Information is a weapon of war. It has been so all through history. In the digital age with its instant communications, and the proliferation of social media platforms with enormous potency and reach it is only more so. This is well illustrated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All sides involved in the ongoing conflict have bent information to promote their viewpoints. The reportage of the war is making that abundantly clear. Significantly, the analyses of war related news and events as well as the decisions being taken by different parties are also infected by concerns of promoting national narratives. Such analyses do not always conform to reason and logic; but then reason and logic are, in any case, at a discount in this age of alt facts.
The objectives of war are success and victory. In the case of interstate war the warring countries use all their resources to achieve these aims. They also either legally, or through convention, curb the normal conduct of their internal public life so that the pursuit of war is not impeded. This often results in deliberately masking facts, distorting news and analyses with the purpose of creating perceptions and misperceptions which promote the war effort inter alia by strengthening public morale and at the same time attempting to weaken the will to fight of the enemy country. During war some countries also create barriers to the flow of news coming from abroad. While doing so they use all means to spread their own narrative among the people of the enemy country. In addition to targeting the enemy country the favourable moulding of global public opinion is also a prime desire.
These time-honoured endeavours have been in full play over the past fortnight of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They are being extensively used by the media of the advanced Western countries which, as members of NATO, are principal parties in the conflict though NATO is not engaged in any kinetic action against Russia. The strength of Western mainstream media, both audio-visual and print, is unmatched in the world. Once satellites made cable television possible about three decades ago Western television companies developed the physical and the journalistic infrastructure to ensure that they controlled the largest worldwide viewership. While much of this was possible because of their individual business models, in almost all cases, they were discreetly financed by governments. The understanding reached between western governments and these audio-visual platforms was that while governments would not interfere in their operations in the domestic spheres, they would subtly project their external national narratives, especially in sensitive areas and at sensitive times. Naturally, these ‘independent’ channels would hotly deny such an opinion but it is nevertheless true.
The narrative promoted by Western countries is that the Russian invasion is completely unprovoked and unjustified. The latter is true for nothing can justify an invasion of a sovereign state in this age. However, the former is an arguable point for President Putin was warning the United States and the European powers against the eastward expansion of NATO. Western media is emphasising the lack of justification of the invasion and the great human suffering it is causing in Ukraine. It is either not focusing on post-Cold War European history or stressing the sovereignty of states. It is not taking a holistic picture of the complex situation and nor for that matter is the Russian media which is more ‘controlled’ than that of the Western countries.
What Western media is projecting in graphic detail is the human cost of the war. It is showing the death of civilians, the loss of homes and displacement of peoples thereby making them refugees who are fleeing Ukraine in large numbers. The flow of refugees into Ukraine’s western neighbours is very high. Over two million people have gone to Poland, Hungary, Rumania and other countries. What is being beamed into the homes of people almost all across the world are videos and images of the plight of women and children. This feeds into the Western narrative that Putin has dragged Europe into a war the like of which has not been seen since the Second World War. At the same time the Russian media is fully supporting the “special military operation” for the “demilitarisation” of “denazification” of Ukraine. The fact is that in almost all countries, including India from where many television journalists have gone to Ukraine to cover the war, the Western case is being projected; the Russian view is not.
Western audio-visual media has, at least in the initial stages of the war, focused on Putin’s personality. Some programmes sought to analyse if he had lost his grip on reality and had become completely tyrannical. This is par for the course for all leaders who are opposed to the West are castigated as megalomaniacs who do not care for the welfare of their people. In this context it is important to show that their policies, especially of waging an unjustified and unprovoked war, are being resisted. This has been the case on this occasion too. What is not being shown is the extent of support that Putin has. There have been only few reports and that too in the western print media which point out that the Russian people overwhelmingly are supporting Putin’s move. That is being attributed to the censorship of news in Russia.
The saying that truth is a casualty of war is a cliché but it is true!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.