Has Handeled The Falklands Conflict And The Gulf War Essay, Research Paper
Compare and Contrast the way in which the media has handled the Falklands War and the Gulf War.
“You can win the battle but lose the war if you don’t handle the story right.”
General Colin Powell in a speech to the National Defence University, 1990.
Both the Gulf War and the Falklands War were extremely different not only in how they were fought but also how the media covered them. In this paper there will be an examination of how the media performed with particular reference to the British Media in the Falkland’s and the American Media in the Gulf.
It is widely accepted that relations between the military and the media suffer from friction and at wartime this even more true. This it has been argued is due to the fundamental differences between the military and the media. The media sees publicity as the way to its success, whereas for the military secrecy is essential to the success of its operations. For the military information and the control of it is seen as a weapon (1). The British media suffered several problems in covering the Falklands. First of all there was the location of the islands. Being 8,000 miles away from the United Kingdom and more than 400 miles away from the nearest landmass and also being subject to a total exclusion zone the Ministry of Defence had the sole say in how many if any correspondents it would let sail with the task force. The MoD only accepted British correspondents and it has been argued that those that were accepted were vetted. In the end the MoD accredited less than thirty correspondents, which is a minuscule number when compared to the number that were present in the Gulf War. All the correspondents had to agree to censorship by the MoD at source (2). This censorship was made even more painful when the correspondents learned that no such censure would apply to stories written in Britain (3). This served to heighten tensions between the media and the military and showed that there was a mutual distrust between the two. The media reliance on the military was, as mentioned above, due to not only the location of the Islands but also due to the terrain and climate which made unsuitable for independent media operations, unlike the Gulf War.
Another problem faced by correspondents travelling with the task force was the difficulty involved in sending their reports back to the United Kingdom. Due to the difficulty in sending these reports the only effective way of transmission was controlled by the military. There was no provision made for live TV coverage and all video footage had to be flown back to the United Kingdom where it was first examined by military censors who would cut out any unsuitable material. Due to the length of time involved it was often three weeks before it was shown on television by which time it was invariably out of date. Spoken and written reports were allowed to be broadcast from those ships, which possessed a satellite communications system, MARISAT. Due to the limited availability of this system the media could only transmit at night thereby ensuring that most reports were often two days old when published (4) and if the military had to send information of higher priority then sometimes the report would not get sent until the following night.
Back in the United Kingdom the media face another problem. Some newspapers, it has been argued, supported the government completely and even taking it to the extreme and attacking other newspapers that expressed doubts over the campaign in the South Atlantic. This, it has been argued, created an environment in which to question the government was considered to be just short of treason. This was to repeat itself in the Gulf War. Even the BBC itself was accused of “damaging the country’s war effort” (5). However newspapers were also constrained by the ever-present threat of Schedule D Notices should they attempt to print something the government did not agree with. With the introduction of daily press briefings, another trend that was followed in the gulf war, there was a suspension of “off the record” briefings but these were later reintroduced as a means of providing more up to date and succinct information. The BBC itself was told by parliament that it was its duty to be patriotic and not to screen programmes which could be seen as defeatist or pro-enemy. This was after it screened an episode of Panorama on May 10th 1982 asking the question “can we avoid war?” and it was accused of pandering to Argentine propaganda (6).
Another development that was to occur among the correspondents on the task force was that they were to put patriotism above professionalism and thus lose the critical objectivity they could have bought to covering the campaign. It has been argued that they praised the courage, determination, loyalty and leadership of the British troops but down downplayed those of the Argentine forces. This it has been argued caused them not only to become an integral part of the task force but also to be instrumental in promoting propaganda for the British (7).
One phenomenon that was to first appear during the Falklands War was that of the Armchair Strategist. More often that not these would be retired senior military officers who would be asked on television to speculate on the next phase of the campaign, which was to lead to the controversy over the battle for Goose Green. This was to occur during the Gulf War as well with the military writer James F. Dunnigan correctly predicting every major aspect of the air and land war in November 1990 on American television. Often this is no more that harmless speculation, but sometimes they gave away information, such as the case involving Goose Green, that may have been of use to the enemy. This led to an outcry from those on the military and those in government. Baroness Thatcher, the then Prime Minister, called these speculations nothing short of treachery (8).
The war in the Falklands was not only unique and unusual for the British military but for the media as well. For the first time in modern warfare they had to cover a war that was thousands of miles away and were dependent on the military not only for transport to the theatre of operations but also for support once in theatre. Back in the United Kingdom there were only two other sources for the British media to utilise, the Argentine press and press releases from the MoD. The first was highly suspect as a source of information and the second was tightly regulated by the government and would not release any information of a sensitive or critical nature. The American Media would also face some of the problems faced by the British media in the Falklands in the following ten years especially in the Gulf.
In the years following the Falklands War the U.S military took on board the lessons learned by the British. The American invasion of Grenada in 1983 went unseen as the U.S government excluded correspondents from the proceedings. It was argued that people who thought that the media were responsible for the American defeat in Vietnam (9) handled the media in the Falklands and Grenada. In the Panama invasion the U.S government instituted the press poll system. This allowed the U.S military to keep the media away from the battle action for the whole of the first day, which proved to be the most decisive day of the whole campaign. Also it enabled the U.S military to keep the press confined to a military base for the following few days. The pool system was established, it has been argued, because it was perceived by the military that critical reporting led to the U.S defeat in Vietnam. As the media was not able to determine the number of civilian deaths or the extent of the damage caused by the invasion it was in the military’s eyes a great success in media relations and became the model that was utilised during the Gulf War (10). During the Gulf War the control of the news and other information became one of the main tasks of the Pentagon and the military tightly controlled both access to and content of the news. It has been argued that this is one of the most intense examples of news management and the manufacturing of public opinion in American history (11). Correspondents that were perceived to be critical of the war were not allowed to join accredited press pools or interview senior military officials. However those that did toe the line were given interviews and were accredited. This was, it has been argued, as the military was more concerned about its image and avoiding any criticism rather than legitimate national security reasons. The military was able to review all reports written and footage filmed by accredited correspondents in theatre prior to publication or transmission. This was it is claimed due to security reasons but in effect the military was exercising censorship similar to that exercised by the British in the Falklands. This effectively led to a block of all critical commentary coming from the Persian Gulf. The reason given for this censorship was that there was a very real fear among the military that open and unrestricted reporting would reveal the coalitions plans to the enemy. However the U.S government saw the co-operation of the media as essential in maintaining public support for the war. Military planners took this one step further and openly admitted after the war that they used the media as a weapon of psychological warfare (12). However they justified this by saying that the Iraqi leadership also used its media in this way, as the manipulation of the media was an integral part of Soviet military doctrine and this was the war fighting doctrine adopted by the Iraqi’s.
The Pentagon decreed that there were to be twelve categories of information, which would be subject to censorship. These included troop movements, plans and tactics. Also as during the Falklands War correspondents were to be escorted by military officials, minders, during all interviews. These often intimidated the interviewee it was claimed. However access to key individuals and the units at the sharp end of the campaign such as Bomber crew’s and Special Forces was restricted (13). As the Air War began over Iraq in January 1991 the media became ever more reliant on the daily press briefing s given by military chiefs. This soon became for them the only reliable source of information. From the 18th of January they began to show the media video footage of smart bombs and missiles striking Iraqi targets. However the military refused to release any footage of the bombs missing or any including visible human casualties. The military therefore was able to exercise total control over the public presentation of the air war (14).
The communication problems faced by the correspondents in the Falklands were not evident in the Gulf War. This was the age of satellite technology. And with the amount of equipment required by the correspondents in the Gulf to transmit it has been said it was not only a logistical achievement not only for the military but for the media as well (15). There was to a large extent none of the problems face d by the media in transmitting their reports or footage. This led to two developments. First of these were the unilateralists who were correspondents who withdrew from the press polls and who often dressed in borrowed military uniforms in order to circumvent army roadblocks to get the “real story” without the interference of their allocated minders. They were often hidden by sympathetic soldiers and officers, but when caught were arrested and detained by the Military Police. However they invariably led to good reporting free from the influence of the military and censorship (16). However the military was not too keen on correspondents running around Saudi Arabia interviewing anyone they wanted as it was felt that this what led to the U.S defeat in Vietnam. It was much more preferred to have them where they could be easily managed. Without having to rely on the military for transmission of their reports the unilateralists enjoyed great freedom. However this was not without its dangers as at least one group of unilateralists was captured by the Iraqi’s when they ventured too close to the front line. Another off shot from this high level of technology was that it allowed the American media to transmit live right from inside Baghdad during the period of the war. Peter Arnett of CNN who continued broadcasting right through the war spearheaded this. Although live video feed was not allowed by the Iraqi Authorities live voice feed was. This allowed the American people to witness first hand to what their military was doing in Baghdad.
Back in the U.S there were hardly any voices of dissent heard in the media. In particular the media failed to criticise the governments failure to negotiate a diplomatic settlement. It has been argued that the American media consistently supported whatever strategy the government adopted and that they became little more than public relations mangers for the White House and the Pentagon (17). When rational arguments from intellectuals in countries such as Egypt and Jordan, where American news crews were stationed, who were often the only critical voices heard were shown by the media they were passed off a anti-American hostility (18). When President Bush told the world that this would not be another Vietnam he was undoubtley sending a message to the media as well. Many of the Generals responsible for the planning of the campaign served in Vietnam and felt that particular war had been lost by the media. So unlike the war in the Falklands there was no questioning of government policy, however thin, by the media. When in the U.S the media watchdog FAIR reported on a study that during the first five months of TV coverage of the campaign that there was only 1% that dealt with popular opposition to the war (19).
In both conflicts there was lack of critical media discourse. In Britain this was due t tight control of the media by the government and a highly patriotic press. There were no firm government controls over the media in the U.S however due to legislation they’re protecting the freedom of the press. But the media was reluctant to criticise a war, which may prove popular with the public and therefore cause it to lose readers or viewers and therefore profits. Both conflicts saw the presence of the armchair strategist. Although they originated in the Falklands War it was in the gulf that they really came in to prominence. However the U.S military keen not to repeat the mistakes the way the British military was affected by them asked its former officers to talk only in very general terms and not to talk about operations the coalition may carry out and to present a positive view of warfare. This, it has been argued, is why the coalition doctrine of AirLand battle was never fully explained and why the public were largely ignorant of how the ground war was waged.
The Gulf War remains to date the most widely covered war in history whereas the Falklands war was only covered by a small select group of correspondents. In the Gulf, it has been argued, the media failed to meet its democratic responsibilities of providing a wide range of opinions to a matter of public importance and, arguably, informing reliably the public of contemporary events (20). The same thing, it could be argued, occurred during the Falklands War.
1: John Ajit Singh Gosal, Conflict in the Falklands: Media-Military Relations, War Studies Journal, Vol.1, No.2, 1996, pg.86
2: Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty: From the Crimea to the Falklands, The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker, (Pan Books: 1989), pg. 406
3: Gosal, Conflict in the Falklands, pg.88
4: ibid, pg.89
5: Knightley, The First Casualty, pg.437
6: Trevor Royle, War Report: The War Correspondent’s view of battle form the Crimea to the Falklands, (Mainstream: 1987), pg.221
7: Knightley, The First Casualty,pg.437
8: Miles Hudson and John Stainer, War and the Media, (Sutton: 1997) pg.306
9: Bruce Cummings, War and Television, (Verso: 1992), pg.100
10: Bradley S. Greenberg and Walter Grantz (ed), Desert Storm and the Mass Media, (Hampton: 1993) pg42
11: ibid, pg 43
12: John Pimlott and Stephen Badsey (ed), The Gulf War Assessed, (Arms and Armour: 1992), pg.220
13: Rick Atkinson, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Gulf War, (HarperCollins: 1993), pg.161
14: Pimlott, The Gulf War Assessed, pg.238
15: Jeffrey Walsh (ed.),The Gulf War Did Not Happen: Politics, Culture and Warfare Post-Vietnam, (Arena, 1995), pg.143
16: Bruce W. Watson et al (ed.), Military Lessons Of the Gulf War, (Greenhill: 1991) pg.205
17: Greenberg, Desert Storm and the Mass Media, pg 38
18: ibid, pg. 39
19: ibid, pg.41
20: ibid, pg.47
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