Military media machine: how the British military communicated Afghanistan at home

Jensen, R.B. 2014. Military media machine: how the British military communicated Afghanistan at home. PhD thesis University of Westminster Faculty of Media, Arts and Design

TitleMilitary media machine: how the British military communicated Afghanistan at home
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsJensen, R.B.

Military Media Machine is an investigation into the media management structure, and the increasingly dynamic communication processes, developed and implemented by the UK military. It explores – rather than explains – the proliferation in military media facilitation within defence, at a time when the British armed forces are concluding their nearly 13-year campaign in Afghanistan. During this extraordinary period of strategic pressure, telling a story of success has become a key factor in the military’s understanding of their own communication function. So this thesis suggests. It does so by demonstrating how strategic narratives are constructed to distance the soldier and the military institution from the war itself. It shows how the military shift from a combat to a ‘train and advice’ role has challenged the ways in which this distinction is upheld and communicated. This has a wider applicability too, as it testifies to the increasing conflation of military goals and political objectives.

Using access to UK and NATO field settings and doctrinal discussions, the study documents a growing presence of media theory at the heart of military doctrine. It demonstrates how the British military have engaged large (and not necessarily efficient) resources to managing the story as part of their Afghanistan exit strategy. This includes new communication initiatives, online engagement procedures, information doctrine and media training facilitation. Thesis findings indicate that the purpose of these initiatives is to influence target audiences through the ‘means’ of the media. They paint a picture of an organisation that is increasingly engaged in catering to, and producing material for, the media.

Media studies have generally not engaged in military communication research. Similarly, the military have shown little interest in involving external partners in their communication function. The thesis positions itself at the heart of this discussion. It recognises that new frameworks of understanding are needed; frameworks that do not attempt to improve the effectiveness of military messaging but which examine it and consider the practice. Unlike most work carried out in military academies the purpose of the study has not been to develop doctrine. Rather, by taking on an inside-out approach (as opposed to an outside-in approach) the thesis examines a fast-growing aspect of communication research that has so far been poorly documented within media and communications studies.

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