Official News Blog of the UK Ministry of Defence
Thursday, 01 October 2009
Last week Michael posted a highly critical piece on the ending of his embed with Task Force Helmand (TFH). This attracted a large number of posts from outraged readers supportive of Michael. I undertook to investigate what had happened. I have now done so.
I know that some readers will not be sympathetic to the MOD’s position on a matter such as this. But I would be grateful if you would hear me out. It is clear that there has been a (to quote Michael) “Texas-sized” misunderstanding here, made worse by various other factors, and I apologise for any part that MOD has played in that. But there are a few important points that I would like to make:
Michael’s embed is the longest of any person this year by quite some way. Most embeds are for between one and two weeks. And demand for embeds with TFH always exceeds our capacity to supply. I wish that were not the case. But it is. Despite this, we have facilitated 136 media visits to TFH since January this year. On average there were about three people per visit, which means that some 400 media people have visited TFH over the first nine months of this year.
Michael’s embed ended because the media ops team needed to assist a number of visits by other journalists, including a package from Northern Ireland regional newspapers (home ground for 19 Brigade), reporters from The Times and Independent, a BBC TV crew, a documentary team and a team from PA. Capacity is limited. I can understand that this may have looked different to Michael. But it was the reason that the embed ended when it did.
Hence the Defence Secretary’s reply to Anne Winterton.
Last, and most importantly, while we take a number of factors into account in deciding who to embed and when (when an individual was last embedded, when his/her organisation was, readership), a demand for positive coverage is not among them. We believe that the efforts of our forces in theatre will speak for themselves. Of course we hope for balance – and by and large we get that. We have certainly never had an issue with Michael’s reporting.
Clearly something appears to have gone seriously wrong in this case. But everyone in theatre is working under huge pressure which will sometimes generate friction and, as I said, I am sorry if Michael felt he was not being treated as he should be. I am assured that the media ops team in theatre worked hard to support him. It is a shame that the experience should have ended on a sour note.
I hope Michael will find the time to drop in for a chat about how we go forward from here when he is next in London.
Posted at 01:16 PM in From the Director