Monday, March 19, 2012

assignment #2: global news

Is the US losing the information war?

What makes up an “information war?” As Wikipedia describes, it is a primarily American concept. It comes as no surprise as the United States government has often sensationalized happenings and phenomena in alarmist terms, like the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, the war on poverty... 

“an American concept involving the use and management of information technology in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. Information warfare may involve collection of tactical information, assurance(s) that one's own information is valid, spreading of propaganda or disinformation to demoralize or manipulate the enemy and the public, undermining the quality of opposing force information and denial of information-collection opportunities to opposing forces.”

I find it important to use the whole definition as it really gets to the heart of the American government’s mentality when it comes to information. Since we are speaking in terms of war, it connotes that the United States has an enemy to defeat. Our opponent must be harming our chances of influence in other countries.

Within the United States, there is a strong culture of laissez-faire capitalism that permeates the model of news gathering. It is just one reason for why you don’t find a government-owned news network. CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg, etc. are all privately-owned. While these American news sources have thrived within and outside the United States, they do exist to make a profit. There is an underlying agenda. The tone of CNN within the US is much different than CNN International. Just looking at the two shows on a purely content basis reveals differences in reporting. What is important to this viewer?
Many Americans don’t even realize that while the US government does not own any news networks within the States, it owns many outside the United States (Voice of America, Alhurra) to fulfill its propaganda motives. This reflects the isolationist nature of American governmental policy. While information can be relatively free inside the country thanks to the First Amendment, outside the country, information must be tightly controlled.

The Cold War propaganda of the United States has been extremely successful. Unlike our colleagues in Western Europe who focused on the stability of empires, the United States simply was spreading a message of democracy, freedom, innovation and, more generally, American awesomeness. This worked. To this day, there are foreigners who adamantly believe in the American dream propagated by news stations like Voice of America. After a few decades, it’s clear to see why other countries would want to join in on the global news propaganda bandwagon.

For obvious reasons, America is no longer the pinnacle of justice, at least on foreign diplomatic turf. History repeatedly asserts this fact. Countries like Finland probably hold that title. Moreover, programs like Voice of America and Alhurra focus on American propaganda. Even CNN International needs to answer to what’s good for business, not society. But the saturation of the global news market by American news companies and American propaganda makes it difficult to access other views.

So, what’s a country to do but follow its Anglo-Saxon counterparts like the United States or the United Kingdom? They’ve launched global news networks like Russia's RT (Russia Today) or China's CNC (China Xinhua News Network Corporation) in multiple languages including English. The American perspective will not be the only one existing, and even more importantly, English speakers from around the world, including the US, will be able to view and understand. Take, for example, the clip above. The very Anglo-Saxon style of news reporting is being done by Russia Today showing their perspective on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments on the US losing the information war. Some interesting thoughts are shared.

Sure, it’s easy to win a war when you are essentially the only one with a weapon. But the war is getting much harder to win when other countries are prepared to join the fight. Though Al Jazeera, RT and CNC have not yet reached the global influence that the BBC, CNN, etc. are consistently afforded, these news networks are not far behind. In the case of Al Jazeera, people saw a sharp rise in viewership and influence of the network when the Arab Spring began. It was through their reporting that outsiders were able to obtain a perspective on Middle Eastern events. Foreign news networks can only follow their lead.

So the question remains, are we losing the information war? If we put it in such terms, I think yes. With the increased accessibility to other news networks and sources, it is very difficult for the United States to remain in complete control of its image within and outside the country. With the rise of competing news networks owned by other states, the American voice on particular stories will have to share a stage with different country perspectives.

What do you think? Is the United States losing an information war?