BACK TO : MILITARY-MEDIA RELATIONS
War and the Media by Prof Taylor
WAR AND THE MEDIA
Philip M. Taylor
University of Leeds
This lecture was a keynote address delivered at a conference on military-media relations
at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1995.
War, to put it quite bluntly, is good for the media business. Despite the excessive costs of sending foreign correspondents to distant lands based in expensive hotels using up expensive satellite equipment and air time, armed conflict between two or more warring partners is precisely the type of event on which the media thrives. Wars produce a stream of human stories of tragedy and heroism; they involve the deployment of troops and weapons in a manner which makes for exciting copy and pictures; they invoke heightened emotions of patriotism, fear, anger and euphoria; and they involve winners and losers. When a nation is at war, newspaper sales increase, television and radio ratings go up, while extremes of popular and media support can reach new heights of intensity - usually at the expense of dissenting or critical voices whose democratic opposition and disagreement are translated into forms of near treachery.
Short wars are are obviously best in terms of the human and financial cost, but even boring long wars can be punctuated with the kind of dramatic events which can reposition and rekindle their significance as 'headline news'. If only the media were just simple observers of war. Like it or not, in this information age, they have become participants and sometimes their coverage can even provide a catalyst which produces dramatic shifts in political and military decision-making - as with mortar attacks on Sarajevo's market or with a dead American airman being dragged through a warlord's camp in Somalia. This prompted the then British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd in September 1993 to assert categorically that 'the public debate is run not by events, but by the coverage of events' . The question therefore which has exercised much political and military planning since the Crimean and, more recently, the Vietnam War is whether the media are good for the business of waging war.
Once a war breaks out, it is not always immediately apparent that very quickly two wars start taking place: what might be termed the 'real war', in which real people die, and what I shall call 'media war', in which the realities of war, such as death and destruction, are both distant and distanced from a non-participating mass audience not just by such factors as official censorship but indeed by the very nature of the media as mediator. Real war is about the sounds, sight, smell, touch and taste of the nasty, brutal business of people killing people. It frightens and appals most people, so much so that they would be repelled by its reality. Media war, however, is literally a mediated event which draws on that reality but which, in and of itself, is confined to merely an audio-visual - and therefore inherently desensitizing - representation of it. Some theoreticians have labelled this phenomenon of war as a 'pseudo-event', that is an illusion of war's realities disseminated, even manufactured, for the edification, almost in a gruesome way the entertainment, of a mass audience which can never experience its horrors at first hand but which participates in war as a spectacle, from a distance, via the media, almost to the point where the war becomes a manufactured figment of their imagination.
I am not going down that route. Suffice to say that, undoubtedly, any media image of war is very much a flawed window on to the battlefield. What is perhaps surprising is that anyone should see it as otherwise.
In wartime, the media in fact serve a variety of roles. With information, they can convey a sense of the fighting to a public divorced from its actual horrors or, with entertainment, they can provide a sense of relief or escape to a public more directly involved, such as, for example, in a blockade or bombing campaign. 40 minutes isn't enought which war and the media interact directly in the form of war reporting and its wider impact. It hardly needs saying that because they mediate information about the progress of a war to the public, the media can serve not just as providers of 'straight' news and information but also as agents of propaganda and disinformation. This is because the very processes by which war reports are gathered at source, packaged by journalists and disseminated to a wider audience are subject to a wide spectrum of influences ranging from battlefield censorship to broadcasting standards of taste and decency in the newsrooms far beyond it. In between they are subjected to such fundamental factors as where they are allowed to be physically located, self-censorship, the means by which information is communicated from the war zone to the outside world, deception and disinformation campaigns, official information policy and propaganda. These are indeed the pollutants which constitute that overworked idiom: the fog of war. 'There are times', wrote Martin Bell, 'when journalism seems almost privileged, like having a front seat at the making of history' but even someone of Bell's calibre realises that it is best left to historians to tell the wider story . The problem is that historians often compete at a disadvantage with journalism in its so-called role of providing 'the first rough draft of history'; in other words, by the time the historians become involved, that first draft has been so widely disseminated by the mass media that it becomes extremely difficult to dislodge the pollutants that infected the mainstream of popular knowledge in the first place.
So it is important to stress that whatever impression we gain of a given conflict via the media is not necessarily an accurate representation of what is actually happening while it is happening. The gap between war's image and war's reality remains extremely wide throughout its duration. The process by which this image-reality gap is created therefore needs to be understood from the starting point at which the information is gathered right the way through to its final point of reception by an audience.
During that process, a third type of conflict also breaks out, namely the conflict of interests between, on the one hand, the military whose job it is to fight the war and, on the other, the media whose job it is to report on it. The former invariably disagrees with the latter on how this can be best achieved, and vice versa. The priorities of those responsible for fighting war and those responsible for reporting it are obviously quite different, epitomised in a sense by the difference between the equipment they carry. New technology may have replaced the sword and the pen with rocket launchers and portable camcorders but soldiers are still trained to kill while reporters have progressively appeared to make that task much harder by virtue of the publicity they afford to an activity which no longer seems as 'glorious' or as 'natural' as it had once been. Because the media are felt to be largely responsible for exposing the brutalities of conflict to a population that once seemed happier to regard wars as events where individuals and nations earned their place in history, they have been invested with a critical capacity which supposedly fosters anti-war sentiment. If this is true - and there is much to question in it - then the camcorder has indeed proved mightier than the cruise missile. Yet if this is more assumption than fact, then there is a need to understand the fundamental dichotomy between real and media war in order to ascertain the source of such myths and to identify why and who the investors in such assumptions are.
Real wars are multi-faceted, complicated and brutal events in which the participants themselves rarely have the full picture of what is going on while it is actually happening. An individual soldier, for example, might know what is happening in his segment of the battle area, but he is at a loss when it comes to events perhaps even only a few hundred yards away. Not even the commanders have every piece of information at their fingertips although the struggle to maximise that situation is at the heart of modern planning in 'command and control' warfare. We cannot therefore reasonably expect the camcorders to do something which the commanders can not.
If truth, as is frequently asserted, is the first casualty of war, then one question we need to ask is: who is lying? Without getting into post-modernistic theories about the relationship of 'truth' to 'reality', we do need to appreciate that no one journalist can report the whole truth, just as no single news story can cover the wider picture. Each constitutes one piece in the mosaic. It may be a truism, but quite simply, if the journalist is absent, there is no story - at least until someone tells him or her about whatever has taken place. Then it has to be deemed 'newsworthy'. Equally if two or more journalists are present at the same event, they will not necessarily report on it in precisely the same way. The emphasis, manner, tone and insight each journalist brings to bear on a given story is very much dependant upon the personality, experience, education and location of that journalist. For example, a film camera can only 'see' what it is pointed at; whatever is going on beyond the angle of vision does not constitute part of the image. The decision to point the camera at x and not y is a human decision based upon judgement derived from professional training and experience. Even the decision about when to start the camera rolling is a judgement call. Moreover, two cameras standing side-by-side, regardless of whether they are rolling at the same time or not, will create a variation. The operator will also be working for, or on behalf of, a news organisation which has particular institutional interests and emphases which may affect the angle adopted for the story. And if bullets or bombs are being fired at the camera operator, the human temptation to take cover is invariably greater than the journalistic imperative of keeping the camera rolling. There does exist footage by cameramen who didn't take cover, some of whom were killed in the process. The resultant images are dramatic precisely because they are the exception to the norm. Robert Capa, the famous war photographer, was fond of saying that 'if your picture wasn't any good, you're not standing close enough' . For most journalists, however, being read is better than being dead - and it is worth noting that perhaps Capa's most famous photograph in Life magazine, that of a Spanish civil war soldier 'the instant he is dropped by a bullet through the head in front of Cordoba' was in fact that of a soldier stumbling in training. That small detail aside, the essential point is that news stories, as distinct from graphic images whether faked, lucky or otherwise, have a life-span considerably shorter than that of human beings.
A news report, then, is by definition merely a slice of the action. The BBC's John Simpson has put it thus: 'It is rather like an account of a football match written from a seat near one of the goals. Whenever the play was down at my end I had a superb view of it. But when it moved to the far end of the pitch I only knew what was happening when I heard the crowd roar' . One might retort that the journalist could always jump on to the pitch to follow the play, but on a battlefield that is a very dangerous business. Bullets and bombs do not discriminate between military personnel and journalists. Once in uniform, for example, the journalist has in the eyes of the enemy clearly aligned himself with the soldiers whose uniform he shares. He thus becomes a spy. It is for this reason that journalists are frequently prepared to exchange freedom of access for personal protection and, thus protected, they have aligned themselves with the forces of the enemy. They accompany the troops sharing a good deal of their risks in order to get the best possible slice of the action they can. In the eyes of the enemy, this merely exposes them as propagandists for the other side.
Other simple operational factors can affect the nature of news reports. First is the often overlooked fact that most modern battles are fought at night. There is indeed footage of the battle of El Alamein, for example, but when one looks at it one sees merely a black screen punctuated by flashes of blinding artillery fire with momentary glimpses of the guns' silhouettes. One sees nothing else of the battle itself. Indeed, for the so-called documentary film of that battle, Desert Victory (1943), combat sequences had to be re-enacted for the cameras by troops far from the battlefield - in daylight . Another famous piece of battle footage, the going over-the-top sequence of British troops leaving a trench with one soldier falling back apparently killed in the 1916 film, The Battle of the Somme, was in fact faked by the cameraman, Mallins . These examples from the First and Second World Wars are, of course, from the age before hand-held television cameras equipped with night vision lenses. Today, such technology makes news gathering of actual battles technically more possible, but only under certain conditions. For example, camera crews accompanying troops into battle still risk life and limb but they can barely ask an army to stop moving so that they can set up their equipment to get the right kind of shots they are looking for. Moving ahead of the troops to anticipate their movement within their desired angle of vision is obviously out of the question with the enemy around, not withstanding moving into the line of fire of the very troops they are accompanying!
Today, it is also technically possible to transmit information instantaneously from a battlefield using portable satellite equipment. But, once again, that equipment still needs to be set up, the satellite air-time booked, and all the equipment needs to be working - hardly ideal conditions to capture live images of war. For this reason, journalists invariably recognise that their reports will not be in real-time, at least not from scenes of actual fighting, but will rather be recorded packages of the best available pictures combined with voice-over report, usually edited on the spot once the movement of battle has slowed down or stopped. Modern day videotape and portable edit suites allow for this. But how those packages then reach editorial headquarters for consideration varies considerably. Theoretically, a print journalist can call his head office on a satellite phone and dictate his copy verbally. Better still, he can now type his copy on a portable laptop computer connected to a modem and, with a few keystrokes, a 2000 word despatch can be downloaded to a news office in seconds when, just a decade earlier, it would have taken an hour's dictation on whatever public pay phone was nearest to the action. Audio video material can be likewise transmitted. This is all a far cry from the days when a newsreel cameraman, having set up his heavy equipment and filmed his raw footage, would have to beg or bribe someone else leaving the war zone by the fastest available land, sea or air route to deliver his cans of highly flammable nitrate film to his headquarters, whereupon it would be cut, edited and a commentary written by someone else added. Or is it?
During the Gulf War of 1991, a selected band of journalists was granted permission to accompany the coalition forces in to the field to cover Operation Desert Storm. (The Iraqis refused any equivalent access for their 'Mother of All Battles', although they did, uniquely, permit journalists from coalition countries to remain behind in Baghdad once hostilities broke out.) The American, British and French forces - but only those out of 30 contributing nations - formed Media Reporting Teams (MRTs) or 'news pools' consisting of around 50 reporters and crews who would compile their reports for use by the rest of the world's media corps. Although the number eventually rose to about 200 pool reporters, this was but a fraction of the 1500 or so journalists who flocked to the region to cover the war but who instead were forced to stay behind in hotels in Riyadh and Dharhan. 'Now, 1500 is not an unmanageable number, but it is a number that cries out for management' . Apart from the fact that the journalists didn't like this arrangement because it ran contrary to all their traditional professional competetiveness to get a scoop over their rivals, they went along with it because limited and shared access was better than no access at all. Even then, the pool journalists found that, despite all their modern communications equipment, there were still considerable problems in reporting the war. Mischievously, the military minders, the American Public Affairs Officers and the British Public Information Officers, told the journalists not to use their mobile phones because they would 'radiate signals to the Iraqis' , thereby giving their positions away and thus making them all vulnerable as targets. When, during moments of calm, those journalists in pools which permitted them tried to set up their satellite equipment to transmit edited packages, they were told to do so well away from the encampments for the same reason. Although no sensible journalist in a such a position would want to take risks for fear of losing their own life, let alone the lives of the very troops who were protecting him, another game was afoot. Most journalists were unaware of the technical possibilities of their high-tech equipment, especially its interface with military communications systems. Even if the Iraqis had been able to monitor such transmissions, the point was that the military were suspicious of journalists in their midst and wanted to influence the way in which the war was being reported. When, for example, a British television crew tried to escape their minders and transmit copy back to London unsupervised, their transmission was intercepted by an airborne AWACS electronic warfare plane, and they were promptly arrested . The American forces simply refused to permit satellite equipment in their pools, prompting one reporter to claim that 'each pool member is an unpaid employee of the Department of Defence, on whose behalf he or she prepares the news of the war for the outer world' .
Some journalists did decide to break away from this system, the self-styled 'unilaterals', and did manage to get stories which ran at odds to the official line - about coalition troops not being equipped with adequate maps and so on. Some Iraqi troops even surrendered to The Independent's Richard Dowden, Life magazine's Tony O'Brien and photographer Isabel Barnes . But how far such activity contributed to a wider public understanding of the war must remain open to doubt since unilateralist copy often seemed out of synch with the overwhelming unanimity of the official line, creating confusion rather than the clarity they intended. Moreover, the unilaterals were a small minority. Most journalists in the region were only too mindful of the experience of a CBS crew which went missing across the Kuwaiti-Saudi border days after the war began and who spent the next 40 days in an Iraqi prison cell. Only a year earlier, the Iraqis had executed a journalist - Farzad Bazoft of The Observer - who had gone investigating inside Iraq for himself.
The system for getting copy back from the pools for shared use in Riyadh was also fraught with delays. Once journalists in the pools had filed their reports in the field, the reports were then supposed to be taken to Forward Transmission Units, in fact located to the rear of the MRTs, often well to the rear. These Units had direct satellite links with newsrooms around the world. But once allied ground forces, after weeks of preparatory air strikes, moved against the occupying Iraqi forces in Kuwait, their advance was so rapid 'that the system of getting our copy back to the transmission unit's satellite phones 50 kilometres back broke down completely. It was days before London got the first battle reports from the [British] 7th Armoured [Division] and by then the war was virtually over and we had to hurriedly compose retrospectives' . Accordingly, the Reuters correspondent, Paul Majendie, who was attached to the American 1st Armoured Division, felt his assignment had been a 'total disaster' from a journalistic point of view because 'the problem was the totally inadequate method of getting the stories back' . Likewise, Edward Cody of The Washington Post complained that 'you turn over control of your copy to them [the military despatch riders] and they don't care whether it gets there [ie. to the FTUs] or not. It's not part of their culture' . At another level, Colin Wills of The Daily Mirror, found that the minders of his pool with the British 7th Armoured Brigade proved unwilling to improvise, instead relying 'on pressing bits of paper into soldiers' hands and hoping they would get there' , unlike those of the 4th Armoured Brigade who proved willing themselves to drive back to the FTUs and hand in the copy personally.
These difficulties do, however, pale into insignificance when compared to conditions in the Falklands War of 1982. Only 29 journalists and crew were permitted to accompany the Task Force - all British; the foreign media were to be served by the Reuters representative. Even that small number was only agreed to reluctantly by a Royal Navy holding on to its reputation as the 'silent service'. The compensation for media wary service personnel was that the journalists would all be totally dependent upon the navy in two vital aspects: travel to and from the war zone, and communicating their copy from the Task Force back to London. Invariably, military communications took priority, with the result that delays were inevitable. 'Hot news', the lifeblood of modern journalism, became 'cold news' or no news at all. Indeed one report was delayed longer than a despatch had taken took to reach London from the Crimea 130 years earlier.
After the war, the House of Commons Defence Committee which investigated the media coverage conceded that there had been more to censorship than mere 'operational security', namely the 'furtherance of the war effort through public relations'. During the war itself the philosophy underlining this appeared to take the form that late news is no news for the media, which in turn is good news for the military. With some film reports taking three weeks to reach London, the BBC was forced to use pictures from other sources. When Argentinian footage was used to fill the vacuum created by British censorship, the BBC was accused of disseminating enemy propaganda. When footage from British journalists did finally arrive, it had been sanitized by the censors shadowing the journalists with the Task Force.
The eternal tension between the military and the media in wartime is epitomised by the clash of cultures, of secrecy versus publicity. The Ministry of Defence's spokesman during the Falklands War, Ian McDonald, epitomized the traditional military preference for secrecy. The problems emerged when operational deception attempted to employ the media as part of the war efforts. If a public denial served to deceive the enemy, then well and good from a military point of view, but the free media resent this. On this issue, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Terence Lewin, stated:
I do not see it as deceiving the press or the public; I see it as deceiving the enemy. What I am trying to do is to win. Anything I can do to help me win is fair as far as I'm concerned, and I would have thought that that was what the Government and the public and the media would want, too, provided the outcome was the one we were all after .
Similarly, in the Gulf War, the media was used in the campaign to deceive Saddam Hussein into thinking that the coalition was preparing to liberate Kuwait from the waters of the Persian Gulf using a sea-borne assault by the marines. Hence, prior to the ground war, greater freedom to report naval preparations was extended to journalists while greater secrecy was imposed in the desert from which the coalition was in fact planning its main assault. Just as the British had equipped Singapore defences to point out to sea only to see it fall from a land assault in 1942, so also did Saddam's forces gear their heaviest defences on the Kuwaiti coastline only to see coalition forces swing round by land behind them in an enveloping movement behind them. The difference, however, was that in 1991 Saddam could glean intelligence from his enemies' relatively open sources of public information, including global television coverage of daily briefings by coalition spokesmen.
Deception has formed part of warfare since the Trojan Horse but the incorporation of the media into such exercises is a highly dangerous game. If the free media, even patriotic media, discover that they are being used for such purposes, they are likely to distance themselves from the exercise, even from the illusion that they are still operating relatively freely from military restrictions which they are willing to comply with on grounds of safety and operational security. The media may not expect to be told the whole truth during wartime, but they do expect to be told as much of the truth as can be told without jeopardising military operations and the lives of troops. Interestingly and paradoxically, in the Gulf War, some British pool journalists were in fact told of the entire battle plan for the ground war several days before it occurred:
We knew of the entire battle plan a week before the land war started. On a professional level, needless to say, it was very frustrating. To be in the know and not be able to file a word was like being the secret of alchemy and at that same instant being struck dumb 
The BBC's Kate Adie has confirmed this . The time honoured use of the media in deception has been not to tell them what was actually happening in any military campaign until after it was all over so as to prevent the enemy finding out. Traditionally, censorship has rested on the assumption that the media could not be trusted with such information and, for the most part, the media have got used to being told less than the whole truth. Yet the significant departure from this practice in the Gulf War, which would nonetheless alarm many military officers around the world, indicates a growing sophistication on the part of some senior military personnel of the military-media interface. Nor is it a particularly recent phenomenon. General Alexander, who took command on British North African forces in 1942 felt that:
My own opinion is that the press correspondent is just as good a fellow as any military officer or man who knows a great many secrets, and he will never let you down - not on purpose - but he may let you down if he is not in the picture, merely because his duty to his paper forces him to write something, and that something may be most dangerous. Therefore he must be kept in the picture .
In other words on the battlefield, soldier and civilian journalist are mutually dependent. The aims of the respective professions may be fundamentally different, encapsulated by the saying that 'when the military make a mistake, people die, but when the media make a mistake, they run a correction', but they are not mutually incompatible. Co-operation is infinitely preferable to conflict. The use of the media in deception campaigns in the Falklands and the Gulf, the active use that is, can only be done with extreme caution and in such a manner that the media are unaware, or delude themselves into thinking, that they are still observers of war rather than participants within it.
There is a need here now to distinguish between what might be termed 'our wars' and 'other peoples' wars'. 'Our wars' are those which involve 'our troops' possibly fighting alongside 'our allies' against a clearly identified enemy and 'their allies'. 'Other peoples' wars' are different in that outside media coverage of them differs fundamentally in character. This is not to suggest that the media are above taking sides in other peoples' wars, but that there is a greater level of disengagement about the issues involved even though they may invoke a similar emotional response about the human suffering involved. All wars are nasty, brutal affairs but other peoples' wars are about other peoples' business which may have little or nothing to do with 'us'.
'Our wars' are wars of the greatest emotional engagement for the combatants - both military and civilian - involved. There is of course a further distinction between conventional warfare in which civilian participation is limited to observation of the conflict via the media as distinct from actual participation in the form of 'Total War' As such the sense of mutual identification between military and civilian combatant is intensified, as distinct from other types of war in which professional armies consisting of volunteers are watched most intensely by their civilian relatives and friends.
For such people, media coverage of limited wars can be intrusive, which is why there are guidelines in reporting pictures of the dead and injured casualties of war. Opponents of war who criticise the media for 'sanitizing' such images of war miss this critical point. A rule of thumb in the two world wars was to only show pictures of enemy dead; that way, watching relatives could not discover the loss of their loved ones from the media, although they could see that the war was inflicting casualties on the other side. People understand that in war, people die. Whether they want to see it on their television screens is quite another matter
Equally, in 'our wars', the journalist walks a very thin tightrope attached to two cliff edges labelled 'objectivity' and 'patriotism'. His journalistic responsibility to stand back from a story and to analyse it objectively can prove incompatible with his audience's subjective desire to see everyone support the national war effort. Bad news about the progress of 'our side' invariably prompts calls to shoot the messenger. This critical capability gave rise to the birth of modern military censorship. But democracies have evolved during the course of this century cherishing notions of freedom of speech and opinions. In wartime, most people accept the need for some restrictions upon those democratic 'rights' but the issue remains just how far should they go. Should they suppress all bad news in the name of patriotism, even though this often occurs in the name of operational security? Examples of this occurring in the past are numerous. Casualty figures have often been minimised and defeats simply omitted from the public record. Following the retreat from Mons in 1914, the British War Office withdrew the permits of film camera crews while in 1940, while still First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, refused to release news that HMS Nelson and HMS Barham had sustained serious damage . Such instances are only possible when the military are in complete control of information reaching the public domain from the war zone. Modern communications technology has weakened that control, whereas modern political imperatives have increased the likelihood of access being granted to journalists. Access is, indeed, the key to all this. In Vietnam, the media were granted virtually unlimited access to go wherever they wanted to go, at their own risks. Tragically, as a result of war reports that were perceived as being more and more critical, various and ever more controversial ways of influencing the outside perception of a crisis in a manner beneficial to its military-political conduct have evolved since the 1970s: to exclude the media altogether, as in Grenada, to delay their arrival, as in Panama, to make them totally dependent upon the military for their safety, transport and communications, as in the Falklands, or a combination of all these, as in Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
In other peoples' wars, if anything, the role of the media is to make such conflicts more of our own than would otherwise have been the case. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), for example, British Movietone's newsreel coverage of the bombing of Guernica showed pictures of the devastated city under a commentary which ended: 'This was a war, and these were homes - like yours'. The message then was that the aerial bombing of cities - a new and terrifying weapon - was of concern to all citizens of all countries. Despite international efforts at non-intervention in Spain for fear of the conflict spreading, it was clear that Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were all contributing to the civil war. The newsreel coverage brought this home to cinema audiences in neutral Britain and France and prompted some members of that audience to volunteer for the international brigades. This was their way of 'doing something' but most viewers just watched with horror as a European civil war foreshadowed things to come in the Second World War during which Franco's Spain was, ironically, to remain neutral.
Media coverage of other peoples' wars is characteristically less susceptible to censorship by militarily non-participating governments. It is, however, still subject to manipulation by the waring parties. More recently, in another European civil war, the wars of the Yugoslavian succession, attempts to manipulate journalists were endemic in an effort by the warring factions to secure the moral high ground for their cause. Hence, in Bosnia-Herzegovinia, the Bosnian Serbs attempted to portray themselves as the victims, rather than the aggressors - as victims variously of German, Albanian, 'Islamic fundamentalist' but, above all, Croat and Bosnian 'fascist' conspiracies. One might have thought that in a global information environment, it would be much easier than before to verify or discredit such stories, but when international journalists wanted to check for themselves on one alleged atrocity about necklaces made from the fingers of Serbian babies, they were quite simply refused access to the alleged scene. The famous ITN footage of emaciated Moslem prisoners-of-war, which caused an international outrage in 1992, was banned on Serbian TV. Similarly, the Croatians and Bosnian factions were likewise keen to steer the media coverage in their favour, not just within areas under their control but on the international arena as well. The Bosnian moslems, for example, provided increased foreign journalistic access to their civilians on the march from the fallen 'safe havens' of Screbrenica and Jeppa in the summer of 1995 to demonstrate that they, indeed, were the victims in this conflict while Serb protests that they were merely retaliating for Bosnian army attacks (off-camera) were drowned beneath the sea of devastating footage of Bosnian civilian suffering. It took aerial photographs from U-2 spy planes to indentify the likely fate of the captured Bosnian soldiers at Screbrenica.
Regardless of whose war it is, therefore, the question of journalistic access remains critical. If a journalist is not present at an alleged defeat or massacre, it can only be reported second-hand which minimises the impact of the story. The absence of pictures minimises it still further. The converse is equally true. Modern communications technology facilitates increased access to scenes of horror and destruction that would have been inconceivable a century earlier. The ability of the media increasingly to bring home such scenes has widened the arena of warfare beyond those directly involved in or directly affected by the fighting. The media make all wars that they can get access to a matter of wider public concern. This, in turn, makes it all the more essential for the warring parties to control that access because their battlefront is no longer confined to the battlefield itself.
The most effective way of censoring the media is simply to deny them access. But the advent of the war correspondent as a specialised profession made this increasingly difficult to justify, especially as such reporters seemed to be catering for a demand amongst a public whose support for any war effort could only be sustained by catering for the hunger for information. The watershed of the Crimean War was significant in that the public could no longer accept uncritically the official pronouncements of the military spokesmen. An increasingly literate, educated and enfranchised public demanded third-party mediation and the press filled this demand as a watch-dog. This is not without its irony. During the Gulf War of 1991, surveys in the United States indicated that the public was more prepared to accept the announcements of military spokesmen than the versions provided by the press. Because the 1991 audience could see those spokesmen live on television in the comfort of their living rooms more than 8000 miles from the scene of fighting, the military were actually by-passing the media's traditional role established since the Crimea as intermediary between soldier and civilian. The same surveys indicated a greater trust in what the military spokesmen were saying than in what the media were reporting, the media not helping themselves by being seen to ask stupid questions live in the same press conferences. Indeed, live television made such conferences public conferences, rather than press conferences, with the role of the correspondents reduced to question asker. This decline in public trust in the media's capability to report on wars 'in the public interest' is not confined to the United States. During the Falklands War, the excesses of the tabloid press, especially that of The Sun with such headlines as 'GOTCHA' and 'UP YOURS, GALTIERI' resulted in a fall in circulation.
The same Gulf War surveys revealed another significant trend, namely that the public was prepared to tolerate military censorship of war reports, at least until after the war was over, if that would reduce the risks of casualties. Casualties of war fall into two categories for the media: military and civilian. Military casualties are to be expected but if they are 'our' casualties, then the military feel that there should first be as few of them as possible and then ensure that the media do not give undue attention to them. During the Gulf War, a news embargo was imposed upon the media coverage at the Norfolk naval base in Virginia, the point where body-bags arrived home. This is very much as legacy of the Vietnam war. The point here is that there has been a growing recent trend that wars can only be fought with a minimum of military casualties for fear of undermining popular support. The public, it is frequently assumed, cannot stomach huge casualty figures, especially if the dead and wounded are given prominent media attention. Although one suspects that the validity of this assumption varies from country to country, in accordance with the history of their military experience and history, it remains at the root of military assumptions about the role of the media in wartime, namely that they are more of a threat than an aid to combat.
How valid this is depends very much of the degree to which the public base their support for involvement in a war upon 'just' reasons. If the war is felt to be 'just', then casualties are regrettable but 'justified'. This applies even to civilian casualties, although the extent of military nervousness concerning non-combatant casualties, especially 'innocent women and children', is even more marked. During the Second World War, for example, the Strategic Bombing Offensive against Germany was deliberately couched in terms very different from the reality. It was a strategic air campaign, directed at military and industrial targets, rather than at civilian areas. The head of Bomber Command, Arthur Harris, wanted in 1943 a stark public admission that 'the aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilised community life throughout Germany' . He was unsuccessful. The illusion had to be maintained that the Royal Air Force was an instrument of precision bombing capable of hitting precisely what it was aiming at, resulting 'in a more constant concealment of the aims and implications of the campaign which was being waged' . Accordingly, news reports, photographs and films were poured out to illustrate 'successful missions' against factories and other military-industrial targets, rather than hits on the residential areas in which those targets were invariably located. This not only served as a justification for the huge numbers of bomber crews who failed to return home but also provided a moral counterpoint to the British experience in the Blitz. Given that the British public had clearly been targeted indiscrimately by German bombers then, they might have suspected that the RAF's line about the discriminate nature of allied bombing was as patently untrue as we know it to have been.
Even so, during the Gulf War, great emphasis was placed upon the ability of high-tech coalition bombing. Thanks to advances in military technology, it is certainly true that cruise missiles and laser guided bombs could hit their intended targets with an accuracy unprecedented in military history. Moreover, thanks to new communications technology, those weapons could be equipped with video-camers. For the first time, audiences could see for themselves how 'smart' weapons honed in on military targets with uncanny accuracy prior to the screen going blank. Such footage not only gave the impression that the coalition could hit precisely what it was aiming at, but it could thereby discriminate between military and civilian targets. This fitted well with the line pursued by coalition leaders that this was a war fought not against the Iraqi people but against the regime of Saddam Hussein and those forces which supported him. The problem was that, of all the bombs deployed during the Gulf War, the 'smart' ones formed only about 8% of the total. The remainder, old-fashioned 'dumb' weapons of indiscriminate destruction, were not seen on television screens. No journalist was permitted to accompany a bombing mission during Desert Storm, while the Iraqis refused journalistic access to those areas subjected to mass bombing.
Air power is a notoriously difficult phenomenon for the media. On the one hand, it contains the raw material of spectacular reportage, from the air aces of World War One to the helicopter gunships of Vietnam and the Gulf. Airborne mounted cameras can produce the kind of exciting footage matched by no other war technology, as anyone who has seen William Wyler's 1943 colour documentary film of a bombing raid over Germany, The Memphis Belle, will appreciate. On the other hand, by its very nature, most coverage has to consist of interviews with pilots and crews before and after missions, aircraft taking off and landing and, if camera crews are permitted, bombs being released. The Gulf War saw cameras mounted on the bombs themselves. But none of this allows for images of the impact of the bombs once they have exploded; when the bomb hits its target, either from a distance of 30,000 feet, or after honing in through cross hairs, the screen goes blank. Thereafter, there is little indication of the sheer destructive power of high explosive until after the smoke has cleared. In between the moment of impact and the scrutiny of bomb damage can never be captured on film and it is in that space, after all, where people die. That reality of war evades media war.
The Iraqis did try something unprecedented in the history of war when, following the outbreak of the air war phase of Desert Storm, they allowed journalists from belligerent countries to remain behind in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein also believed in the Vietnam syndrome. He believed that once the bombing began, it would result in massive devastation to civilian areas which, if filmed, could cause a public outcry in the very countries responsible for the bombing and lead to the cessation of the war. Captured pilots were accordingly paraded on Iraqi television declaring their disapproval of the war, and were duly retransmitted around the world by CNN. Iraq's solitary baby milk manufacturing plant was destroyed by callous bombing, putting paid to the myth that the coalition was not fighting the people of Iraq, and images of the bombed out installation were duly retransmitted by CNN. The war would thus be won in the hearts and minds of world public opinion rather than on the killing fields of Kuwait. But Saddam miscalculated. The coalition decided not to carpet bomb the Iraqi capital but only to use precision weapons - and these invariably hit their targets. The captured pilots ploy enraged public opinion, while the baby milk plant was, the coalition, claimed, a chemical warfare factory. CNN was accused of spreading Iraqi propaganda rather than of reporting the war. But doubts remained. The coalition was only targeting military instillations but the Iraqis refused to accompany western crews to such sites. Why suddenly change that tactic now with the 'baby milk plant' if it really was a chemical weapons facility?
One new element of camera mounted bombs combined with TV crews inside enemy territory was bomb damage evaluation. As one pilot stated:
It certainly was interesting for us to come back and land and watch the [TV] replays of what it's looking like from another perspective. Knowing where some of the broadcasts were coming from, and seeing the skyline .... we could actually pick out who some of the bombs belonged to .... There was some good in having good old Peter Arnett on the ground .
Arnett, veteran war reporter from the Vietnam era now working for CNN, was only too conscious of the Iraqi attempts to manipulate him. But, like the other western journalists in Baghdad, he was put to his greatest test on 13 February 1991 when two laser guided bombs crashed through an installation in the Al-Amiriya suburb of Baghdad, killing around 400 people. All Iraqi censorship restrictions were lifted that day and the journalists were told that they could say, hear and film anything they wanted to. Because the badly burned bodies being brought out of the charred building were clearly civilians - 'innocent women and children' - here was the crucial test of whether the allied line about minimising 'collateral damage' to the Iraqi people could be sustained.
In the space between the reality of war and the media image of war, it was the defining moment. For the first time, the Iraqis had the kind of images which fuelled their belief in the Vietnam syndrome - all the more effective for them being taken by western, rather than Iraqi, television crews. Because those crews arrived within hours of the explosion, there were no clumsy efforts at blatant propaganda as with the freshly painted 'baby milk plant' signs in English three weeks earlier. And there was no censorship. The problem was that the images were so graphic, that western broadcasting standards of taste and decency militated against their full use. As the pictures were beamed around the world by satellite, most editorial rooms bred on a western tradition realised that they would have to take out the graphic close-up images of horribly burned children prior to transmission. They would not show comparable images of a motorway crash or air disaster, so why should war be any different? Despite such self-censorship, however, the shock of what was shown still created an outcry, with The Daily Mail the next morning accusing the BBC of being the 'Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation'. As coalition spokesmen attempted to control the spin - they had hit what they were aiming at; it was a military bunker, not a civilian shelter; they did not know why civilians were inside - the press attacked the messenger. Television was the enemy, just as it had been in Vietnam.
The old views that the media were harmful to the prosecution of war is not only invalid but irrelevant. The media are here to stay. Indeed, with the public now having increase to alternative sources of information direct from source - such as Croatian radio and television's home page on the World Wide Web, to name but one example - they may indeed be under threat as the sole means by which news from a war zone has reached the public at large. Equipped with a satellite dish, the public can, if they choose, also tap into the very news feeds supplying the editorial news rooms with their stories, so that the raw material can be scrutinised before it is packaged for mass public consumption. But those new aspects aside, given that information overload will probably mean that most people continue to rely on the news media for their window on the world, the future of the military-media relationship probably rests more in co-operation than conflict - just as it has been with most of our wars - Vietnam included. Certainly, there are signs that in the United States there is a greater willingness to come together. In 1995 the Freedom Forum Centre in New York produced a report of combined effort by military and media people alike to find a better working relationship. In a document entitled 'America's Team - the Odd Couple', it is suggested that journalists need to be better prepared to cover future military operations while the military need to be less censorship inclined. It is proposed to establish an independent office for military-media relations in the Washington area to serve as 'an institutional memory and facilitator'. In addition, the authors suggest the establishment of 'an independent coverage tier system' in which multiple tiers, each containing about 50 news representatives with the first wave consisting of hard news journos and others down the hierarchy containing people from publications like 'Soldier of Fortune', would be deployed in accordance with the ability of the field commanders to accommodate them. I have a sneaking feeling Dr. Goebbels would enjoy reading it.