Friday, August 10, 2007

The MoD Blog Ban: Too Little, Too Late?

I've just had today's Newsnight email, which talks about the Ministry of Defence decison to ban armed services personnel from using email, blogs and internet forums, which was also covered at length in the Telegraph this morning. The Newsnight email says...
The MoD has issued new guidelines to personnel in the army, RAF, and navy. They state soldiers can no longer blog, post on bulletin boards, or release video, stills or images. The government says the new restrictions have been put in place following the controversy over the MoD allowing two navy personnel, captured in Iran, to be paid for their stories. But through these blogs and video posts (see the Army rumour service board and Live Leak video site) we have learnt of inadequate equipment in theatre, and poor accommodation, as well as unique testimony of soldiers' lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. So have these restrictions been put in place to quell criticism? Are they legal? Are there good security considerations for the ban? And why, when blogs and video posts have been used by soldiers since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, are the MoD suddenly gagging their personnel?

This has all been provoked by the collective failure of the MoD to handle the crisis over the navy personnel who were captured by the Iranians. On the face of it it looks like an overreaction, and an unprecedented attempt to restrict freedom of speech. However, the counter-argument would be that by signing up to the armed services you voluntarily give up certain rights, and one of those is to spill the beans to the outside world.

My own view is that this attempt to gag our armed services will fail. The genie is out of the bottle. If someone has something to say via the internet the chances are that they will always find a way. And it will now make a bigger headline than it did before.


IanPJ said...

I think its more likely to be the pressure and embarrassment over the government plan to abandon the Iraqi interpreters than the short lived fortunes of a few inept sailors.

Tom Ogg said...


I can't believe how blithely you dismiss the importance of free speech. Surely free speech is even *more* important for these people, who are working for the government and so we need their information to hold government to account? And where do such restrictions end- should corporations be able to completely gag their employees in a similar way- and if not, why not?

I agree that the regulations will - we hope - not survive sober questioning. But please be wary of giving up free speech too easily. You're supposed to be a tory after all!!!


Iain Dale said...

Tom, please re-read the article again and point out where I dismiss free speech! It will be difficult for you because I did nothing of the sort!

Prodicus said...

Is this the end of ARRSE? I haven't looked yet.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

This one took my attention earlier to day and I posted on it. Later on, I found this from the Washington Post which kind of puts an interesting spin on the issue, I think:

(bythe way the Weasel is back:

For weeks, the veracity of the New Republic's Scott Thomas Beauchamp, the Army private who has been sending dispatches from the front in Iraq, has been in dispute. His latest "Baghdad Diarist" (July 13) recounted three incidents of American soldiers engaged in acts of unusual callousness. The stories were meant to shock. And they did.

In one, the driver of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle amused himself by running over dogs, crippling and killing them. In another, a fellow soldier wore on his head and under his helmet a part of a child's skull dug from a grave.

The most ghastly tale, however, was about the author himself mocking a woman whom he said he saw "nearly every time I went to dinner in the chow hall at my base in Iraq." She was horribly disfigured, half her face melted by a roadside bomb. As she sat nearby, Beauchamp said loudly, "I love chicks that have been intimate -- with IEDs. It really turns me on -- melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses." As his mess-hall buddy doubled over in laughter, Beauchamp continued: "In fact, I was thinking of getting some girls together and doing a photo shoot. Maybe for a calendar? 'IED Babes.' " The woman fled.

Freedom? To do what?

chatterbox said...

Iain, look at the timing of this announcement?
This has nothing to do with the Naval personal who were held hostage.
The casualty rates are rising at an alarming rate. With it comes the focus of the media spot light, which is starting to uncover a picture of the situation on the ground which bears no resemblance to the governments portrayal of it.

The MOD's press office is a bad joke, and Des Browne is looking more like Comical Ali everyday. It would be funny if it was not so bl**dy tragic out there for the troops!
The troops know the government doesn't care but they also think the public don't either. But with the rosy picture being painted by the Labour spin machine about our success in Basra in preparation for us cutting and running, well Broon will be calling an election at some point. The last thing they want is the troops resorting to similar tactics like they did last year to highlight the real situation.
When you start seeing this government behaving honourable and with genuine respect towards the armed forces for the risks they take and the sacrifices they make, then this government will have earned the right to expect unquestioning loyalty from them. At the moment every stage of the planning in their Foreign and Defence strategy has been dominated by the rise or fall of their *political stock* rather than the practical aims for, or needs of our military. Still they keep lying to the public about just what a mess it has all become.
Its not too little too late, it should be, how did we allow them to get away with treating the public and our soldiers this way!

Tapestry said...

Brown must be worried about stories coming out which might harm him politically. He might be right to do so as our last few months in Iraq are going to be tricky and the Taleban are getting more effective by degrees.

One joker on Guido suggested General Dannatt might lead a coup d'etat. It would certainly be one way to preserve Britain's existence, and bring some semblance of order to our society. Trouble is all the troops are overseas. Maybe he's got some tanks on Salisbury Plain that could be moved up to Westminster. Nigel Farage is keen on using tanks to political effect. Maybe he and Dannatt could plan it together.

Rich Tee said...

There goes what's left of morale.

Unsworth said...

The Official Secrets Act covers all serving personnel. This latest instruction from the idiots in MoD is specifically a piece of arrse-covering. It has nothing to do with Operational Securtiy or anything else.

These people are monstrous apparatchiks. The sooner they are sacked the better. Here is the MoD talking to the Parliamentary Select Committee: The Director General Corporate Communications, Mr Tony Pawson, told us that the main aims of the media strategy were to be as open as possible and to meet the practical needs of the media in terms of substance and timeliness. Almost every journalist that I have ever spoken to says this is complete garbage. The main aims are to completely control all communication, no more and no less.

Tom Ogg said...

Hi Iain,

I was thinking of where you said "However, the counter-argument would be that by signing up to the armed services you voluntarily give up certain rights, and one of those is to spill the beans to the outside world."

On reflection, I think I wrongly thought you were endorsing the counter-argument you mention. This is the hard argument that has to be had out and I was concerned that you sounded too defeatist about winning it. Sorry. But it'd be good to hear you counter that counter argument (...).

Daily Referendum said...

This could be an attempt at a sort of media blackout. Maybe something is in the offing? Blogs certainly would not have been allowed around D Day.

Or the more realistic version could be that the MOD are fed up of being shown up for being the incompetent fools they are.

chatterbox said...

"This could be an attempt at a sort of media blackout."

I definitely think that is what they are attempting to do. They managed it very successfully in Afghanistan last year for about 6 months until we started seeing regular casualties, one regiment sent their own phone video footage to the BBC.
I think that they denied journalists access for while because of the dangers, but like soldiering I would say that is one of the accepted risks of being a foreign correspondent?

Sea Shanty Irish said...

The New Republic controversy is NOT a good argument for denying the free speech rights of serving members of the military. Nor is the incident of the sailors captured by the Iranians.

No free speech right is absolute, and speech of men & women in the military is governed by usual constraints as well as special requirements of military law and security law (which is well-established in UK but in total flux in US).

Further limitations without proper legal sanction are quite likely illegal and at the very least are unenforceable and counterproductive.

As for "You're supposed to be a tory" please keep in mind that for years the world believed W, Cheney, Rummy, Alberto, etc were "conservatives" which in part meant support for individual rights and freedoms against goverhment tyranny. But now we all know better!

Wrinkled Weasel said...

If you sign up for the Army, you obey the rules. Simple as that, and if you don't like it you get out. As for freedom of speech that does not give the freedom to undermine the morale of the organisation you work for. Censorship has always operated in war. Nothing has changed.

Most of these whingers would have been shot for mutiny 60 years ago, and rightly so.

Am I anti-war, for the record and for those who do not read this blog regularly, but there has to be discipline. Its part of the deal.

The Remittance Man said...

It's got to be political. On my infrequent visits to Arrse I've always noticed the "Opsec" warnings and the way the service personnel posting adhere to it.

I put this down partly to simple common sense (and self preservation) and partly a sense of duty.

Slagging off politicians, journos, civil servants and civilians, on the other hand, is done freely and without restraint.

Could the real reason be the way Arrse got involved in the Rifleman Pun campaign a couple of months ago. The civil servants came out of that one with plenty eggy faces.

Steven_L said...

The infantry think our new Typhoon is a white elephant. That's what it's all about, mark my words!

I say we prove them wrong and trash a few Iranian MiG's.