cross-posted at dKos

In the spring issue of Parameters is an article written by Kenneth Payne (a BBC news producer), The Media as an Instrument of War, which explores the uses of media in a wartime scenario.

This is because winning modern wars is as much dependent on carrying domestic and international public opinion as it is on defeating the enemy on the battlefield.


International humanitarian law requires that media members are afforded the rights of civilians; the question is whether this is sustainable when the exigencies of warfighting suggest that controlling the media is essential.

The media can hinder the success of an operation, as he quotes Ralph Peters:

The [US] Marines in Fallujah weren’t beaten by the terrorists and insurgents, who were being eliminated effectively and accurately. They were beaten by al-Jazeera…


We stopped because we were worried about what already hostile populations might think of us. The global media disrupted the US and Coalition chains of command… We could have won militarily. Instead, we surrendered politically and called it a success. Our enemies won the information war. We literally didn’t know what hit us.

Western militaries have given considerable attention to the means through which they might influence the activities and output of the media. Should they choose to exercise them, the tools at their disposal could include deception, distortion, omission, or obfuscation: the tools of political “spin” adapted to the ends of warfighting.

Payne finds support for this from the US Army FIeld manuel, Public Affairs Tactics, Techniques and Procedures:

“Information operations,” notes the manual, “involve a variety of disciplines and activities [including] information campaigns.” Public affairs “support to [information operations] requires…synchronization of efforts with other organizations and agencies to ensure themes and messages are consistent and deconflicted.” The language in the manual is instructive: public affairs is not seen as an entity in itself, but as a “related activity” of information operations.

Payne continues:

Lying outright to the media may not, in many circumstances, make much sense, but controlling the flow of information emphatically does, and the purpose of the public affairs staff is precisely that–to control the dissemination of information so as to maximize the military and political advantage to US forces.


The manual goes on to describe the mechanism through which an enemy can be deceived through the construction of “a plausible, but false, view of the situation, which will lead the deception target into acting in a manner that will accomplish the commander’s goal. Once the story is completed, the [Deception Working Group] determines the deception means necessary to portray the events and indicators.”

Much of the article discusses the role of embedded media and how they relate to the war effort. And how also to deal with media in a country we are at war with:

If the media are present, and they are undermining the political, military strategy, it makes sense to control them. If they are behaving in a non-neutral way, it may even seem appropriate to target them. But where are the boundaries of neutrality? Perhaps targeting is lawful if your enemy is using the media to defeat you militarily, for example through a deception operation. But what if he is merely shaping the media reporting of the conflict through his own information operations? Would targeting the media be legitimate in these circumstances, even if the media were not complicit in this strategy? Or what if the media in question have brought their own damaging prejudices to the battlefield, regardless of the ambition of the enemy to control them?

The broad outlines of debate are readily apparent, as illustrated by the opinion fromthe Pentagon counsel quoted earlier. If the media are behaving impartially, then they are entitled to treatment as civilians. Where they are not, the assessment of the general counsel suggests that they can be targeted militarily. The trick is in making an accurate judgment about their partiality and the motives behind it.

The rationale for this has been summed up by Gen Wesley Clark after deciding to bomb Serbia’s television transmitter. But what if a non-state controlled media is in question?:

Some such media may aim to be more impartial than others, and where they are behaving in a biased manner, legal opinion may conclude that they can no longer be classed as civilians. But making a judgment about the impartiality of a broadcaster or newspaper is problematic. Suppose a television channel were showing graphic footage of the civilian casualties caused by your troops, or that they screened interviews with dejected prisoners of war captured by your enemy. In both examples, this footage could have an effect on the perceptions of the war among viewers on both sides of the conflict.

Are we not supposed to be affected by the wars our government and citizens are involved in?

While the combatants themselves are prohibited from this sort of activity, the independent media are not legally a party to the conflict. But does that mean that the station can be legitimately targeted? Then there is the question of proportionate response–should you jam their transmissions, discredit them somehow, or counter their message with your own propaganda? Keeping them away from areas of the battlefield where their reporting would be damaging seems sensible enough, but what lengths can one go to in order to achieve that?

In the language of the Pentagon’s counsel, could such a broadcaster be making “a direct contribution to the war effort,” in which case might the provisions of the Geneva Protocols be moot?

He concludes by saying:

Winning the media war is crucially important to Western war-planners, and increasingly sophisticated methods for doing so have been developed– albeit with varying results.

He is talking about four things in the article:
1) How to handle the media of the country we are at war with
2) How to handle the media from the rest of the world
3) How to handle embedded reporters
4) How to portray information for our military benefit

News from Iraq is filtered, yes, but we get a decent picture of what is going on. To what extent would the military want to control information coming out of a war zone? To what extent do they already? Can we trust them to make the right decisions in the future?

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