Judge and Jury: NATO retains public support by being open with the media - The military has not been known for its relations with the media, but NATO is doing a good job in keeping the public on its side over the Kosovo conflict, says Mike Dewar, managing

Whether dealing with the Gulf War, the peace enforcement operation in Bosnia or the current air-campaign against Serbia, keeping the media on-side is a vital part of conducting a successful military operation.

Whether dealing with the Gulf War, the peace enforcement operation

in Bosnia or the current air-campaign against Serbia, keeping the media

on-side is a vital part of conducting a successful military

operation.



In an era of instant satellite communications, the media is able to

report on every move of the combatants. What has to be avoided at all

costs is any repetition of the infamous occasion during the Falklands

war when the BBC signalled the forthcoming attack by the Paras on Goose

Green to the Argentinians, putting the whole operation in jeopardy and

jeopardising the lives of British troops.



But this near disaster was as much the fault of the military at that

time as of the press. The latter were kept very much in the dark in the

early 1980s and fed snippets of information with little guidance on what

was sensitive. Lessons were learned. Now the press are part of the team

- they are trusted and they are briefed on what they can and cannot

say.



NATO has been careful to follow this line in the current crisis over

Kosovo. Clinton has kept Congress and the nation briefed and informed;

General Wesley Clark has reported NATO’s every move to the press; Prime

Minister Blair spoke to the nation; and the energetic and impressive

Secretary of State for Defence George Robertson has hurried between TV

studios and MoD briefings.



The press has been afforded facilities at NATO airbases in Italy; CNN

has reported when NATO aircraft have taken off from Aviano - perhaps not

very helpful, but NATO can probably live with this. The US Airforce

B-52s based at Fairford in the UK even invited a reporter from USA Today

to fly in a B-52 on the first mission to launch cruise missiles against

Serbia.



So has NATO transparency worked? The media have rightly questioned every

aspect of the operation but they have been broadly sympathetic. From the

Sun’s headline ’Clobba Slobba’ and ’Our boys batter Serb butcher in NATO

bomb blitz’ to the Independent’s leader headed ’A deadly gamble but we

are right to strike at Milosevic’, both the electronic media and the

press appear to have been persuaded by NATO’s presentation of the facts.

Polls in the US show that 70 per cent of the population are behind the

Commander-in-Chief and the first straw polls on Sky TV showed about the

same level of support in the UK.



NATO militaries have travelled light years in the past decade in the

evolution of their relationship with the media. PR posts in the Armed

Forces are no longer considered detrimental to a career profile; immense

effort is expended on keeping the media sweet. The military are no

fools: they know the best way of keeping the press on side is to keep

them in the picture.



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