Follow @southasiaanalys

PROPAGANDA WARS: The decline and fall of western media.

Paper No. 615                                                 24/02/2003

by K.Gajendra Singh

“Propaganda brought us to power; propaganda has since enabled us to remain in power and propaganda will give us the means of conquering the world.... The task of the propagandist is not the scientific education of everyone, but the indication to the masses of the facts, events, necessities etc.  whose significance and morality enter into the field of interest." Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf.

You can fool all the people for some time, some people for all the time but not all the people for all the time.

Peace marches and rallies by tens of millions all over the world, with over 8 million in Europe alone, spread over 500 cities and towns in 60 countries was a slap on the face of media machines unleashed by USA and UK in its propaganda wars against Iraq. During the 15/ 16 February, 2003 weekend, the explosion of protests against war started from Auckland and Melbourne on Friday itself and then swept over Asia, Africa and Europe and on to North and South America. From New Zealand to USA and from Russia to South Africa, the protesters belonged to all races and classes, mothers with babies, young and old alike; and from across the whole political spectrum.  The protests were the largest ever held, much bigger and more universal than against the Vietnam War. They were much bigger in Australia, Spain, Italy, UK and USA, whose governments have supported the war and aligned with USA. Both CNN and BBC anchors and journalists were taken aback by the outpouring and the size of the protests.  Ironically, protests in Arab countries, except Iraq, were in low key, with its regimes unsure of what to do.  

Regrettably the protest marches in an India of a billion odd, were small and the media took little notice.  Iraq, a staunch and secular friend, has always supported India on Jammu and Kashmir.  The editorial line of foreign media like Star news is understandable but unfortunately, the Indian media still remains in the Anglo-Saxon mould even after 50 years of independence.  Editor of Indian Express  (1st Feb) writing under ‘Saddam, snookers’s first frame ‘ wrote  “ –for the Bush team –process of change (is)–to modernise and democratize and restructure the Islamic world – into Saudi Arabia and then every other part of the region where militant Islam breeds ---Musharraf is not laughing –does that work to our benefit or detriment? This war will not be about oil but about militant Islam and everybody’s future. This is the bigger picture –“ 

It seems that many Indians perhaps believe that USA like Lord Somnath in 11th century will save India.

    “--Mahmood reached Somnatha in the middle of January, 1025, and found there a strongly defended fortress on the seashore. The Hindus, who assembled on the ramparts of the fort, were passing their time in merrymaking, fondly believing that Somnatha had drawn the Muslims there only to annihilate them for the sins they had committed in demolishing idols elsewhere.  Their morale was high even though their leader had fled away in cowardice with his family to a neighbouring island—

(Page 20, The Struggle for Empire, The History and Culture of the Indian people, Volume five (1966), Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. Ed.K.M.Munshi)

Is India prepared?   There are 3 to 4 million Indians working in the Gulf.  A war could dislocate at least half a million or so. This writer, while posted in Amman, had handled the evacuation of nearly 150,000 Indian refugees from Kuwait in 1991, and knows the mess the government had made.

Propaganda against India;

The writer during his 35 years as a diplomat knows only too well the propaganda wars waged against India during the Cold war period.  Even now CNN and BBC, when terrorists from Pakistan attack Indian cities parrot  “ India claims this and Pakistan denies that “, even when the origin of terrorists is well documented.  CNN and BBC cannot find out the facts, but they immediately support British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s discredited dossiers? When ever the Kashmir problem is mentioned, 2 or 3 wars between India and Pakistan are repeated ad nauseum. Why does Indian media not mention millions of Christians killed by the Germans and British in two world wars when ever differences crop up between UK and FRG. Or Hiroshima and Nagasaki when nuclear tensions and consequences between India and Pakistan are repeated on CNN, BBC and other Anglo-Saxon media.  Western media or leaders do not even chide Pakistan when it resorts to nuclear blackmail.  

We should learn from Turkey which is digging its heels and fighting to protect its interests and not letting US ride over it.  Turkey, a Nato ally since 1950s know s only too well that USA does not keep its promises.  After the 1991 Gulf war, Turkey lost tens of billions of dollars and USA did not keep its promises. Bhagvat Geeta quoting Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit sent Turkish troops to Cyprus in 1974 against stiff US opposition, where they have stayed put, to protect Turkey’s strategic interests in Mediterranean.  

Propaganda wars against Iraq;

George Bush US led administration with loyal support from Tony Blair has waged a personalized phony war on Saddam Hussein since months, after its abysmal failure to capture Ben Laden dead or alive or any other major Al Qaida leader, responsible for the stunning events of 11 September, or his hosts, the Taleban leadership, most of whom are reportedly hiding some where in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

To rivet attention away from its failures, naval armadas and massive war making machines are moving towards Iraq; Anglo-Saxon visual media covers military exercises daily. Despite worldwide protests and growing universal opposition, including from major allies like France and Germany, UN veto wielding Russia, perhaps China and client Arab and Muslim states around Iraq, USA is now threatening to unleash a hot war on Iraq and its hapless citizens.  It is strange how US and British leaders use alleged support from “international community “when the only rabbit US produces is either a British official or sometimes an Australian.  Spain and Italy are not sending troops.  Later, a few mercenaries, with their miserable contributions, would form a coalition of the willing or rather ‘the obedient’  

Changes in Media and Communications

The writer who had started his diplomatic career as assistant Press Attache way back in early 1960s in Cairo, has seen the transformation of print media offices from comfortable lived in pigsties with coffee cups, overflowing ashtrays and scissors and paste cuttings strewn around to the present day surgical operation theatre cleanliness.  During his 35 years in diplomatic career, he also maintained a fruitful  relationship with many excellent western media personalities like Flora Lewis ( who passed away recently ), Jonathan Randall ( in news again ), Charles Hargrave (The Times), Nick Ludington (AP ) and many others.  But he also saw how media was manipulated and used by the West for propaganda against a non-aligned India.

BBC maxim 'reveal your minor truths to conceal your major lies!'

In India’s 1965 war with Pakistan, BBC broadcast the usual lies like Indian soldiers running away.  But once  better trained Indian soldiers had used the 2nd rate British made Centurion tanks to knock out a few US made superior Patton tanks, BBC was all praise  for the jolly good Indian soldier.  US would grant Jets or Tanks to its ally Pakistan and when India bought arms from USSR to balance it, there would be an outcry from western media. He encountered daily halftruths, lies being disseminated specially by the Anglo-Saxon media.  US policy remains the same, “If you are not with us you are against us”. Recently so moaned the Foreign minister of Belgium among others. 

During the 1991 Gulf war BBC made uncharitable snide remarks about the height of king Hussein, ( whose son Abdullah from the British wife is now the ruler of the Hashemite kingdom), because he had not joined the coalition against Iraq. It was to protect his country from a possible civil war and as he was genuinely interested in a peaceful solution. Again the “If you are not with us you are against us “ syndrome.  When Iraq closed foreign embassies in the city of Kuwait and cut their electric power, BBC broadcast how the British diplomats had opened champagne bottles for candle light dinner, living in the past glories of Khartoum, Calcutta or Shanghai. 

Fox Channel owner also runs lucrative channels in Asia too like Star News etc, which are very popular in India and elsewhere. They might be more honest and accurate in domestic news with local competition, but propaganda seeps in foreign news. Western and US institutions seduce many Indian media men, opinion makers and writers by study grants, training programs and well paid seminars for themselves and their wives.  What impartiality does one expect from such persons? 

Decline of Western media ;

But the decline of western media specially Anglo-Saxon media has been steep after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  This writer had a ring side view in Amman of the 1990-91Gulf crisis and war.  Jordan was the only point of access to Baghdad by air, road or telephone.  Iraq and Kuwait were effectively cut off from the world.  Other countries had closed their borders, so apart from the refugee flood, Amman had also become the staging point for international politicians and others visiting Iraq.  It was necessary to keep a watch on political developments to help assess their impact on the influx of Indian refugees coming from Kuwait. 

The Iraqi viewpoint was drowned by anti-Saddam rhetoric disseminated by the Western media.  For the writer, the Western viewpoint was available from western radio and media and Israeli TV, across the Jordan Valley 40 kilometers away.  CNN had limited availability in Amman. Iraqi version was available from Jordan TV and Radio as most of the TV and Radio broadcasts in the region, except Iran sometimes, were against Iraq because of its clear cut aggression on Kuwait Some had sold out for US aid or money from Saudis and Kuwaitis. Jordan TV was popular in Syria, but it was sometimes jammed by the Syrian government. 

Amman used to crawl with international media.  The writer and his staff were frequently interviewed by BBC and others on evacuation by air of many thousands of Indian refugees.  Many in India relied on these broadcasts specially from BBC for some news of their relatives and friends lost in Kuwait or transit.  The writer was allowed a limited access by Iraqis  to his counter part in Baghdad to exchange news about the movement of refugees.  With little to do BBC crew, even came to film a small function on 15 August, India’s independence day. But in spite of 35 years of dealing with media and its divas this writer was in for some shocks. 

Lies and Half Truths;

US media were spreading stories, “Yes, we have been asked to be on the standby.  We could be asked to accompany the coalition forces any time.  Everything is ready for an attack”.  This was being repeated by many media teams to the writer.  It was a surprise as it was quite clear that till end November, 1990, US led allied forces were in not in a position to attack Iraq.  A reliable journalist told the writer that a few times western journalists would toss up some food packets and water bottles to thirsty and hungry refugees, who had trudged all the way from Kuwait, 1500 kms away and were camped in. no man’s land between Iraq and Jordan. Naturally the refugees scrambled for the food, which these western media gentlemen then filmed and photographed for their readers back home.  This exploitation of misery was disgusting.  This had happened, when rich western powers, after initial commitment of funds to Jordan for refugee care, as usual, forgot about their promise. Amman then allowed in as many refugees as were being taken out of Jordan.  There were many tens of thousands in Jordan and more than that in no man’s land.  Nearly a million refugees passed through Jordan, which had a population of 3 and half million. 

Management of Western media and Blatant lies ;

One of the stories of  Iraqi misdeeds in Kuwait, was narrated by a 15 year Kuwaiti girl Nayirah (her last name was kept. confidential ) which she herself had witnessed. In a testimony before the US Congress on 10 October, 1990 she said,” I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital.  While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where. . . babies were in incubators.  They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die. " This terrible news about the 312 babies made headlines in western media and elsewhere. This shocked the world. President George W. Bush repeated it too.  It turned public opinion and Congress against Iraq.  This writer too very much shocked.  

Later it was learnt that Nayirah was the daughter of  Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's Ambassador to  USA.  She had left Kuwait before the Iraqi invasion.  The story had been fabricated in its entirety by the PR firm Hill & Knowlton.  Why Nayirah’s serious allegations could not be checked by western media before being aired?.  This writer who had organized evacuation of nearly 150,000 Indian refugees, had come across few complaints by Indian refugees against Iraqi officials en route.  It further diminished the trust of this writer in the truthfulness of media, specially from the west. 

It was also most disconcerting to watch how western media and others allowed them selves to be  censored and manipulated.  For the first time perhaps in history, media access to rank-and-file soldiers in the field was prevented by US military brass in order to kill any criticism of the purpose or conduct of the war.  It is estimated that between hundred to 150,000 Iraqi soldiers died in the war, many were killed when retreating or wanting to surrender. There were reports of taped conversations when US pilots shooting at retreating soldiers were exultant at “target full areas “ as if doing target  practice. There has been no impartial investigation of these reports, which if confirmed would bring charges of violation of international law, human rights and genocide. No wonder USA is so opposed to International Criminal Court and is pressurizing governments to sign bilateral agreements to escape such charges in future.  

And of course there remains the mystery and enigma of the full details of the last meeting between the US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie and Saddam in Baghdad on July 25, 1990 when she told Saddam that his dispute with Kuwait was a bilateral Arab matter. Glaspie then disappeared from public view, and was barred from giving interviews or writing a book. ( She was last heard as Consul General to South Africa –a certain demotion!) The Western media did not pursue her as they do others for exclusive interviews or books on her tenure in Baghdad.  Last heard she was a Consul general in South Africa, a demotion.

Hounding of Honest Mediamen;

 The hounding and final dismissal in 1999 of Peter Arnett by CNN, a Pulitzer prize winner in 1966 for his work as an Associated Press reporter in Vietnam, illustrates the lengths to which US military and intelligence establishment would go. Arnett  had achieved international acclaim for his on-the-spot reporting from Baghdad for CNN during the 1990-91 Gulf War and had become a house hold name.  But he came under acute criticism at that time from the US government and military circles for his objective reportage of civilian casualties resulting from the US bombing of Baghdad.

When Arnett reported the truth about US bombing of baby milk powder factories , which White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater claimed  was "a production facility for biological weapons" or death of 400 Iraqis by two precision-guided missiles on a civilian air-raid shelter in the Amariya district of Baghdad with women, children and old men packed inside, Fitzwater called Arnett a lair .He was denounced in US congress as “the Joseph Goebbels of Saddam Hussein's Hitler-like regime.  " The CNN president received furious complaint from 34 congressmen.  The Pentagon “resisted a more direct way of controlling the media in Baghdad by not bombing the al-Rashid Hotel or the Information Ministry “ General Colin Powell, then joint chief of staff chairman, was indignant at the very thought.

“But since then, the tolerance of unpleasant war images seems to be taxing the patience of American policymakers.  The Clinton administration approved the bombing of the television centre in Belgrade during the Kosovo war just hours after several western TV reporters had completed their evening newscasts.  The Kabul bureau of the controversial al-Jazeera, the "Arab CNN", was blown apart during the assault on Kabul in 2001” wrote Arnett recently.

Like US policy makers statements, CNN is quite unsophisticated  many times.  At least BBC, which has to  cultivate and retain its audience from the subcontinent to attract advertisers must give the impression of credibility.  So it is more subtle.  But in the demagogy,  Fox channel is now numero uno. BBC’s field veteran in Pakistan and Afghanistan John Simpson moaned a few months ago that the Fox News channel had overtaken CNN and with other US journalists was cheerleading the world to war against Iraq . Fox News was "dysfunctional, grotesquely patriotic and embarrassing" and had misled the American public after September 11 with "hysterical, excitable reporting", he told an audience at the Cheltenham Literary Festival last year.  As a result the US public had been horribly misinformed.  He added  "I went to Ground Zero and I found that many people believed US immigration policy was the reason why America was so disliked.  Thank God I don't have to broadcast to them.  There is no recognition of linkage with America's support for Israel.  There is a great hunger for information in America which people are not just getting." 

Anglo-Saxon Media becomes mouthpiece of their governments

Compared to 1990-91Gulf crisis and war, media is now functioning at  very high visual and decibel levels, specially Anglo –Saxon media, having since then become even more pervasive and wider in its reach, exercising its creeping control through so called independent channels in Asia and elsewhere . In Russia, under the charade of globalization –it should be called corporatisation of world revenues with out any political or social accountability, hundreds of billions of US dollars have been transferred to western banks and institutions by newly created Russian oligarchs.  Where would you expect the sympathies of the media empires run by these gentlemen?  They can be  so easily squeezed by the US led west and its agencies.  Even Russian president Boris Yeltsin, when he talked of a strategic relationship with China, was brought to heel  by suitable leaks to western media about his daughter Tatyana’s gold credit card . 

There are slanted reports on Saddam Hussein, his wife or mistress and  family being circulated in western media specially Anglo-Saxon.  It is given currency by  senior members of US Administration.  It has been said that Saudi Arabia and others are organizing political asylum for Saddam Hussein  in some country or the other -a la Idi Amin.  Why would Saudi Arabia do so, when it might be the next in line.  After all the majority of 11September hijackers were Saudis.  If we look at the old files, the same kind of baseless rumours and stories about asylum and his family had been circulated in 1990-91.  Some times there is talk of indemnity to all except Saddam Hussein, his family and some of his close advisers, who would be tried later.  Did not the US air force use chemical and biological weapons extensively in the Korean War and later in Vietnam and on its neighbours! Why should Kissinger and others be not tried for war crimes and genocide, many people say. 

But even with info overkill with its slant there are many advantages.  Look how Saddam Hussein comes out in his speeches and how do Anglo-Saxon leaders, with Bush with his lone ranger attitude of “ dead or alive “ ,”crusades and Infinite justice “ and Blair, as if needs a vacation badly.  What credibility Blair carries when Vladimir Putin told him on his face that his infamous dossier against Saddam Hussein was not credible?  And then one sees the emaciated Iraqi citizens and even its leadership, who have suffered from more than 12 years of sanctions.  It is difficult to fool the audience unless one has been totally brainwashed. Regular public polls around the world show that it is not fooling many people, except perhaps in USA.  One poll suggested that many Americans think that if not all, then some of the 11 September hijackers were Iraqis.  Some success of the science of demonology.

Al Jazeera –an Arab response

But, unlike 1991 there is now an alternative for the Arab and Muslim masses. Qatar-based Al Jazeera, one of the most popular TV program in the Arab world has become a counter  to CNN .  Funded by Qatar’s crown prince to forge an identity for his small nation distinct from Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera was launched in 1996. It was given a  firm commitment for its editorial independence and pledged $140 million to finance it for 5 years.  It is staffed mostly by the personnel of BBC’s Arabic television service, which was closed down due to the editorial meddling by a Saudi Arabian part owner, who had sought to censor a documentary on executions in Saudi Arabia. Thus a hard-hitting Arabic satellite news channel was  born .

 It was much sought after during the US led war on Afghanistan when it broadcast videotaped messages from Osama bin Laden and other al Qaida officials. Even top US leaders have appeared on it to sway Arab and Muslim viewers.  It has even aired Israeli leaders like Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres. Expectedly it has got into trouble with Arab countries like Kuwait, Bahrain , Iraq apart from Saudi Arabia.  Neither PLO nor Israel seem happy with it.  Billions of dollars have been reportedly offered to close it down. But despite its popular success, Al Jazeera still struggles for advertisement revenue as it is shunned by large multinationals. It is an example of difficulty in running an objective TV channel in a third world region. 

Expert Opinions;

 According to The Guardian ‘Those responsible for protecting Britain's national security - the security and intelligence agencies - believe that the greatest threat comes from al-Qaida-inspired Islamist fundamentalism, which an attack on Iraq is almost certain to fuel.  Any threat posed by Iraq is well down the road, they believe. “ Blair's defence of his policy towards Saddam Hussein and UN weapons inspectors seems increasingly incoherent.  Blair, recently told MPs” the reason Saddam posed a greater threat than north Korea was because the problem was not so much the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but their use.” Yet Iraq has been successfully contained.  There is no evidence of its intention to use or proliferate chemical or biological weapons or that a policy of deterrence has failed. It may be argued that North Korea, a great proliferators with the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, is a much greater threat - to the extent that the US is desperate to negotiate with it but indirectly. And it has no oil. So what is the moral of the story?

Former Democrat senator, Sam Nunn who was in London recently to launch a report on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by 13 respected think tanks led by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies said that the danger was not so much that a state would supply terrorist groups with these weapons.  Terrorists, Nunn warned, were e more likely to steal them or buy them on the open market.  "Every lab on every college campus has dangerous materials,"  “The dangers of them leaking out existed everywhere, including in the US, but above all in Russia, where more than 20,000 nuclear warheads sit in 120 separate storage sites.  A single artillery shell of nerve agents is small enough to fit into a briefcase and contains enough lethal doses to kill 100,000 people.”  And what about Pakistan, with close linkages between Army, ISI and Jihadis.

Most Americans do not realize the influence of mass media and the press on their opinions about problems of the world.  Studies show that most do not always comprehend international conflicts.  They have little understanding of the places where they occur, the real issues and the effect it will have on America.  Americans in general acquire most of their knowledge about the world and international conflicts from the mass media. Unfortunately, television, radio, newspapers, and news magazines often present skewed images of international conflicts.  How stories and visuals associated with the conflict are shown, influence readers' and viewers' opinions.  One-sided coverage of a particular conflict,  can shade, alter or misrepresent the true picture.  Aware of the importance of mass media and the press, governments often attempt to manipulate news coverage. “Understanding the interactions between mass media and international conflicts is crucial for America's future. Wise foreign policy choices must rest upon the bedrock of citizen knowledge of complex and often intractable conflicts”

It is easier to sell in the Christian and Islamic worlds one sided stories.   The world is divided into God vs Devil.  They are virtuous and always have on God on their side. The other side is Devil, Evil, Satan, So there are various Hizbullahs and Christian parties, social or democratic.  And the governments use all means including media as a crusade or Jihad against any one who disagrees.  Part of this follows from misinterpretation of Biblical Demonology.  Till 1989, Saddam Hussein was a good guy fighting the Khomeini evil .USA granted him billions of dollars of loan, and along with UK, FRG and others provided means of chemical weapons production. Donald Rumsfeld was one of the visitors to Saddam Hussein’s lair.  The gassing of Kurds was known but covered up by western governments. Since 1990, western media has painted him out as a demon. What about USA’s own record in Korean and Vietnam Wars?

Hindu philosophy believes in the unity of all in one Absolute Being and the Chinese believe in Yin and Yang.  Religion is not used for demonology, but some even in India are learning from the West as shown in Gujarat recently. While popular religious belief in the West still remains strong, many in USA now believe that there is nothing superior to human knowledge.  Since the mid-20th   century its elites, particularly in US, have “become secularized with radical autonomy and absolute freedom to do whatever one chooses”.  It is only a question of using the right marketing techniques.

Izvestia and Pravada ;

How one misses Izvestia and  Pravada, not that they propounded the truth (Pravada) but the so called free Western media was more careful and comparatively honest.  Now, with its monopoly, specially in the visual media, there are few constraints. Yes, George Orwell’s 1984 was 5 years off the mark. It came in 1989 after the Fall of the Berlin Wall . But he was completely wrong about where it would hit or under whose control. It is taking place in the corporate ruled USA.  

But hope lies among many in western media who refuse to be swayed, cowed down or swept over by the juggernaut of corporate interests and establishment and its increasing hold over media apart from its control of other coercive instruments.  They keep fighting for the ideals of free media every day and every where.  Like Larry King , Tim Sebastian, John Simpson and many others in visual media and many hundreds of tireless media persons every where, who alert whenever media in USA or elsewhere stray from standards of professional probity and requirements.

K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.

Category: 
Topics: