One of the first rules of battle in today’s world of war is to turn a nation against it’s own armed forces. When you are able to convince the citizenry of another country that they can’t trust their military to defend them, you have made conquering a nation much easier and significantly less bloody. In today’s information and propaganda war, this is what our enemies are doing to Pakistan.
A quick glance at the headlines or breaking news on any media outlet will tell you that we, as a nation, are caught in a propaganda war to turn our citizens not only against the military, but everything Pakistani. This propaganda war breaks down into two clear channels – confirmed media reports and rumor-mongering. Let’s understand the difference between the two first.
Confirmed media reports are news stories that are backed up with verified information, comments from government/military sources and evidence that can be found on other channels. Rumor-mongering is where news stories start before they become confirmed media reports. A rumor is where tabloid journalism was founded and allows the media will create a story from an event to heighten panic, embarrass a public figure or push an agenda that can be carried for a specific period of time, even while other channels are reporting a completely different story. Rumor-mongering is also what happens in our nightly current affairs programs when politicians make statements that are really opinions presented as facts.
If you believe…
If we are to believe what we are being told, the Pakistan Army is responsible for initiating the cross border firing in Kashmir; the ISI is kidnapping innocent people from around the country and torturing them; the Army is unable to defeat the TTP on the battlefield; that the Army is backing segments of the extremist/jihadi elements attacking Pakistan’s innocent civilians and armed forces; the ISI is targeting journalists for retribution for articles that have exposed the army’s covert activities and, my personal favorite, the army is disappearing, torturing and dumping political workers to send a message to the certain political forces they can’t find agreement. Let’s not forget any foreign visit by any member of the armed forces top brass is a drain on the national exchequer, while the politicians are victims of an over ambitious military command that wants to collapse “democracy” and take the reins of the country again.
These are the topics that we have heard and seen over the past 20 months in our own media from the leading television personalities to the opinion makers that take up column inches in the domestic newspapers. What is disappointing is that many Pakistanis on the street believe these stories to be true, without any concrete evidence being provided by any media house. This is how easy it is to convince a nation that the military can’t be trusted.
This is further compounded by the open commenting policy, or should I call it the pro-India discourse, on our domestic newspaper websites. A quick glance through any comments section on dawn.com and tribune.com.pk, or their respective Facebook pages, will show that the bulk of the comments are from Indians deriding our national policies, armed forces and nation as a whole. What is completely beyond belief is the fact that our domestic papers have a more liberal policy towards allowing Indian-origin, anti-Pakistan comments than their Indian media counterparts. The Indian media heavily regulates the comments that appear on their websites and goes to a great extent to keep pro-Pakistan commenters from appearing on their news stories. The opposite is true with our media organizations where you will find more anti-Pakistan commenters spreading hate, distrust and falsehoods created in their own country’s media than pro-Pakistani ones. This is especially true with articles about terrorism, extremism and military affairs.
Why do our newspapers allow these comments to appear? They don’t like the Pakistan army either. It is no secret that the media, which has been largely controlled by the democratic forces in the country, found their freedom under the “dictatorship” of General Pervez Musharraf. It was during his term in office that the electronic media expanded, digital media was launched and print media found its place as an opinion maker in the Pakistani society. Prior to Musharraf, there was state propaganda PTV and a handful of newspapers that would tell a story in their morning editions.
Now, “developing stories” are viral within minutes of being posted on the different formats, which has given the media houses extensive power, and less responsibility, to run stories without proper verification or confirmation. These same “developing stories” in the international media are handled like ticking time bombs until the stories are verified.
Thus, the Frankenstein that was brought to life with analysts, experts and politicians taking turns opining on a story that has no value to the people of Pakistan, is unleashed on a Pakistani public to be consumed as vital confirmed information.
The counter-narrative that isn’t
Our problems don’t end with the negative stories and commenters on our domestic websites. The media also works very hard to develop, implement and project a counter-narrative that fits the position that they want the country to believe. That counter-narrative has been used to project support for a judiciary that has failed to deliver, rally support against military courts, project confessed killers as holy do-gooders and present the enemy as the victim of a ruthless army. This is the counter-narrative that is being presented to the citizens as part of the information and propaganda war.
Our citizens are being feed an unverified, unsupported 24/7 stream of information without any explanation by experts and analysts, rather the media houses have created their own experts and analysts that bring no real knowledge of the situation on ground, nor an unbiased opinion, to elaborate and convince the public that the story they are broadcasting is the truth and nothing but the truth. Even if they correct, or change their position based on verified information, thirty minutes later.
How do we stop it?
So what can we do to stop this information/propaganda war? It’s fairly easy. Turn off your television. Stop buying their newspapers. There are thousands of places in today’s media rich world that you, as a citizen, can get and engage with the person who is providing the information.
There is no country of the world where the military is demonized in favor of the enemy. There is no country of the world where the enemy is projected as the victim or do-gooder. No, the rest of the world stands by their country, protects its interests and assets and doesn’t stop calling the enemy an enemy until the battle is won.
We, as citizens, must force the media to turn back to defending and projecting a positive image of Pakistan for Pakistanis because the entire world is screaming against the nation. It’s only right that our media stand by Pakistan.