TV images: LTTE's next strategic dimension?
Daily Mirror - 30 March 2005
It is now generally accepted that the conduct of modern warfare
is not only about troops, weapons, generals and battlefields - it is
also about perceptions. The manner in which a war is perceived by
states and their populations today can have a strategic impact on
its conduct. Real time images of a battlefield, flashed round the
world can shape strategic decisions about the war and the mindset of
one's strategic allies.
For many years, the role of media as
an indispensable component of modern war making has been
conceptualized and discussed in military journals and symposia as
the "CNN effect". Analyses in LTTE journals and the tenor and
content of discussions that
Pirapaharan has had with some foreign media consultants in
recent years clearly indicate that the Tigers have been making an
extensive study of the "CNN effect".
result is the
National Television of Thamil Eelam (NTT). It is not my
intention here to relate in spine tingling detail the succulent
secrets of how the Tigers set up the satellite channel in the Vanni.
All I want to do here is to describe briefly the kind of thinking
that appears to have gone into the making of the NTT.
The LTTE's satellite TV has introduced a new strategic dimension
to Sri Lanka's ethnic divide. The Tigers never had the ability in
the past to give their side of the story in real time. Press
releases from London and news broadcasts painstakingly monitored and
translated from the Voice of Tigers in Vavuniya were always late or
missed the issue at hand.
Now the LTTE has the ability to
transmit moving images, which are the most effective way to get
their message across. The NTT would be the new strategic dimension
in another Eelam War.
Therefore an overview of "
CNN effect" as a "strategic enabler in modern military
discourse" would set the stage for understanding what the LTTE has
got in store for our generals who got used to thinking of war only
in terms of more weapons, more troops and more foreign assistance.
The following excerpt from an article in the US War College Journal
Parameters about the CNN Effect gives an idea of the issues it has
raised among military thinkers.
"The process by which war-fighters assemble information,
analyze it, make decisions, and direct their units has
challenged commanders since the beginning of warfare. Starting
with the Vietnam War,they faced a new challenge-commanding their
units before a television camera. Today, commanders at all
levels can count on operating "24/7" (twenty four hours a day
and seven days a week) on a global stage before a live camera
that never blinks. This changed environment has a profound
effect on how strategic leaders make their decisions and how
war-fighters direct their commands".
"The impact of this kind of media coverage has been
dubbed ‘the CNN effect,’ referring to the widely available
round-the-clock broadcasts of the Cable News Network. The term
was born in controversy. In 1992 President Bush's decision to
place troops in Somalia after viewing media coverage of starving
refugees was sharply questioned. Were American interests really
at stake? Was CNN deciding where the military goes next?
"Less than a year later, President Clinton's decision to
withdraw US troops after scenes were televised of a dead
American serviceman being dragged through the streets of
Mogadishu seemed to confirm the power of CNN. Today, with the
proliferation of 24/7 news networks, the impact of CNN alone may
have diminished,but the collective presence of round-the-clock
news coverage has continued to grow. In this article, the term
‘the CNN effect’ represents the collective impact of all
real-time news coverage-indeed, that is what the term has come
to mean generally. The advent of real-time news coverage has led
to immediate public awareness and scrutiny of strategic
decisions and military operations as they unfold. Is this a net
gain or loss for strategic leaders and war-fighters?" (The
CNN Effect: Strategic Enabler or Operational Risk? -by Margret
H. Belknap, Parameters, Autumn 2002)
Former US Defence Secretary James Schlesinger has argued that in
the post-Cold War era the United States has come to make foreign
policy in response to"impulse and image." "In this age image means
television, and policies seem increasingly subject, especially in
democracies, to the images flickering across the television screen",
A commonly-cited example is the Clinton
administration's response to the mortar attack on a Sarajevo market
in February 1994 that killed sixty-eight people.
there are people who say that the CNN effect is no longer an issue.
James Hoge, Jr., editor of Foreign Affairs, for example, argues that
while a CNN effect of some sort may have once existed immediately
following the end of the Cold War, it no longer does,or at least not
to the same extent.
One of the potential effects of global,
real-time media is the shortening of response time for decision
making. Decisions are made in haste, sometimes dangerously so.
Policymakers "decry the absence of quiet time to deliberate choices,
reach private agreements, and mold the public's understanding."
"Instantaneous reporting of events," remarks State Department
Spokesperson Nicholas Burns, "often demands instant analysis by
governments . . . In our day, as events unfold half a world
away, it is not unusual for CNN State Department correspondent
Steve Hurst to ask me for a reaction before we've had a chance
to receive a more detailed report from our embassy and consider
carefully our options."
It has been argued quite plausibly that the CNN effect has been
used selectively by the US to create favourble diplomatic conditions
for intervening in countries in which it has strategic interests.
For example in 1993, when approximately 50,000 people were
killed in political fighting between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi,
American broadcast television networks ignored the story. When
regional leaders met in Dar es Salam in April 1994 in an attempt to
reach a regional peace accord, only CNN mentioned the meeting.
Afghanistan and the Sudan have more people at risk than Bosnia, but
together they received only 12 percent of the total media coverage
devoted to Bosnia alone.
Tajikistan, with one million people
at risk, has a little over one percent of the media coverage devoted
to Bosnia alone. Put another way, of all news stories between
January 1995 and May 1996 concerning the thirteen worst humanitarian
crises in the world-affecting nearly 30 million people, nearly
halfwere devoted to the plight of the 3.7 million people of Bosnia.
Basically the CNN effect created the politically favourable
international climate for the US to set up its largest military base
in Eastern Europe. But ofcourse very few have seen images of vast
Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo that sits a stride several vital pipeline
The CNN effect is also useful in achieving strategic
and tactical deterrence. "Global media are often important and
valuable assets to the US military, particularly when time is short
and conditions are critical. Admiral Kendell Pease, Chief of
Information for the United States Navy, has called global media in
such circumstances a "force multiplier." After showing a CNN video
clip of carrier-based U.S. fighter-bombers taking off on a practice
bombing run against an implied Iraqi target during Desert Shield,
Pease explained that the Navy had arranged for a CNN crew to be
aboard the carrier to film the "hardware in use" and to "send a
message to Saddam Hussein."
The US expected that the images would deter the Iraqis, dent
their morale. The US Navy realized and counted on the fact that the
Iraqis monitored CNN.
"The same thing is going on now," said
Admiral Pease in Taiwan. Prior to Taiwan's March 1996
elections,which China opposed and threatened to stop with military
force if necessary, the Clinton administration sent two aircraft
carrier groups to the seas off Taiwan. Television crews accompanying
the US Navy ships sent pictures of the American defenders to the
Chinese and the rest of the world.
By using media as a "force multiplier" in conjunction with
deterrent force, U.S. policy makers are, ineffect, attempting to
create a "CNN effect" in the policymaking of a potential or actual
adversary."Global, real-time media should not be regarded solely as
an impediment or obstacle to policy makers. It may just as well be
an asset", says a perceptive study of the subject (Clarifying
the CNN Effect: An Examination of Media Effects According to Type of
Military Intervention by Steven Livingston - Harvard University
Public Policy Papers 1997)
I hope this provides a brief
theoretical background for understanding the future of the 'NTT
Effect' in Sri Lanka's evolving strategic equation.