Military analysts say propaganda is especially critical in a war against those isolated from Western views and infused with a dogmatic hatred for the United States. But is the military up to the task? A Pentagon report commissioned after psyops failures in the 1999 Kosovo conflict criticized the military for failing to keep pace with advances in electronic communications. It also called the equipment the Air Force is now using to broadcast radio and perhaps TV messages to Afghans "outdated and inadequate."
War / Peace
Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy had a queasy feeling as she watched President Bush with D.C. school children promoting his newly created America's Fund for Afghan Children. "I get nervous when public officials trot out the children. What president whose country is involved in a dicey war, what mayor whose approval rating is down doesn't look good when flanked by a group of earnest and trusting kids?" McCarthy writes. "The children's fund is pure public relations.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has shut down its website. The state of Pennsylvania has decided to remove environmental information from its website. Risk management plans, which provide information about the dangers of chemical accidents and how to prevent them, have been removed from the web site of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"As this new, modern war unfolds, it has become inarguable that the weapon of speech craft is among the most powerful in the military arsenal," writes PR counselor Fraser Seitel, who examines the rhetorical techniques in speeches by George Bush, Tony Blair and Osama Bin Laden. "CEOs and communicators alike can learn from the skillful ways that Bush, our allies and even adversaries have used the content of their speeches to further their objectives," he writes.
According to the Dow Jones Newswire, the U.S. military has paid an undisclosed amount of money for the exclusive rights to commercial satellite imagery of Afghanistan and all time that the satellite is over areas involved in Operation Enduring Freedom. The contract with Denver-based Space Imaging Inc., which began Oct. 7, is believed to be in the multi-million dollar range. It prevents anyone from taking pictures of the war zone. By buying the exclusive rights, the U.S.
There is an aching information vacuum at the center of the war on terrorism, which sources on both sides of the conflict -- both governments and terrorists -- are trying to fill. "The irony is that the US media have already proved willing to comply with military orders when it matters," observes Jay Rayner. "Seventeen news organisations knew three days before that the bombing of Afghanistan was to start on Sunday, and said nothing."
The Bush administration and members of Congress have called for renewed efforts to improve America's image in the Islamic world, with Bush worrying aloud that the U.S. is losing the propaganda war to Islamic extremists. "I'm amazed that there's such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us," Bush said. "We've got to do a better job of making our case." An expensive advertising campaign in the Arab world, coupled with beefed-up Voice of America broadcasts, is making little headway as these PR efforts encounter a skeptical audience.
The UK Guardian reports, "Only five days after the bombing of Afghanistan began, Mr Blair made the extraordinary admission that the west was in danger of losing the propaganda war in Muslim states. He said: 'One thing becoming increasingly clear to me is the need to upgrade our media and public opinion operations in the Arab and Muslim world. There is a need for us to communicate effectively.'"
MediaChannel has put together a special online feature that examines "propaganda, censorship, bias, the challenges of covering a global war and its context, implications and cultural roots."
Democracy Now! reports that some humanitarian groups have denounced the food packets the U.S. is air dropping into Afghanistan as a PR move. A spokesman for UK-based Muslim Aid says the air-dropped food is not effective on a humanitarian level. According to the Muslim Aid website, "Afghanistan has been suffering from a severe drought for the last four years.