|Updated: 08-Aug-2011||Background information|
I am very pleased to introduce this newly revised Military Committee policy on NATO military Public Affairs. Since the first edition of this brochure in 2007, we have seen rapid changes in the information environment, specifically in communications technology, which enable a continuous 24 hour flow of information of all kinds, some accurate, some less so. How do people differentiate between the two? Who can they trust in seeking answers to their questions? There is no longer a monopoly of information. A vast web of social networks now reach out even to the most remote populations. Quantity and diversity of information, however, do not necessarily lead to truth. Today, a considerable amount of time is wasted in verifying facts and sifting rumour from reality. In short, the “fog of war” sees an echo in the “confusion of mass information”.
Our publics have the democratic right to know what the Alliance is doing on their behalf and why. NATO therefore has an obligation to inform about its policies and activities, and especially about its operations. At the same time, information is only credible if it is accurate and timely. Providing this information is the role of the NATO military Public Affairs Officer. It requires high professionalism, an analytical mind, and strong commitment. The Public Affairs Officer is a key advisor to the NATO Commander, and this policy is designed to assist him in his tasks. The challenge for NATO’s Public Affairs practitioners is to explain to a wide and diverse audience, including the media, the complexities of the issues the military deals with in response to the security challenges of the 21st century, and how the military supports NATO’s political decisionmakers. This is particularly critical during times of crisis, when NATO is urged to action. The public often pays little attention to the lead up to a crisis; they only see the crisis when it hits the news in the most shocking way. Context is lacking, and the media will frequently follow the rule “If it bleeds it leads”. The gap between public perception, expectation and operational reality can only end in disbelief. It is critical therefore to provide the missing context. To educate and explain is to balance criticism and maintain credibility. Transparency may invite some criticism, but lack of transparency, whether intentional or otherwise, will surely invite condemnation.
The Alliance is evolving; both in its role and structure. NATO policies must reflect this evolution. I hope that this revised edition of the military Public Affairs policy will continue to usefully guide and direct military Public Affairs practitioners in promoting the Alliance’s aims and objectives and in telling the ever-evolving NATO story.
Giampaolo di Paola
by the Public Affairs Advisor to the Military Committee
This booklet reproduces Military Committee policy document 0457/2 NATO Military Public Affairs, with effect from December 2010, and supersedes its predecessor (MC457/1, September 2007).
The first edition of MC 0457, in 2001, was developed in response to an overwhelming media and public demand for information regarding NATO’s military role, mission, forces and operations stemming from the Kosovo air campaign. MC 0457/1 substantially revised the policy, in line with experiences and lessons learned from all of NATO’s operations and missions, and more specifically in Afghanistan.
Ten years on, radical changes in the geo-political and security environment have led to a fundamental transformation of NATO and to a new Strategic Concept, refocusing Alliance objectives and initiatives. NATO is currently active on land and at sea in operations and missions as diverse as they are complex. Strategic Communications has emerged as increasingly important to the Alliance, recognising that all aspects of NATO activities have a critical information and communications component. This is why, in response to a growing need to establish a coherent, institutional approach, NATO approved an overarching political-military Strategic Communications Policy in September 2009.
NATO has to keep pace with fast-moving events that are unfolding under continuous media and public scrutiny. To demonstrate its credibility and relevance as a unique Alliance for security and peace, it must find a way to disseminate accurate information in a coherent and coordinated manner. Military Public Affairs plays a central role in NATO’s Strategic Communications. The challenge lies in managing cohesion of effort, while still respecting the various information functions, their areas of expertise, and their policies. MC 0457/2 incorporates the new Strategic Communications Policy and updates military Public Affairs policy according to current media trends and best practices. It also clarifies relationships and situates military Public Affairs within the Strategic Communications process. Its intent is to help NATO commanders and Public Affairs Officers to manage Public Affairs activities in an effective and pragmatic manner, understanding that this is a specialist area that requires appropriately trained staff and resources. To work effectively, NATO spokespersons and Public Affairs practitioners must be sure of their authority, responsibilities and fundamental mission.
Finally, policy is not designed to be read and then forgotten, but to be understood and applied not only in letter, but in spirit.