A story from Reuters, on how ISAF and USAID are anonymously funding radio and T.V. commercials in Afghanistan, which feature supposedly ‘ordinary Afghans’ imploring Hamid Karzai to sign the Bi-lateral Security Agreement – an agreement which is intended to extend the Military Occupation of Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014.
As the article states:
‘The commercials often include interviews with rank-and-file Afghans calling on Karzai to sign the accord immediately.
In one spot, the head of a cultural association tells the president: “You should accept the people’s demand and sign this as soon as possible”‘.
This is about as blatant an example of War Propaganda as you can get. An Occupying force using mass communication tools to try and manipulate the Occupied population into acquiescing to their goals.
Yet strangely, the word ‘Propaganda’ doesn’t feature in the article anywhere.
And it’s not as if Reuters have some kind of aversion to using that word. Here they are reporting on what they describe as China’s ‘propaganda war with Japan’; here they are describing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowdon as ‘a propaganda tool for Putin’; and here they are describing (albeit in the passive voice) Denis Rodman’s occasional trips to visit North Korea as ‘fodder for North Korean propaganda’.
(So we’ve established that Bad Guys like China, Russia and North Korea use propaganda, right?)
Instead, much of the focus is on how the Afghan government have tried to put a stop to these broadcasts. Reuters describe this as a ‘crackdown’, which ‘is the latest symptom of Karzai’s hostility to Washington’ (the adverts themselves, of course, are not a ‘symptom’ of ‘Obama’s hostility to Kabul’).
They quote Mujib Khelwatgar, Director General of the NAI media watchdog in Afghanistan, as saying that Karzai’s blocking of these adverts is ‘a clear attempt to limit freedom of speech and put at risk advances in the media industry’.
And to an extent, this is a question of freedom of speech. In the sense that if everyone should be allowed to say anything they want on any platform, then the blocking of these adverts is a clear violation of ISAF’s right to freedom of speech.
And the ‘slippery slope’ argument might also hold up. Today the Karzai regime is blocking pro-ISAF Occupation adverts, but tomorrow it could be any advert or broadcast critical of the government (this already happens to an extent, actually).
But i’m not sure the right of an Occupying power to anonymously spread pro-Occupation propaganda is one that comes under traditional free speech advocacy, whatever the spin Reuters want to put on it.