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[] Independent 1.11.01: Allies demand new tactics to win propaganda war,

Allies demand new tactics to win propaganda war
War on Terrorism: Words
By Nigel Morris Political Correspondent

01 November 2001

'Our objectives are clear ... and, because the Taliban have chosen to side with al-Qa'ida, to remove them' 
Tony Blair, Prime Minister, 30 October 

'The objectives are clear, and the one about the removal of the Taliban is not something we have as a clear objective' 
John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, 31 October 

The allies are revamping their worldwide communications strategy amid fears that they are losing the propaganda war over Afghanistan. 

America, Britain, Nato and other coalition members are setting up new jointly staffed information centres in Washington, London and the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, to counter the flow of damaging publicity from the Taliban and the al-Qa'ida terrorist network. The policy is also a recognition that the media handling of the campaign has become too dominated by the Anglo-American axis to the exclusion of other Western countries. 

In a series of private meetings, Nato officials have told Downing Street that several member nations, such as France, Germany and Italy, have been dismayed by the failure of Washington and London to articulate the Allies' war aims more clearly. 

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications and strategy, will lead the London information centre, while his US counterpart, Karen Hughes, will take charge of the Washington operation. 

Sources stressed that all coalition members would be involved and be asked to "share ideas, experience and materials and pool staff". 

But the problems in getting the message straight were underlined when John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, told MPs yesterday: "The objectives are clear, and the one about the removal of the Taliban is not something we have as a clear objective to implement. But it is possibly a consequence that will flow from the Taliban clearly giving protection to bin Laden." 

His comments were at odds with Tony Blair's assertion 24 hours earlier: "The end we desire is this ­ al-Qa'ida shut down in Afghanistan, the Taliban regime out, a new broad-based regime in." 

The decision to open a centre in Islamabad within the next few days is an admission that the Allies have often been too slow to react to Taliban claims about the US-led bombing campaign. It is also a response to al-Qa'ida's success in getting its message across, particularly through Al-Jazeera, the satellite television channel based in Oman. 

A senior Whitehall official said last night the changes would tackle the difficulty of co-ordinating information over different time zones in central Asia, Europe and North America. He strongly denied they were a response to opinion polls suggesting that public backing for the bombing campaign had dipped sharply or to growing disquiet on Labour's back benches. He said: "It is a recognition we're in a 24-hour media age, with communications an important part of any international crisis." 

Meanwhile the chairman of CNN, Walter Isaacson, has told his correspondents to be more "balanced" when they report civilian deaths, suggesting in a memo that showing the misery in Afghanistan runs the risk of acting as propaganda on behalf of the enemy. 

"It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan ... We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harboured the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people," he said.

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