The dissensus over Iraq on both international and national levels offers a rich setting for a
cross-national research to test some assumptions about media-foreign policy relationship
originating mainly from American political communication literature. This line of research
suggests that the government policy line and national elite opinion (consensus/dissensus)
are the most important factors in explaining how the media cover international politics.
This study focuses on three European states which adopted different policies with regard to
Iraq: Finland (anti-war), Ireland (neutral) and the UK (pro-war). The study employs both
quantitative and qualitative content analysis in order to determine the range of sources,
selection of topics and the tone of the press coverage of the Iraq crisis and controversial
national Iraq policies. Data consist of two daily quality newspapers from each country
from different ends of the political spectrum. However, in the absence of another national
daily, a regional quality newspaper and the biggest national tabloid newspaper were
included from Finland. Main periods of analysis cover four weeks at critical phases of the
crisis between February and May 2003.
The analysis indicated that governments' foreign policy line did not explain the differences in
press coverage very well. In the case of Finland, opinion items were sympathetic to anti-war
views but news articles often reproduced the US/UK case for war. Meanwhile, the national
political elite had little interest in engaging into a public debate on such issues as US
motivations, the war's legal repercussions or potential consequences for the fragile Middle
Eastern security system. With national elite unwilling to publicly challenge the US/UK
claims, the Finnish press coverage did not stand out as particularly critical of the invasion
although the US claims did not go uncontested in the Finnish newspapers either.
In Ireland and the UK, clear differences between newspapers operating in the same political
system indicated that government policy was not the most significant factor in explaining
how the press covered the Iraq crisis. In both countries, the elites were divided over the issue
of Iraq and the newspapers reflected these divisions. The Independent and the Irish Times were more sympathetic to the political opposition's anti-war views than the Daily Telegraph
and the Irish Independent. The Telegraph was the most consistent in its support for the war
but the analysis also indicated that in the post-war situation the press coverage became less
uniform both within the newspapers and countries. Overall, the opinions were much more
polarised than in the Finnish newspapers clearly indicating that the elite dissensus had
brought the Iraq policy in 'the sphere of legitimate controversy'.