News -> Newspeak, Media in the Age of Unreality : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Information War McKenzie Wark Friday, 26 March 1999

Now that the war in Europe is on in earnest, so too is the information war. Watching television newscasts the day after NATO launched its first air strikes, what struck me was that news airtime played host to another kind of air strike. This was not news, this was the simulation of news.

Nearly all channels carried images of what we are told are Tomahawk cruise missiles being launched from ships, and what we are told are images of B2 bombers. Then we cut to images of something burning in what we are told is Belgrade, or some other site in Serbia -- little brightly coloured maps give a crude approximation of locations.

These reports were all vague and sketchy, except concerning the type of weapons used. These details, like the images of the weapons of war, clearly come from military sources. The editing creates the impression that the missile or the bomber is the one that creates the damage in the following shot.

Given the way these montages conjure impressions of NATO power, its really quite understandable that the Serbs should try to prevent journalists from filming the results of the air strikes. Those images that photojournalists and camera crews have transmitted to the west are clearly being used in the west for propaganda purposes.

So too are those eerie images of bunkers being blown up in Iraq, the use of which clearly has nothing to do with the facts of this war and everything to do with creating the fantasy of the destructive power of the air strike. When a news program cuts together an image of a cruise missile launch with an image of an Iraqi bunker blowing up, we reach the surreal situation where *neither* image is actually of an air strike against Serbia, yet both are presented as if as visual 'proof'.

The newspapers don't necessarily fair much better. Last Friday both the Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald carried the same photo, which the former claimed showed damage to a Serbian aircraft factory, the latter a *military* aircraft factory. The picture shows a litter of air conditioning ducts, light fittings and what are clearly *civilian* planes.

Meanwhile, talking heads conduct their own war. Video shot in Russia, Serbia, America, England show leaders who appear to be talking to each other as much as to their respective national publics. International news becomes the site of a subtle verbal conflict. Global media vectors make possible not only the fictional war stories favoured by the evening news, but equally entertaining tales composed by duelling statesmen.

That truth is the first casualty of war is now a truism. Broadcasters no longer feel obliged even to identify the military or government sources of much of their video. But perhaps this simulation of news of war is really just a heightened form of the fictional nature of news in general, in which video and press handouts feed a voracious demand for stories with the comforting illusion of reality about them.

Even from this sceptical point of view, it still matters, perhaps matters even more, that the information war means the shutting down of alternative claims to fabricate images and stories. Last week, the Serbian government confiscated the transmitter of Radio B92. The station's editor in chief, Veran Matic, was held in police custody for 8 hours.

Broadcast media vectors are easy for governments to control, due to their centralised means of information transmission. The laptop, the modem, the cell phone and the satellite are making it hard for either side to have complete control over the manufacture of wartime reality. Since 1996, B92's critical view of the Serbian government has also been available via the Dutch internet service Xs4all. These digital broadcasts are sometimes picked up by the BBC World Service and retransmitted via satellite. A network of local radio stations in Serbia then rebroadcast the B92 signal.

Media activists around the world are now working to maintain not only B92 but other independent media from Serbia and Kosovo. The web site has more details -- and an urgent call for help in maintaining the free flow of information from diverse sources under these conditions of information war.

According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Serbian media has been drafted for the information war, and in perhaps an even less subtle way than in the west. The Institute's monitoring points to the effective used of vox pops -- interviews with ordinary people in the street -- and of opinion polls, to create the impression of unified Serbian support for the war. The Institute also has its criticisms of B92, which it claims has done an excellent job in terms fusing a variety of news sources, but which inserts anti-government editorialising too. (See

I'm not convinced that news in wartime is necessarily more fabricated than news in peacetime. What strikes me as the real problem is that the process of fabricating coherent flows of image and story becomes polarised. The rival sides do their best to subordinate the news-making process to war aims, and in the process the range of perceptions and interpretations of events is reduced.

No wonder wars always seem to go wrong. The process of producing and selecting facts to fit a story predetermined by the war aims of one side or the other seems to come up against increasing difficulties. The available images and facts increasingly fail to fit the story chosen in advance for them. Whether in Yugoslavia, or Iraq, or Somalia, or Afghanistan, the news story, as it progressed, seemed increasingly unable to account for the available facts.

Boredom and another crisis somewhere else usually intervenes -- but notice, in retrospect, how mistaken the story propounded in the information war was in each of these cases. Saddam Hussein is still in power, despite the supposedly lethal accuracy of those smart bombs, the video images of which are being recycled now, for yet another war.

This is why the efforts of xs4all to keep B92's views flowing matter -- as a form of resistance to the collapse of perspective that is the information war.

McKenzie Wark is the author of Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace, published by Pluto Press, and is senior lecturer in media studies at Macquarie University.

-- Blue Himalayan (bh@k2.y), March 29, 1999


Thanks Blue.

I am CONVINCED this is propaganda on high from this president to de- rail the ChinaGate and espionage stuff that was supposed to have hearings last week, plus it helps his vision of a NWO.

ALL the news media is doing is shouting the mantra "The Serbs are committing MORE atrocities against ethnic Albanians (nevermind that Albanians make up MOST of the population in Kosovo- who's the ethnic minority there?). WHERE"S THE PROOF the Serbs are commiting genocide as this administration CONSTANTLY repeats? Where's the independent verification???? Where's the BALANCE????? THERE IS NONE!!!

In regards to Y2K, we can expect the same spin and propaganda about failures and other Y2K related disasters.

In regards to Kosovo, this is nothing but spin and propaganda.

This is an attempt by the propaganda machine of this evil Administration to GET Americans on-board to support this President's policy. But how can we believe anything this admitted liar says? Remember the attack on the Sudanese Asprin factory last Fall? We were told it was a Biological weapons factory. Only European newspapers reported that the claims Clinton made were bullshit.

Have any of you to-date seen any footage of the bombed encampment of Bin-Laden from last Fall? How do we know that attack happened? Because Clinton said so??????

I can understand why Russia and China are pissed-off and worried. Will we go into China next to stop "their atrocities against little girls and pro- Democratic dissenters??" It's a question I know Beijing is asking.

I'm afraid folks Clinton has signed our death warrants. Serbians do not forget. Remember these are the same folks that ignited WWI. The hatreds and vengeances run long and deep. Clinton has successfully pissed-off the whole world. Most notably, all of our former Allies.

Y2K may indeed be a "bump-in-the-road" compared to what other fun situations will develop shortly.

-Got bomb shelter?

-- INVAR (, March 29, 1999.

Blue Himalayan,

One of the sad parts is that so many Americans just don't care.


"Serbians do not forget. Remember these are the same folks that ignited WWI. The hatreds and vengeances run long and deep."

They also do not live under 'the rule of law' it's pretty much an eye for an eye. Kind of a scary situation with all those Russian Nukes lying around. I would really hate to ba a captured pilot!

-- Deborah (, March 29, 1999.

Americans WILL CARE......When it's too late.

We're gonna get what we deserve. And soon.

Complacency and indifference and concern for our selfish selves and stock portfolios whilst the world collapses around us, will soon bite. And bite HARD.

To those that don't wanna will.

-- INVAR (, March 29, 1999.

In my never to be humble opinion,...anyone who buys the propaganda coming out of the evening news about the "war Serbia" needs to have their eyes, ears and mouths washed out with soap. We are in Orwellian times...been so since just after WWII, (and of course before). Expecting to get truth from "news" is pure foolishness.

Got a brain?

-- Donna Barthuley (, March 29, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ