Thursday,24 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)
Thursday,24 May, 2018
Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Agenda setting

Media, war and politics have always been melded together. But never so closely as in today’s world, writes Galal Nassar

اقرأ باللغة العربية

As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it is obvious to the “global” citizen that the media is a key tool in any political, military or even economic battle. All battle theories discuss the notion of agenda setting, or in military terms “preparing for fire”, to groom public opinion by winning hearts and minds through propaganda and psychological wars to shape human behaviour by using imagery and symbolism, whether the images are authentic or doctored, to achieve the goal of a complex communication process.

Recent intense media coverage of the human catastrophe of the Rohingya people in Myanmar is the groundwork for a certain direction that one party wants to go, especially since the suffering of this minority is historic, constant and a blend of sectarian and ethnic disputes. However, intense coverage makes it clear to close observers that something is in the works other than empathy or upset about a human tragedy where the world has once again failed to intervene, irrespective of political and imperialist motives and ambitions.

Another Afghanistan — that is the aim of intense activity on social media to drum up Muslim support around the world, especially the youth, militarise their feelings and prepare them emotionally for a new round of recruitment under a new label different from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The goal would be to avenge these weak people in an area on the border with India and China, under the banner of Islam and jihad while collecting donations for arming and training these “new jihadists”. It also serves the relentless goal of fanning fury against the leaders of Arab and Muslim countries who remain silent about this human calamity, and pave the way for the rise of political Islam and armed groups under the banner “Islam is the solution” since all other options are exhausted.

This is the same method used every time to lay the groundwork for military and political action, and now the media has become a way to measure the efficiency of a regime or government, and a forum to promote ideas, commodities and services offered by mostly multinational companies around the world in an attempt to control communication and media relying on technical innovation in this field. In World War II, radio was the instrument for propaganda and preparing armies for fire. In Vietnam, television and photography played a role in running the war from start to finish. Then CNN and satellite channels came along during the Gulf War, followed by the war in Afghanistan where Al-Jazeera was born, paving the way for political Islam currents and became a platform for jihadist ideology. Finally, the war on Iraq, the sacking of Baghdad and occupation further emboldened the role of satellite channels, the rise of the Internet and new social media.

In between events, there was the invasion of Panama in December 1989, under the banner of US democratic values in a media campaign led by George Bush Sr to prepare international and US public opinion to accept the military invasion of a sovereign state. Agenda setting was also applied through media attention on Bosnia-Herzegovina at the expense of events in Somalia, when Washington decided to enter the Bosnian war in Europe to embarrass Moscow’s ally and fortify its influence within NATO after murmurs to form a European army and decrease reliance on US military power. At the time, Washington decided to teach Europeans a media and military lesson to show them that only it can save Europe, and they must stop thinking about diverging from Washington’s policies. The war was portrayed as a bloodless war through air strikes on targets and facilities where there were no people and with minimal deaths in the ranks of the US army and its allies.

Then media attention and propaganda turned its attention to Somalia to pave the way for a US military invasion and justification for crimes and violations of all values and laws. At the time, CNN could set the priorities of the global citizen daily by deciding his interests through watching news and current events based on the order of coverage on this American news channel that serves US economic, political and security interests. Other global news channels follow in its footsteps until today and took heed of lessons from the Cold War, when all forms of black ops propaganda and psychological wars were used, whether soap operas, films, songs, Coca-Cola and fast food, as an alternative way of life to a closed society in the Eastern bloc. There were also directed radio broadcasts, proxy wars, and an extensive lexicon about freedom, democracy and human rights.

This process is not complete without clear and sharp polarisation of the elite, intellectuals and media figures, who promote ideas they acquire or learn, such as globalisation and its ideology, from articles or television interviews that form an image linked to a Western reality, whether in the US or Europe, rather than the reality in their own countries. The result is one failure after another, and solutions that crash on the ground to the advantage of radical and fundamentalist currents that are promoted as the solution for all problems and issues, ironically with the help of the West that should be supporting liberal thinking. But this is the grimness of war and politics and their media tools. The years preceding and following the “Arab Spring” are all clear evidence of this.

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