Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1440-1460)|
MR A PAWSON
12 NOVEMBER 2003
Q1440 Mr Crausby: How do we protect ourselves
in the security sense? We have a live fire-fight on the TV, almost
being watched in other countries tactically, what do we do to
prepare and defend ourselves against that?
Mr Pawson: The first line of defence
against that is the commander with whom the embed is resident.
It is his judgment and those of his staff as to whether or not
that there is an operational security issue involved. I think
we have our views but we are quite clear that it is a matter of
security, that is our responsibility in relation to restraining
what can be sent rather than other considerations.
Mr Crausby: Okay.
Q1441 Rachel Squire: Can I come back
to some of your earlier comments on casualty reporting? I certainly
appreciate what you said, Mr Pawson, about personnel systems being
in place which aim to be flexible enough to suit individuals and
families in the very different requirements they would have, particularly
in relation to the media. In your comments, Colonel Brook, I thought
you very effectively gave a brief summary of just what the difficulties
can be in accurately and rapidly establishing the identity clearly
and absolutely, the identity of a casualty and then establishing
just who should be treated as the next of kin and receive the
first report. Can I just ask you to expand on some of the areas
of casualty reporting? In preparation for this meeting I have
seen this Green Book that exists and the particular paragraphs
that are in that in dealing with casualty reporting. Are those
basically the guidelines that are in place for the public announcement
of United Kingdom casualties and would you like to say whether
you are satisfied with them as they are and whether you are also
satisfied that they were properly adhered to?
Mr Pawson: Perhaps I can answer
that in a couple of ways. We have found the media to be pretty
responsible about wanting to wait until the next of kin have been
informed first but there is a limit to their patience. If by another
means, and it is usually locallyI mentioned what can happen
earlierthe name is known locally they will wait 12 or 24
hours but if one of the next of kin from a split family is overseas
and days go by they will not wait that long before going public
on the casualty and the family of that casualty. That is the sort
of way I mean that we have to respond quickly and in a timely
manner. To have an absolute embargo that says until all of the
next of kin as written on the person's form have been informed
if that is proving very difficult and somebody is away trekking
then we have to manage our way through that situation. As I say
that is a discussion that we have with personnel people inside
the Military of Defence and it is an area among many that is being
looked at in the personnel field and we have to come to our conclusion
alongside the military and the civilian in general.
Colonel Brook: Insofar as the
Green Book is concerned we realised during the operation that
the realities were that there was probably in some circumstances
going to be a difference between the incident, an incident reporting
there has been a crash, an incident, a fire-fight and a casualty
reporting. One of the things we will need to do in the Green Book
is look again and see if we can give more sensible advice on the
difference between those two things, for us they are the same
but an incident with a casualty is our prime concern. The incident
itself is something that the press wish to report and we need
to be a little cleverer in that regard.
Q1442 Rachel Squire: Do you plan to talk
to the media further given all of the comments that have been
made about their massive presence and this 24 hour a day, seven
day a week presence with hundreds of organisations all frankly
looking for the next headline, have you had and will you have
further discussions with the media about frankly just how live
the broadcast should be of a casualty occurring? Some of that
was touched on, and I remember listening to a report by John Simpson
and a decision that was taken about just what the cameras would
show, is this an area that you consider needs further discussion
with the media?
Mr Pawson: Yes, in the sense that
we have input to put into it but not in the sense that I think
it is a broader decision about what is acceptable in terms of
taste and decency and when it is acceptable and what level of
detail is acceptable, it is one much more for society as a whole.
I think my personal position is that I would very much hope that
we could avoid causing great deal of distress to a small number
of people, friends, colleagues and families of a casualty by avoiding
distressing footage, particularly on television, or detailed reports
of what happened to them, unless it was absolutely in the broader
public interest that it happened. It is not just an interesting
sensation, tugging heart strings but we as a society ought to
be able to manage that situation. I recognise the argument, which
is an entirely legitimate one, in the media about not sanitising
war, conflict and shootings and giving a false impression. I would
hope that could also be done without (our prime concern in the
Ministry of Defence) causing deep distress to the people who are
directly involved in it.
Q1443 Rachel Squire: You mentioned personnel
systems are in place, I understand that all three services have
their own personnel branches, can I ask how you manage to coordinate
between them and again whether there are any particular improvements
that need to be made or whether it acted effectively?
Mr Pawson: This is an area that
is being looked at as a matter of urgency. The people responsible
for the personnel policy are very aware of the benefits of standardised
procedures in relation to people on operations.
Q1444 Rachel Squire: You have mentioned
some of the discussions that take place with families and how
they want to deal with the media, can you elaborate a little on
what kind of support there is in the days afterwards when a large
number of media may well decide to park themselves on a bereaved
families front doorstep even though they do not want that? What
kind of support is provided on a daily basis to a family who is
being put under tremendous pressure to give some report to the
press which they do not always want to?
Mr Pawson: We will offer them
a media adviser who can both act to a certain extent as a shield
and also as an adviser in the best way in which to manage the
pressure, the pressure can be different on different families
in different ways. It may be that if you have a photograph of
the person and you can say a bit about them that will largely
satisfy the media, on other occasions it will not. It is very
much trying to tailor it to the wishes of the family. As I said
earlier the family is not necessarily a simple concept any more
and it is an area where there is obviously a great deal of grief
and emotion and a great deal of sensitivity is required but we
are guided by the wishes of the family.
Q1445 Mr Jones: Can I return to this
issue of the use of pictures, a quote from Jeremy Thompson, he
said "I think we are all aware there is going to be a point
soon when somebody is going to die live in front of camera".
That is a very real concern that we all have, first of all do
you agree with that and if so how do you plan for that terrible
Mr Pawson: I do agree it is a
concern if only because at the time of day which this is taking
place there may be children watching, and that is not manageable.
It is back to the sense of taste and decency, essentially with
the media taking a decision to introduce at least a small time
lapse in the loop in which distressing pictures can be removed.
Q1446 Mr Jones: Have you had similar
Mr Pawson: There have been a number
debates about this in a variety of fora, we have not had a formal
discussion with the media about this.
Q1447 Mr Jones: Is it something that
you think should be looked at seriously, certainly if you are
going to have embedded journalists with a lot of cameras? The
worse thing would be for a husband or a wife or a mother to see
their son or daughter killed live on television, would it not?
Mr Pawson: That is absolutely
our concern, identifiable, realtime, close to realtime and extremely
Q1448 Mr Cran: Over to accuracy and fairness,
not accuracy and fairness in relation to the press in this instance,
accuracy and fairness in relation to the MoD, fairly consistent
criticism has been made to this Committee that successes have
been announced before they were achieved and that leads to the
breakdown of confidence with one another between the MoD on one
hand and journalists on the other. Alex Thomson gave us a number
of examples and I would like you to comment on the general proposition
and also on the examples that he has given us: The fall of Um
Qasr, that did not fall until several days after Geoff Hoon told
the House of Commons it had. Mr Pawson you said you err on the
side of authoritativeness when there are statements to be made
to the House of Commons, you have not impressed Mr Thomson. He
also cited that the first uprise in Basra turned out not to exist,
the second uprise in Basra did not exist and then the tank column
coming out of Basra turned out not to exist. These are serious
complaints by the press of you and of the military, what are your
Mr Pawson: I think, as I tried
explain to earlier, the fact that in the Um Qasr area the fortunes
of war changed during that period did not mean, as I say, that
we in any way misled with this implication of deliberately giving
false information. The information that we gave was given in good
faith the best we knew it at that time and we had no reason at
that time to doubt it. The question of time, particularly for
commentand I think most of his were taken from theatre,
etc, with the exception of Um Qasr, as I sayis a very difficult
one and the balance is one that we strive to maintain. There is
usually a case that there is a basis for what is happening, certainly
in relation to Um Qasr it was not totally well-defended, we were
not in there and we could not go round and challenge. It was not
one hundred% secure for people to walk round in their suits. There
was sort of an incident that appeared to be an uprising, I understand
with the benefit of hindsight that some policemen had been ordered
by Baathists to shoot some of the population and they refused
and were shot themselves, but it was in a particular quarter of
Basra, it was not an uprising. Whose responsibility it is that
an incident becomes a huge uprising I am not clear about, I am
not sure we will ever be clear. What does happen is the sort of
relationship I described earlier whereby a partial but accurate
picture is made at a particular command level, it is then recycled
through and one is damned if one does and damned if one does not,
either you confirm it or you do not know what on earth is going
on. I think that is quite a difficult position in terms of what
professional people expect to find themselves in.
Q1449 Mr Cran: It is hardly satisfactory?
Mr Pawson: If it was widespread
it would be highly unsatisfactory.
Q1450 Mr Cran: I am not sure I agree
with that either, a fact is a fact or it is not. There was an
uprising, to take the example that was given by Thomson, or there
was not. Maybe there was a predisposition on occasion to fire
just a wee bit too quick off the draw. It is not a fair comment
on this to say, "well, it did not happen often, it does not
matter", well I think it does. What were you seeking to put
Mr Pawson: I was seeking to address
a number of incidents. How many hundreds were right as opposed
to, say, a few that were wrong? I am not seeking to say those
that are wrong were unimportant because there are lessens to be
learned from that, and we clearly learned lessons and that everything
is not just what it seems to be at first sight, sometime it is
and sometimes it is not. As I also said earlier we do try and
correct those at the first opportunity we can. Things have moved
on by then, particularly in media terms, but nevertheless that
is quite clearly what we aim to do and what we try to do the whole
time. The judgment of when something is sufficiently well known
for a spokesperson to judge that it is safe to do so is a difficult
one. I am certain we do not get it right one hundred% of the time,
the assessment is an operational one on which a spokesman relies.
We did not get it right one hundred% of the time, I admit that.
Then equally I think if you take a step back and look at the broad
portrayal of what has happened in Iraq and the way that is portrayed
in the media by our spokes people in theatre, embedded on the
ground the broad picture was successfully put out into the public
Q1451 Mr Cran: Thank you for that. I
have to say to you that the criticism is fairly persistent, it
just does not accord with the picture that you have been giving
us. To finish this off, have you, meaning the MoD, received representations
from the press on this whole question of their being fed duff
Mr Pawson: At the seminars where
we have been where the media have been there they have said we
were wrong about that and we were saying we were premature in
some incidents, for example Um Qasr. We were not expecting fighters
to be in civilian clothes, so it was wrong, but all we are saying
is that when you report it obviously it is fair for you to say
that the reports that it was entirely safe were wrong, but that
is different from saying that the MoD lied to us.
Q1452 Mr Cran: I never used that word,
I did not.
Mr Pawson: That is the distinction
which I think is important to make.
Q1453 Mr Cran: The distinction I am making
is just perhaps on occasion, and I put it no higher than this,
maybe you just drew the gun and fired a little too quickly, in
other words you let the information out that such and such had
happened in the expectation that it was almost there but not quite.
That is all I am saying.
Mr Pawson: Or it was not wholly
corroborated or it was not sufficiently firm so the situation
does change, they are fluid situations.
Q1454 Mr Cran: Are there one or two lessons
to be learned?
Mr Pawson: I agree absolutely
this balance and tension between timeliness and accuracy and authoritativeness
is a difficult one to draw in an operational situation particularly.
Q1455 Mr Crausby: We were told by the
journalists we interviewed there were some examples of inappropriate
censorship and they put them down to inexperienced and untrained
media officers rather than in a malicious sense, what assessment
have you made of how individual units and commands managed their
relations with journalists?
Mr Pawson: What I think is a lesson
for the future is, as Colonel Brook said, an operation of this
scale catering for the needs of the media stretched us. I think
in future what we need to do is to get our training, our equipping
and our identification of personnel, those sort of issues, on
a more systematic footing because you are right, some of the media
said there was inexperienced people that were handling it with
them and we would want to up that experience and that quality
so we could avoid a situation where people do not feel confident
or unsure of their relationship. I am not saying that it does
not take two to tango, I think it does, but nevertheless the leading
partner should be properly trained.
Q1456 Mr Crausby: We are concerned about
a small number of inappropriate censorships and they made the
point this occurred in operations that went pretty well. They
questioned what the situation would be in an operation that did
not go well where we were taking casualties, in what circumstances
would you have not allowed an embedded journalist to file a report?
Mr Pawson: The fact is that it
was quite clearly operational security and that was spelt out
in our instructions and guidance notes as to what that did and
did not cover. I am not sure we would accept that there was censorship
other than that because I think some journalists use censorship
in the sense that "we were not allowed to travel where we
wanted so therefore we were censored". That is not really
what most people understand by censorship, of course they were
constrained by whether the unit was operating, what the unit was
doing and how safe it was to go right up to the front with reconnaissance
units. I do not see that as censorship, that is safety.
Colonel Brook: There were really
only two occasions where we had any concerns, one was where the
actual electronic emission, a satellite phone, something like
that, could result in that unit and indeed that journalist being
targeted by the other side and where the information that they
put into their report would have a demonstrable impact on the
future operation and the safety of our own troops and indeed that
unit that was concerned, other than that we thought it went particularly
successful with the media very quickly, remember they only deployed
a matter of a week before the combat operations really started,
very quickly starting to understand the difference between information
that was good to put into the public domain and information that
was sensitive which they should hold back for a while until that
particular part of the operation had unfolded a little more.
Q1457 Mr Crausby: Will you accept that
censorship would be appropriate in a really bad news story where
British troops were retreating and taking casualties, what about
the effect on morale if there is a really, really poor story which
reflects very badly on the soldiers concerned, would you accept
that should not go in?
Colonel Brook: I am not sure in
the modern media environment the ability to close information
down to that extent is possible, particularly if there are non-war
correspondents, the independent journalists talking to other people,
including talking to the other side, it would be very difficult
to keep that information away.
Q1458 Mr Crausby: Would it be wrong to
try and keep that information away?
Colonel Brook: I think it would
Mr Pawson: I think it is a subtle
area as to when a general threat becomes particular in terms of
threat to life or when it becomes a threat to operational success.
Clearly if it is an electronic emission giving away the location
of a unit to an advancing party, and we expect the opposition
to be able to read that, that is something that clearly endangers
lives, or a general report back from the front of the conditions
in which soldiers are fighting. If it is a report about the unit
next door to you crumbling and you know your flank is going and
therefore you are likely to lose life yourself you enter into
a grey area, quite a subtle area.
Q1459 Rachel Squire: Following on from
some of your comments about satellite emissions and some of what
has been referred to certainly by Richard Sambrook, the BBC director
of current affairs, in his address to Royal United Services Institute
he described the new media, "new journalists producing new
news who have little regard for those of us in the traditional
media, with a laptop and a phone connection and with a website
than can broadcast from anywhere unregulated". He then refers
to some of the websites that were created, reporting all sorts
of news from Baghdad, Russia's views, and so on, to views that
have been expressed by military planners which have been slow
to keep up with such changes in the journalistic profession, often
applying the lessons of the last conflict to the next one without
perhaps appreciating how far things have moved on, particularly
with this 24 hour news cycle. Can I ask, how did you try and engage
with this new media during operation Telic and what monitoring
did you do of the new media output?
Mr Pawson: First I could say what
we did, we set up our website at the end of January, between there
and the end of April we had an average of 25,000 hits, a maximum
of 42,000, so over 800,000 overall and that will not be the total
Q1460 Rachel Squire: 25,000 hits per
Mr Pawson: At its peak it was
42,000 when we were on the hotmail home page. That will not be
the full reflection because as you are aware local service providers
provide local packages so if you picked it up very recently they
will not re-access they will provide it from the network. People
stayed between five and ten minutes on our website on average,
which I thought was much longer than I had been expecting. We
had much more video downloads, we had 100,000 downloads of video
equipment, which was much more than we were expecting. We had
a picture library of publishing quality, which was some 600 pictures
which was also widely used. It was also extremely helpful to the
media we found in relation to (A), the rather sad business of
casualties that was referred to and (B) as a tri-service record
of the forces who were deployed to the Gulf and into Iraq. Our
website was out there with the others. We have not found a way
of controlling the worldwide web and the other websites to which
you refer, which can put anything they like on it, any comment
and, as Richard Sambrook said, without editorial controls of any
sort that we are used to in the West. I don't have a solution
to that problem. I think we would want to be sure that our embeds
were not engaged in that business, we have an accreditation process,
that they are chosen through the Societies and the Broadcasters
should ensure that. Your more general point, I mentioned that
the technology had moved ahead, we are aware of this. I think
it is something that we will pay attention to in future, that
is one of the lessons, we have to keep up to date with the technology
in the media. Some commentators suggest that future, major American
networks will have their own UAVs, for example, sending straight
back from the battleground particularly as unilateral journalism
in high-intensity conflict has become so dangerous as it has this
time. We are aware of the developments, I just hope we can keep
up with them.
Rachel Squire: Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you both very much, it
was very, very interesting.