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MoD to 'bury bad news' by banning media from Afghan front
03-08-2010, 10:00 PM,
MoD to 'bury bad news' by banning media from Afghan front
Quote:The Ministry of Defence was last night accused of attempting to 'bury bad news' by banning journalists from the Afghan frontline during the election campaign.

And in a further blow to Gordon Brown, it emerged the MoD has only ordered half as many armoured vehicles for Afghanistan as it had previously said would be bought.

The revelations prompted claims that Mr Brown was using the Armed Forces as a 'party political prop'.

The policy to ban British journalists and TV crews from being 'embedded' with military forces will come into force once the election has been called.

But critics have attacked the move, accusing the Government of trying to gag the media.

The MoD says it is not allowing the media to 'embed' - attaching journalists with fighting units - because the run-up to the election is a 'politically sensitive' period.

The policy known as 'purdah', which applies to Government departments before an election, has never been applied to journalists covering the Army.

It will also prevent senior officers from making public speeches or giving interviews to reporters.

The leaked memo by the MoD's head of communications, Nick Gurr, even states that official reports must be submitted for approval before being made public, the Daily Telegraph claimed.

Conservative defence spokesman Liam Fox said he would table an emergency question in the House of Commons demanding an explanation today.

'Given the recent visit of the Prime Minister, this is a bad joke,' he said.

'There is clearly one rule for Gordon Brown, when he wants to use the Armed Forces as political props, and another for reporters who want to tell the public what is being done in their name.'

Col Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: 'It is wrong to gag the media, which is what this is.

'This is a critical campaign and the public have a right to be told what is happening. It is also wrong to prevent senior officers speaking.'

An MoD spokesman said: 'During the period between an election being called and taking place, communications activity across government is considerably constrained by the need to be fair to all parties.'

The Prime Minister used a trip to Afghanistan on Saturday to boast that he had secured 200 new Light Protected Patrol vehicles to replace the Snatch Land Rovers, blamed for the deaths of British troops from roadside bombs.

But when the deal was first put out to tender last year, the agreement was to buy up to 400 new patrol vehicles.

Mr Brown also faced criticism from two former chiefs of the defence staff for maintaining to the Chilcot Inquiry that, as Chancellor, he had never refused military requests for more equipment.

Former prime minister Sir John Major condemned Mr Brown's behaviour as 'a political stunt' and said using the Armed Forces 'as a cynically timed pre-election backdrop is profoundly unbecoming conduct for a Prime Minister'.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth will confirm the order for 200 vehicles in a Commons statement this week.

But a contract notice issued in February 2009 called for tenders for 'up to 400 Light Protected Patrol Vehicles (LPPV) to be production-ready in 2010 and delivery into service in 2011'.

Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell last night insisted that only 200 of the new vehicles were needed on the frontline.

He suggested the other 200 would be bought at a later date, but could not say when.
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