The arrest of former Lance Corporal Ahmed Al-Batati by military police on Monday 24th August for protesting outside Downing Street against the British government’s sale of arms to the Saudis for their invasion in Yemen was a clear enough indicator as to how the British government and the Ministry of Defence in particular view anyone attempting to speak out against any wrongdoings.
However, it was not until a journalist named Phil Miller from the online news organisation Declassified UK requested a MOD press office comment on the arrest, that it was revealed that a blacklist is in place for media outlets that are predominantly critical of the British military.
A few hours after being told by the MOD press office that they would not “be able to send you anything today”, a Daily Telegraph article was published on Al-Batati including a press office comment from the MOD.
After contacting the National Union of Journalists for their response to such a tactical move by the MOD, journalist Miller received a comment from assistant general secretary Seamus Dooley, expressing that “The NUJ would be extremely concerned at any unilateral ban by a government department on questions from selected news organisations or publications. The secretary of state for defence Ben Wallace needs to intervene and ensure that there is no banned list within this ministry.”
Not only does this move by the MOD jeopardise a journalist’s ability to undertake the common practice of requesting statements for reportage, but ultimately hinders the MOD themselves, as it means that their official voice on matters is erased and that they cannot respond to any allegations placed upon them.
Although the alternative option of a request made under the Freedom of Information Act prohibits discrimination based on the applicant, the timeframe of receiving such information can take up to 20 days and in exceptional cases, even more, greatly preventing swift coverage.
It comes as no surprise that the MOD would be more favourable to the reportage of media outlets that shy away from critical reportage of such matters, but when others that criticise are in turn blacklisted from receiving any comment, it shows how the current UK government is rapidly edging towards Trump’s renowned tactic of outright dismissal of engagement with anyone who is deemed a threat.
The vast majority of the mainstream British press are silent on a large bulk of the wrongdoings committed by the UK Military in overseas conflicts be it the Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mail etc.
On top of agenda setting, when wrongdoings are reported, they rarely question the political and ethical role of the Military in those locations of conflict.
The British government has historically been involved in manipulating the reportage of media outlets.
The 2000 whisleblowing case of two former MI5 and MI6 officers David Shayler and Richard Tomlinson for instance revealed the extent to which journalists were being directly approached and harassed by intelligence agents on the reportage of Britain’s military involvement overseas and also how a technique called ‘black propaganda’ was being utilised by intelligence agents which involved the publishing of articles that planted false stories on journalists hostile to the British military under a false pseudonym.
Although techniques such as ‘black propaganda’ have now been exposed, this more recent attempt to blacklist is another means of obfuscating reportage to serve the interests of the British military and make government relations with media outlets more akin to that of Trump’s.
Boris Johnson’s scandal in February 2020 when his communications advisers attempted to prevent journalists from papers such as the Independent and Mirror from entering a media briefing that was held at Downing Street exemplifies this tactical manipulation of the media.