Earlier this month, Journalism.co.uk ran a series of exclusive extracts from the book ‘Afghanistan, War and the Media: Deadlines and Frontlines’. Last night contributors to the book came together to debate the media’s role in the Afghanistan conflict, its portrayal of the war and what should happen now. Co-editor John Mair rounds up last night’s debate at the Frontline Club:
Now for the ultimate journalistic challenge: how do you report a meeting that is not supposed to have happened?
Facts first: the book ‘Afghanistan, War and the Media: Deadlines and Frontlines’ edited by Richard Keeble and myself was launched at the Frontline Club in London last night. A debate was held there too about who was winning the media war in Afghanistan, but under the Chatham House Rule, which rather stymies reporting.
Participating were senior editors and correspondents from the BBC and Sky News and a senior military public relations official in front of a paying audience of 120. I can tell you no more about who took part. That’s the rule.
But some interesting themes emerged that I can talk about:
- the media war was firmly being lost by the West and won by the Taliban;
- the US authorities are better at managing the media than the British, who seem addicted to embedding;
- embedding is nothing new but the British military have got better at straight news management (e.g.minimising the filming of casualties on the grounds that soldiers had rights to privacy and refusal);
- the British army has made coverage of the war cheap and within the reach of regional papers and television to suit their own agenda;
- embedding with the Taliban has been almost impossible and the era of the unilateral journalist firmly finished in this theatre of war.
One of the most interesting things to emerge was a perceived multiplication of casualties through military procedures and the 24-hour news cycle. Soldiers “die” five times: when the incident happens, when their name is announced by the MoD, when the body comes home and through Wooton Bassett, at their funeral and at the inquest into their death. So the 330 plus British casualties to date in Afghanistan can seem like many more thanks to this rule, hence the lingering but dwindling public support for the War.
It was a fascinating discussion and let me leave you with some quotes. Under the Chatham House rule, it is up to you to decide who said what:
- “Afghanistan has seen the Hollywoodisation of war”;
- “There are more embeds in Afghanistan than any other conflict”;
- “Embedded is just posh silly name for what journos always done”;
- “Sports journos know more about sport than war journos know about war”;
- “We have an absolute duty to tell the truth”.
Did I break the Rule? You decide…