National Security

Military & Media

By Rana Athar Javed

More nations today are engaged in process of harmonizing relationship between military and media than any point before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Since the prevailing security situations argues for a cautious assessment of institutional roles, the method to model domestic media after foreign news organizations fail to take into account the cultural and historical conditions in a respective society.  In the case of Pakistan, the military has never really utilized its leverage and took advantage of its tremendous capability to influence public opinion.

This deficit can be seen both in terms of providing appropriate training on asymmetrical warfare reporting to media persons and establishing a “joint information doctrine” under which media support sensitivities of operational security and context of military & media relationship. This policy program will not only encourage broader contacts between relevant quarters of military and media, but this approach will also help preventing the political influence of owners/leaders and foreign sponsors of domestic  media outlets. One major conclusion of current civil-military relationship is that an effective and proactive engagement between military and media is critical to defend Pakistan in war and peace. While many in the media stereotypically tend to view role of military with a certain amount of distrust, the importance of media beyond conventional analysis will become the multiplier force to impact the perception building process of a nation, and by extension of Pak-military.

In an era of fourth generation of asymmetrical warfare, economic crises, regional hostilities and terrorism, both material and intellectual resources can play proactive role to achieve a steady-state level of military & media partnership, especially in a society, which operates under multilayer of conflict including issues of multi-ethnicity and cultural diversity. The more recent examples of assaulting both military and security services looks strikingly systematic and organized in way that the military cannot be sure of the loyalty of its own media organizations and thereby plunging itself into a controversy of “who should be the savior of this nation?”. With respect to military’s role and policy-making, it is however clear that modeling critical media approaches on the basis of rhetoric and borrowed narratives of accountability can only escalate tension between two important and responsible institutions.  The average Pakistani citizen very much appreciates the sacrifices of the military, but the day-to-day activities of political elites, and the media impression: “Oh it is good that the institutions are fighting” misinforms about the judgments and historical role of military. This popular image of Pakistani media is largely developed because of exacerbated attacks on military & intelligence agencies in the time of war, especially when bombing of soldiers and police convoys is a routine matter. In reality and examples of reporting of national security issues in other countries show that rational media reporting techniques will never evaporate fundamental distinction between reporting and making a “bad news”, because conceptualization of a possible partnership between military and media is based on responsibility and trust in military.

According to Maj. Edward of US army, “as much as some in the military seek to distance themselves from the media though, the military, in this relatively new era of instant global communications and 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week news coverage, does not have the luxury to dismiss or distance itself from the media”. This reflection is expressed by Frank & William in a more precise statement that, “it is in the nature of the press to deliver bad news”.

This assessment also addresses the fact, that is, the Pak-military seek to remain non-controversial because abstract media models and speculation tremendously affect the lives of those who by choice fight against the anti-state forces, and also take the blame of separation of professional cultures between military and civilians. The unfortunate part of current media discourse in Pakistan appears to be “weakening national stance” over strengthening the internal strategic mechanism of a professional military. This characterization is deliberately coupled with an emphasis on civilian control of fundamentally military institutions, and thereby making an awkward case of “preserving” military subordination”.

As a result, taking the audience and readers away from facts and directly creating a public impression that military will never do what it should have done. What is needed is concrete political dispensation and support to shape the public perception of “mission and military” regardless of military input. Clearly, media has the role in current nation-building efforts in Pakistan, but only professionally trained media persons can explain the national objectives and institutional sensitivity of military.

In addition to its limited application of response to a negative propaganda, military via its unwavering allegiance to better serve the nation generates a dichotomy between intermingling with media and communicating military objectives through consultation. In an effort to explain how the military can better engage the media, such a scenario falls short to provide with appropriate insights into the role of “the Others” (foreign & hostile forces) to the domestic media.

The most important conclusion is that the principal of media as the Fourth Estate seems to be applied more than its age of maturity in Pakistan. The point here is that constantly negative public debate cycle has military implications by which the military fights wars and emphasizes on separation of professionalism and ideological patterns. The notion that freely discussing operational details and other related matters are important to sustain the access to internal military policies sometimes forges bonds between hostile/foreign entities and media persons, therefore, launches a culture of suspicion and misperceived images about the relationship between two institutions.

However, it is tactically creative that military should provide a “general overview” of operational context for the public, but only for them to better understand the confusing events of a counterinsurgency campaign; otherwise instead of press criticizing their own “inadequacies in training and organization” will criticize the military. By all accounts, the partnership between military and media will only help accomplishing the mission of serving national objectives of Pakistan.