Sergei SHASHKOV – Independent analyst and researcher
The media have long evolved into a kind of auxiliary warfare, and, in terms of their impact, now almost rank with weapons of mass destruction. The West maintains a number of media-related institutions which, in the majority of cases, are integrated into defense or security agencies, serving to feed carefully tailored information to the audiences and to influence the public opinion. Part of their mission is to instill robotically unwaivering support for military campaigns including bombings and occupations of sovereign countries while justifying tolerance, oftentimes temporary, in dealing with others…
The corresponding techniques are being permanently refined. The contrast between the former information campaigns — those which paralleled the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999 and preceded the «democratization» of Iraq in 2003 – and the current one around Libya highlights the impressive progress made by media technologies along with the striking buildup of cynicism over the relatively short period of time…
In today's world, the task of the media is to portray situations in line with the powerful decision-makers' needs rather than to reflect reality. The masters of disinformation may believe proudly that they are shaping the audiences' perceptions, but in practice their role is limited to airing preset viewpoints and telling the truth in dozes carefully measured to promote the political agendas behind the media campaigns.
In the case of Libya, the key requirement to be met by independent media — to supply unbiased information — was neglected almost openly. Even the minimal reporting from Tripoli was diluted with sarcastic comments, and any citations of the Libyan government's statements were automatically recast in the form of allegations. At times the media conduct was downright blasphemous: upon being given a tour of the devastations caused by NATO air raids and shown the mortuaries with the victims' bodies, some journalists asserted that the regime collected corpses of people who had died of all sorts of causes and presented them as evidence that the point strikes came with a civilian death toll. The myths floated by the media included claims that Gadhafi fled the country, his son switched to the opposition's side, adviser's from Belarus were helping Gadhafi's army, and hundreds of mercenaries from African countries were fighting for Gadhafi and paid $2,000 per day.
Over 800 foreign journalists, most of whom had no visas needed for the legal entry of Libya, were working in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi by March 20. They lacked official accreditations and permits to take pictures but knew exactly what they were supposed to do — they were in every way slamming the Libyan regime and its supporters.
It transpired by early April that the blueprint for the offensive against Libya was stalling, and for the most part the countless media people smearing Gadhafi promptly left the country. Those who remained were a handful of freelancers and a bunch of disciplined professionals from the media outlets where the belief that the campaign was lost did not prevail.
Russia's media community fully took part in the disinformation onslaught on Libya. Servile Russian media serially replicated materials borrowed from their Western peers and even tried to demonstrate that they had plenty of stuff of their own that could hurt Gadhafi's regime. Their attacks on Libya's government were invariably vile and seldom linked to reality.
On March 6-7, two aircrafts of Russia's Emergency Ministry landed in Tunisia's Djerba airport with a humanitarian cargo for «Libyan refugees». According to the Ministry's site, the whole mission counted as «assistance to Libya». No doubt, the 34 tons of baby foods, etc. from Russia were a welcome donation, but by the time even the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had to admit that Libyans were not fleeing from Libya. The «refugees» were migrants – citizens of Egypt, Bangladesh, Niger, Chad — who used to sell low-grade labor in Libya. Interestingly, most of the «300,000 refugees» were Egyptians, who, when asked why they headed for Tunisia instead of Egypt, replied that to get to their home country they would have had to traverse rebel-controlled areas where, as they heard from Egypt, they could be beheaded as «Gadhafi's dogs». In the meantime, the global media were telling about hundreds of thousands of Libyans seeking shelter from Gadhafi's regime, and the Tunisian administration had no idea how to take care of the masses. In a couple of weeks, the migrants who planned to leave Libya were out of the country and the EU unanouncedly took to ferrying thousands of Egyptians from Tunisia to Egypt, while some 120,000 migrants from African and Asian countries stuck in the refugee camp were of interest only to the police of Tunisia and to various small-scale NGOs. Still, the King Idris monarchist flags — a symbol of Libyan rebels — are hanging proudly above the tents in refugee camps where actually no Libyans are living. The same flags appeared in numbers in Benghazi on February 17, on the eve of a massive advent of the international media.
Parallel to the nonexistent exodus of Libyans to Tunisia, refugee camps hosting people fleeing from Gadhafi's regime were shown to the media in Egypt. The camps remained uninhabited for two weeks and were quietly dismantled thereafter, while the humanitarian convoys heading for Benghazi used to be looted in Egypt's border zone. As it was realized later, the only way to secure the humanitarian convoys was to bracket them with the heavily guarded convoys carrying weapons for the rebels. Explainably, the media prefer to overlook all of the above.
As for Russia's official position, it seems to be continuously fluctuating. Occasionally, the Russian media failed to track the changes timely and inadvertently voiced asynchronous assessments.
On March 21, Russian premier V. Putin said that the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was «defective and flawed» as it «allowed for everything» and «resembled medieval calls for crusades». The same day, Russian president D. Medvedev said Moscow found nothing wrong with Resolution 1973 and expressed the view that the current developments grew out of the Libyan government's mischief and crimes against its own nation.
According to public opinion polls, 75%-85% of Russians disagreed with the above, which did not seem to be taken into account by Russia's officialdom and in any case was totally ignored by the Russian media. Having probed into the position of the Russian leadership via their own channels, the Russian media continued to lambast Gadhafi and extol his opponents.
Just a week later, on March 28, Russia's foreign minister S. Lavrov said the Western coalition's operation in Libya de facto amounted to support for the opposition and to the intervention in Libya's civil war, which had not authorised by the UN Security Council. The statement did not come from the presidential level and, moreover, was made at a meeting with Kyrgyzstan's foreign minister, leading the politically connected media execs to maintain their position unchanged, but the situation persisted only till mid-April. Starting in mid-April, the theme of Libya largely receded from the media discourse but the assessments that did surface became markedly sober. The explanation behind the whole phenomenon is hitherto unknown.
On April 26, V. Putin stressed that no country in the world had a license to kill Gadhafi: «They said they didn't want to kill Gaddafi. Now some officials say, yes, we are trying to kill Gaddafi. Who permitted this, was there any trial? Who took on the right to execute this man, no matter who he is?» and expressed the view that those who are pounding Libya are hungry for its natural resources.
On Sunday, May 1, Russia's foreign ministry released a statement calling into question the sincerity of the NATO declaration that the May 1 air raid did not specifically target Gadhafi and his family. According to the foreign ministry statement, the Western coalition overstepped the limits of the UN mandate which did not authorize regime change in Libya. The statement was prompted by a NATO air raid which left dead Gadhafi's son, who was a graduate student, and three grandsons along with other civilians.
In other words, it took over two months to call into question the things which were dubious even on February 27 when the UN Security Council slapped sanctions on Libya by passing Resolution 1970. On top of disallowing the travel of Gadhafi and his family outside of Libya, the Resolution called all UN countries to take «measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from or through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned».
The transfer of munitions to Libya in the form of bombing Tripoli is perfectly all right with the global media, though. Violations of Resolutions 1970 and 1973 are common knowledge, but the media only do what they are told to…