As mass communication has evolved, so have the propaganda techniques of politicians and states. Left up to them, war would be presented as a muscle-flexing show of strength ending in triumph, even when it doesn’t.
It is often reporters who prevent this from being the only representation of war the public sees. A new spot by nonprofit organization Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) demonstrates with chilling clarity the contrast between the two different sets of information.
The film opens with an American presenter excitedly telling viewers, "It’s time for a parade!" Archive footage then covers numerous military parades, featuring massive displays of weaponry, and deploying all the pomp and circumstance associated with such events.
In a kind of "Who’s Who" of armies, among the state leaders (and former leaders) viewing troops and arsenals are: Kim Jong Il (North Korea), Idi Amin (Uganda), King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Ayatollah Khamenei (Iran) and Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (Turkmenistan). The West does not escape attention, with parades in London covered and George W. Bush seen celebrating on USS Abraham Lincoln beneath his "Mission Accomplished" banner.
Text appears onscreen saying: "Without independent reporters, war would just be a nice show," and there then follows a series of harrowing stills, taken by independent reporters, showing the reality of war. The spot ends with the copy, "Support those that risk their lives to bring us the truth," and invites viewers to donate at rsf.org.
The 80-second film was created by BETC Paris, its president and CCO, Stéphane Xiberras, says that RSF gave the agency the simple brief to "bring attention to the work of the organization". "If you were to define Reporters Without Borders' mission in a few words, you would say that the role of the organization is to save independent journalism," Xiberras says.
War was chosen above other potential themes because the release of the film coincides with the publication of a new Reporters Without Borders photography book, which features the work of the legendary Robert Capa, the Hungarian photographer who covered five wars (including Omaha beach WW2, the Spanish Civil War and the first Indo-China War). Capa also co-founded the agency Magnum Photos in 1947.
"In a world where war images are increasingly used as propaganda and as a demonstration of power, war reporters are key to showing the world an independent point of view on conflicts and related atrocities. The idea was to confront the "folklore" of military parades with the crudeness of real war images," he says, adding, "From the U.S. to North Korea, from Russia to the Arabic Gulf, from France to China, without war reporters, war would only be pictured as a nice show."