MoD loosens gag on special forces reports

The MoD has relaxed a special forces information policy which was condemned for allowing the “scoundrels” of journalism to “make up absolute rubbish” about the SAS.

For the last two and a half years the department has been conducting a review of the policy that the Government never comments on matters involving the SAS.

The MoD reported back on Thursday evening to a meeting of the DA-Notice committee – the panel of media and Government representatives which provides advice on reporting matters which could harm national security. It revealed that the MoD director of news and the chief press officer will now be empowered to provide guidance when journalists ask about stories involving special forces.

DA-Notice committee secretary Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson said: “Although they are not going to change the policy they are going to change the way the policy is implemented.

“There could still be occasions when the MoD could not comment but it will be explained in general terms why on each occasion.

“If a story is completely wrong they will be able to say that. If journalists have a story that is true, on occasion they will be able to be helpful in talking about that story.”

The 13 media members of the DA-Notice committee have been pressing the MoD to change its special forces information policy for at least the last five years. The problem has been highlighted during the conflict in Iraq because Australian and United States officials talk openly about the actions of their special forces.

Daily Mirror defence correspondent Tom Newton Dunn said: “The policy means the scoundrels of our profession can make up absolute rubbish about the SAS and not get it contradicted by the MoD.”

Commenting on the change of policy, Guardian security affairs editor Richard Norton-Taylor said: “I hope a point of principle has been established and that the MoD will grow up, but we will still have to rely on the discretion of Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon’s press officers.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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