Harrystan raises media debate

February 29, 2008

Writing on the BBC Editor’s blog about the recent deployment of Prince Harry to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, Jon Williams, says

When the Ministry of Defence approached the BBC – along with other parts of the UK media – to ask us not to tell our audiences about a possible deployment of Prince Harry to Afghanistan, it was something we thought long and hard about… After five months of discussions… the MoD and the UK media reached an understanding; we wouldn’t speculate or report on the prince’s deployments to minimise the danger to him and to others. In return, we’d get access to him before, during and after his time in Afghanistan.
Then yesterday, the Drudge Report – the online US website famous for breaking the story of Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky – put the story on its front page. The game was up. We, and the other broadcasters, agreed with the Ministry of Defence that the story was out and it would be wrong not to tell our audiences what had been going on.

But as Polly points out in the comments, you have to question the MoD’s motivation here as much as the BBC and other British media outlets willingness to comply with what is arguably a propaganda exercise,

In essence, Harry has been trained for a job he cannot do for security reasons. Why not retrain him for something he can do? link

While the fact that Prince Harry is in Afghanistan fighting in the name of the country he may well rule one day is newsworthy, the news of his deployment pales into relative insignificance when compared to the mass of unreporting that has gone in Afghanistan.
On the same day the Prince Harry story broke (yesterday) news of a suspected covert US bombing of South Waziristan in neighbouring Pakistan barely scraped a column inch. On balance, the Harrystan story would appear to be little more than a rather well run PR exercise on the part of the MoD.
Whether or not the story broke early by accident or design makes little difference to the result – celebrity not story wins the day in the eyes of the British media.



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