One of the deadliest weapons being used by both Iraq and the US led multinational forces in the Gulf war is the weapon of disinformation. While the world press attention is focused on the actual gory war, little attention is being paid to the media war, the ‘doctored’ information that is emerging from the two warring sides.
Consider the following information, which appeared in almost every Indian newspaper-“Saddam’s family flies to Mauritania with gold” or for that matter “Allies attack Iraqi holy shrines”. This and other innumerable number of news items, which shape up public opinion are a part as well orchestrated and stage managed disinformation campaign. Propaganda war plays a very vital role in any battle and the current war is no different.
The actual war may have started on January17, but for the Western press the war began on August 2 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Then onwards a series of propaganda assaults began to be made against the Iraq regime, most notably on the themes that it was Israel’s relentless enemy, that it had used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war, that it was trying to acquire nuclear capability and that it betrayed its brutal anti-human rights character by persecuting its own Kurdish community which was in minority.
However, once the Gulf war started, even the Western journalists started to talk about the credibility gap-what the military spokesmen hid what the correspondents knew. By conservative estimates, there are more than 500 journalists and their auxiliaries covering the war. For them, getting authentic news is like asking for the moon. The main allied armies deploy teams of press officers, who have plenty of time to organize things so that bad news does not get out. Their main tool is the Mobile Reporting Team (MRT); nobody who has not signed on for one is allowed to accompany the troops. There is nothing inherently wrong in this. However, the conditions and preconditions attached to it give control to the military information machine.
Military officers decide where and when the team of reporters goes and what constitutes a security breach. And what’s more, the military officers decide who is in what team. Even the ‘chosen few’ reporters complain of the restricted access to field and lack of hard information from the headquarters. A major grievance is that out of hundreds of Western journalists in Saudi Arabia, only a handful are in the field talking to the troops in the desert fox holes.
The rest rely on the poor reports from these select few or on daily briefings at which the military spokesman dodge almost all the questions of substance. For example, the US commanders have refused to get in to the body count game providing the daily accounts of the number of enemy dead. Only a few hardy journalists armed with a bit of military and geographical knowledge and a four-wheel drive vehicle may hope to do some unauthorized reporting i.e. if they can avoid checkpoints set by Saudi security forces on the country’s few roads.
In US, the scene is not much different. The American media’s compliance with tight censorship on its coverage of Gulf war is causing doubts whether it is helping its own gagging. The American media, never tired of projecting itself as the most free in the world, has been steadfastly depending upon the information provided by the Pentagon.
In the current war, unlike the Vietnam War where the media brought the battlefield of every home, the Pentagon has a tight grip over what can be released and where the journalists can move to cover the war. Every shot or visual relayed on American television is first cleared by the authorities and then shown to the news hungry audience.
How is the censorship justified? The American government claims that the censorship is done taking into consideration both economic and strategic reasons. The American authorities are also interested in keeping the war “anesthetized and sanitary” from the domestic audiences. This in turn has hidden from the American audience the deadly devastation that the war has caused.
Even the Indian media has failed to report the war news objectively. Most of the newspapers have been swamped with a blizzard of copies from foreign agencies because majority of the newspapers have not bothered to send their own correspondents. Of course, there are exceptions as well. The copies, which the newspapers have been using, are more or less like official handouts from other Western countries.
Nor have the Indian newspapers shown much eagerness to get Iraqi viewpoint, or that of Egyptians or for that matter of the Palestinians. Even Doordarshan is not far behind in dutifully reproducing the Cable News Network visuals as well as visuals supplied by other news agencies. Thus, the Indian media has also fallen hook line and sinker to the clever and slick media disinformation campaign.
This is not to say that Iraq is not engaging in media disinformation campaign. For the Iraqis, the war began sometime in March or even earlier when the West, under the influence of Israeli-Zionist controlled media, especially the US began to portray Iraq under President Saddam Hussein as the future regional power that would be hostile to Western interests. The Iraqis were convinced that the Western media were wrongly highlighting the fact that Iraq would harm the Western interests through its control of Gulf oil supplies that are vital to West’s industrialized society.
Iraqi media saw the war as an attempt by US to help Israel achieve its Zionist goal of a ‘greater Israel’ covering both banks of Jordan and dislodging Saddam Hussein as he was the only obstacle to that objective. Among the other Iraqi disinformation stories was that of the multinational troops deliberately bombing residential areas, cultural sites, hospitals and religious shrines in Iraq including the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
The main themes that the Iraqis have been harping on are that Iraq is strong and the multinational coalition is week, and that Israel is a part of the multinational coalition. In addition, repeatedly the Iraqis have alleged that the Allied forces are committing crimes against Islam and atrocities in general and that the US is at odds with various countries in coalition. Indeed, much has been made of the new world information order. However, the current disinformation campaign and the biased coverage of Gulf war has made mockery of whatever positive features the new information order stood for. It is high time that the world media especially the so-called ‘free media’ stuck to its task of objective reporting rather than become mere tools of new ‘international disinformation order’.