Info War: the battlefields of the propaganda war

Dr Yaseen Ashraf

It has been estimated that Keralites spend Rs 441 crore annually on buying newspapers. If this is right, the newspaper expenditure of all Keralites for a single day is Rs 1.20 crore. The annual fees for cable television is Rs 500 crore; that means Rs 1.37 crore daily. Around 40 lakhs of copies of nearly 20 newspapers reach 60 lakh families daily. Nearly half crore houses have television; among this at least 32 lakh houses have cable connection. Seventeen FM stations. Mobile phone (calling expenditure of one year is Rs 2000 crore), SMS, blogs, Twitter, other social networks. All these have made our exchange of information a big business. How is it possible for these cultural products and information which are widely exchanged not to affect our life? Not only Keralites, the whole world is part of this media web.

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The field of media has witnessed surprising changes within the last 10-20 years. It was not too long ago when there was no mobile phone, computer or the digital technology – that time is clear in the memories of today’s elder generation. But only that even the memory of that time looks like wonders about some ancient period due to the expansion of the new technologies. The most developed zone of the new era is indeed that of the media technologies. As Roger Fiddler pointed out in the book ‘Media Morphosis’[1], it is not just that every new invention in the field leads to big changes. But rather, the interval for new inventions is shrinking and advancements are taking place on a very high pace. It is said that language developed as a way of communication about one lakh years ago. Written language came into being 10,000 years ago. Printing, digital language, broadcasting, microchip, computer, internet etc are the contributions of the last 1000 years; a majority of these belong to the last 100 years. And new experiments are being made as though on a weekly basis in the field of communication now. The world has gone far ahead of the ‘Third Wave’[2] suggested by Alvin Toffler. The universal vehicle of information exchange shoulders not only the conveyance of news but all activities. That is what is suggested by terms like tele-trade, tele-banking, tele-work, tele-services, tele-training, tele-medicine, e-banking, e-services, e-governance etc. Linda Low has written about the fifth wave of technology[3] which is carried forward by microelectronics.

The power and strength that these technological advancements provide the humankind is not small. The convergence of technology completely changes the fields ranging from education to public relations. The convergence of the different fields in which human beings carry out activities also is taking place. The sign indicated by the meeting of the four C’s (Capital, Corporation, Consumer and Communication) and the four parallel I’s (Infrastructure, Investment, Individual Choice and Information Technology) is clear: the exchange of information as well as wealth and production-consumption are not separate. Today information is business; media are business institutions; media institutions are investments. Not that capital investment was not needed earlier. But earlier, journalism was a mission and investment was the support necessary. I am talking about the change from Swadeshabhimani [4] to the Times Of India. Vakkom Moulavi, the owner of Swadeshabhimani, stood aside providing investment support leaving the editor Ramakrishnapilla to work freely whereas the TOI removed the post of the editor and placed the marketing manager in the chair of the editor.

Technical advancement is increasing in the media. The consumer society of the news also is being developed in pace with the arrival of the e-paper and e-reader. While it took several decades to bring the number of newspaper readers to five crore, only 38 years were needed to have that number of radio listeners. Television viewers became half a crore by 13 years. Internet users reached the number in just four years. ‘Twitter’ must have crossed that limit in just one year.


‘Professionalism’ also is growing along with this technological development in the media field. 24×7 news are now part of our daily life. Everything from war to terrorist attack reaches our room in a moment. At the same time, credibility has undergone a big leakage. A piece of news took weeks to find place in the newspaper a century ago. And now, the visual media is not late even for a second. But even the direct visuals of today do not have the credibility of the printed news of yore. Lack of credibility is faced more by the western media which is far ahead in the matter of technological development and professionalism. Even Britain has found place in the list of eastern and western countries in which kingdoms are afraid of its people getting informed.

English writer George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ was about the totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. Due to that reason itself, it was given wide popularity especially in the west. [5] However, Orwell had also written a preface (foreword) to the work. It criticized the censorship and controls on literature prevailing in Britain at that time. It took 30 years for that preface, which was written in the 1940s, to be published. John Milton’s Areopagitica strongly criticized the prevention of the freedom of expression in Britain. That was in the 17th century. Nor is it different in the 21st century. British playwright Harold Pinter was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. He made a wonderful speech receiving the Prize. [6] It strongly criticized the invasions and hunts carried out under the leadership of the United States.[ 7] But the British media organization BBC (TV channel) discarded that speech.

The notorious MyLai massacre took place in Vietnam on March 16, 1968. American soldiers cruelly tortured and killed 600-700 people of a village. There were 649 western reporters in Vietnam on that day. But not a single newspaper published the news. [ 8 ] The outside world came to know about the incident when the investigative report of Seymour Hersh appeared in the ‘Life’ magazine later. It came out only recently that the US, which unnecessarily dropped atomic bombs on Japan towards the end of the Second World War, had taken many precautions to prevent the news about the sorry consequences of the bombing from coming out and that the media had followed those rules obediently.

The method of the media is to select only what they need from a list of events and this is a result of the different interests behind the conveyance of news. One argument was that the consumers (readers/ listeners/ viewers) would get enough choice of selection when running the media became a business activity. But what happened is something else. One, media institutions merged with each other and became monopolies. Today, only 7-8 institutions create 95 percent of the news. There are monopolies among the news agencies (AP, Reuters) also. There is little diversity for the news that comes through them. Two, the newspapers and channels, which receive news from other sources and provide to the people, twist and hide a lot on their own.

It has been proven that the US made the way easy for the invasion of Iraq by propagating lies through the media. This has still more prefaces. It is that people have not yet clearly known that they were lies. The sample surveys held in the US later showed that majority of Americans believed the lie that there were weapons of mass destruction and the Al Qaeda in Iraq. The interests of invasion create their own justifications. And the media carry them.
The market also has its own justifications. Reporters receive payments for providing information. [10] However, Shubhranshu Chaudhury, while writing his experiences, penned in April 2009 about some who received payments for hiding information. It is said that the journalists of Chattisgarh earn Rs 5000 monthly for not writing about the deeds of the Salwa Judum, the anti-Naxal mercenary force. These journalists get paid by some source, may be under the directions of the Salwa Judum leader Mahendra Karma. Journalists get this ‘dumb-payment’ in another village also – by the Essar Company. The work of the journalists was to keep away from writing about the company’s cruelties towards the people as well as to publish the reports cooked up by some intelligence officer for the company. There were many newspapers in Andhra Pradesh which received money and created news during the election time.

Intelligence or Non-Intelligence?
Official institutions and intelligence sources are a permanent presence in our media. It is not very difficult to know whether the reporters are using them or they are using the reporters. Reporters’ having to depend upon the official sources has been counted by Noam Chomsky and Herman as one of the big drawbacks of the media. The US developed the method of embedding journalists in Iraq and elsewhere, looking at the gains of carrying out official propaganda through the media. Though not termed ‘embedded’, the same is what is going on in Kashmir and the north-eastern states in India. Newspapers do not directly investigate the incidents; rather they only give the official version as such. Though it has been known that several of the ‘encounter deaths’ were organised killings, the newspapers continue to relay them without any hesitation. They have decided not to investigate about the terrorists and naxalites who were ‘killed in encounters with the police’. It was relatives and local people who first raised doubts about the recently controversial Ishrat Jahan-Javed killing, Batla House ‘encounter’ killing etc – the media came only afterwards.

It is not to be thought that only small scale, local newspapers depend highly on the official authorities. Even ‘The Hindu’ newspaper which is well ahead in reliability and professionalism give cock and bull stories as reports. The reports of Praveen Swamy propagate the official version without any doubt or checking, in such a way as destroying the reliability of the paper. When the local people raised doubts about the Batla House ‘encounter’, the National Security Advisor MK Narayanan immediately came forward justifying the police. That is his job. But Praveen Swamy did not hesitate to take up Narayanan’s arguments without any further investigation and jump into the zone of propagation. Swamy fought against the Batla House neighbourhood in such a way as ‘Keep quiet oh you who saw it, I who heard it shall say’. How apt is what Upton Sinclair said! “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

George W Bush began the modern crusade in the name of ‘War against Terror’ in such a way as to victimize Muslims globally. The method: propaganda through the media, and then direct attack/ invasion. Its repercussions are taking place in India too. Here the media are increasing the scope of state terrorism by taking up the official version. This will destroy democracy itself. Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate Tamang has found that Ishrat Jahan and others were killed. Detailed reports on the matter are now coming in ‘The Hindu’, Frontline etc. [11 ]But it would be nice to read once again the reports by Praveen Swamy in The Hindu in 2004, when the murder took place. The reliability of the anti-terror expert of The Hindu will shed like leaves. The wonder lies in some other point – The Hindu published such reports even though they do not conform to even the basic principles. Why? For what?

The anti-Islam nature and propaganda of the media pave way for a big cultural invasion. The world of media is moving towards a single culture. Even though it has the support of the western Christianity, it is basically controlled by the market. A sense of being apolitical, trivialisation (murdochisation) surrounds the media. News cease to have its politics – they tend to be mere entertainment. ‘The news that you demand’ is a programme of a news channel. When all pieces of news become ‘breaking news’ and everything becomes very special, nothing becomes important at all. I remember a headline I read – ‘Elephant stamped a trainer to death when Aishwarya and Abhishek were watching’. Which is news – that a man died by the stamping of an elephant or that film stars witnessed it? This way of being apolitical which helps see both in the same magnitude is a big enough elephant that can stamp the whole society and culture. Here beauty markets will be news; but farmers’ suicides will be discarded. The rising of Sensex becomes a poster headline; and the police’s encounter killings mere ‘filler news’. The widely-spreading approval and cultural demoralisation will be celebrated as liberalisation; those who are tortured in secret prisons and hunted by fake allegations cease to become news. The war of civilisations is taking place in the field of exchange of information. The cruelty of violence has set out to destroy the values of civilisation and multi-culture.

An artificial culture which is not of truth but rather of fake creations is gaining strength now. What all should appear in the media is decided on the basis of certain undeclared principles. A few have already decided what news, freedom, beauty, health, development and culture are. From international deals to vulgarities, everything enters in through this green channel. For a clear example, the biggest industrialists of today include weapons manufacturers and war traders. These companies have stakes in big media institutions, and some media houses and weapons manufacturers have common members on their director boards. For example, four of the top ten media corporations share board director positions with the major defence contractors including—William Kennard: New York Times and Carlyle Group; Douglas Warner III: GE (NBC) and Bechtel; John Bryson: Disney (ABC) and Boeing; Alwyn Lewis: Disney (ABC) and Halliburton; Douglas McCorkindale: Gannett and Lockheed-Martin. [11] At one time or other, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton and Carlisle Group, all major US weapons manufacturing companies, have had (and continue to hold) affiliations at the level of director boards with media including The Washington Post, AP news agency, The New York Times, Disney and ABC. The meaning of the word journalism has changed now. Not only cinema and cartoon, but CDs/DVDs and pornographic movies also come under the purview of this business. Not just war and media businesses are merging , Power too is together with them. Many of the high officials in the US administration have been associated with these businesses in different times.

The uni-cultural invasion carried out by the media on language, knowingly or unknowingly, apparently aims at Islam. Islamic terms are becoming abusive words. The vulgarity of ‘love jihad’ has got the signature of not just the media but the court also. At the same time, several other usages also are being developed which paints invasion white. ‘Collateral damage’ is the mass killing of civilians during war. ‘Pre-emptive strike’ is attacking without paying heed to any laws. The wall that Israel is building to divide the Palestinians is only a ‘Security Wall’. The consumers of the media who are forced to take in such terms-usages and images are, for the same reason, also the victims of the media. Nor are they just consumers. As Jean Kilbourne wrote in his book ‘Deadly Persuasion’, readers and viewers are mere market for exploitation, goods to be sold to big companies and authorities.

Is a media culture possible in which man’s interests are given prominence beyond the caste-class of common people, and viewers? This is a grave question that the victims of today’s media methods should seriously raise. Just asking simply is not enough. Because, this is a matter of survival. The world is in the midst of an Info-war. Failure is not an option.

This article appeared in the 60th anniversary edition of ‘Prabodhanam’ weekly of Kerala. Translation from Malayalam by Najiya O. of

4. Swadeshabhimani – nationalist newspaper published by Vakkom Abdul Qader Moulvi during the colonial time. The owner Vakkom Moulvi gave complete freedom for his editor Ramakrishna Pilla to work. Later the newspaper was sealed by the British when it began to be a headache for both the British as well as the ruling kingdom in Travancore (south Kerala).
10. 2004 Frontline –
2004 The Hindu –
2009 – The Hindu –