Danny Rogers: Greater clarity on war comms is crucial

I write as foreign ministers convene in London to discuss the war in Libya, with the aim of communicating a united front.

In the US, President Obama has been criticised for his lack of explanation for America's involvement in the conflict. And some British journalists are becoming equally critical of the Government here.

This week a number of national defence correspondents expressed their frustration to PRWeek that the strategy behind the war has not been adequately explained (News, page 3).

Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian's defence correspondent, described the Ministry of Defence's comms as 'bad, curiously old-fashioned'.

The Government's comms reticence is understandable. After the damage the Iraq war did to the Labour government's reputation, the current administration is tempted to play its cards close to its chest. The inclination is to control strictly the flow of information from ministers and generals to the media.

As a result, the spokesmen are playing by the rules; handing out facts and figures but refusing to be drawn into off-the-record speculation with correspondents.

It is also a sign that David Cameron and his new comms director Craig Oliver are demonstrating their 'grip' on policy across the ministerial portfolio, something noticeably lacking in recent months.

But there is a potential downside to this more conservative approach to war comms.

To many of us, this war is confusing in scope and legitimacy.

The case for helping the brutalised rebels is easy to understand, but to what extent should British forces become involved in regime change?

Who is really running this operation - Nato, or the core allies of the US, UK and France? And why have we not intervened similarly in, say, Bahrain? Such lack of clarity requires more comms from governments, not less.

Britain's 'red tops' are likely to continue their rabble-rousing rhetoric. 'Brit jets in tank blitz: Rebel joy as we stop Mad Dog's men in their tracks' screamed the News of the World headline on Sunday.

But as the conflict drags on, one can see the liberal media gradually turning against the military operation on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Government needs to keep all key correspondents onside - and in the loop. Only in this way can it mobilise the country to support what is a complex, but hopefully justified, military intervention.

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