The information war about Kosovo

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 62 – April 15, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

“Most people around the world probably think that war and media are separate. When there is a war, the media tell us about it as objectively as they can under the often difficult circumstances. But in today’s information society, every war is two wars: that on the ground and that in the media. Weapons communicate and communication is a weapon. We must ask what interests determine what we are told and what we are not told?

The history of warfare makes one thing abundantly clear,” says TFF director Jan Oberg, “namely that we can safely assume that we are not told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In NATO’s war with Yugoslavia, there is reason to paraphrase Hamlet – ‘there is something rotten in the state of the media.’

This is what you can read about the use by the United States of information in times of war:

“Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations planned to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. PSYOP are a vital part of the broad range of US political, military, economic, and informational activities. When properly employed, PSYOP can lower the morale and reduce the efficiency of enemy forces and could create dissidence and disaffection within their ranks. There are four categories of military PSYOP; strategic, operational, tactical, and consolidation. PSYOP, which are used to establish and reinforce foreign perceptions of US military, political, and economic power and resolve.”

Other countries work with PSYOP, too. Let’s remember that when we watch television. And let’s ask some questions when we do:

 

• IS THERE A LARGER STORY BEHIND WHAT WE SEE ON THE SCREEN?

Balkan conflicts not only have a Balkan but also a world order dimension. For instance, did you ever hear about the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 133 entitled “United States Policy towards Yugoslavia” labelled “SECRET SENSITIVE”? A censored version was declassified in 1990 and largely confirmed NSDD 54 from 1982 the objective of which included “expanded efforts to promote ‘quiet revolution’ to overthrow Communist governments and parties” while integrating the countries of Eastern Europe into a market economy.

 

• WAR REPORTING – BUT NO CONFLICT JOURNALISM

Media tend to focus on today’s ‘story.’ But there is a larger frame in which the events take place. To facilitate a broader understanding – in contrast to simply justifying what happens – we need a frame of reference in time and space, analyses of the root causes behind the events. Any conflict holds an incompatibility, some attitudes and some behaviour. What you see on the screen is mainly behaviour. What the conflict in Kosovo is about has been forgotten by the media.

 

• WHO ARE VICTIMS OF WHAT? ARE SOME SUFFERING LEFT UNTOLD?

Conspicuously lacking from the media coverage is the suffering of Serbs, Gorans, Turks, Montenegrins, Yugoslavs and gypsies, the roughly 15% of Kosovo’s citizens who are not Albanians. Likewise, we are given few opportunities to empathize with the 8-9 million people whose country is being devastated under NATO’s 6000 bombing sorties (as of April 14). We hear that the West is not at war with the people of Yugoslavia and if civilian targets are hit, it’s a deplorable mistake. It should be journalistically interesting to learn how those at the receiving end see it.

 

• WHAT IS A MILITARY TARGET AND WHAT IS A CIVILIAN TARGET?

This distinction is made repeatedly, but it’s a myth that the two can be distinguished. Sure, when you bomb oil depots, bridges or telecommunication facilities these are objects that the military needs. But civilians need them too. How far can we go in undermining a military machine without actually destroying, slowly but surely, an entire society?

 

• WHO SELECTS THE NEWS WE GET AND DON’T GET?

Given the use of very advanced intelligence technologies and various types of human presence in the conflict area, there is hardly any doubt that SOME people know much more than we media consumers are told. What appears on the screen is only the top of the information iceberg. For instance, there have been constant rumours about NATO use of depleted uranium bombs against tanks. If so, what are the effects on human beings and the environment?

 

• PROPAGANDA IS STEPPED UP ON ALL SIDES IN TIMES OF WAR.

Could it be that there is a pattern to media events such as these: the day after Albania declares that it is willing to place all of the country at the disposal of NATO, news reach us that Yugoslav troops have gone over the border. Was that really the first time? If there was a serious loss of lives on NATO’s side, would we be told immediately, given the sensitivity surrounding the loss of Western lives?

 

• WHAT ARE THE SOURCES OF THE INFORMATION NATO DISSEMINATES?

Some Western leaders and NATO’s spokesman, Jamie Shea, repeatedly refers to ‘information on the ground’ and tell us that some of it comes from KLA leaders. Robin Cook just repeats the number of refugees in Kosovo that he has been told by KLA’s Jakub Krasniqi. At the same time, Western media consistently do NOT publish information coming from the Yugoslav government – for instance the very detailed lists of civilian destruction – presumably because it is considered non-reliable or controlled by Milosevic, or serving particular political purposes. But can we really exclude the possibility that the same applies to KLA-based information and NATO’s public relation in this situation?

 

• UNCONFIRMED NEWS FUELS DESIRED SUSPICION

Journalists now make extensive use of non-confirmed news and even though they tell us that this or that is not confirmed, their audiences are manipulated to think ‘there is no smoke without a fire’ and they may not notice if, much later, the ‘story’ or ‘the report’ are proved to have been false.

 

• WHO INTERPRET THE EVENTS FOR US? WHO ARE THE EXPERTS?

Predominantly military expertise, statesmen, ministers and diplomats – from NATO countries. Fewer political experts, Balkan experts, and virtually no psychologists, peace and conflict researchers, professional mediators and never independent intellectuals. American think tank scholars are invited to comment on American foreign policy. No media has provided Yugoslav think tanks or scholars an opportunity to participate in a dialogue.

 

• THE QUESTIONS ASKED ARE VERY POLITICALLY CORRECT

The typical press conference or briefing goes like this: a spokesman runs the show, selects the questions, give them a ready-made answer – they are NEVER taken by surprise and have eloquent formulations about everything – and says: Next! Since March 24 the general representatives of the free press have NOT questioned the content of the Rambouillet Dictate, they have NOT challenged the morality of NATO’s policy, they have NOT highlighted its destabilizing effects, they have NOT highlighted the discrepancies between the stated goals and the consequences of NATO’s policies. They are shown photos and videos of targets bombed and told that this is a tank or this is an ammunition storage – and NONE of them asks: I can’t see that it is, how can we be sure? Others raise directly helpful questions such as: how can the West prevent Yugoslavia from importing oil?

 

• 90% OF ALL INFORMATION COMES FROM MILITARY SOURCES

Military authorities have a virtual monopoly over virtual reality. Pictures from Aviano base and interviews with brave pilots are more frequent than coverage of the civil destruction. Beyond CNN, there are surprisingly few independent journalists in the region. The uniformity of their ‘stories’ is staggering to come from a press that should be free to have many angles and many different stories.

 

• VIOLENCE AS SUCH IS NOT PROBLEMATIZED

When a black-and-white image of the parties has been established, media promote the view that there is a ‘good’ violence combating an ‘evil’ violence. The West’s moral justification was that, over one year, 2000 people had been killed, 250.000 people displaced and that 45 people were killed in Racak. After three weeks of bombing, at least 350 civilians have been killed, an additional 500.000 have fled and NATO remains ‘determined’ to reduce the welfare of 8-10 million Yugoslavia citizens for years.

 

• THE WORDS THEY USE

Judge for yourself: Was Rambouillet ‘negotiations’? Was the document a ‘peace’ plan? When civilians are killed it is called ‘collateral damage.’ To ‘neutralize’ or ‘take out’ an object means to destroy it. Belgrade’s media are ‘censored’ or ‘controlled,’ours are not.

 

• WHAT YOU DON’T HEAR A WORD ABOUT IN THE MAIN(STREAM) MEDIA

1. The economic costs and who will pay
Remember how you heard again and again that the United Nations was so expensive and could not make peace in Croatia and Bosnia? American investment bank, Lehman Brothers, calculates one month of bombing to 3 US bn $, Financial Times quotes sources that estimate 20 bn US $ to be closer to reality. That is, the sheer military costs. Add to that the price of the destruction in human and material terms – and what it will cost to reconstruct the region later – and care for refugees, compensate neighbouring states etc. Probably we are talking about 1-2 bn $ per day – not to speak of ‘opportunity’ costs: what welfare could have been purchased for that sum instead?

2. The interests of the military-industrial complex
Huge economic interests are at stake. War is another way of doing research and testing weapons and strategies. Capitalism’s productive overcapacity is absorbed through the destruction-reconstruction cycles that wars go through.

3. The role of intelligence services and their infiltration in various ‘civilian’ missions and NGOs. 

4. Whether there could be more NATO casualties and more NATO planes shot down than we have been told up till now (6000 sorties implies a certain risk). 

5. The independent peace proposals
They proliferate from experienced peace and other civil society organizations such as the International Peace Bureau, from peace and conflict research networks such as Transcend or TFF. You will see few and short reports from the hundreds of demonstrations for peace and Stop the Bombing around the Western world. But you will hear about it when EU/Germany presents a ‘peace’ plan (April 14) which is cobbled together of what NATO can accept does not address the roots causes, is unacceptable to Belgrade and otherwise devoid of creativity. So why is it highlighted? Because it comes from governments, from the same circles that simultaneously need to legitimate the air campaign: “We actually hate to bomb, but we do it for peace…”

“The Soviet leadership consistently deceived its own people and allies about the dangers of nuclearism, about ‘real’ socialism and its consequences and about its activities in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Somalia, Afghanistan and Chechenya. And only later were KGB’s murky activities confirmed.

The American leadership consistently deceives its own people and allies about nuclearism, ‘real’ capitalism and its consequences for the poor of the world and about its activities in Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, the Filippines, Iran, Haiti, Panama, and Iraq. And only later are CIA’s activities confirmed. I don’t think for a moment that NATO’s war against Yugoslavia will be any different. What is at stake now for the West in the Balkans is MUCH bigger than what was at stake in the above-mentioned conflicts. Thus, the media warfare, the perception management and the PSYOPs, will be much more massive,” ends Jan Oberg.

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