- Nov 22, 2003
- Reaction score
The Times October 24, 2006
MoD bans TV news access to warzones
By Dominic Kennedy
THE Ministry of Defence has banned Britains biggest commercial news broadcaster from frontline access to the nations forces, The Times has learnt.
In an unprecedented move that risks accusations of censorship, the Government has withdrawn co-operation from ITV News in warzones after accusing it of inaccurate and intrusive reports about the fate of wounded soldiers.
The first casualty is ITVs planned trip to Afghanistan to cover troops marking Remembrance Sunday, traditionally an opportunity for positive coverage of reconstruction efforts.
ITV sources said last night that the trip had been cancelled because of the row with the MoD.
The Times understands that the head of ITV News, David Mannion, wrote to the MoD yesterday to demand an explanation. He also sent a copy of the letter to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus ODonnell, a move that is likely to drag Tony Blair into the dispute.
The row began last week after ITV broadcast the first of a series of reports showing how British soldiers wounded during the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated. The segments, which appear nightly on the 6.30pm and 10.30pm bulletins, topped the agenda at a meeting between ministers, including the Defence Secretary Des Browne, and military chiefs.
MoD sources have indicated that there was concern about images showing identifiable wounded servicemen arriving at Birmingham airport by night. It has been suggested that no permission was obtained from the men and that their families may have been caused distress. Like seeing a US serviceman killed in a turret, knowing your son, husband was too, but seeing it on TV, after the fact.
Field Marshall Lord Bramall, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, was also seen on ITV footage expressing concern about the shortcomings in treatment for Britains returning soldiers.
However, defence sources said that ITV staff working on the same series of reports had been given access to Headley Court, the MoDs state-of-the art rehabilitation centre. Film showing the hospitals high standards of care for seriously injured soldiers, sailors and air personnel was broadcast later in the week.
The MoDs director of news, James Clark, responded by sending a furious e-mail to ITV editors last Monday.
As bad a hatchet-job as Ive seen in years. Cheap shots all over the place, no context, no reasonable explanation. Like the Daily Star in moving pictures, he wrote. If giving ITN detailed exposure to our people, lengthy briefing and open access results in this, then I dread to think how your editors and producers would look to exploit access to our people in theatres (of war), or our chiefs and ministers. That e-mail omitted any specific details of perceived errors.
ITV quickly became aware of a second, internal e-mail from Mr Clark, a civil servant, to the MoDs media operations staff, who are seconded from the military. The effect was to cease co-operation with ITV by withdrawing access to embeds, the much-sought placements for reporters which enable them to be embedded with battlefield forces. That e-mail begins with the words To reiterate . . . implying that there had already been such a policy in place.
Mark Wood, chief executive of ITN, which provides ITV News, told The Times: We are not happy about the way it has been handled. They [the MoD] have objected to some of our coverage but we havent quite worked out what the repercussions are. We welcome any criticism particularly if it is pointing to factual errors or inaccuracies. What we have had is criticism of our coverage which has not actually gone into any detail of what is factually wrong.
An MoD spokesman said: The MoD is severely concerned about inaccuracies in some of ITVs reporting on the news last week as well as some of the images that were shown without the permission of the military personnel involved and will be seeking explanation.