"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda"
- George W. Bush
During our last session in 'contemporary theory and issues in Public Relations' at the University of Westminster, we discussed the role of the media and governments while being at war. Our first assignment seemed quite simple to execute: create a basic strategy which justifies country 'X' to invade country 'Lalaland'. I sat down and started to think which strategy I should take. I thought about creating a demonized image of 'the enemy', which seemed the easiest way to justify a war with a country. Once I created a strategy that was based on safety concerns, I continued to think about specific tactics that would justify my strategy:
"We received documents from our secret services that indicated that 'Lalaland' is training and supporting terrorist organizations", "Internal documents of 'Lalaland' suggest they are preparing for a nuclear war", "Evidence proves that 'Lalaland' is violating basic human rights and it is our responsibility to change that", "'Lalaland' is in preparation of attacking us!". These were just a few quotes and tactics I spontaneously came up with when thinking about how I would deal with the media and so justify the invasion of 'Lalaland'. After all, safety is the most important concern we all have, right? These simple and obvious tactics promote the basic aspects of propaganda:
- Use of selective stories
- Demonizing the 'enemy'
- Provide facts by 'experts'
- and most importantly: repeat, repeat, repeat!
So once I had good reasons to invade 'Lalaland', I thought about how I could continue my strategy without being investigated by the media too much. "Imagine you are at war and all reporters that investigate the issue are all locked up on an island and you provide them with the news you choose", our teacher suggested during the session and asked us if we thought that this scenario would be possible. Obviously, in an age of democracy and transparency, the majority of the class just giggled and said that this hypothetical situation seemed like from some bad Hollywood movie. What we experience next was something none of us expected.
We continued the class by watching the BBC documentary 'War Spin', which explained how the military spun various stories of the war towards the media. The prime example of the documentary was Jessica Lynch, who supposedly got captured by Iraqi soldiors, tortured and almost killed, before the U.S. military rescued her. This fabricated story was then used as a selected story for the public to demonize the enemy even more. What shocked me most was the fact that reporters were locked up in a 'media center', about 500 miles away from the action, being 'fed' with information from the military, who initially started the war. Ok, so now we have these reporters who truly believe in the fundamentals of democracy, the right to report honestly to the public and have a freedom of speech, and all the information they get is from the military? Seems highly unreliable to me to be honest, but this is exactly what happend during the invasion of Iraq.
When I think about how much fabricated/modified gossip goes around my social environment with people being able to find out the truth quite simply (social networks), then I really do not want to know how easy it is to virtually spin any story from a country that is approximately 4700km far away from here, with limited investigation by the media and manipulated reports by the military. The invasion of Iraq was largely based on false statements and wrong reasoning, based upon strong propaganda and limitation of media investigation.
Clearly, this unethical act taught us all something. We need to have less boarders and more access to information. Reporters should be able to investigate in anything they want and make serious issues like war as transparent as possible. There is nothing we can change about what happend and the only thing we can learn from the situation is to be critical of military reports and make stronger use of new media and 'alternative' information sources such as WikiLeaks. Let's hope that the recent strong development in social media allows us to gain information from various sources and that the 'citizen journalist' will gain more power than the military in informing the public.
Learn more about the propaganda used during the Iraq war by watching the video "Control Room - Propaganda of the Iraq War"