Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oh, that Propaganda...

Been absent for a while, again. I guess I could say school has started in full force and all those exams and papers won't give me a break. But before I get into yet another rant, I should probably share a couple of recent videos that raise some good questions on propaganda and the power of information.

Firstly, Al Jazeera's "Listening Post"on the information war over the story in Syria [Part 1].

What is most noteworthy in this piece is the actual fact that Al Jazeera recognizes the presence of multiple perspectives on the story, which are directly related to the "story teller's" interests in the region (of course, the network itself is not free of those certain perspectives, but at least here Gizbert is not claiming they are). I believe this is an issue that has been fully and completely ignored in much of its coverage.

Yes, there are major human rights violations in Syria. Yes, the regime is at fault. But does that mean - automatically - that the opposition is right? Who is "the opposition" to begin with? The rebels inside the country? The self-declared "leaders" abroad?

I believe the same question should be asked about all those external actors that are trying to push foreign governments in this or that way regarding the Syrian issue. Just hating Assad, or wanting him out, does not mean that they are necessarily "good", whether for the Syrian people or for the foreign interests involved.

After all, just as defined in the program, propaganda means "Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view." Being sensitive to and cognizant of these biases and perspectives is an absolute must, especially in such complex and difficult situations.

I'm afraid the information blackout by the regime, as well as the taboo status of the issue in the West are not doing it any good.

If you're curious, here is a peek into what the Russian audiences are seeing on their still much-popular (despite everything) state-run ORT channel. This is the coverage of Foreign Minister Lavrov's visit to Syria a week or so ago:

All those thousands of people in the streets are said to be Assad supporters, thanking Russia for its stance in the Security Council vote. Yeah, why not? Throw in a couple of Hizballah and Palestinian flags, some heart-warming messages from young women, and... you get a nice story.

But again, let us not forget about the "selective perception" factor, which either strengthens or fully undercuts the power of propaganda altogether. In the Syrian case, as noted in the "Listening Post", information coming from one side is all too desirable, and therefore becomes "the accepted truth". On the other side, as the ORT report shows, there are many who would want to (create and) believe the other version of the story.

In short, no matter how you look at it, all coverage of the conflict in Syria corresponds to the above-mentioned definition of propaganda, to a certain extent. We just need to be aware of that.

And speaking of selective perception, I also wanted to point to the guest on Monday night's "Daily Show", Ali Soufan, who has written a book on what I would call the Greater Middle East, "terrorism" and ethno-religious issues in the region.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Ali Soufan
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He is pretty much speaking the conventionally accepted "truth". Please note, while Iran is overrun by "chauvinistic Persians" who want to take over the region - which is a totally non-oversimplified, established fact, if one is to trust the implication here - the situation suddenly becomes "way more complicated than that" when the issue of the killed Iranian nuclear scientists is raised. The contention that Israel was behind these attacks should not be taken at face value and should be considered in its full complexity. Hmm...

Last but not least, kudos to Jon Stewart for pointing out his lack of knowledge about the Nagorno Karabakh war:

"I don't even remember this war. Do they not tell us about wars unless we are doing the bombing? Do we not get to hear about all these other wars that are going on?!"

Well, most probably not... unless it directly relates to your national interest. And even then, you get one of the perspectives, unless you really make the effort.

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