Tue, Jan 13, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The Pentagon's solution to criticism: blow up hostile media

The US considered the control of information -- from both friend and foe -- during the Iraq war to be as important as any specifically military strategy

By David Miller  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The new TV service for Iraq was paid for by the Pentagon. In keeping with the philosophy of information dominance it was supplied, not by an independent news organization, but by a defense contractor, Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC). Its expertise in the area -- according to its Web site -- is in "information operations" and "information dominance."

The SAIC effort ran into trouble. The Iraqi exile journalists it employed for the Iraq Media Network (IMN) -- at a cost US$20 million over three months -- were too independent for the Coalition Provisional Authority. Within weeks, occupying authority chief Paul Bremer introduced controls on the IMN. He also closed down some Iraqi-run newspapers and radio and TV stations. According to Index on Censorship, IMN managers were told to drop the readings from the Koran, the vox-pops (usually critical of the US invasion) and even to run their content past the wife of a US-friendly Iraqi Kurdish leader for a pre-broadcast check. The station rejected the demands.

But this did not stop Bremer and further incidents culminated in a nine-point list of "prohibited activity" issued in June last year.

Bremer would reserve the power to advise the IMN on any aspect of its performance, including matters of content and the power to hire and fire staff. Thus, as Index on Censorship notes "the man in absolute authority over the country's largest, richest and best-equipped media network is also his own regulator and regulator of his rivals, with recourse to the US Army to enforce his rulings."

Attacks on al-Jazeera continue. In September last year the Iraq governing council voted to ban reports from al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya on the grounds that they incite violence. As evidence of this, one member of the Iraqi National Congress who voted for the ban noted that the TV stations describe the opposition to the occupation as the resistance.

"They're not the resistance, they are thugs and criminals," he said.

But the Iraqi people appear not to share this view of al-Jazeera. Those with satellite access to al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya are more likely to trust them over IMN. As the experience of IMN shows, achieving dominance is not always a straightforward matter. This is precisely why the strategy for "unfriendly information" is to "deny, degrade and destroy."

David Miller is editor of Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq

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