Information Warfare: Fighting For Attention


May 26, 2006: The UN considers Information War a matter of life and death. Over the last year, many peacekeeping and relief projects have been hampered by a lack of money. These projects depend on donations or money, from wealthy nations, or troops from less affluent countries that, nonetheless, have effective armed forces. But when a crises requires UN intervention, but the mass media don't cover it, the UN has a hard time raising money to pay for the relief or peacekeeping operations. Currently, Africa is the scene of some of the most under-reported (and thus under-funded) disasters. These include places like Congo, Somalia and Liberia, where, for Western journalists, the accommodations are primitive, the danger (from bandits and such) very real and the disaster itself not very dramatic (from a news point of view.) People are dying in each of these areas because years, in some cases decades, of fighting and corruption have destroyed the economy, created many criminal gangs and private armies, and overwhelmed any attempts to provide police, or any other, government services. As a result, millions have died, and more continue to die.

Unfortunately, the mass media want to report events that contain some drama. That's what attracts eyeballs, and advertisers who will pay the bills. A groups of teenage boys wandering through the countryside, looting, raping and killing as they go, doesn't make the headlines. This is especially true if this adolescent mayhem is about all that happens, aside from other people dying from starvation and disease. Tragic, yes. Newsworthy, no. In competition with an airplane crash, trapped miners or someone trying to build nuclear weapons, the African tragedies don't stand a chance.

The UN has tried to change the situation by supporting local journalists, or news services that specialize in the out-of-the-way stories. That hasn't worked. Even local journalists have a hard time covering these stories. This is partly because all the destruction has eliminated most of the local media. Those journalists still in business have to be careful about offending local warlords, who are quick to anger if they get bad press locally. Journalists have been murdered for this sort of thing.

The UN knows that if it starts subsidizing local journalists, all will be accused of self serving and just trying to use the media to hustle donor nations for more bucks. A more likely solution comes in the form of the nations involved, and their neighbors (the "Third World") putting up money to support local reporters in disaster zones, and provide communications services to get those stories out. So, if you see more stories next year about out-of-the-way disasters, it's probably no accident.


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