Fight Terrorism, Not Journalism

With the United States firmly entrenched in the Iraqi war, new questions arise about the role of the media in a war context. Television and radio stations throughout Iraq and the Arab world are broadcasting either subtle anti-American messages or full-blow hate speech railing against the policies and leaders of the United States. In response to this, some in the military and the media have called for the United States to forcibly suspend the operations of these broadcasters. The problem with taking any action like that should be obvious. We cannot realistically claim to be spreading democracy throughout the world when we quell any press that we view to be anti-American. The policy of the United States is, and should always remain, that unless a media outlet is publishing calls for violence or harm against others, that outlet should be allowed to continue in its speech. We all know that the prevailing sentiment in the Arab world is anti-American. Stations like Al-Jazeera are a reflection of the popular opinion, and we know that they often take an anti-American side or fabricate details of stories with an anti-American background. Even with these flagrant violations of the truth, America should be very careful about any action taken against Arab networks for numerous reasons. First, as previously outlined, any action by the United States to suppress free speech runs counter to all of our ideals as a nation. Second, the public image of the United States would be further tarnished beyond the damage that has already occurred. What is the solution, then? Obviously, a United States run television or radio station brings tremendous problems with it. Not only does such an outlet have zero credibility with the people of hostile lands, but in order for a station to be engaging to its viewers, it requires a tremendous outlay of resources that could be more effectively spent elsewhere. America should take advantage of the experts who are already entrenched in the Arab world: the independent television and radio stations already in existence. What these stations bring to the table is outstanding: a vested economic interest in making sure that people are getting their messages. The United States can take advantage of this by creating a task force specifically designed to make sure the truth is told to the viewers in the Arab world. Rapid-response centers, sometimes known as “War Rooms,” have long existed in presidential politics, the military and crisis situations. They are places where incoming information can be coordinated and effectively dealt with by a team of knowledgeable experts. This “war room” should be staffed by Arabic-speaking public relations experts with contacts in Middle-Eastern press who can be dispatched to television and radio stations to help ensure that the truth gets out. One major problem that could manifest itself with such an arrangement is that the public relations experts are denied all the information from the front lines in a timely fashion, thus, a strict “no-B.S.” policy should be put into place. Generals and commanders should be expected to report an accurate version of events to the “War Room”, and these events should be relayed to the media outlets in a truthful manner. With such a policy, it would be clear that the United States supports getting the truth out, and not just spinning for its own interests. In the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Arab world, the United States can emerge victorious. The presence of a free press in the Middle East will fan the fragile flames of democracy that we have kindled and ensure that they can never be extinguished.