Press-ganging the military

The Media and the Military
April 10, 1998

It is always exciting to discover a new field of intellectual pursuit. Peter Young is an associate professor in defence media studies in Australia, and seems intent on providing course material. There are certainly important issues to be considered in the relations between the media and military operations. New communications technologies, coupled with the diversity of news outputs, mean that governments cannot ignore the "CNN factor".

The debate is usually about reporting of situations that may drive policy changes towards more intervention. This is not the question that the authors address. They seek to show that governments and the military obstruct the media and use them for their own nefarious purposes.

Young and Peter Jesser have no doubts about the place of the media in the hierarchy of accountability. They are surprised that during the second world war Winston Churchill, despite his journalistic background, "consistently bypassed the press on important issues by broadcasting direct to the nation or making statements in Parliament".

This arrogance affects their descriptions of virtually every campaign. Nor is the difference between media handling at the strategic and the tactical level properly separated. They seem to expect governments and the military to share every stage of operational planning and execution with any representative of the press. They expect the media to act as a powerful restraint on action, noting that Australian public opinion is now less favourably disposed towards defence. In looking at the Falklands conflict, they castigate "the win-at-all-costs attitude displayed by the politicised military". It is not Argentina but Britain that they accuse, and that criticism is even stronger over Northern Ireland policy. But most of their indignation is directed at the United States in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf war, Somalia and Haiti. For those who have forgotten the "Desert Strike" in the title, it merits just a single page, and Suez fails to make the index.

It is difficult to recommend the outlay of Pounds 17.50, let alone Pounds 50, for such biased analysis. There is a place for the debate over the differing needs of government, military and press in military operations. This volume does not provide it. The rationale for the book becomes apparent in the conclusion. The authors explain that their Australia-based International Defence Media Association is the only international lobby group able to counter the dominance of the military. Single-issue lobby groups usually give their propaganda away, rather than expect the punter to pay for it.

Sir Timothy Garden is director, Royal Institute of International Affairs, and a former assistant chief of the air staff.

The Media and the Military: From the Crimea to Desert Strike

Author - Peter Young and Peter Jesser
ISBN - 0 333 71904 2 and 71905 0
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £50.00 and £17.50
Pages - 391

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