29 January 2010

Public Relations of War Part 2

Media Control

War and public relations - these are two inseparable concepts. The first one probably wouldn’t have place in human world if it wasn’t for the other one (though PR is often thought to be a modern profession its roots are thousands years old). And as I wrote before governments use public relations and propaganda to manipulate their audiences and gain their support in many issues; one of them is war.

Film made by BBC ‘War Spin’(2003) shows very well how US Department of Defence used public communications to maintain certain image of American and British troops and actions they were taking in Iraq. The ‘tool’ that made creation of that image possible was control of the media and messages sent into the world. I think this is one of the most important things in propaganda, to control the media: radio, TV, papers, online. After all, media are the fourth power and probably everyone heard that saying: “whoever controls the information controls the world.”

American government made journalists’ jobs very difficult. Reporters complained about the lack of information or unspecified answers to questions from the officials. One of the journalists said that the longer they [reporters] were in Iraq to find out about the outcomes of the war the less they knew. Objectivity was often impossible and, as one journalist confessed, reporters were not allowed to portray soldiers as fighters with guns (what they really were) but as nation builders.

Also US DOD created a story of a young soldier woman – Jessica Lynch (19), who according to them was shot and stubbed by Iraqis and with whom she still fought though she was barely alive. This made her a hero in the public eyes while Iraqis were evil people who tortured young American soldier. Only after journalists talked to the other side (the hospital in which private Lynch was taken care of after she was injured) they found out that Jessica wasn’t shot or stabbed but run over by a car, and that no one tortured her but Iraqi doctors tried to help her as much as they helped anyone else.

I watched that BBC film and I was amazed by steps governments are ready to take to manipulate public opinion. Films presenting war in Iraq which authorities made were a result of professional directing and editing (coordinated by Hollywood action film producer Jerry Bruckheimer); the exaggerated story of private Lynch was aimed at human emotions and to create hatred towards the enemy. The 24h broadcasting was an attempt at controlling the media (“if you are on the air, they [enemy] are not”). The avoidance of answering questions was to control the message (anything that is unofficial should be treated with suspicion, was one of the rules targeted at reporters).

The main concept of any propaganda is not only to persuade but also to be unnoticed and invisible for the public; it’s important for gaining people’s trust. Imagine, what would happen if things that are shown to us and which we rely on suddenly were proven to be exaggerated to the level where they become lies? What if our believes are suddenly shattered by the fact that they were based on misinformation?

Cartoon image taken from


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