Churchill said that the truth needed a ‘bodyguard’ of lies. The propaganda campaign which was part of the effort by both sides during World War 2 has been resurrected for the modern era. During the Cold War Soviet propaganda was often clumsy, but a lot of it was very subtle. All that was required was to change the minds of the audience you are addressing. There were many in the West who felt that the Soviet regime was more sinned against than sinning.
The digital era of social media has added a whole new dimension to the meaning of ‘mass communications’. During World War 2 Goebbels understood the power of having a radio in every household; both to control the domestic audience, as well as influencing the minds of the enemy. Autocracies rely on uniformity of thought to sustain their legitimacy. In democracies, so the theory goes, pluralistic media outlets mean that Government cannot control what people think. The rise of social media, bloggers and smart phones has seen a decline in readership of mainstream ‘newspapers’; add to this a plethora of cable and satellite news channels and we are faced with a babel of choices.
A recent gathering of military and media figures took place at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London' including our correspondent Nick Watts, to consider the twin issues of War in the Information age and the role of Strategic Communications (StratCom). Politicians and commanders need to be aware of the changed media landscape when they are considering military operations. Communications has been seen as an add-on to campaign planning. The days when journalists could be corralled into briefings with a junior staff officer are long past. Apart from freelance journalists, photographers and bloggers in war zones, there is the chorus of social media. The advent of the mobile phone means that everybody is now a cameraman. The smart phone made the Arab spring possible, but it has also enabled Da’esh to promulgate its propaganda.