I believe that the integrity of the state – as well as its legitimacy – rests on 7 pillars. I refer to these pillars as the Pillars of State. By eroding or neutralising two or more of these pillars, the state becomes weak and unstable and its influence is reduced to the point where it faces a serious threat that may lead to collapse.
Perceptions determine the view people have of the world, their region and their surroundings. This view is, by and large, developed and injected into society by and through the media either through objective reporting or through propaganda. As such, the influence of the media on the perceptions of the populace and by implication the perceptions of the populace on the state must not be underestimated.
In its role as a perception-creator, the media can play either a positive role in supporting the state’s messages and policies or eroding its credibility and thereby negatively influence both foreign policy and investment. The media does, however, need to remain objective, report facts and not abuse its potential power of propaganda.
The mainstream audio, visual and written media can play an enormous role in shaping both national and international public opinion and perceptions and can wittingly or unwittingly erode the Pillars of State.
Social media platforms such as blogs, instant messaging, social networking services and so forth can be used to rapidly reach millions of followers and incite ethnic, racial or religious tensions as well as instigate actions against a government and its various agencies or departments. Furthermore, these platforms can be used to effectively plan, coordinate and execute actions aimed at eroding the Pillars of State.
Failures by the government agencies and services along with government mismanagement and corruption will provide healthy pickings to the media - as will political infighting and bickering. Whereas these failings need to be exposed and brought into the public domain, there will be media-related articles that will subtly encourage the populace to protest and rise up against these factors. However, there will inevitably also be those in both the media and the populace who tacitly approve of - and incite - civil disobedience and whose sympathies will lay with violent protesters and insurgents. Within this climate of rapidly transmitted perceived political and other uncertainties, government messages will become blurred, ignored and even rejected by the populace.
An uncontrolled and hostile media can report on matters that may seriously disadvantage the government and in particular military, law enforcement and intelligence operations. Compromise of planned operations, force levels and deployments, equipment shortages and even planned policy decisions may impact negatively on the government and the country as a whole. Additionally, such reporting can provide hostile intelligence services and insurgent groups with important information as well as battle indications.
Government must however prevent irresponsible and irrational censorship of the media as a free media is considered to be a cornerstone of a modern democratic state. It should however consider methods and techniques of using the media to propagate its messages and policies in clearly understandable language without creating negative perceptions amongst the populace.
Information that will not disadvantage government or impact on the National and Vital Interests must be shared with the populace on a daily basis in order to strengthen public perceptions on these matters. Press releases, press briefings and other methods of communicating with the populace must be used and exploited. Creating a sense of openness, self-criticism and honesty will foster better public perceptions.
As witnessed during the so-called Arab Spring, the alternative media can play an important role in generating, mobilising and coordinating counter-government actions. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, internet forums and chat rooms as well as personal websites can play a significant part in either shaping public perceptions or attacking government policies and actions. They can, likewise, be used to transmit disinformation aimed at discrediting and gaining international sympathy for a particular cause and be used to mobilise disgruntled people or even criminals.
Appointed and trained government media spokesmen/women must be used to interface with the media and ensure that a good and trusted relationship exists between the media and the government. A trusted relationship with the media will usually lead to self-censorship by editors and publishers alike.
Similarly, the law enforcement and intelligence agencies should monitor and where necessary take action against blatantly subversive, propagandist and tension-inciting mainstream and social media sites.
Whereas governments must be prepared to accept criticism, they do not need to accept blatant hostile propaganda aimed at creating conflict, tension and violence. This tension-inducing approach by the media must be identified, corrected and managed as rapidly as possible.