Cults are complex phenomenon in the modern world because of their dubious positions towards the media and the sophisticated communication technology. They, based on their natural potentiality, misuse the media and modern means for censure, persuasion, distortion, brainwashing and mind-control activities against their insiders and sympathizers. Cults show diverse and double reactions in their dealing with the media that draw substantial public attention to accomplish a variety of objectives. Besides, the media in any form play a key role in the formation of public opinion and thought, life-style, and even the depiction of a nation’s destiny.
For sure so important, versatile phenomena of the modernity never escape the attention of the cults. In the same way that the media can give warning against the threat and the evil nature of the cults, they can also be at their service, depending on the amount of revenue and how influentially they can master them, to instil noxious ideas into a society. However, since the media can hardly be an exclusive medium for the cults and in many occasions it is too expensive a means for propagation with the least expected outcome, and sometimes inflicts irreparable damages, the cults prefer not to invest much trust in the media. The case is sometimes different with the political cults.
If we consider deliberate isolation tactic as one of the cults' most common mechanisms of control and enforced dependency, then the social persuasion is the identical definition of the mechanism. The recruits are encouraged to disrupt their common lifestyle and leave whatever they are attached to behind to adapt themselves to the cult’s milieu in isolation. In this process, what is considered to be a threat in neutralizing the effects of the social persuasion will be the media which the cults favour to avoid. That is mostly because cults’ prompt of black-and-white thinking fails to be functional and productive in the media which has to be repelled.
However, cults are not so powerful as the governments that can have total control over the media for social persuasion and people’s mind-control if they will. Quoting Orwell reasoning the effectiveness of the media coming under the complete control of the governments, Singer states:
Orwell reasoned that if a government could control all media and interpersonal communication while simultaneously forcing citizens to speak in a politically controlled jargon, it could blunt independent thinking. If thought could be controlled, then rebellious actions against a regime could be pre- vented. 1
Milieu control, that is total control of members’ communication in the cults, is a mechanism to keep members from communicating anything other than what the cults approve and often involves discouraging members from contacting relatives or friends outside the cult and from reading, watching and listening to anything unapproved by the cult or the organization. Consequently, the effectiveness of the media in illuminating facts about the cults and active organizations is actually neutralized and the insiders are told not to believe and trust in anything they see or hear reported by the media that has to be accounted as an agent in the enemy’s front. In this way, the cults’ leaders blindfold members about historical facts:
Milieu control also often involves discouraging members from contacting relatives or friends outside the group and from reading anything not approved by the organization. They are sometimes told not to believe anything they see or hear reported by the media. One left-wing political cult, for example, maintains that the Berlin Wall is still standing and that the "bourgeois capitalist" press war people to think otherwise in order to discredit communism. 2
As a result, cults’ hostile position against the media decreases the influence of the media on the members to a zero degree. Furthermore, cults exploit a variety of approaches and legal levers in the war against the media. Sometimes they use violent tactics such as threatening, intimidation and harassment to frighten away the critics, reporters, journalists and authors and to compel them cease anti-cult productions and programs:
A metropolitan newspaper's desk editor was harassed after he ran a piece critical of a local cult. He and his family had to move out of their home after receiving seventy-two hours of continuous phone calls from cult members. 3
As mentioned earlier, if possible, cults will set up complex networks of public relations and radio-TV stations to make a direct channel of communication and contact with the sympathizers rather than letting them refer to public media for information. Such a biased medium works as sufficient to hold the followers hooked onto the cult. As Singer explains:
Cults have found many ways to restrict and control public information about them. Some groups have brochures, handouts for the press, and written overviews and endorsements of the group, often prepared by sophisticated public relations firms. In essence, these materials imply that "you need go no further. Here is who we are. Here is all you need to know to understand us perfectly. Take this material and use it. Everything is fine." The implication is that the material is objectively represented and relatively comprehensive. 4
As a leftist cult, Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) has adopted various tactics to muzzle and beat the media. It will be discussed in the following article.
References: 1. Margaret Thaler Singer; Cults in Our Midst, JOSSEY-BASS, 2003, introduction. 2. Ibid, p. 70. 3. Ibid, p. 224. 4. Ibid, p. 226
Why Are the Cults at War with the Media 2
As stated, MKO considers advantages of the effectiveness of the media in its cult-like activities so important that it uses a number of methods to manipulate the media. The MKO-run media and websites quantitatively rise to a big number which, compared with the group’s insignificant political weight and modest structure, indicate they are means merely utilized to accomplish the cult’s objectives.
Exploited beyond their main purpose, the media are practical instruments to fulfil MKO’s ambitions. Besides their utilization to augment psychological warfare and propaganda blitz, the media are turned into the means of diffusing ideological teachings directly and indirectly. The TV affording many privileges, the psychological impacts and popularity to count, plays the front role for Mojahedin to control the members held in Camp Ashraf and bias them in favour of the ideology and political line of the cult. A number of methods and tactics used by MKO to manipulate the media can be outlined as the follow:
Boycott Drawing a political, ideological red line, MKO boycotts the media that in any form might be a challenge. The organization prohibits the insiders, even those living and active in the European countries, to have free access to the public media and instead encourages them to evolve a strict tendency of getting information out of the biased organization-run media in which they have to put totally unquestionable trust. In the same way, the only communication medium for the Camp Ashraf residents to the outside world is MKO’s national TV channel and the only permitted websites are those controlled and mastered by the organization. Even those international news agencies that air programs in favour of the organization, like FoxNews and CNN, are forbidden or heavily censored.
Disparagement MKO’s attitude against any media that in any form is engaged in disposing a direct antagonism or critical stance is a hash backlash or disparagement. Through a variety of unfairly damaging tactics, the organization strives to stick any label to opponent media and stigmatize them. The term Ayatollah, for instance, in MKO’s literature renders a negative connotation and the organization attaches it to anybody that it believes to appease Iranian regime. As a result, seeing BBC news agency taking an unsympathetic stance against the organization, MKO labelled it Ayatollah BBC. In its attack against the media, the organization absolutely disregards their international importance and credit; they are known to be the paid agents of the enemies and the Iranian regime in particular.
Impression Knowing the importance and the influential role of the media on the public, the organization starts and runs a multitudes of press, TV and website avenues for a vast propaganda blitz. All the released information and programs are made to highlight the existing gap between the organization and the Iranian regime and whoever walks in the opposite front. It is always the ideology, political background, the advocates and supporters that are referred to in an attempt to gain a political legitimacy. Even the selected movies and entertainment programs follow an end of influencing the audience for accomplishing organizational objectives.
Enticement In many cases, MKO try to entice internationally reputable and effectual media as well as the local press and TVs to walk in the line and the front of the organization to work as a sympathizers and propaganda machines. There are also cases in which the organization pays to put advertisements in papers which are prepared propaganda texts rather than advertisement. Ali Reza Jafarzadeh, front man for the MKO and the NCRI in the United States, is infiltrated into the Fox News Network as an independent Iran analyst. Fox News' insistence on using this individual has prompted ridicule by many in the media and in political circles. Fox News has clearly decided that using this notorious man is more important for their pay masters than maintaining their reputation as a serious broadcaster.
Threatening and harassment When methods to manipulate the media prove to be unproductive, MKO draws the sword of threat to harass the opposing media. The media are either for or against MKO and the opponents are confronted. There are reported cases of press conferences attacked and disturbed by the agents of MKO wherein facts were to be exposed about the human rights violations within the organization. There are also instances of threatening the authors and editors of published articles to death for their critical and antagonistic attitudes against MKO as it is the case with majority of destructive cults and aggressive organizations. As revealed recently by Albayyenah newspaper, MKO made death threats to Iraqi newsmen through the internet and their mobile phones as well. These newsmen had published documents on MKO having a hand in suppressing uprising of Iraqi Shiites.
Imposing The organization employs whatever facility and all its talents to impose its cult-like ideology on the audience through the media. There are certain hours the insiders are forced to watch TV programs and books and reports that are circulated to be studied with questions to be answered. There are also press conferences organized under different aliases to dupe the pressmen and reporters. On Thursday 30 August 2007, for example, the office of the National Council of Resistance, an alias for MKO, organised a 'Press Conference' in Berlin. The reporters, who had been privately invited, left the salon soon after they discovered they had been lied to and that there was no news whatsoever presented in the conference.
Misinformation To get the optimum results, MKO selects excerpts from the media leaving unwanted parts unmentioned. Furthermore, the organization arranges TV roundtables to analyse the quotes and excerpts to reach a desired conclusion. Sometimes they are distorted and are fed into its propaganda machine and these misrepresented information are in turn used by other uninformed media sources. In fact, MKO are masters of spreading misinformation.
In general, once a political group adopting an armed strategy for its struggle, MKO has transformed into a cult of personality run by the Rajavis. It has even become more dangerous and posing a global threat since it has combined the experiences of a terrorist group with the complex techniques of a destructive cult. It is well aware of the influence of the modern media and how they can destabilize the cults’ foundations and neutralize their influence on the society. But it has developed its own sophisticated techniques to confront the media and to draw the most advantages out of them. But it is hard to mislead the public opinion that have broad access to authentic sources of information.