Are mainstream news media accredited
The hot line
As a journalist, I've always hated the war because I've seen a lot of it; But I always remained friendly to the soldiers.
My grandfather never talked about World War II. And I have noticed that current British soldiers are also reluctant to talk about their combat experiences in Afghanistan.
When I retired from the armed forces, I said goodbye to a peacetime army that felt that the press acted irresponsibly and was primarily motivated by money or political considerations. The press was seen as a threat to the armed forces.
From 1991 I worked as an independent journalist. So I tried to get press accreditation to report on the Gulf War. However, I was denied it. I had no chance as a freelance journalist and the mainstream news industry offered no opportunities for a beginner.
Still, I was determined to report on the conflict. So I pretended to be an officer in the British Army and spent two months filming the conflict incognito. As a result, I managed to bring home the only uncontrolled footage of the war.
Accredited journalists found that the Western military authorities controlled their access very closely. They could get little of what they were looking for. The editors at home viewed the entire process as a news disaster.
I was determined to report on the conflict. So I pretended to be an officer in the British Army and spent two months filming the conflict incognito.
In those days I was filming on a small, off-the-shelf video camera and running a small freelance news agency that relied on this technology to get material.
We were the first group to use these cameras to gather news. But we were dependent on selling our material to the broadcasters of the day; therefore we had to observe their journalistic standards.
On my last trip to Afghanistan in September 2007, I filmed my former regiment, the Grenadier Guards, advising units of the Afghan National Army on operations in Helmand in southern Afghanistan.
I used a number of new tools, some of which revolutionized the ability to reach my audience! I had much better portable cameras to use, as well as satellite phones, which I could use to post my videos on the Internet and reach my audience online.
I referred to myself as a video blogger or a web logger - and in the process I came across other bloggers, citizen journalists, and a rapidly growing group of outside commentators, the vast majority of whom do not have to adhere to the same ethical standards.
My main motivation for going there was my growing concern that the British public does not seem to be taking any responsibility for the war in Afghanistan.
She never supported the invasion of Iraq and British politicians never really admitted that they made some mistakes in the campaign. As a result, the British people seemed to be losing their sense of responsibility for the British military presence in Afghanistan.
The British Army's press management has made tremendous strides since the first Gulf War. There is now a publication called "The Green Book" which outlines press policy and sets out rules that embedded journalists must agree to before accepting the convenience.
According to the provisions of the Green Book, the "responsible operational commander" can forbid the embedded journalists from passing on information that could be of military use to an enemy, about prisoners of war or - much more controversially - about victims and losses.
The management of field correspondents has become much more complex, not least because of the expansion in size of the international press over the past two decades.
Fewer than 500 journalists applied for accreditation for the first Gulf War. In 1998 more than 2,500 journalists tried to get the opportunity to accompany NATO to Kosovo.
The tremendous demand for the limited number of places available for embedded journalists in the British Army in Helmand allows the Department of Defense to select preferred journalists.
When I was in Afghanistan last year, I was accompanied by a British Army overseer. I know a lot of the British Army press attachés pretty well as I run the London Club for the international press, the Frontline Club. It has developed into a place for exchanges between the press and the armed forces.
Fewer than 500 journalists applied for accreditation for the first Gulf War. In 1998 more than 2,500 journalists tried to get the chance to accompany NATO to Kosovo.
Some of the military press attachés who accompany journalists as overseers feel somewhat uncomfortable. It is not only strenuous work, but familiarity with journalists usually does not lead to the expected disdain.
Many of them are beginning to wonder who they are actually serving: the careers of government ministers, the welfare of their comrades in soldiers, the progress of the campaign, or the interests of the general public. If a military press attaché doesn't "manage" the news, their career can be seriously damaged.
Nonetheless, embedded journalists in Afghanistan now have access to operational activities that few of them have ever had before. Never since the Vietnam War have journalists had the opportunity to get so close to the fighting.
If you get access, it is quite extraordinary, as illustrated by one of my reports, which can be seen here.
Ultimately, I had no editorial problems with my supervisor. If I had filmed a seriously injured British soldier, it might have been different. I have heard British officers argue that it is not in the interests of the wounded soldier or his family to be filmed. Personally, however, I am convinced that the primary reason for these restrictions is to be found in the maintenance of public morality in the home country.
I think this is dangerous. A disinterested public hardly cares about such conflict, and I have seen misinformed people react in unpredictable ways when confronted with unpleasant truths. A suppressed truth can also sound louder when it finally comes to light. Showing a war without suffering is simply an inaccurate representation of the truth.
The military is faced with enormous challenges in dealing with an increasingly complex media environment. At the moment, the British Army appears to be largely supported by public opinion at home.
But a long-term war is looming in Afghanistan. Some observers think that it would have done us more good to buy friends in the region than to try to kill all of our enemies. Public opinion could very well turn against this war.
Perhaps a concerted effort to build trust could be a more rewarding strategy than message management in the long run.
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