It carries the same old slogans: “The information domain is a battle space and it is one in which [the U.S. Afghan command] must take aggressive actions to win the important battle of perception.”
This not the first of these multimillion-dollar Pentagon PR contracts. Nor is it the first one that potentially could run for five years. By the way, that would it expires in 2016, two years after our combat troops are scheduled to have left.
Face it. The overall U.S. record of influencing media in a foreign country — particularly those where U.S. troops have fought — is not very good, and recent attempts by U.S. military units have been even worse.
Take Iraq, for example.
“Despite massive infusions of cash from the U.S. government for media development — more than $500 million by most estimates — the country’s media future does not look promising on several fronts.” That’s a finding from a study, “Iraq’s News Media After Saddam,” released last month by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) of the National Endowment for Democracy.
The Pentagon’s pre-invasion planning for Iraq’s media, in a post-Saddam environment, was about as off-target as the rest of the effort from Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department team. There was to be a $2 million Rapid Reaction Media Team for six months, which would serve as a bridge between the old state-controlled journalism and the new, free one. Another $49 million would be thrown in to start radio and television stations and run them for a year.
The team’s mission would be to “inform the Iraqi public about the USG [U.S. government]/coalition intent and operations; stabilize Iraq [especially preventing the trifurcation of Iraq after hostilities]; and provide Iraqis hope for their future,” according to a Jan. 16, 2003, Pentagon white paper that was released years ago by the National Security Archive, a research group at George Washington University.
Eventually, the Pentagon spent $200 million between 2003 and 2005 on Iraq media, initially through U.S. contractors who had technical but no media background to run what had been Saddam’s television, radio and newspaper operations. In 2004, the U.S.-supervised media outlets were turned over to the interim Iraqi government. Today the stations and newspaper are euphemistically referred to as “Maliki TV,” after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
As for the rest of the Iraq media, the CIMA study found many “have become mouthpieces for ethno-politico factions with the potential to inflame sectarian divisions that have led the country to the brink of civil war.”
Tight Baghdad government control of the media, ironically, is traced back to the time when former ambassador L. Paul Bremer ran the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and signed off on CPA Article 14 in June 2003. Titled the “Prohibited Media Activity,” it sought “to prevent the misuse of media to promote violence or undermine public security generally.” It even allowed “on-site inspection of media organizations without notice in order to ascertain compliance . . . and seal off any operating premises.”