Posts Tagged ‘afghanistan’

Harry: Prince of Propaganda

Prince Harry is the ultimate recruitment poster boy for the Call of Duty generation. As a soldier Prince, he is in his element: today’s media is plastered with pictures of him in subtle battle dress, poses framed by an apache helicopter gunship, underlining his sense of purpose and presenting him in hero-like dimensions.

From Las Vegas to Camp Bastion, Harry’s headlines – both good and bad – build a modern heroic monomyth around him. He may be a professional soldier – but am I alone in preferring to read about his rock ‘n’ roll hedonism rather than this latest “I killed in Afghanistan” meme?

Hadley Freeman made an apt caricature of Harry’s media appearance in the Guardian, comparing them to “an especially sloaney university’s production of Top Gun (it’s the sunglasses)” and bringing attention to the media “omerta” that surrounds him.

Despite spending a considerable amount of money keeping Harry physically safe, the investment seems to be missing when protecting his image during his end-of-tour media commitment. Arguably, his complacent PR minders dropped their guard. However, some of these soundbites are already having negative resonance in the region he works hard to improve.

Harry uses the language of the squaddie in his interviews, comparing his experience to that of a computer game. Such comments have angered senior officials who have said it is disrespectful to those who died alongside Captain Wales.

Criticising the media was another own-goal – by now the prince should know better and should rise above the clichéd clamour. Harry is popular with the crowd, so why does he allow his cynicism towards the Third Estate create future tensions?

Harry’s comments have been a media failing for the military, diplomacy and his supporters here in the UK. As Rob Crilly pointed out in his recent Telegraph article, the fight against insurgents will be “as much about PR salvoes as it is about rockets and bullets”. Flippant comments have handed extremists a propaganda prize that will have a far more enduring sting than the inconvenience of the media junket.

Clinton, Copenhagen, Afghanistan, Suppression and the X Factor

The suppression of information takes many guises, I’m beginning to realise. Many guises, but at the heart, the old ways of doing things still rule. Someone pulls strings and the neck of the bag tightens.

Take, for a start, Hillary’s Secret War, a book detailing the ways in which a rightwing think-tank’s output on the internet was allegedly suppressed by Hillary Clinton during the Clinton regime, which has just been brought to my attention. According to the author, a Richard Poe, Clinton protected her husband’s regime rigorously. “Hillary’s attack machine bullied,” he writes, “blackmailed, terrorized, and intimidated every serious investigator, from journalists to federal prosecutors and independent counsel, until they simply gave up. In many cases, Hillary’s operatives carried out these attacks openly and in full sight of major media. No one blew the whistle. No one cried foul. No one stopped her.”

Poe describes himself as part of ‘the New Underground’: “By the New Underground, I mean the growing network of dissident journalists on cable TV, talk radio, and the Internet. In the course of our labors, we stumble, now and then, upon what Patrick Henry might have called ‘painful truths’.”

The book came out in 2004, but – whether or not you subscribe to Poe’s political leanings – his description of the ways in which information is suppressed rings true enough. There are many ways of suppressing – and getting out – a story. Only this morning I was reading Guido Fawkes’ Twitter feed, which suggested that the MOD were attempting to suppress footage of troops in Afghanistan refusing to shake the hand of Gordon Brown – shortly afterwards, he wrote that a source had confirmed the existence of footage and he was trying to acquire it. This is the New Underground in action – although Poe ascribes it to a rightwing think-tank, it is much more a bipartisan group of journalists and bloggers who won’t let anything lie in the face of suppression.

What, then, of Copenhagen? The internet is fascinated with the ongoing situation around the Climate Change Conference and is awash with information and misinformation. The net coverage is an ongoing fight between painful truths and distractions. The leaking of the East Anglian stats has given all concerned a personal wire service to the onslaught of information in all its variant states of truthfulness.

What many fail to understand is that the format is usually the winner. However many gatekeepers Hillary Clinton is alleged to have set up for the web, however often the MOD try and hide the fact that the troops don’t like an unpopular leader, however much obfuscation, argument and endless counter-argument surrounds Climate Change, the internet – that most flexible of formats – will always win through.

You just have to look at the X Factor for proof. It’s not Joe McElderry who’s won the X Factor, it’s the format. It’s Simon Cowell, who owns the format. The only difference between the X Factor and the internet is that the TV talent show is the sort of Mogadon for the Nation that allows people to suppress news from Copenhagen, merely because you can bury anything on page 20 or in an article on the internet if you have enough articles about tearful contestants – who’ve been slugging it out in a glitterball for the past three months – surrounding the story.

The Bra Necessities

The Swedish military certainly have a way with a publicity stunt, if the story that’s surfaced about poorly designed military bras is anything to go by. Or so my churnophrenic state of mind is telling me, as I dig unceasingly for the truth behind the news. Put it this way, if it’s not a PR stunt, somebody is going to receive a serious dressing down.

According to reports, “flimsy military brassieres are unable to stand up to the strains imposed when female Swedish troops perform ‘rigorous exercises’”. The bras are “routinely bursting open or even [catch] fire – so forcing busty young conscripts to hurriedly strip off in the field.”

This being Sweden, they are presumably not bursting out into Barbara Windsor cackles when it happens, but it couldn’t otherwise be any more Carry On if it tried. And the churnophrenic part of me is wondering who could have planted this one on the press.

Strangely it is the Swedish Conscription Council, an organisation concerned with the rights of conscript troops in the Swedish forces, who have been most vocal on the matter. Council spokesperson Paulina Rehbinder stated in Swedish paper The Local that the problems have persisted for twenty years. “Unaccountably, however, it appears that the male-dominated Swedish military hierarchy has failed to act.”

But, with 2000 new young female recruits said to be joining the armed forces next year – women who will no doubt be expecting to be taken seriously when they are sent of to conflict zones like Afghanistan – they may have to sort out their military bra supply.

My guess is that this story was designed to encourage young men to join up in case this doesn’t happen. And if it doesn’t happen, what then?

Swedish women soldiers! Questionable bras! Striptease in battle situations! I wouldn’t be surprised if someone makes a film…

PR Gaffes in Fashion Retailing

The Daily Telegraph asked for my opinion yesterday on the ruling against Abercrombie & Fitch, who were found to have “wrongfully dismissed and unlawfully harassed” Riam Dean, a 22-year-old woman with a prosthetic limb who was shuffled off the shop floor last year.

“Mark Borkowski, a leading brand and celebrity publicist, said: ‘This is probably one of the biggest gaffes by a fashion retailer – it is a disgrace and a PR nightmare.

‘When people are confronted daily with pictures of heroic soldiers returning from Afghanistan with missing limbs, people will look at this case and think that Abercrombie & Fitch is incredibly shallow.

‘It is potentially very damaging to them and they will need to work hard to restore some depth to their brand if they are to maintain their position in today’s competitive environment.’”

To read the full article, click here.

Noel’s HQ and the Sneering Press Officer

It’s good to see that my client Noel Edmonds’ groundbreaking new show on Sky One, Noel’s HQ, is having some effect. This week, the programme, which aims to inspire people to acts of kindness and help transform lives, tackled the case of Joe Townsend, a 20-year-old veteran of the campaign in Afghanistan.

Townsend lost both his legs to a landmine and, to help him rehabilitate and get his life back on track, his grandfather offered to build a specially adapted bungalow on his own land in Sussex. They chose a spot that could not be seen from the road and canvassed locals, who had no objection to the plan. Wealden District Council refused permission, despite the absence of any objections.

It was after this that Noel’s HQ got involved; it’s a measure of the show’s effect that it managed to get quotes from David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown, all of which called for the council to reconsider.

Production staff at Noel’s HQ then called Wealden District Council’s press officer, Jim Van Den Bos, who sneered down the line, saying: “we don’t deal with entertainment shows”. It’s astonishing that Van Den Bos did this, clearly off the cuff and without research into the organization he was speaking to. The first rule of the press officer is that he or she is servant to the message.

If a TV show calls with a thorny issue to discuss, a press officer needs to ask if they can call back, look into what it is they do and find out what the threat level is. Then they need to deal with the situation appropriately and, if the pressure is on, remain respectful. They must try and understand the issues and make their side of the story known with as much care and neutrally as possible.

Arrogantly dismissing the caller only leads to trouble; in this instance, it left Noel free to tell his viewers that if Wealden “would sneer at what we are doing here” then they’re “sneering at millions of others”. Wealden District Council performed a swift volte face in the wake of the show.

There are plenty of press officers in local government producing award winning work; these are the people who know that when a press officer is in the firing line, they need to keep their best foot forward, their eye on Google, their temper in check and their professionalism cranked up to 11. They know full well that if they don’t they’ll end up, like Jim Van Den Bos, holding a smoking ACME bomb.