election of Donald Trump (Rutenberg 2017), there are few political happenings, national or international, that do not have the interest of Murdoch. Globalisation has seen Murdoch become not only one of the richest men in the media industry, but also one of the most influential. By keeping close control over what his interests say and do, actions which were never clearer than in 2003 when he personally wrote his 175 editors and told them to support the US invasion of Iraq (Bainbridge et. al 2011, p. 42), Murdoch has been able to manipulate large parts of the global mediasphere to carry out his personal agenda. Murdoch’s ruthlessly capitalist approach to business is one of the best examples of neoliberalism in the media and cannot under any circumstances be understated.

Considering these initial points of discussion it can be determined then that neoliberalism impacts upon the media to influence the perception of national interest. When looking at Harvey’s approach (2005) the media is essentially acting as a host body to promote the neoliberal agenda of the state. Regardless of the contributor, that is to say whether coming from a Murdoch tabloid or an individuals social media account, at the core of all political debate is the wellbeing of the state. During the second world war Goebbels and the Nazi ministry for propaganda worked hard to achieve a totalitarian nationalist state where the public believed strongly in what they were told by their mass media campaigns (Diggs-Brown 2011). While objectively different in their approach to the distribution of propaganda on behalf of the state the Howard government felt that they were the party to guide Australia through hard times post September 11, 2001 and thus looked for re-election by any means necessary. Despite their substantially different political alignments and ultimate end goals both parties utilised the media channels at their disposal in an attempt to influence national interest in a way that they saw was necessary to maximise their control over the state. Whether or not these approaches were ethical raises an entirely different discussion, however, the success of both parties is undeniable when looking at their successes historically. Without influencing perceived national interest this success would not have been possible.

Similarly elements of the neoliberal impact on the perception of national interest can be seen in the concentration of media ownership and convergent shift towards new media. All media outlets, regardless of ownership, are built with the sole intention of working in the national interest (von Dohnanyi 2003). The problem then comes when individuals prioritise capitalist gains over the fundamental right to free press and sharing of relevant, unbiased information. As per Phelan’s (2012) definition, “mainstream journalism is neoliberal because it is produced within a corporate media infrastructure”. The very fact that the fourth estate, and media as a whole, has developed from a means by which the common person could be kept informed on notable events into a tradable commodity shows how neoliberalism has shaped the industry over the last hundred years. This transformation of the fourth estate from an open source to a tradable commodity has forever changed the media landscape and created a permanent perception of national interest which matches the media owners agenda. Without substantial changes to international systems of government, or significant deprivatization, this perception will not be able to change without the medias permission.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of neoliberalism that can be applied to the media in relation to political discourse is the tightrope that it constantly treads between relative and absolute gains. “Neoliberal institutionalism assumes states focus primarily on their own absolute gains and are indifferent to the gains of others” (Powell 1991, p. 1303). The question of ethics has been raised throughout this essay, as is often the case when discussing neoliberalism (Sugarman 2015), and for good reason when it comes to absolute gains. The ultimate end goal of the media is to succeed in promoting its message. Whether that is to show support for a cause, to discredit another or to sway the mind of the public and, as mentioned in the previous paragraphs, impact on the perception of national interest mass media will always strive for an absolute gain. As seen in the analysis of both Goebbels and Howard, while vastly different political figures, the propaganda they chose to promote yielded absolute gains for both of their parties at the time while giving no consideration to any other consequences. Both parties did what they had to do to put themselves in a winning position, regardless of who else may have lost.

This would not always have been the case however; historically, going back to the original fourth estate, the absolute gains for the media would have also seen relative gains for the public as they operated in a time of objective journalism (Fox 2013) for the benefit of the public. Since the rise of globalisation has brought about convergence, and media has become a business, the absolute gains for the industry are now solely based on capitalist profits and little, if any, concern is given to the common man. An example of this, from the earlier case study, can be seen in Murdoch’s support of the Iraq invasion (Bainbridge et. al 2011). In this example, the absolute gains heralded for the individual, and his immediate political ties showed no thought or consideration for the wider public. Further evidence of this can be seen in the conflicts existence at the time of this essay being written some fourteen years later. Were a different approach taken to the management of politically sensitive media, as opposed to the neoliberal methodology of winning at all costs for the sake of the state and capitalist profit fair and objective journalism may once again return to forefront. Considering how new media has risen to prominence in the convergent mediasphere, and brought new scrutiny to mass media, this may eventually become a reality albeit one that will remain in the hands of the media elite.

Whether by definition of Harvey or Phelan, or any one of the other sources mentioned throughout, it can be seen how neoliberalism impacts the political aspects of the mediasphere. From the development of propaganda in the early twentieth century through to modern times, and the overriding agendas of concentrated media ownership, neoliberalism and the desire to use a public commodity for capitalist gains is evident throughout history. Although the recent challenges identified and discussed suggest that mass media can overcome the rise of the new media as society progresses and technology advances it is impossible to say whether or not this trend will continue. Considering the financial involvement and long term commitment to the industry, and the adaptability shown in recent times to embrace the shift towards new media, it is fair to assume that although outlets may change the need to spread information will continue long into the future.




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