January 11, 2006
On Media, Influence and Means: Agitprop, Iraq,
Via our dear friend, Father of Aardvarks 'a comment on Gerecht on Iraqi payola', found 'Hearts and Minds' in Iraq: As History Shows, Ideas Matter More Than Who Pays to Promote Them leads me to make a comment on influence and media from a business standpoint.
First, the argument over whether covert finance or not of media campaigns is not something I can claim an expertise in.
My instinct is that indeed one can do covert financing of such activities - if one does not outsource it to rank amateurs with no knowledge of the region (and by that I mean less the deep academic knowledge and more the street smarts and time in region that teaches you not to do some of the half-assed things in region that I know the outsourced boys did).
Is that smart? Depends. The way of doing it matters.
Perfect transparency is not always smart. But if one does covert things, one has to be 100 percent. Not half-assed out-sourced to rank amateurs.
I am not expert enough to opine, as our Dear Father of Aardvarks, on whether in modern media environment this will inevitably leak, but I think there are ways to disguise involvement. Certainly in private sector we do it, but requires arms-length and being clever. Sustained clever.
Direct and clumsy mucking around with grossly crude agitprop worthy of TV nazis obviously does not fit into that rubric.
This gets me to my private sector comment.
Given structurally in the region there are emerging fairly free media (although few with a truly liberal [meaning classic liberalism, not US Leftism] touch), one should work with the emerging media rather than fall into fall structural analogies with Cold War Eastern Europe.
The utter difference, structurally speaking in terms of the business structure of media, require a fundamentally different approach to supporting 'free media'
First, the core issue for most of the emerging new media is independent or new media sources of revenues. Sources of revenues mean influence.
Given that influence flowing through who keeps the journos and their editors in falafels or cousous, one has to understand how that is going to flow (and not engage in magical thinking of preventing influence).
Structurally, the sources of financing are effectively government (directly or not), a private sector which is largely tied to a government rent-seeking business elite with a rather weak entreprenurial or indepedent modern business class.
The challenge then is to identify what allows (in reality) the press to finance itself, reduce if not utterly preclude pressure Advertising of course is key (but what is the advertising market). Advertising or other means to generate cash to support the business. But cash flows independent of sources tied to the governmental Leviathan.
It strikes me that providing indirect support to at least vaguely liberal (in the classic sense again) and above all critical media in the context long term goals.
Placing advertising. Perhaps hidden ownership via quasi private equity vehicles. It buys influence. One should be realistic about the level of actual influence. Ham handed intervention in editorial lines and reporting is not going to buy it - I take under advisement The Father of Aardvark's observation that al-Arabiyah's move to more "pro-American" stances. Subtelty and patiance, not quarter driven "results" reporting will be required.
My short summary is that there are private sector focused vehicles to address media freedom issues, issues that largely are not the direct governmental intervention of the Soviet regime, but rather a market structural issue.
It goes without saying in this context that ham-handed Soviet style direct payments to journos for favourable coverage is stupid and counterproductive. Likely to get busted for very little bang for the buck.
It further strikes me that non-market solutions like setting up that idiotic waste of money, al-Hurra - staffed with self-deluded amateur Leb staffing - are utterly useless.
Creating new media outlets is not the solution.
Working with the current infrastructure is the way to go. Address the matrix of political and business.
Posted by The Lounsbury at January 11, 2006 08:30 PM
Filed Under: Business, Private , Economic Development , Economic Policy , Foreign Policy & MENA , MENA Region General , Media , Op-Ed , US Foreign Policy
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I like the ad placement idea. Also, it strikes me that this ME development fund that got somewhat aborted in Bahrain a few months back could do some things out in the open, provided there isn't going to be a major US taint on it.
Posted by: praktike at January 12, 2006 06:57 AM
Which fund? The culture one?
Posted by: The Lounsbury at January 12, 2006 11:34 AM
The Foundation for the Future, not the business one.
Posted by: praktike at January 13, 2006 04:58 AM