Opération Serval and the Sahel discourse in French quality newspapers (2003-2013): exploring indirect forms of news media influence on the decision-making of international intervention missions

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In this thesis, I examine the influence of news media on the decision-making of international interventions. While literature on media-policy interactions is abundant, research on this topic has traditionally revolved around whether news media can ‘pressure’ governments into launching a humanitarian intervention or not – a mechanism often called the ‘trigger effect’. Besides such works having yielded many ambiguous results, this focus on direct, trigger effects has led to a neglect of more ‘indirect’ forms of news media influence, such as how news media discourse impacts decision-makers’ perspectives and assumptions regarding conflicts where intervention is considered. Aiming to provide a more coherent definition of such indirect effects, I find through a discourse analysis of Operation Serval and French news media reporting on the Sahel between 2003 and 2013 that news media influence intervention decision-making in three main ways: 1) the creation of a receptive societal context for intervention justification; 2) a popularization and legitimization of specific conflict representations; and 3) a delegitimization of non-state armed actors, hereby reducing decision-makers’ ability to include such actors in the peace process. As such, I conclude that the primary mechanism underlying news media’s influence over decision-making is news media’s ability to generate broader legitimacy for the representations articulated and perceived by decision-makers. As a result, news media’s influence should be understood as their ability to ‘enable’, rather than directly ‘cause’ or ‘trigger’ decisions.
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