Study: Hizbullah won propaganda war
Researchers say Hizbullah manipulated media to portray Israel as aggressor.
By GEORGE CONGER, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
April 30, 2007 18:45
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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah won the Second Lebanon War by achieving a propaganda victory over Israel, a Harvard University study has concluded. Aided and abetted by a compliant and credulous press, Hizbullah achieved victory by convincing the world that Israel was the aggressor and that Israel's retaliatory offensive was a "disproportionate" response to the kidnapping and killing of its soldiers.
Israel's defeat came not at the hands of Hizbullah, however, but through the internal contradictions of being the region's sole functioning democracy in the Internet age.
"An open society, Israel, is victimized by its own openness," Marvin Kalb and Dr. Carol Saivetz of the Shorenstein Center of Harvard University concluded in their research paper, "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict."
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"A closed sect, Hizbullah, can retain almost total control of the daily message of journalism and propaganda," manipulating its image to the world, the February 28 paper found.
"In strictly military terms, Israel did not lose to Hizbullah in this war, but it clearly did not win. In the war of information, news and propaganda, the battlefield central to Hizbullah's strategy, Israel lost this war," Kalb and Saivetz concluded.
Hizbullah was able to exploit skillfully the technological innovations wrought by the internet and the demands of the 24/7 news cycle, and constructed the narrative story line for the "first really 'live' war in history" where "the camera and the computer" were "weapons of war," they argued.
For Hizbullah, the Second Lebanon War was a "crucial battle in a broader, ongoing war, linking religious fundamentalism to Arab nationalism." Its chosen field of battle was the media and its strategic aim was to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world.
Citing US and Australian military experts, Kalb and Saivetz stated Hizbullah believed the "historic struggle between Western modernity and Islamic fundamentalism will ultimately be resolved" on the "information battlefield." Hizbullah's media strategy was crafted to achieve this end, they said.
In the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah limited access to Western reporters, "orchestrated" events and manipulated journalists with threats of expulsion if they violated its reporting rules. And the press largely complied with the restrictions that were "reminiscent of the Soviet era," Kalb and Saivetz found.
In one example cited by the paper, on a tour of a Shi'ite neighborhood of Beirut damaged by IAF air strikes, Hizbullah warned reporters not to "wander off on their own or speak to residents" and to photograph only approved sights. If the press violated these rules, "cameras would be confiscated, film or tape destroyed, and offending reporters would never be allowed access to Hizbullah officials or Hizbullah-controlled areas."
"At one point, apparently on cue, a Hizbullah minder signaled for ambulances to rev up their engines, set off their sirens and drive noisily down the street. The scene was orchestrated, designed to provide a photo op, and reporters went along for the ride."
"So far as we know" Kalb and Saivetz stated, all of the reporters on the tour only CNN's Anderson Cooper reported on the "attempt to create and control a story." The rest of the press "followed the Hizbullah script."
On the Israeli side, "where officials made a clumsy effort to control and contain the coverage but essentially failed," the press quickly gained unfettered access to the battlefield.
"Network anchors, representing cable TV operations from Al Jazeera to Fox, set up their cameras along the Israeli-Lebanese border, like birds on a clothes line, one next to another, so they could do live and frequent reports from the battlefield," the paper stated.
Were Israel to tighten press restrictions, modern technology and the open democratic nature of Israeli society would make it almost impossible for the government to enforce its rules. "In an open society, ground rules may be announced, but they will not likely be observed or enforced," the authors said.
Studies of the coverage of the war in the Arabic-language press found an unrelenting bias against Israel that played to the "prejudice of its readers, who felt sympathy for their Arab brethren under Israeli fire," the paper found.
A viewer of the Arabic-language news channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya would conclude Israel had been the aggressor in the war and that its military actions were "disproportionate". In 214 stories, the Dubai based Al-Arabiya referred to Israel as the "aggressor" 94 percent of the time, while Al-Jazeera's 83 stories painted Israel as the aggressor in 78% of the time.
"All of these stories, showing pictures of Israeli attacks against Lebanese targets were presented as examples of disproportionality" to the Arab world, Kalb and Saivetz noted.
The Arabic language press also played upon "traditional Arab feelings of 'victimization'," with Al-Arabiya stressing "Lebanese victimization" in 95% of its stories," while Al-Jazeera "hit this theme" in 70% of its broadcasts. "Coincidently," Germany's "four top television programs" also stressed the theme of Lebanese victimization in 70% of its broadcasts, they noted.
"In other words," Kalb and Saivetz stated, "the viewer could not escape the belief that Israel was the aggressor and the Lebanese were its victims."
The English-language press was less partisan, the authors reported. Of the BBC's 117 stories, 38% "fingered Israel as the aggressor, four percent fingered Hizbullah." The BBC "then said that both Israel and Hizbullah were equally to blame."
"If you were watching American television, you would quickly have concluded that Fox cable news favored Israel, CNN tried to be balanced, and the three major evening news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC were more critical of Israel than of Hizbullah," Kalb and Saivetz wrote.
"Negative-sounding judgments of Israel's attacks and counter-attacks permeated most [US] network coverage, except on Fox, where the coverage of Hizbullah's activities was decidedly negative."
The front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post portrayed Israel as the aggressor "nearly twice as often in the headlines and exactly three times as often in the photos," Kalb and Saivetz said.
The Second Lebanon War "was a live war, in which the information battlefield played a central role. Here the Israelis suffered from the openness of their democratic society," Kalb and Saivetz concluded.
Israel "succumbed to the public pressures of live 24/7 coverage. They couldn't keep a secret." Hizbullah however "controlled its message with an iron grip. It had one spokesman and no leaks," and could "always count on Arab reporters to blast Israel for its 'disproportionate' military attacks against Lebanon," they said.
The implications of Hizbullah's media victory upon journalism were chilling, as "the challenge for responsible journalists covering asymmetrical warfare" between an open society and a secretive "state within a state", "especially in this age of the Internet, is new, awesome and frightening," Kalb and Saivetz warned.