BY SAEED NAQVI
My first encounter with Western propaganda was during the Sino-Vietnam war of February 1978.
I was in Beijing as part of the media team which had accompanied Atal Behari Vajpayee, then India’s Minister for External Affairs. Deng Xiaoping, who had warned he would teach Vietnam a lesson, carried out the threat without taking Vajpayee into confidence, although other non-aligned countries like Yugoslavia were informed.
The Indian delegation, faces in the lower mould, cut short what was billed to be a historic visit, and left for home after that mandatory shopping in Hong Kong.
I applied for permission to visit the front. The Chinese promised they would try. Two days later they said a visit to the war front was not possible. I rushed to Bangkok where the ever helpful Abid Hussain (who retired as Ambassador to US) introduced me to a scion of the distinguished Bao Dai family who obtained for me the priceless visa for Hanoi in a jiffy. In Hanoi the all powerful Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Xuan Thuy, arranged for me to be driven to a vantage point on the hill with a commanding view of Lang Son where the most decisive battle of the war was fought. The celebrating, rejoicing soldiers in Lang Son confirmed Vietnam’s victory.
The Indian Express front paged the Lang Son datelined story in which it was clear that Vietnam had won. Ranjit Sethi, who was in our Beijing mission sent me an ecstatic note but Defence Secretary, Sushital Bannerjee, was more cautious. Was I sure of my facts because the Western media was saying quite the opposite?
I countered: “How could the Western media say anything without having covered the war from either of the fronts?” I was the only foreign correspondent in Vietnam. The Chinese had refused.
It was clear the triangular strategic balance Kissinger had sketched, Washington-Beijing-Moscow, was not going to be allowed to be wrecked by the media. The new US ally during the cold war, China, was not going to be exposed to negative publicity for being defeated by a country which had just a few years ago driven the US itself out of Vietnam.
A huge question mark was placed on my Vietnam-victory story which otherwise was a scoop. Even my editor, Sri Mulgaokar was more inclined to accept the Western version than one having been put out by his own reporter. It took years for global conventional wisdom to change: Vietnam had, indeed, won the 1978 war.
The Western attitude of simply ignoring a version not to its liking was effective largely because of considerable indigenous preferential support for the foreigner’s point of view.
Birth of the global media with the CNN’s live coverage of operation Desert Storm in 1992 was gingered up by advances in techniques of media management. Many of us in Baghdad speculated war may not take place because of the American’s post Vietnam aversion to body bags on TV screens.
So, the Anglo American combine took care to hide the body bags “totally from view”. The monopoly of TV coverage was with CNN’s Peter Arnett on the terrace of Al Rashied hotel. By the time of the Intifadas, Bosnian and Serbian wars and occupation of Iraq, BBC World Service too was in full cry.
With each war, the technology for propaganda has been consistently refined, as in Libya and Syria. In Afghanistan and Iraq Al Jazeera exposed the Western media’s lies. Leaders of the free world bombed Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad, a fact Ragge Omar, the once star BBC reporter cannot ever forget. “We reported the fall of Basra 17 times, each time a lie”, says Omar.
By the time of the Libyan and Syrian action, Qatar had made up with Saudi Arabia in solidarity of monarchies. So BBC and CNN tried to minimize damage to their plummeting reputation by quoting Al Jazeera and Al Arabia distortions.
Now comes the scandalous case of the satirical programme Parazit supposedly telecast from Teheran to lampoon the regime. The programme actually beamed from LA, is totally financed by the US government. Go on your youtube and you will find Hillary Clinton being interviewed on Parazit. Indeed, CIA Chief David Petraeus says future wars will be in the Information Space.
What space for a credible media now?
Meanwhile, everyone is catching on, including the Wall Street protestors.
(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)