Opinion: Military media wars ultimately backfire

To what extent are wars now fought out in the media? When an Israeli ‘surgical' strike killed dozens of children last weekend, TV reporters immediately announced that this could be a ‘turning point' in the conflict, the premise being it was a PR catastrophe for Israel.

Almost every newspaper's front page showed an image of a rescue worker cradling a dead little girl in his arms. The world was shown in the starkest terms what "precision bombing" really meant.

One could also see the ramifications spreading around the world. No doubt the White House held a crisis meeting to discuss the damage to America's reputation in openly supporting a country that had committed the atrocity. One immediately sensed secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's body language and messages change subtly.

Even more cynically, it was suggested – by some in Israel and elsewhere – that Hezbollah had deliberately fired rockets from a heavily populated area; that it was using these families as "a human shield".

The concept of winning "hearts and minds" as well as the military operation was first used half a century ago – during British efforts in Malaya and by the US in Vietnam – but has now progressed to the point where a single military exercise is judged on its media ramifications.

On the one hand this could be seen as a good thing, with media scrutiny such that no atrocity can go unreported. On the other hand there is a danger of humans becoming pawns in the media war "strategy".

The BBC was recently scrutinised for alleged bias during the Middle-East conflict, but came out largely with a clean bill of health, showing the pressure journalists are under within this PR war game.

Let us not forget that journalists try to get to the truth. It is military machines that are responsible for the death and suffering – and the images that emerge reflect well on neither side waging war.

danny.rogers@haynet.com

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