Both sides use mediaBoth sides use media

Osama bin Laden watching television

The disclosure of documents seized in Osama bin Laden’s home confirm what many have often thought. Al Qaeda not only believes that the media are a useful weapon – but has a developed and well considered strategy for using the media to influence people.

Among the papers released by the United States is the concept for an insurgent publicity campaign for 2011’s tenth anniversary of 9/11. They suggest the media would cover the story and identify possible interviewees to promote Al Qaeda. Not all media would be suitable though. The documents analyse US TV channels suggested CNN was 'too close to the Government' , and that MSNBC had 'problems' after firing a presenter.

‘We should present our just cause (sic) to the world, especially to the European people’ bin Laden wrote. And we know that bin Laden was knowledgeable about world affairs though the media. He spent hours in front of his satellite TV hopping from one news channel to another to develop his thoughts, based on the world as seen through the eyes and ears of the media.

Many would suggest this is a black art. But this research and consideration of the media is good practice, supported by good tactical delivery of messages. But clearly in this case the practice as seen from a dreadful enemy’s perspective.

In a world where sometimes force has to be employed to fight force, however regrettably, what the bin Laden papers show is that the media are seen as another battleground by insurgents. And it means those with good positive messages need to work hard to use the media and target audiences with the truth to win hearts and minds. And if they don’t, it’s clear that the ‘dark’ side, using the same tactics (but not hampered by sticking to the truth), will gain that advantage and exploit the vacuum for information which is left.

Using knowledge to fight for the truth and the hearts and minds of critical and susceptible audiences is a key part of democracy. And in turn the media are the key channel in that process. Both sides know that.