America's propaganda war

The battle for hearts and minds goes on in earnest in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and television is the official weapon of choice.

Published March 3, 2005 12:20AM (EST)

The battle for hearts and minds goes on in earnest in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and television is the official weapon of choice. Reuters reports that the U.S.'s venerable propaganda outlet, Voice of America, is planning to expand its Persian-language TV offerings in Iran to a four-hour daily broadcast. A U.S.-funded satellite channel, Alhurra , is also slated to begin beaming its programming into the homes of European Muslims this fall.

"What we propose to do is exactly what Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and Radio Liberty did in the Cold War, and that is provide a window on the world," said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were vital tools in America's information wars in the 1950s, broadcasting carefully crafted news reports to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Clearly, U.S. officials hope to combat the proliferation of Islamic extremist philosophy using the same principle.

The Bush administration has also launched an ad campaign on Pakistani TV , offering as much as $25 million for information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden or his lieutenants. The interim Iraqi government has gotten into the act with a series of realistic-looking anti-insurgent videos called "Terrorism in the Grip of Justice." They are designed to create a sense of security and solidarity among ordinary Iraqis, with dramatic footage of insurgents confessing to their crimes, confronted by families of the people they've killed.

The propaganda war is also a war of defense. The State Department recently placed Al-Manar, a well-known Hezbollah-sponsored satellite TV network, on its Terrorist Exclusion List . The TV network is the first to be designated as terrorist. The decision resulted in a blackout of the network within hours.

This may not come as welcome news to Americans already concerned about domestic propaganda emanating from the White House (think Michael McManus , Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Karen Ryan ).

Some experts think an onslaught of "goodwill" TV programming could backfire by fomenting anti-Americanism, and may even be interpreted as a prelude to war in Iran (there have been rumors to that effect).

"People could see it as a sign that an invasion is coming. It's the sort of thing that happens before nations build up their war effort," Nancy Snow, a propaganda expert, told Reuters.

By Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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