A surrender to chaos: The MOD and the media
There is a lot of noise in Westminster and beyond about the MOD’s ill considered idea that some of the servicemen involved in the recent Iran kidnapping crisis can sell their stories due to the ‘exceptional circumstances’ of their ordeal.
If you don’t think about it too hard, the idea that these poor souls who were snatched by a theocratic, fascist and utterly Neanderthal state could be allowed to make some quick cash for telling their stories (much as anyone who has given a protein release operation to a second rate footballer) seems just. However, generally speaking members of the uniformed services are not allowed to profit from doing their job in this way and countless servicemen have been involved in great acts of bravery and intrigue. What about the soldiers who strapped themselves to the rocket mounts of an Apache helicopter and swooped in through a hail of lead to save a comrade? A policy like the story selling ban cannot be reversed without being grossly unfair and divisive.
The internal excuse included the idea that in order to counter the darkly able propaganda efforts of the Iranian theocracy it would help to get the story out and control it. This is a basic PR error – you cannot ‘control’ a story completely per se – you can only influence it (sometimes very strongly, sometimes lightly) and getting money for it is unnecessary for managing this process. The families and servicemen involved have been persued doggedly by the media but this could and should have been anticipated and managed by the MOD’s press officers.
Managing the process is especially vital given the fact that the UK’s current foreign entanglements are so unpopular (and recruitment is becoming more difficult). There are many stories of heroism, personal achievement and community contribution that can be told by the military – but they rarely appear in a properly considered and managed manner, even in the red tops. This means that parents, who are one of the most important groups of people the MOD needs to influence, have no idea that the military can offer their children anything other than death or injury and have no idea about military career options and the many ways to serve without holding a gun. Apparently a couple of years ago the government stopped each service from having its own PR manager, a luxury afforded even by Z-list web hosting companies. How stupid.
There are so many potential media targets for the kinds of stories the MOD can develop that it is hard to count them. They need to stop paying, stop fearing, stop ignoring and start placing some positive stories.