Did you ever think you’d see the day when the Jerusalem Post would run the following headline: “[IDF] Spokesman’s Unit Hails ‘Fair’ Coverage”? According to the IDF, Western media have been remarkably understanding of Israel’s need to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks.
We can leave aside the question of whether the IDF spokesman’s office is right or wrong about the coverage. What’s more interesting is the article’s description of how the IDF has, at long last, recognized the need for investing in the media, rather than leaving it to the Foreign Ministry.
We saw the origins of this in the 2006 Lebanon war, when journalists were embedded with IDF troops, and effective, English-speaking spokesmen were deployed to interface with Western reporters.
This time around, though, the IDF is finally getting its act together. To the credit of the new IDF spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu, the IDF sent his unit’s top officers to an intensive six-month course in understanding the internet — viral videos, social networking, blogging, and more — and the results have been impressive. Most notable has been the IDF’s YouTube channel showing videos of operations taking out terrorist cells and weapons stores. This is material that, until recently, would never have been released to the press. The channel has been among the most widely viewed on YouTube.
This is a big change for as hierarchical and regimented a structure as the military. It requires a very different approach to how information is collected, catalogued, cleared for release, and disseminated for public consumption. We can assume there’s a lot more to come.