Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
TFF PressInfo 62
April 15, 1999
Dr. Jan Oberg
"Most people around the world probably think that war and media are
separate. When there is a war, the media tell us about it as
objectively as they can under the often difficult circumstances. But
in today's information society, every war is two wars: that on the
ground and that in the media. Weapons communicate and
communication is a weapon. We must ask what interests determine what
we are told and what we are not told? The history of warfare makes
one thing abundantly clear," says TFF director Jan Oberg, "namely
that we can safely assume that we are not told the truth, the whole
truth and nothing but the truth. In NATO's war with Yugoslavia,
there is reason to paraphrase Hamlet- 'there is something rotten in
the state of the media.'
This is what you can read about the use by the United States of
information in times of war:
"Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations planned to convey
selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to
influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and
ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organizations,
groups, and individuals. PSYOP are a vital part of the broad range of
US political, military, economic, and informational activities. When
properly employed, PSYOP can lower the morale and reduce the
efficiency of enemy forces and could create dissidence and
disaffection within their ranks. There are four categories of
military PSYOP; strategic, operational, tactical, and consolidation.
PSYOP, which are used to establish and reinforce foreign perceptions
of US military, political, and economic power and resolve."
Other countries work with PSYOP, too. Let's remember that when we
watch television. And let's ask some questions when we do:
IS THERE A LARGER STORY BEHIND WHAT WE SEE ON THE
Balkan conflicts not only have a Balkan but also a world order
dimension. For instance, did you ever hear about the National
Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 133 entitled "United States
Policy towards Yugoslavia" labelled "SECRET SENSITIVE"? A censored
version was declassified in 1990 and largely confirmed NSDD 54 from
1982 the objective of which included "expanded efforts to promote
'quiet revolution' to overthrow Communist governments and parties"
while integrating the countries of Eastern Europe into a market
WAR REPORTING - BUT NO CONFLICT JOURNALISM
Media tend to focus on today's 'story.' But there is a larger frame
in which the events take place. To facilitate a broader
understanding - in contrast to simply justifying what happens - we
need a frame of reference in time and space, analyses of the root
causes behind the events. Any conflict holds an incompatibility, some
attitudes and some behaviour. What you see on the screen is mainly
behaviour. What the conflict in Kosovo is about has been forgotten by
WHO ARE VICTIMS OF WHAT? ARE SOME SUFFERING LEFT UNTOLD?
Conspicuously lacking from the media coverage is the suffering of
Serbs, Gorans, Turks, Montenegrins, Yugoslavs and gypsies, the
roughly 15% of Kosovo's citizens who are not Albanians. Likewise, we
are given few opportunities to empathize with the 8-9 million people
whose country is being devastated under NATO's 6000 bombing sorties
(as of April 14). We hear that the West is not at war with the
people of Yugoslavia and if civilian targets are hit, it's a
deplorable mistake. It should be journalistically interesting to
learn how those at the receiving end see it.
WHAT IS A MILITARY TARGET AND WHAT IS A CIVILIAN TARGET?
This distinction is made repeatedly, but it's a myth that the two can
be distinguished. Sure, when you bomb oil depots, bridges or
telecommunication facilities these are objects that the military
needs. But civilians need them too. How far can we go in undermining
a military machine without actually destroying, slowly but surely, an
WHO SELECTS THE NEWS WE GET AND DON'T GET?
Given the use of very advanced intelligence technologies and various
types of human presence in the conflict area, there is hardly any
doubt that SOME people know much more than we media consumers are
told. What appears on the screen is only the top of the information
iceberg. For instance, there have been constant rumours about NATO
use of depleted uranium bombs against tanks. If so, what are the
effects on human beings and the environment?
PROPAGANDA IS STEPPED UP ON ALL SIDES IN TIMES OF WAR.
Could it be that there is a pattern to media events such as these:
the day after Albania declares that it is willing to place all of
the country at the disposal of NATO, news reach us that Yugoslav
troops have gone over the border. Was that really the first time? If
there was a serious loss of lives on NATO's side, would we be told
immediately, given the sensitivity surrounding the loss of Western
WHAT ARE THE SOURCES OF THE INFORMATION NATO
Some Western leaders and NATO's spokesman, Jamie Shea, repeatedly
refers to 'information on the ground' and tell us that some of it
comes from KLA leaders. Robin Cook just repeats the number of
refugees in Kosovo that he has been told by KLA's Jakub Krasniqi. At
the same time, Western media consistently do NOT publish information
coming from the Yugoslav government - for instance the very detailed
lists of civilian destruction - presumably because it is considered
non-reliable or controlled by Milosevic, or serving particular
political purposes. But can we really exclude the possibility that
the same applies to KLA-based information and NATO's public relation
in this situation?
UNCONFIRMED NEWS FUELS DESIRED SUSPICION
Journalists now make extensive use of non-confirmed news and even
though they tell us that this or that is not confirmed, their
audiences are manipulated to think 'there is no smoke without a
fire' and they may not notice if, much later, the 'story' or 'the
report' are proved to have been false.
WHO INTERPRET THE EVENTS FOR US? WHO ARE THE EXPERTS?
Predominantly military expertise, statesmen, ministers and diplomats
- from NATO countries. Fewer political experts, Balkan experts, and
virtually no psychologists, peace and conflict researchers,
professional mediators and never independent intellectuals. American
think tank scholars are invited to comment on American foreign
policy. No media has provided Yugoslav think tanks or scholars an
opportunity to participate in a dialogue.
THE QUESTIONS ASKED ARE VERY POLITICALLY CORRECT.
The typical press conference or briefing goes like this: a spokesman
runs the show, selects the questions, give them a ready-made answer
- they are NEVER taken by surprise and have eloquent formulations
about everything - and says: Next! Since March 24 the general
representatives of the free press have NOT questioned the content of
the Rambouillet Dictate, they have NOT challenged the morality of
NATO's policy, they have NOT highlighted its destabilizing effects,
they have NOT highlighted the discrepancies between the stated goals
and the consequences of NATO's policies. They are shown photos and
videos of targets bombed and told that this is a tank or this is an
ammunition storage - and NONE of them asks: I can't see that it is,
how can we be sure? Others raise directly helpful questions such as:
how can the West prevent Yugoslavia from importing oil?
90% OF ALL INFORMATION COMES FROM MILITARY SOURCES
Military authorities have a virtual monopoly over virtual reality.
Pictures from Aviano base and interviews with brave pilots are more
frequent than coverage of the civil destruction. Beyond CNN, there
are surprisingly few independent journalists in the region. The
uniformity of their 'stories' is staggering to come from a press that
should be free to have many angles and many different stories.
VIOLENCE AS SUCH IS NOT PROBLEMATIZED
When a black-and-white image of the parties has been established,
media promote the view that there is a 'good' violence combating an
'evil' violence. The West's moral justification was that, over one
year, 2000 people had been killed, 250.000 people displaced and that
45 people were killed in Racak. After three weeks of bombing, at
least 350 civilians have been killed, an additional 500.000 have fled
and NATO remains 'determined' to reduce the welfare of 8-10 million
Yugoslavia citizens for years.
THE WORDS THEY USE
Judge for yourself: Was Rambouillet 'negotiations'? Was the document
a 'peace' plan? When civilians are killed it is called 'collateral
damage.' To 'neutralize' or 'take out' an object means to destroy
it. Belgrade's media are 'censored' or 'controlled,'ours are not.
WHAT YOU DON'T HEAR A WORD ABOUT IN THE MAIN(STREAM)
1. The economic costs and who will pay
Remember how you heard again and again that the United Nations was so
expensive and could not make peace in Croatia and Bosnia? American
investment bank, Lehman Brothers, calculates one month of bombing to
3 US bn $, Financial Times quotes sources that estimate 20 bn US $
to be closer to reality. That is, the sheer military costs. Add to
that the price of the destruction in human and material terms - and
what it will cost to reconstruct the region later - and care for
refugees, compensate neighbouring states etc. Probably we are talking
about 1-2 bn $ per day - not to speak of 'opportunity' costs: what
welfare could have been purchased for that sum instead?
2. The interests of the military-industrial complex
Huge economic interests are at stake. War is another way of doing
research and testing weapons and strategies. Capitalism's productive
overcapacity is absorbed through the destruction-reconstruction
cycles that wars go through.
3. The role of intelligence services and their infiltration in
various 'civilian' missions and NGOs.
4. Whether there could be more NATO casualties and more NATO planes
shot down than we have been told up till now (6000 sorties implies a
5. The independent peace proposals coming out of experienced peace
and other civil society organizations such as the International
Peace Bureau, from peace and conflict research networks such as
Transcend or TFF. You will see few and short reports from the
hundreds of demonstrations for peace and Stop the Bombing around the
Western world. But you will hear about it when EU/Germany presents a
'peace' plan (April 14) which is cobbled together of what NATO can
accept does not address the roots causes, is unacceptable to Belgrade
and otherwise devoid of creativity. So why is it highlighted? Because
it comes from governments, from the same circles that simultaneously
need to legitimate the air campaign: "We actually hate to bomb, but
we do it for peace..."
"The Soviet leadership consistently deceived its own people and
allies about the dangers of nuclearism, about 'real' socialism and
its consequences and about its activities in Hungary,
Czechoslovakia, Poland, Somalia, Afghanistan and Chechenya. And only
later were KGB's murky activities confirmed.
The American leadership consistently deceives its own people and
allies about nuclearism, 'real' capitalism and its consequences for
the poor of the world and about its activities in Vietnam, Chile,
Nicaragua, the Filippines, Iran, Haiti, Panama, and Iraq. And only
later are CIA's activities confirmed. I don't think for a moment that
NATO's war against Yugoslavia will be any different. What is at stake
now for the West in the Balkans is MUCH bigger than what was at stake
in the above-mentioned conflicts. Thus, the media warfare, the
perception management and the PSYOPs, will be much more massive,"
ends Jan Oberg.
Dr. Jan Oberg Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team to
the Balkans and Georgia
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S- 224 57 Lund, Sweden Phone +46-46-145909 (0900-1100)
Fax +46-46-144512 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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