Analysis: The PRO's view from Basra Bridge

Gulf War II transformed DTI chief press officer Vickie Sheriff into Captain Sheriff of the Field Press Information Centre in Southern Iraq.

In the days prior to the fall of Baghdad she kept a diary, published exclusively here, while (right) she explains the wider role of reservist PROs

2 April

Close to the village of Safwan in southern Iraq, Buster, our sniffer dog, found a hidden cache of arms. Now he and his handler are being interviewed by all of the breakfast shows. It's a good 'soft' story and a relief from war, war, war.

In the afternoon, we take a pool camera, The Sun and BFBS Radio into the border town of Safwan, where troops are patrolling. It's a chance to develop the 'hearts and minds' story. The Sun produces a spread on a female corporal meeting local children.

3 April

Our war correspondents want to broadcast from as near to the forward units as possible, and there is dwindling interest in the 'hearts and minds' stories. Getting the media forward is bound by constraints: concern over safety - we have a duty of care to look after our embeds (and ourselves) - and operational security - not allowing future intentions to be broadcast.

The presence of unilaterals - free- running journalists - is a real issue.

The benefit of being an embed with the Field Press Information Centre (FPIC) is access to exclusive strategic briefings and pooled material.

Seeing 15 unilateral crews around and across Basra Bridge, where we were taking our embeds, put us in a difficult position - our embedded journalists were being put at a disadvantage. After negotiating with the army on the ground, we escort the media across the bridge and follow tanks into the compound taken under fire by British troops hours before, and are granted an interview with the Commanding Officer.

4 April

BBC TV News and Spanish Radio take up the opportunity to see the Psychological Operations Unit, which produces leaflets for the local people, telling them where aid distribution points are and how to tune into the dedicated Arab-speaking radio station for more information. It's an opportunity to blow the myth that Psy Ops is about propaganda and lies. The BBC runs a package on the BBC One O'Clock News bulletin.

Main party of war correspondents visits army unit that had been involved in a mortar and rocket grenade attack moments beforehand. Media were able to see the results and interview those involved. Another example of an opportunistic facility which worked well.

5 April

A morning facility to see a different Basra Bridge taken by British troops overnight, but its newsworthiness is overridden when news breaks that an unofficial 'morgue' near Az Zubayr is found. Sadly, the army scores an own goal by allowing a passing unilateral journalist from Sky to get the story and the pictures, but refuses access for the FPIC embeds later.

A very frustrating day and an isolated example of various parts of the army's media machine not communicating properly. A compromise is struck as the FPIC embeds are permitted to visit the next morning to do pieces to camera and gather more footage.

6 April

Basra is hotting up, so we deviate from the morgue to Basra Bridge again to observe the forward units and do pieces to camera with the city and British armoured vehicles as backdrops.

7 April

In the morning, GMTV does a live studio link-up with Sergeant Steve Terry and his wife, who is celebrating the birth of their baby. It's a soft story, and perhaps a little incongruous, but it's a good morale booster for families at home at a time of high tension. Meanwhile, the war correspondents leave at dawn for Basra on an all-day facility visiting British units fighting on the city outskirts.

8 April

BBC, Sky and ITN broadcast live from the Presidential Palace in Basra.

A definitive signal of the operations' success and a triumph for the FPIC escort who thought on his feet to get the journalists into the compound!

9 April

Baghdad falls to the Americans, and our correspondents pack their bags and leave. A dramatic shift in the news agenda means Basra is old news and the FPIC's role is put on hold.

VIEWPOINT - THE RESERVIST PRO

In the Territorial Army's Media Operations Group (MOG), I am one of nine TA officers, all with civilian PR skills, working in the Field Press Information Centre (FPIC). The MOG draws its members from across the public and private, in-house and agency sectors.

A new concept for the army, the FPIC has been formed with the task of facilitating the work of UK war correspondents. It's also the base for the military media, including the British Forces Broadcasting Service.

The familiar face of the army, Colonel Chris Vernon, is co-located with the FPIC and briefs journalists on operations.

The journalists who are 'embedded' with specific units provide only a localised view, so we help to provide a counterbalance. Reports are brought back to the FPIC where they are shared through the war correspondents' pool, edited and packaged to be beamed.

My role involves organising media opportunities and photocalls to feed the news day in, day out. It's a job of compromises, giving the journalists what they want while trying to deliver the army's media messages. Plans are often overridden by events, so being flexible and creative are key.

It's different from my day job, where we have time to plan for significant announcements and prepare detailed information to cover various lines of questioning. My role here is about providing interesting opportunities every day and letting experts - the troops - speak for themselves. In the army, every man is a spokesman.

Communicating - the ability to have a telephone conversation - has been our biggest problem. Feeding the news is a relentless business when the world's media have eyes for only one story and everyone wants their own angle.

Living alongside journalists 24/7 in basic conditions has been testing for both parties. It has to be said, washing your smalls next to a journalist washing hers is a whole new way of making crucial PR contacts.

- More information about what it means to employ a member of the TA is available at www.sabre.mod.uk.

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