War Spin

January 24, 2010 at 12:31 pm (Public Relations) (, , , , )

The documentary on BBC on war spin showed the ups and downs of the American version of Iraq war media management. It is a common practice to centralize and control the media in wartime.  It happened many times look at the Vietnam War, or the World War I and II. These were the first wars that have been depicted by photography, spoken about in the radio and broadcasted on TV. These wars and the Iraq war have the variety of media and technology in common. Of course the Iraq war now shows how difficult it is to actually control the media at a time where technology advanced so far that everything is reported real time and not always by professional journalists.

As a PR practitioner it has become increasingly difficult to manage the media and undoubtedly there were techniques that have gone wrong. For example the ‘Central Command’ in Doha, were journalists where gathered to listen to briefs and watch the war on TV.  It might seem a good idea from the PR perspective, because  press conferences are important but journalists do need to be respected and given valuable information. In Doha it seemed like instead of bringing them close to the war, the army pushed them away from it. Have the press officers tried to vary their information  take more care to give the truth (maybe not the whole truth, but no deliberately misleading information) would have helped. It was not a good idea to report on advances in Basra that haven’t taken place yet. They should have anticipated that with the journalists (embedded or not) out there the truth would leak out. Not to mention bloggers, ordinary people who would definitely share their experiences online.

It is frustrating not to be able to report on successes in war but this was not the best way to do it. This brings me to another issue. When the soldier Jessica Lynch was rescued from Iraq, it was said that she had been held hostage by Iraqi military. Later a different story unfolded, according to which she was in no danger of that kind, she had accident wounds, proper hospital treatment and  no captivity. Maybe instead of using her story to demonize the Iraqi fighters, it would have been a better idea to show how Iraqi civilians are worth saving because they are humane and hospitable. I agree it is a less emotionally appealing spin, but it would have saved the American spin doctors and the military from the humiliation caused by the emerging stories of the opposite version.  Those who try to control the media need to understand it. For example it was very likely that journalists will do their best to find the hospital, talk to the people involved and witnesses (because surprisingly Lynch was reportedly unable to remember anything).

The lesson of the day really is: know the media, the people who are likely to report and try to avoid embarrassing yourself and who you are representing through making some avoidable mistakes. Especially if you happen to work in the battlefield of the media.

Image: flickr.com

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