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Military and Media: The Two M’s of Modern Warfare

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by Aisha Saeed

“Military” and “Media” are two opposite terms on the vocabulary spectrum and are well-established fields in the 21st century’s academic and practical front. Evolution in a methodological application is an inescapable change, yet a need, which due to the transformation on technological front has aided the development of all fields in the world. Each generation has been a mother to the next, landing the military in the sphere of “Fourth generation Warfare” and the brink of “Hybrid Warfare”.  However, due contestation should be given to the fact that weapons used by the military, particularly in the developed countries would be next generation (fifth and sixth generation). Description of what has been termed as the “Fourth generation Warfare”, incorporates the lesser lethal concept of “mind games”. As an established non-state actor, media is a two –masked entity offering two different shows in this age of globalization and information. Firstly as a loyal, justice and truth-seeking subject which roots from the basics of good journalism – whose duty is disseminating rightful information to the public in general.  Secondly as a hypnotist- a master of slowly altering the psychological makeup of the masses, capable of stirring the wheel at will. It is a cog between the three elements in 4GW theory: the State, the Military,  and the Public.  “Information” in the current age and situation of global and local politics is an asset , any entity that manages to stay a step ahead in acquiring the “information” , rules the other. Deep integration of the media in the society has changed the dynamics of political functioning of states and their militaries. The two M’s – Military and Media fight two integral battles on two fronts: the land and the minds. Military is the right arm of a state and owes to protect its country when demanded, the media, however; has the option of either supporting the state narrative and its military endowers or practice the complete opposite ,both are also partially dependent on each other’s actions  and abilities as well.  Militaries of developed states have contemplated different strategies to counter their media or utilize the magnetic power to achieve the set missions.  Similar to the concept of having a governmental department or an official spokesperson, the military like any other organization has a department to engage with media and the public also, mostly referred as department of Public Affairs ( PA).  This designated medium manages the direct military-media interchange of information; mostly filtered by commanders in charge to provide general information. “Information Operations”  (IO) is used in various forms: one being a usage of “specific  information” by the military to cause a reaction or harm to the opponent after calculating the possible  repercussions of deception or wrong information. “ Military Perception Management” in the 21st century has become a priority for  the military of any country. Any measures taken need to have a far-sighted calculation by those who design the communication strategy that tends to vary in two dimensions : “Defensive IO” and “Offensive IO”.

Developing countries lag behind in grasping this non-lethal concept of warfare and despite having a wing to tackle the military –media interface, most battles are fought in a conventional manner. Influential states sustain powerful military buildups but given the case of Pakistan, which is still under the label of a developing country, the state has a military which is coping with the shift in the generation of warfare on media- military front in an amateur manner, hence lacking long-term strategies to counter swings of the media and other non-state actors. Media’s critique on the military has often been a heated exchange, but certain events like the past Indo-Pakistan clash–have seen a different yet a rare picture of unity in the two M’s. The Span of media freedom and expansion in the Western world has an older history, hence, over the time it has grown as an influential component in the society , giving the involved militaries the time to understand and formulate tentative measures to subdue or infect it the desired mission or narrative to aid their objectives.

Pakistani media, which is still in its nascent stage, despite the superficiality of it being a giant industry, started off in 2002- 2003 under Musharraf’s regime. The time frame of media freedom in Pakistan clashed with the period of world facing the aftereffects of 9/11 attack. Two chapters for Pakistan had started, one with the rise of media without a thoughtful monitoring system, second with Pakistan’s political decision to join the US against its war on terror. With sleeper terrorist organizations using Pakistan as a hiding base, Pakistan witnessed a devastating aftermath of its decision by allying with the United States. Major attacks within the country were covered by the media, often becoming a source of leaking details about sensitive search operations in the race of “exclusive” news.  Requests to refrain from excessive coverage by the military were received as censorship threats by the media groups such as Geo news , which later attempted “Aman Ki Asha” campaign  . The National security of Pakistan above all was to be maintained by media channels at all times, though this was not taken well by the opposition and few media campaigners  , it applies in even the most democratically active states despite the harshness. After the ending of Musharraf’s regime, independent media openly criticized their liberalized lobby and were quick to join the new government in giving the military a tough time, where certain clauses of PEMRA have put to silence the unreasonable objections by the media. The reason was to cause more harm than good to the military image. Pakistan’s war on terror had already divided media’s grudge further but the restoration of democracy was just the beginning of media’s fast-paced rouge involvement in state matters.

Military’s information wing; the Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR), fights the non-combatant aspect of the fourth generation warfare but largely remains to offering a more “defensive IO”. Reasons for such an approach revolve around the “required” information exclusive only to the military of the country. Examples pertain to counter-terrorism operations and extensive activation of the military duties in wake of natural disasters. Such data which can only be acquired through the military can be termed as “military exclusive” and which cannot be obtained through the journalistic investigation, making media rely on the information given by the ISPR solely. Military takeovers in Pakistan have stained the image of the military in the mindset of many and till date remains a visible one, hence the perception in general by the advocates of civil rights and freedom are acting an agent in keeping the stain evident. This fact is maneuvered to engineer the negative narrative which Pakistan military has to face on multiple fronts, giving the enemies a way to infiltrate their propaganda. Since media fails to grasp the concept of “responsible” reporting, information in form of news connected to national and security aspect, in particular, is floated into the public, putting many matters in jeopardy. It also emphasizes the flaw that media is prone to the addiction of seeking information and releasing it without consideration of national security in the name of transparency and media freedom. Just like “freedom of speech is good, misuse a crime” Pakistani media in pursuit of seeking information often crosses the red line by not acting rationally. Pakistan as a nation has active internal and external threats which thrive on the “information” that can be molded to build an offensive narrative.  Since the entire political and military structure of Pakistan differs from other nations in various manners, concepts such and “’CNN Effect” or “Manufacturing Consent” fail to completely offer an explanation to the military-media confrontation but they can be replicated to form a suitable Military Communication Strategy (MCS).  Militaries that prevail in leading the “information” front have already won half the battle making information a magical bullet.  If the media has the right to ask questions, the military as a state’s organization can choose not answer certain questions. Information in the hands of a sensible organization like the military offers a narrative defense, unlike in the hands of the media which release information at will; becomes a threat. Certain incidents of “breaking” news by the Pakistani media have at least compromised two levels of military (or warfare) planning: Operational level and Strategic level, indirectly favoring the adversaries of the State. National projects like CPEC, which require military security particularly in Baluchistan demand minimal discloser of information, particularly to the media both for the sake of long-term sustainability of the project itself but also of any delegates working on the project. “Controlled IO” is an idea that suggests a controlled but truthful disclosure of information by the military over a certain matter but in a suitable environment. The divide within Pakistan on the notion of military and its role also hinders ISPRs from advancing to the “offensive IO” , this divide and critique both by few elements with the public , government and the media in particular ; makes military give undue yet defensive statements.

Given the current situation the Pakistani military has engaged on other fronts of a narrative building, still coping with event –to –event basis prevents it from formulating a viable MCS. Media will remain to be a cog regardless of the shift in the paradigms of warfare. Pakistani military MCS though operational with active military –media interface of ISPR requires an MCS plan that can be applied to numerous situations of different types but both the military and the media lack the trust to put in a joint effort. Protection of national security is a clause which binds media in any country to responsible reporting. The Military also needs to maintain and monitor the media’s extent of involvement in the matters of state functioning. Expertise needs to be building in the military and media alike through mock stimulation of events pertaining to the national dilemma, war or ongoing operations, where set guidelines should be given out with the promise of “time appropriate” information release.  If the military can convince the media of the country, it can generate enough information to build a narrative that will favor the military in the long term.

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