PART V : THE WAY AHEAD
“Smart generals understand all too well that wars can be won on the world’s television screens as well as on the battlefield”.
– Alvin and Heidi Toffler in “War and Anti War”.
Enumerate National Information and Media Policies. The government must enumerate national information and media policies and the aspect of defence coverage, in peacetime, conventional and LIC environment, must be adequately covered. Maj Gen Arjun Ray highlights the difference between the two. The information policy concerns the right of the citizen to information within and without the government , and the enactment of laws to facilitate such a flow. Media policy on the other hand includes all elements relating to information and communications to cover its relations with the media.
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Statement of Policy.The media policy must address the core issue of defining the degree and kind of restraints to be placed on the media during peace, low intensity conflict and war in order to ensure positive media coverage without loss of credibility and endangering operational security and troop safety. It must lay down the media objectives, priorities, methods, means and constraints for the three situations.
Transparency and Media Pools.Transparency must form a corner stone of the media policy as it will lead to greater public understanding and awareness which in turn will lead to greater appreciation and public confidence in the armed forces. One way of achieving this is by forming ‘Media Pools’ at different levels from services headquarters to corps. These pools must be composed of accredited and security-cleared representatives of different national and regional media and nominated by their parent organisations. These pools must be activated during exercises, low intensity conflicts and war and kept in readiness to be moved to the scene of action at short notice. Such a system will facilitate the media to cover operations in remote locations by being present at the scene of action, which it cannot otherwise do and at the same time facilitate the army in planning for handling and assisting media without compromising on security.
Joint Security Review. A system of joint security review must be worked out in consultation with the Press Council of India and eminent media persons to replace the system of pre-censorship during peace and operations. This will go a long way towards enhancing the credibility of the armed forces.
Accreditation of Defence Correspondents.Requisite qualifications for defence correspondents, such as a degree in defence studies and the ‘Defence Correspondents Course’ must be made mandatory for a journalist to be accredited as a defence correspondent. Efforts must be made to grant accreditation to adequate number of representatives of regional media, especially in areas affected by or having the potential for LIC.
Self Restraint by Media.Self restraint by media is any day preferable to pre censorship and will only enhance media credibility. A list of sensitive issues on which the media must exercise restraint and different sets of security guidelines for covering defence matters during peace, exercises, LIC and war must be evolved in consultation with the media and notified to the media and their organisation such as the Press Council of India.
Official Secrets Act.The Official Secrets Act 1923 must be revised to incorporate the damage potential of a piece of information as the overriding factor in determining whether or not its disclosure and receiver are guilty. Such a step will be a big stride towards recognition of the ‘right to know’ in a democracy.
Interaction with Foreign Media.Interaction with foreign media abroad can be left to the Indian mission located in that country. However, the DIPO should have the authority and the where-with-all to deal with international media in New Delhi. Similar flexibility would need to be made available at the Regional Command level.
Setting up of an Apex Body. There is a clear need to replace the DPR with an integrated body to coordinate the functions of various Public Relations Organizations. For instance in the LIC environment there is a case of overlapping authority, where the armed forces and the numerous Central Police Organisations have their own Public Relation Departments, with different perceptions, interpretations and claims. These need to be coordinated by an Apex Body as they affect official credibility. This Apex Body should comprise officials and media specialists of sufficient standing to be included in high level policy meetings. It should include representative from the military, the media and the affected states. This Body should issue media policy directives, evaluate the need and level of controls to be imposed and be a fountainhead for information release. This should be headed by a Joint Secretary (PR), who should act as a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, and should report directly to the Defence Secretary. He can be drawn from the armed forces or the All India Services, but more importantly should be chosen because of his background and experience in matters relating to national security and the military. On the formation of a National Security Council, this Apex body could form an important part of it, for dissemination of information and as an interface with the media.
Media and Psychological Operations Directorate-Corps of PR. The armed forces Public Relation Department needs to be organised into a uniformed joint service organisation, the Corps of PR, under the Chiefs of Defence Staff (CDS). This is so, as the PR organisation is the basic vehicle available to the Services to counter terrorist and military propaganda. The existing organisation is ill suited to handle the psychological nature of media operations in the LIC and counter-terrorism scenario. The appointment of an Additional Director General (Media and Psychological Operations) and the setting up of a Directorate functioning under the CDS, to coordinate the media needs of the Services, would be a step in the right direction. The ADG should be assisted by PR Staff drawn from the three Services, and needs to function in close coordination with their operations and intelligence staff.
Establishment of Army Liaison Cell.It is an innovation since 1996 which has virtually taken over the task of providing information on operational matters. A similar cell was set up during Kargil which achieved outstanding results. It is headed by a Brigadier at Army HQ in South Block who functions directly under the Vice Chief of Army Staff and hence enjoys better access to all formation commands in the country, which the DPR does not have. The protocol between the Cell and the media should be clearly defined in the larger interest of defence media coverage. Also, the Cell needs to be relocated as it is housed in a prohibited area to which the media has no easy access.
Establishment of Media and Psychological Operation Cells (MAPO). At each command and corps HQs, and their equivalent levels in the other two services, these cells should be established to cater for the media needs of the respective formations. In formations involved in LIC and counter- insurgency operations additional staff can be authorised on their establishment to cover the operational requirements of various divisions and brigades under them. Particular attention is required for staffing these cells as the officers selected as PROs should be highly motivated career officers, with the requisite aptitude and training for media handling.
Selection and Training of PROs. Officers with aptitude and potential for creative writing and media management should be deputed for professional courses in media related activities or mass communications at the university level. On completion of training they should form the core for staffing the Corps of PR and MAPO cells at various levels. The officers so selected should be ‘up coming’ career officers, who should be given adequate incentives to choose this stream as a career option. They should attend courses conducted at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications (IIMC) periodically as they rise in service. At the Apex level the ADG (Media and Psy Ops) should be top professionals with adequate experience in combating LIC and counter – insurgency operations, and a flair for media handling. Provisions should also be made through which the Government can directly induct suitably qualified personnel from the media into the Defence Media Management organisation when required.
Rank and Status of the PROs.The rank and status of the PROs needs to be elevated and the balance of the armed forces made to recognise their importance in the battle field, during LIC and military operations other than war.
Exclusive Cadre of Defence Information Officers. At the DPR level, the Ministry of Defence should evolve an exclusive cadre of Defence Information Officers who can be posted to various locations according to the demands and needs of the three services. Ex servicemen could be inducted into such a service if they have the aptitude.
Posting of Officers to PR Corps.It is recommended that only selection grade officers from the three services, with sufficient knowledge of various disciplines of the defence forces should be posted to the PR organisation. They should also have a reasonable tenure to maintain continuity as otherwise they are not likely to maintain interest.
Budget and Resources.The PR budget of a defence establishment of this size must be increased manifold from the current level.
Reccomendations for the Armed Forces
Information Warfare – Principle of War. Information warfare for military operations should be conducted concurrently with operational planning as a Principle of War. This should be institutionalized at the level of policy formation.
Media an Equal Partner. In our democratic nation the media should be accepted as an equal partner working for the good of the people and the country at large. In the effort towards building a more positive image of the armed forces, the media must be encouraged to report on operations by being present at the scene of action if security permits.
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Rapport with Media.A conscious effort needs to be made to build up a rapport with media at all levels and more so at the level of senior commanders and staff officers. Interaction by way of organising seminars and guest lectures, mutual visits, inviting articles of eminent media persons in professional military journals and contribution of papers for professional media journals by service officers must be encouraged at all levels as a matter of policy. Media should also be invited to military events such as fire power demonstrations, tactical exercises, sports and welfare activities and ceremonial functions in Officers’ Messes.
Ground rules . A set of firm ground rules should be established as a guide for a mutually beneficial relationship. This relationship should be based on a positive, open and anti-media bias of the Armed Forces; and the media on its part should be objective and fair, as also be understanding about the constraints under which the military has to operate.
Surveys and Opinion Polls – Need for a Regular Feed Back System. To ensure that the media coverage of the armed forces remains focused and positive, and to gauge its effect on the public from different regions; and on troops and their families, a system of obtaining regular feed back must be instituted. This could be obtained through the conduct of surveys and opinion polls conducted by renowned and recognized organisations. The information so obtained through these methods must form the basis for the formulation of a media strategy for the projection of a correct image of the armed forces.
Training of Officers. Media and its handling must form part of the curriculum at all stages of an officers career starting from pre-commission training in the academies to post-commission training in all arms courses right up to senior levels, especially at the Defence Services Staff College. Commands and corps must also organise cadres and seminars on this subject for the benefit of other officers. Innovative methods of media training must be incorporated in all exercises and wargames for commanders and staff officers.
Training of Troops. Dealing with media must form a part of various promotion cadres for Non Commissioned and Junior Commissioned Officers. In addition troops must be briefed regularly and practised in handling media persons during exercises.
Training of Media Persons. Efforts must be made in consultation with the Press Council of India, various media organizations, University Grants Commission and leading universities conducting courses in journalism to incorporate defence awareness programmes and specifics of defence journalism in their curriculum. The scope of the War Correspondents courses presently conducted at the Intelligence School, Pune must be enhanced and it should be made a compulsory prerequisite for accredition as a defence correspondent. An advanced/refresher course should be designed for interested senior defence correspondents. Training should also be imparted by incorporating the media in various formation level exercises and wargames, to enable them to familiarize with combat environment.
General Staff Pamphlets. All aspects of media handling by the army including the role and effect of media in various operations must be published as a General Staff publication. Current series of publications on ‘Operations of War’ and ‘Counter Insurgency Operations’ must be modified to incorporate a chapter on media.
In order to foster a symbiotic relationship with media we must have a hard and deep look at our attitudes towards the media, both individual and organizational. Before any organizational change is possible attitudinal focus is essential. We need to brush off the stifling colonial mindsets and join the information age in an aggressive manner. The Army must become less sensitive to media reports and must view them as constructive criticism. We cannot and must not expect an adulatory or laudatory media all the time as was the case in Kargil. The Army must accept the fact that the media is an ally and must be treated as such . In the information age synergy with the media is a force multiplier.
1 Dinesh Kumar, “Media Management Survival kit for Armed Forces” , Times of India, 24 Nov 2000.
2 Ray Arjun , Major General, Kashmir Diary, Psychology of Militancy, Manas Publications, 1997, pp113.
3 Adrianwala, op.cit. pp12
4 Natrajan V C, op. cit. pp 36.
5 Dutt J K, “Media and the Military”, The Statesman ,26 Jul 98.
1 Dinesh Kumar, “Media Management Survival kit for Armed Forces” , Times of India, 24 Nov 2000.
 Ray Arjun , Major General, Kashmir Diary, Psychology of Militancy, Manas Publications, 1997, pp113.
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 Adrianwala, op.cit. pp12