The Ministry of Defence took a series of gambles with its handling of the media over Prince Harry’s tour.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
Prince Harry’s return from a four-month tour of Afghanistan will come with a huge sigh of relief from those who approved his deployment, and the likely sound of champagne corks popping among those tasked with keeping him safe while he was there.
Safe, that is, from the media rather than the Taliban, which was never likely to successfully target the commander of a heavily armed Apache attack helicopter.
The Ministry of Defence took a series of gambles with its handling of the media over Prince Harry’s tour, and only time will judge whether it got it right.
Recognising the interest in the story, and believing the media to be under more pressure than ever in the post-Leveson era, commanders told reporters when the prince was going, instead of trying to enforce a media blackout as it did when he went four years ago. The media was asked to act responsibly, and to tell the MoD if and when it intended to run stories about him.
By and large, the military and Buckingham Palace got what it wanted: little coverage of the prince over the past 20 weeks, allowing him to get on with his day job without any security scares.
In the meantime, the MoD gave reporters from the Press Association a chance to interview Harry. This is where the MoD gambled again. The agency garnered more than 11,000 words of colour and quotes, and the MoD asked for only 30 words to be removed, thought to be for operational security reasons.
The MoD judged that, if taken in their proper context, nothing the prince said should be censored. It would be odd, they thought, if the commander of an Apache had spent four months in Helmand without shooting at insurgents.
What cannot be denied is that Captain Wales is good news for the military. More than that, he is a PR gold bar. Harry is probably the most popular man in the royal family, and he is certainly the most popular royal in the armed forces.
At Camp Bastion, he mucked in with everyone else: he ate in the canteen, he wandered around the Naafi, and pumped iron at the air-conditioned gyms. Harry was one of the lads, and the lads like him.
The troops like him, which is good for moral, and the public seems to like him, too, which is good for the armed forces in general.
After a decade of conflict, Prince Harry in uniform, fighting the Taliban, gets “cut-through” with the mainstream media and broadcasters that is now rare in the storytelling of Afghanistan.
Many more thousands of words will be written about his return from Helmand than were reported on the decision to withdraw another 4,000 ordinary personnel later this year, a decision made by David Cameron last month.
And though his trip to Afghanistan should in no way change people’s perceptions of the conflict, the diet of “Harry in Helmand” stories is likely to be more palatable to the public than the steady stream of death notices that have continued since 2006.
Anti-royalists may not like it, and Guardian readers might despair, but the military gets the best of Prince Harry in every sense.
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