From ‘CNN effect’ to influencing operations | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


The recent events that include the sudden outrage shown by the Islamic nations against the BJP spokesperson, the narrative developed by Pakistan on Kashmir attracting US Secretary of State Blinken’s statement that the United States was monitoring ‘the rise in human rights abuses in India by some officials,’ the continuing attacks on the government for allegedly its pro-right wing approach and the NATO’s narrative on the Ukrainian conflict indicate that media is now assuming the role of the decisive factor in international relations. The speed with which the statement of the BJP spokesperson was disseminated which attracted reactions by several Islamic nations suggests the indomitable force of media in impacting international ties. Crucially, the spokesperson says the interview was edited to give an impression that she used derogatory language for the Prophet that attracted severe criticism for the Islamic nations. She apologised and the Indian government stated that the statement came from the fringe element in a damage control exercise.

The controversy over CAA, temple-mosque issues were projected by Pakistan and its supporters as attacks on the minority which often drew adverse comments from Islamic countries and OIC. The communal situation is projected as oppression of minorities. The Islamic religious leaders even justify violence e.g. the Qazi of Kanpur’s statement. Similarly, the NATO narrative on the Ukrainian situation is dominating while the Russian narrative hardly gets mentioned in the electronic media. While 100 nations either remained neutral or sided with Russia and only 93 nations supported the NATO, the latter’s narrative is well-publicised. There is no case to support the Russian invasion but this is yet another example of the media role. The big media giants and channels are either owned or under the influence of NATO and its allies.

All the above incidents indicate the prowess of media in international relations: media is the king in international ties and dominance in this sphere gives an upper hand over others. The battlefield of international politics has shifted from geographical and physical levels to communication levels with modern media tools playing a crucial role in perceptions and image-making role turning the domestic population as a weapon of adversaries.

It is over 30 years since debate on the relationship between the TV news coverage and consequent decisions to intervene for humanitarian purposes, occupied a good deal of scholarly debates as also political attention. It was then termed as “the CNN effect” that included all electronic channels like Al-Jazeera and BBC etc. They were seen as the driving force for humanitarian intervention in Somalia (1992-93) and Bosnia (1995). However, soon the view changed as they could generate public opinion forcing the governments to take some particular action including mobilisation of forces. These channels were addressing majority of population at the same time resulting in developing perceptions based on media stories. Media pressure could trigger the air power intervention in Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999. The intervention in Northern Iraq in 1991 is only partially considered as the result of media pressure to protect the Kurdish refugees as the strategic consideration played the dominant role. This was the period which saw 24-hour channels describing the operations against Saddam.

The proliferation of new communication technology, such as portable satellite broadcasting, equipment and the emergence of digital cameras contained within mobile phones, Internet of Things including World Wide Web brought to the world events around the globe practically in real time to a large section of the world population. Any event can be captured on ‘camera’ and that information then passed around the world instantaneously via the internet or global media. The channels found that they could project their stories with conviction. The dependence on the official sources diminished for the channels and social media. At the same time, social media platforms began to play a major role in public diplomacy. Diplomats and governments began to use the social media for their outreach. The social media is used by national governments for promoting trade, cultural linkages and national image.

Realising the power of the media channels, governments and terrorist began to use media for justifying their policies. Notwithstanding negligible evidence, in 2002-03, the US projected that Saddam Hussein had WMD and that he could use it within 45 minutes. The UK JIC in a coordinated manner placed its intelligence assessment in the public domain on this issue, which was very sketchy and did not indicate that Iraq at that time possessed WMD. But this was an exercise in projecting a view point to change the perception of the people world over to justify the operations of the US and its allies in Iraq. Obviously, the objective was control over oil in the region. This was one of the most important exploitations of information channels for projecting a pre-determined objective. The terrorists also began to use Internet of Things to propagate their ideology based on violence.

This was the time, when operations against the Taliban were started after the 9/11 attacks. Operations in both in Afghanistan and Iraq were placed in the narrative of “War on Terror”, justifying the operations designed to eliminate the threat from the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. It did not matter that the US had been supporting the Islamic fundamentalists against the USSR in that region, through Pakistan.

China towards the end of the 20th Century came up with Three Warfares doctrine to strengthen its claims over neighbouring regions and criticise the US and its allies. These included psychological warfare, media warfare and lawfare. Using these, it ensured to create artificial islands and weaponised them. It keeps on trying to change the LAC to its advantage ignoring all the previous agreements. The Sino-Pak axis is operating against the Indian interests. They are strange bed-fellows-one communist and other Islamic fundamentalist, reflecting national interests can bring the two ideologically opposite nations together. Al Qaeda has joined Pakistan in threatening attacks in India, reflecting continuing nexus with the Pak Establishment.

More harmful is their joint effort to target the civil society in India. Pakistan is not concerned about oppression of Uyghurs: it only propagates against Indian policies based on manufactured lies. The influence operations based on carefully designed plans after collecting big data are aimed at manipulating the perceptions of population against the current government.

India had been targeted by Pak-based terrorist outfits which are radicalising youth in India particularly in J&K. This is continuing currently where a campaign to terrorise Hindus is going on. This is part of a well-planned operations involving not only Pakistan but other countries too, which consider the rise of India against their interests. Those nations were observing developing close relations with some of the West Asian countries with awe. This coupled with India’s rise as reflected in Quad meetings, India’s firm approach towards the Ukraine-Russia conflict and deepening of relations with South East Asian nations could only generate fears among the established powers of losing their hold on the international structures.

The key point is that in the current media environment the adversaries have acquired power to use domestic population to oppose the government polices even if they are right by creating an adverse perception. This demands well-informed policy debates involving citizens. Experts should be involved in projecting the flaws in the adversaries’ arguments calmly preferably in informed debates and in writings. Our adversaries have well-oiled and controlled media outlets like Global Times and several other research journals to project their point of view. Heated arguments on the electronic media or social media platforms, and the hate-speeches must be stopped. The government may start a dialogue with the Opposition, which is suffering form the loss of power and is easily playing into the hands of adversaries.

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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