Outsourcing the media battle space

Washington Post:

U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.

The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal.

The request for bids comes at a time when Bush administration officials are publicly criticizing media coverage of the war in Iraq.

The proposal, which calls in part for extensive monitoring and analysis of Iraqi, Middle Eastern and American media, is designed to help the coalition forces understand "the communications environment." Its goal is to "develop communication strategies and tactics, identify opportunities, and execute events . . . to effectively communicate Iraqi government and coalition's goals, and build support among our strategic audiences in achieving these goals," according to the statement of work that is publicly available through the Web site http://www.fbodaily.com .

A public relations practitioner who asked for anonymity because he may be involved in a bid on the contract said that military commanders "are overwhelmed by the media out there and are trying to understand how to get their information out.

"They want it [news] to be received by audiences as it is transmitted [by them], but they don't like how it turns out," he said. As an example, he said, there are complaints that reports from Iraq sometimes quote Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr more than military commanders.

...

Monitors are to select stories that deal with specific issues, such as security, reconstruction activities, "high profile" coalition force activities and events in which Iraqi security forces are "in the lead." The monitors are to analyze stories to determine the "dissemination of key themes and messages" along with whether the "tone" is positive, neutral or negative.

The media outlets would be monitored for how they present coalition or anti-Iraqi force operations. That part of the proposal could reflect Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's often-stated concern that the media does not cover positive aspects of Iraq.

...

The real problem with the media in Iraq is that too often it is too compliant with themes pushed by the enemy, and it is not critical enough of the enemy's wickedness. It can cover a story of the enemy's luring poor people in Tal Afar by underpricing cooking oil so that it can murder non combatants without any mention of the war crime implications of the enemy activity, while instead focusing on the government and US failure to stop the attack. This is just perverse and it is typical of much of the coverage of the war.

While the media is eager to jump on any perception of US abuse or failure to follow Geneva Conventions regulations, it gives the enemy a pass. When it has a story about the US killing of civilians, it does not mention that the enemy camouflages himself as a civilian in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The failure to put those killings in that perspective undermines the war effort and plays into the enemy's media campaign. It is also just bad reporting. Whoever gets this contract, should monitor stories to see how compliant they are with the enemy's media battle space strategy.

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