Asymmetrical Media

I am honored that Stephanie Guttmann, the author of “The Other War”, found my blog. In her comment she asked what I was seeing as far as the “whole asymmetrical media as a weapon of war thing”. I will attempt to answer her question but I must state my caveats.

I must be very clear that what I am about to write are my opinions and mine alone. There are other servicemen (US, Canadian, British) who agree with me but I only speak for myself. I am not representing the position of the US military or of NATO. These are general observations only. For more detail I would much rather discuss this face to face.

Here we go.

A little over half of my time in Afghanistan was spent in Oruzgan province. There was one government run FM station in Tarin Kowt (the provincial capitol). No local television stations however news from Kandahar and Kabul along with international news are available via satellite dish. Any newspapers in the province were printed in Kandahar but I never personally saw them. Information traveled face to face. If the Taliban wanted to send a message in Oruzgan province it was delivered personally and then the sat phone net did the rest. Consequently, any message we wanted to get across to the populace was delivered face to face as well and backed up with a project. What we had to contend with were the lengths that the Taliban went to deliver their message. It is pretty tough to counter a message delivered with a beheading.

My experience in Kandahar province was far different. Kandahar City had radio, television, and print media. There is a thriving local press that wants to report stuff. They reported everything. For example, the Taliban would call and tell their media contact that they just blew up a tank. They would then call us and ask us if we lost a tank. We would tell them that we don’t have any tanks in theater and furthermore we haven’t lost any vehicles at all. The press will turn around and report that the Taliban claimed to have destroyed a tank and that the Coalition claims to have all of their vehicles. No editorializing, no spinning, no rooting around for “facts” or “quotes” to write a story with a particular angle.

When my Canadian Army boss first started working with the local press, they bluntly told him that they would relay anything he wanted to say. My boss told them that the press doesn’t work that way. They can report whatever they want as long as they fact check first. They weren’t used to that. The Taliban and the communists before them centrally controlled Afghanistan’s media. This was a unique opportunity to influence in a positive direction a free and independent media.

The local press knows what the stakes are. During Op Medusa the Taliban threatened the local press with death. In typical Stalinist fashion the Taliban would claim one thing when the reality was far different. Our press releases reflected reality and the Taliban had no way to counter except with threatening to kill the messenger. My boss and me took that as a positive indicator for the effectiveness of Op Medusa.

Afghanistan is not suffering what Israel is going through yet. The situation that Guttmann describes in her book “The Other War” needs an international press that actively aids and abets the enemy. The situation also needs a local media that is willfully cooperating with the enemy.

We had a pretty good read on the international media. The Public Affairs folks knew the personalities involved and knew what kind of pieces they would write. All I cared about was that they got the facts straight which the local media was obsessive about (in a good way). To paraphrase the late Tip O’Neil, all media is local. As long as the local media was interested in getting the facts straight, the international media will follow suit.

So Stephanie, I am honored that you found my blog. I hope you enjoyed reading it and that this latest post answered some of your questions. If you want to know something specific, please let me know and I will try to be of assistance.

By the way, I am posting this from Ramstein Airbase, Germany! Third leg home is almost complete. Two to go after!!!!

CPT Thomas C. Nield aka “NightHawk”


Anonymous Stephanie Gutmann said...

Hi Captain Nield! Thanks for your answer. What you say about Kandahar City is pretty encouraging!

have a good trip home...

19 October, 2006 03:07  

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