Originally Published 2003-12-10 09:14:26 Published on Dec 10, 2003
The good old days of media diplomacy launched by Washington and London to justify the Iraq invasion seem to be getting over.The American and the British administration had successfully hijacked media spaces across the world to build legitimacy for the offensive on Iraq.
The Bush - Blair media campaign backfires.
The good old days of media diplomacy launched by Washington and London to justify the Iraq invasion seem to be getting over.

The American and the British administration had successfully hijacked media spaces across the world to build legitimacy for the offensive on Iraq. The Baath Party regime was demonized in the American and British media and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush repeatedly appeared on news channels, interviews and talk shows largely before an uninformed audience and talked about their great liberation and modernization programme for the people of Iraq.

Within weeks of September 11 attacks Charlotte Beers was appointed as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Her job was to sell the Bush Administration's foreign policy and especially its 'war on terrorism.'A congressional amount of $ 520 millions were set aside for Beers to organize the largest public relations campaign in any foreign policy agenda! The money was to be spent on the populations of South Asia and the Middle East to create a public opinion against Islamic terrorism, fundamentalism and tyrannical regimes.

Several taped messages were aired on the Iraqi news channels for which the programming came from the US Department of Defense as well as from the rebroadcasts of independent news outlets from both US and UK. The Nahwa Al Hurieh or 'Towards Freedom' channel was launched in this context. The coalition broadcast messages in English with Arabic subtitles from an US air force plane flying over Iraq.

In the past as well the UK and the US have used media to disseminate information to civilians in countries caught in conflict situations. One cannot forget the television pictures of US military planes dropping meal packages in Afghanistan sporting the US flag and leaflets showing images of US soldiers shaking hands with Afghan civilians.

According to Britain's The Guardian, during past conflicts since World War Two and most recently in Bosnia and Kosovo, British military forces used a strategy known as PSYSOPS short for psychological operations through radio broadcasts and leaflets to influence enemy soldiers and civilians. This has been used in Iraq as well.

The mainstream media have also been guilty of not giving adequate coverage to the anti- war views among the people. Tony Blair appeared on the BBC's News Night programme for an interaction with a small audience of ordinary citizens who were largely uninformed on international issues to defend his policies. Anti war views even when shown were not strong enough to counter the war propaganda. The four major news networks in the United States, ABC News, the Evening News, NBC Nightly News and the PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer showed people debating about the logistics of the war like the timing and cost instead of the ethics and politics of it, considering that there were massive protest demonstrations against the war both in US and UK. War tactics became the important issue of debates rather than any analyses that might give context to the crises. Blatant propaganda went unchallenged even in the case of President Bush State of the Union Speech and Secretary of State Colin Powel's address to the UN Security Council. These speeches failed to generate enough debate in the media.

The world opinion was largely restricted to the powerful western countries and media turned a blind eye to the protests in the developing world. Our own Indian media acted irresponsibly by publishing articles from the western press which were only critical of the Iraqi regime. Asian Age repeatedly, in its editorials, published articles from the New York Times which merely talked about the brutalities of the Saddam regime and the luxurious palaces of Saddam Hussein with gold fittings even in the bath rooms!

Even this outrageous public relations media offensive through media diplomacy has not prevented the surfacing of worldwide questioning and condemnation of the Anglo American justification for the war on Iraq. The State Department officials are now merely holding on to the empty rhetoric of war as a face saving exercise. A BBC documentary aired recently exposed the hollowness of the arguments in favour of the war. The Iraq Survey Group formed after the war to investigate the case of WMD's in Iraq has failed to come up with any weapons stockpile during their investigations, the documentary said. Worse still senior officials including George Bush himself have now been talking about the weapons capability of Iraq and not the actual weapons stock pile itself, as Hans Blix, the former UN Chief Weapons Inspector said in an interview to the BBC. The message stands clear that those who went to war are gradually losing credibility in the eyes of their own media. People are looking for answers and the media know that they cannot ignore the public opinion for long.

Media that helped in creating public opinion in favor of the war and helped the UK and US Governments in their agenda setting, agenda building and agenda reflecting are now looking towards enhancing their own credibility in the eyes of the people. Thus public opinion is not only created by the media but it also creates and sustains the media and the case of the Iraq war should serve as an important lesson to those who think that media can always be manipulated and public opinion can be either influenced or ignored.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Observer Research Foundation.
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