Monday, September 26, 2005

Unambiguous Threat

We are asked to believe that the mass media (including television and internet) are inherently progressive, and support democracy everywhere. In September 1993, Rupert Murdoch claimed that satellite TV was "an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere". China immediately banned private satellite dishes.

Murdoch then embarked on a long process of placating, reassuring and (as many websites describe it) courting the Chinese authorities. But according to the BBC (19th September 2005), he remains disappointed with the results of this process.

Actually, unambiguous threats are a bit unfashionable, even in military circles. In 2000, one of Clinton's military advisors, US Admiral William A. Owens, said that ambiguous threats posed a greater challenge than unambiguous ones. (Revolutionizing Warfare, Blueprint Magazine 2000)

Like us, our allies face an ambiguous world. The need to cut through ambiguity, especially at operational and tactical levels, has replaced the need to offset the prowess of a superior adversary posing an unambiguous threat. Sharing dominant battle-space knowledge - the key to modern deterrence - will reassure our friends and allies.

It now seems that some media giants are happy to share "battle-space knowledge" with the Chinese authorities. For example, Yahoo passed the identity of a journalist to the Chinese. (Murdoch criticized this decision.) And Microsoft is willing to enforce the Chinese vocabulary blacklist (which includes the word "democracy"). So much for Thomas
Friedman, who argued in his 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree that two great democratizing forces—global communications and global finance—would sweep away any regime which is not open, transparent and democratic.

Sources: Bloomberg, Guardian, Andrew Leonard, George Monbiot.
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