w/c 10th October 2022
As far back as I can remember the military-media relationship in the UK has been nightmarish, in my opinion. I say this as someone who has been both a PR/media comms operative within the army and an amateurish, pseudo-journalist who likes writing and commenting on military matters.
The nub of the problem, I believe, is that media and military have, in general terms, diametrically opposed and long-held positions here: the media operates on the “everyone should know” principle while the British military and Ministery of Defence work on the “need to know principle”. And the twain shall never meet, not up until now anyway, although arguably they are inching closer, albeit at glacial pace.
The military’s ideal paradigm for media communications is probably the example of the Falklands campaign in 1982. There the media had to rely on the military both to get to the conflict because of its remoteness and for the transmission of their reports back home to the UK. The military accordingly had huge control over journalists and power of censorship over what was allowed to get out of the theatre of operations.
This ideal model of media comms (for the military) was blown out of the water by technological advances. The wider availability of satellite phones, once the sole preserve of military and security forces, untied journalists from the constraints of military overwatch. This loss of control was exacerbated by the explosion of social media in the early 21st Century. Now every junior soldier, sailor and airman/woman could, and did and now does, have access via their mobile phone to a plethora of communications channels which are totally open and uncontrollable.
The genie is well and truly out of the bottle and efforts to put it back will fail. Instead, and no matter how counter-intuitive it might seem to be, the military needs to embrace and adapt to the new communications context in which it has to operate. Personally, I have no fears that properly trained and prepared military personnel of all ranks will not to be able to hold their own in talking to the media where appropriate. We just have to trust them.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available for pre-order now