Monday, 2 July 2012

Lies, damned lies, and Media Reporting...

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here, and part three of the ‘reasons to be positive’ series is still being written. Hopefully it will be posted online within the next few days. In the meantime though, Humphreys eye was caught by a damning headline in the Daily Telegraph, claiming that six army Generals had resigned over the current wave of defence cuts.

The full story can be found at this link but in summary, the author was claiming that at least six senior officers (2* and above) were resigning from the British Army as a result of disillusionment about the future of the Army. The problem is that the story is complete rubbish. The official MOD news blog response (link was utterly damning, and is worth republishing in full

"Number of Generals leaving the Armed Forces
Today's Telegraph claims that
six Generals are leaving the Army because they are disillusioned.This is nonsense. The article contains a number of inaccuracies and individuals have been misquoted. Several of those named are still serving with no plans to leave before their normal retirement date. The remainder have already left the Army having reached the natural end of their careers. None left because they were disillusioned and this article does those individuals a huge disservice after decades of distinguished and valuable service to the country.

More than 24,000 people leave the Armed Forces every year, including senior officers who come to the natural end of their careers. The number of senior officers departing early is in line with the historic trend over a number of years.

The MOD has long been criticised for being top heavy with too many senior officers and is soon to announce a reduction in senior posts to ensure the Services are balanced, streamlined and effective."

Humphrey has worked with at least one officer named on the list, and knows for a fact that he retired on age grounds – as do many officers. The reality of Service life is that people will not all be promoted to the CGS / CDS roles, and that many people leave at different ranks. As the MOD noted in its withering response, over 25,000 people leave HM Forces every year, so it is inevitable that people of all ranks will go.

As noted last week in the piece on the appointment of the Danish CDS, a lot of good officers do leave HM Forces. But the very best have usually gone in their forties, when they realise they either won’t make General, or that the price to get there is too high. It seems less common for a 2* to go on principles – its too late for a significant career change, and too close to full pension to risk leaving!

What is so depressing is that the DT has seemingly been allowed to make up another story of ‘armed forces outrage’ when no issue exists. Of course soldiers leave, and a quick look at ARRSE or other military forums would show that there is concern about the current round of cuts. The wider story appears to be an effort by the Telegraph to set the political agenda in a week where, if rumours are true, that the shape of the Army will be unveiled. The future Army structure is going to be incredibly controversial – any plan which sets out how to lose 20% of a workforce is rarely uncontroversial. But, to the authors mind, what appears to be going on here is the DT trying to put forward evidence of a rift, or trying to show that senior Army figures don’t agree with the cuts. Essentially, by claiming resignations, the Telegraph is trying to portray the senior leadership of the Army disagrees with the Government over what is going on.

To Humphrey, this sort of conduct is reprehensible, and up there with hacking into voicemail messages. Its as if the paper felt that just because it didn’t have a good controversy story about defence cuts, didn’t mean that it couldn’t make one up. People rely on the media to provide generally accurate reporting. Its vital that they report the news as it happens, and report it without restrictions or being hampered in any other way. But equally, surely the press have responsibilities too? They should have the self control to be able to not publish patently false stories, knowing full well that they will never be called to account for their actions.

The implications of what they’ve done is that for the named officers in the report, their peers and subordinates will now be looking at them, wondering if they really are leaving. It will impact on their relationships, and it seems grossly unfair to name serving officers and put them in what is a political battleground, simply to sell papers. These men have spent their lives serving their country. The military in the UK take great pride in being as apolitical as possible – people genuinely take pride in not being used as political pawns. The Telegraph story has run roughshod over this. Instead it has thrust these men into a political firestorm, where people who do not read the MOD defence news blog will not know that they’re not resigning, or retiring. People won’t hear that these officers are still serving, and instead assume that they have taken a political stance against the Government of the day.

Its one thing to report on the news and spin on it to meet your own media organisations private agenda. Its completely different though to making stuff up (which is what appears to have happened here). How can the public trust the media to report the truth in as factual a manner as possible, if the media have seemingly little interest in reporting the truth itself.


  1. The Daily Mail is a travesty to any kind of quality journalism as anyone who has had to deal with them knows. Sadly I don't think they care too much about the impact this article is likely to have on those generals.

    The trouble is how do you stop this sort of thing without venturing too far into preventing free speech? I hope Levenson results in a credible complaints body where the generals affected could complain and that body could hit them with an instant fine plus an order to redress the article.

  2. "These men have spent their lives serving their country. The military in the UK take great pride in being as apolitical as possible – people genuinely take pride in not being used as political pawns."

    Here Here!
    Sadly the age of internet the gloves are long since off... its sad, as these imagined rants go on and on, in papers and blogs, the real services quietly and soticly carry on with their job.

  3. MM - I totally agree- the problem we have is that I am utterly in favour of free speech. But where does one draw the line between free speech, and utter falsehoods invented to make a story?
    I like your idea of a credible complaints body, rather than the Page 67, bottom column tiny font!

  4. In 1986 Sir William Armstrong, then head of the civil service, was caught by a minor Australian barrister in a blatent lie about the matter of Peter Wright's MI5 memoirs in court. He denied the lie by replying that he was merely being economical with the truth.
    It's not merely the press that are manipulating the truth and recent revelations about the probity of our banking institutions is further proof of a general decline of our national moral fibre and, in that respect I believe that the civil service now believes that if that is sauce for the gander, then we'll have some of it.
    Many of the recent Whitehall leaks must have originated from unhappy civil servants, so, it's just possible that this mischief was home grown.
    However, I am an avid reader of your take on things military and they do provide an antidote to the ranters in the pub and club.
    Keep it up.

  5. simple.... counter it with MORE free speech.

  6. Thought the Torygraph has said that we have too many generals anyway (or was that the Mail?). Media can't have it both ways.

  7. Leaving aside the issue of the report's accuracy, I find it no bad thing for the country's top generals to resign in protest of what they feel is a wrong decision. It is one of very few substantive protests they can make, most of the others being denied them in the name of "civilian control".

    If you say it is bad for them to even resign in protest, then you condemn them to do nothing in blind loyalty to the System.