The media is being handcuffed by the Ministry of Defence, according to ITV’s international editor who has said the ministry is failing to win the propaganda war due to its inability to use the media.
Speaking at a Royal Television Society debate, Bill Neely said: ‘It’s a propaganda war, but I think the British military are losing that war spectacularly. They really have no idea how to use us, if they want to use us, properly. ‘They feel that there is a disconnect at the moment between the political sphere where you have the Government sending troops here, there and everywhere and the military which is struggling to fulfil those commitments. They see that the media is being handcuffed, not by them, but by the MoD and by permanent joint headquarters.’Last year, ITN was told by the MoD that its reporters were subject to a ban on embedding after it broadcast a news report which was critical about the way wounded British troops are treated.
Neely, who in September last year was embedded with British troops in southern Afghanistan, said the soldiers were livid that no media had been allowed to cover events up until his arrival.
Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, Dorothy Byrne, stressed that while levels of public interest in the war may not always be high, it was essential that people realise what is being done by the Government in their name.
Byrne said: ‘As a public service broadcaster, there is no more important subject in my list of priorities than the fact that my nation is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is up to us to constantly reinvent and to make it not a series of explosions.’She admitted that sometimes the media was ‘several months’out of date with what was going on and with how serious the situation was in certain areas of the world. Byrne said: ‘We’re behind. If the public knew at the time what was really happening, then they might take a different view and journalists would be able to challenge politicians better and we would be better informed about what is taking place.’She said that due to the security threats posed to journalists it was becoming increasingly difficult for the news to tell people the truth about what is going on in these areas.
As a result, she said: ‘Politicians are able, particularly on the Today programme, to go on the radio and claim that events are unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan and that journalists are not giving the true view. ‘They can say that it is not really that dangerous or that it’s only dangerous in a few places. ‘They in a way get away with some of these statements because we can’t necessarily reach the places.’Paul Eedle, managing director of Out There News, a news agency which has a permanent bureau in Baghdad, said that he couldn’t be sure how much any news organisation would be filming in the year ahead as Iraq was heading into a ‘new zone”. He said: ‘We’re going into a deep, dark hole in Iraq and that hole will get wider. ‘I feel that now there is an iron curtain descending across much of the Muslim world.”