Army chiefs will be free to talk to press

The Government is to lift the ban preventing regimental commanding officers from talking to regional journalists without securing Whitehall clearance first.

In future COs holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonels will be encouraged to use their judgement to establish contact with, and talk freely to, the regional media.

At a national level, one-star ranking officers (Brigadier) and above, will also be encouraged to develop relationships with journalists.

The relaxation of Whitehall’s rule – which says all contact with the media require prior consent – is expected following a report from Labour MP Quentin Davies calling for increased recognition of the Armed Forces.

But while the report focused on recommendations for a national Armed Forces Day, the wearing of uniforms in public, and greater support for homecoming parades, other measures likely to be implemented are designed to improve relations with the media itself.

Davies, who prepared the report with senior Ministry of Defence civil servant Bill Clark and Air Commodore Martin Sharp, noted that in the US there was no restriction on any serviceman or woman talking freely to the media so long as they did not compromise national security.

While accepting the American system could not be replicated ‘in one leap’in the UK, the authors said: ‘We think that that excessive controls only intensify media cynicism and potential hostility and that senior officers ought to be both entrusted with greater confidence and encouraged to develop easier relations with the media.

‘COs of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and above should be enabled to speak freely to their local media and to local public gatherings using their judgement and without the need for prior consent or subsequent notification,’they added.

Another recommendation centred on defence ministers and chiefs of staff being able to hold small background briefings for selected journalists, especially where there was dramatic or positive news.

These could include events such as a successful engagement in Afghanistan, an act of outstanding courage or the introduction of new or much-improved equipment.

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