Defence confronts the Media Age (part 1)
16 May 2016|

‘Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of “time” and “space” and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men.’

        Marshall McLuhan, 1967.

‘The traditional factors of production – land, labour and capital – are becoming restraints rather than driving forces. Knowledge is becoming the one critical factor of production…Knowledge has become the central key resource that knows no geography.’

             Peter Drucker, 1993.   

The Media Age has been dawning since the middle of 20th Century. It’s a tribute to the ability of the Defence Department and the Australian Defence Force to fight old wars that that so much effort is still concentrated on the traditional foe, The Press or News Media. The fear of hacks reaches towards phobia.

Not to worry, Defence. The hack world is unravelling at warp speed.

I’ve had fun previously with ‘Defence Instructions (General) on Public Comment and Dissemination of Information by Defence Members’, replacing the word ‘media’ with nouns like monsters and trolls and goblins.

The monster mashup of the DI(G) highlighted the sense of fear that drove the Defence message to its people: keep the goblins away. Be on guard against monsters that feed on inaccuracy and misrepresentation. Disclosure is dangerous. Uncoordinated messages will be punished.  

The DI(G) obsesses that any Defence information made public ‘must be coordinated, agreed and authorised.’

Striking that, there’s not much emphasis on the speedy deployment of maximum truth firepower to occupy the Information high ground and triumph in the Media Age battle.

Instead of communication, the core Defence message is about coordination and control. These are the tactics for old battles not the new frontiers that have already arrived.

Throughout the 20th Century and into Afghanistan, Defence dealt with a mighty monster called The Press. The beast evolved to become the Media—big and rich newspapers, television and radio. That time and those riches are now gone.

As an old hack, I lament that the mighty Media creatures of the 20th Century will not survive much of the 21st Century.

The big beasts lie down to die. Or shrink to become weaker critters. Oh, for the days when ‘social media’ described hacks out to lunch. A small irony is that the monsters can gasp to Defence: ‘You’re going to miss us when we’re gone.’

Defence miss journalists! Now there’s a novel idea.

For Defence there was an important structural advantage in dealing with The Press; these were a set of known organisations with clear journalistic functions. The target was clear. At least Defence knew who to Engage or Exclude, to shut up or shut out.

The Press was called the Fourth Estate because it was a key institution of the national polity with institutional responsibilities to the country.

The new media aren’t so loyal to a single state.

The Media Age changes the game in fundamental ways. Journalism and journalists will not disappear (he proclaimed confidently). But the digital comets have hit. The atmosphere is changed forever. New realities throb. Competing media realities rise.

The mass audience is splintering and the mass that was once mass Media is going with it. The behemoths of The Press are lesser beasts as their readers and markets dash away through digital portals. The digital disruption dominates.

The Media Age has grown to become a global reality, not just a developed world phenomenon. A striking arrival is the creation of billions of Digital Citizens; the mark of their citizenship is the smart phone they carry.

The era is being defined by much more than huge new media corporations with the richest share valuations in the world. This is an age with billions of individual users who are more than customers—they function as Digital Citizens.

The Enlightenment marked the shift of the people from being subjects to citizens; the Media Age creates customers who demand the rights of Digital Citizens.

These Digital Citizens have the tools and reach once controlled by the Media; today you don’t need a TV station to be a broadcaster, nor own a printing press to be a publisher.

In the field, the strategic corporal will meet the strategic Digital Citizen. As the corporal navigates the terrain of the three block war, he or she will find a Digital Citizen standing on every corner. That Citizen will have the capacity to bear witness, to record, to broadcast, to report, to proclaim—to speak truth to power at the touch of button.

The corporal will have the gun but the Digital Citizen will have media clout.

For Defence, as much as for any other arm of government, the techniques that once worked with The Press/Media will not suffice. The central purpose of Exclude or Engage is to control and coordinate to serve power.

Power, though, is dispersing because the Media Age makes it so.

The Media Age is about communication more than control. The creations of communication can overthrow control and subvert secrecy at the touch of a key.

The massive data dump of ‘Secrets’—government or business—is a motif of the Media Age. The hacker performs as both criminal and Digital Citizen guerrilla.

One small thought about Digital Citizens and what they will mean for the Australian Defence Force on deployment or at war: Afghanistan will be the last land war the ADF fights where it is not surrounded by Digital Citizens all armed with smart phones.

Operational secrecy? Media guidelines? Sorry, sir, it’s already up and out there—Twittered and videoed and Facebooked and blogged and Instagrammed and Youtubed…and…and…and…