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22 Nov, 2019 13:36

Journalists need 'national security' training to stop flow of embarrassing but true NATO stories, defense-backed think tank warns

Journalists need 'national security' training to stop flow of embarrassing but true NATO stories, defense-backed think tank warns

With Western armed forces already using embedded reporters to tell the story they prefer, a UK think tank now calls for national security training for journalists so they don't help out Russia or China by telling the truth.

A British defence think tank with close, high-level links to the armed forces, defence contractors, foreign governments and huge multinational corporations is suggesting military-backed media training for Western journalists to stop Russia using their own reporting against them.

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), located over the road from 10 Downing Street in London, hoovers up masses of cash in funding from the European Commission, defense contractor BAE systems, the Qatari government, Big Tobacco's Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco, the US State Department, Google and many others.

Now Elisabeth Braw, who directs the RUSI Modern Deterrence project, suggests teaching "national security" as a journalism specialty to help rein in impartial reporters who might want to write freely about what they witness during armed conflict and elsewhere.

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The suggestion is, basically, to turn journalism into a public relations operation where a compliant media actually colludes with the military to give the unquestioning public a version of the news that omits uncomfortable details, even when they're both true and non-secret.

In arguing her case under the headline "Loose Lips Sink Democracies" (and she doesn't mean it ironically) on the Foreign Policy website, Ms Braw recalls the domestic reporting of the Swedish Navy pursuing what it believed to be an "enemy" submarine in 2014, only to find one of the many leads it chased up turned out to be a faulty weather buoy. While the report was true, it was the tone of the article that Ms Braw objects to because, she says, it led to a dent in the credibility of the Swedish Navy.

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She blames the mockery that followed in Russian media outlets on "sloppy journalism."

Sloppy it may have been, and the headlines could be worded with less clickbait, but it was still true. Any newspaper editor worth his or her salt will look for the hook on a story and in this case, it was that the navy had spent time, money, and energy chasing a funny, dead-end lead.

Then there were the reports of NATO troops on an exercise in Norway relieving themselves against the wall of a day care centre, followed by the Dutch story of their soldiers having to buy their own underwear, and the German newspaper article on German troops having to wait 18 months for their boots.

All true, all accurately reported but according to Ms Braw, undermining Western military operations by opening them up to ridicule by an irreverent Russian media. And that cannot be allowed to happen.

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She admits that it is an "uncomfortable thought" to have to rein in a free press but considers the apparently sacrosanct nature of national security is worth the occasional journalist because "no supporter of Western democracy cherishes Russian or Chinese influence."

It was the USA during the Iraq war in 2003 that first decided to deal with those nosy guys and gals writing embarrassing stories about poor troop behaviour, botched missions, sub-standard kit and hardware bedevilled with problems; they embedded those reporters with the armed forces on the ground.

Of course, embedding journalists with troops is sold as a golden opportunity for gullible media organisations to give their battlefield reporters a front row seat with the full cooperation of the services themselves.

But in reality, as evidenced by US Army intelligence whistleblower Chelsea Manning during her stint in Iraq, the vetting of reporters by military public affairs officials was used "to screen out those judged likely to produce critical coverage," and that once embedded, journalists tended "to avoid controversial reporting that could raise red flags" in case they had their access terminated.

"A result is that the American public's access to the facts is gutted, which leaves them with no way to evaluate the conduct of American officials," said Manning.

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Since the PR brainstorm of what became known as 'inbeds,' this cosy, vetted, accredited, and decidedly one-way relationship has led to a rise in shameless propaganda attempting to pass itself off as journalism.

The recent gushing report on the National Interest website of the "unstoppable" F35 jet on maneuvers is just one example. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the US F35 project has been struggling for years with technical and financial problems.

Meanwhile, the same website reported earlier this year that a Russian stealth plane project was a "lame duck," mocking alleged shortcomings in a piece straight out of the RUSI playbook.

This sort of reporting could be discounted simply as a naïve piece of "sloppy journalism" or, for those of more suspicious disposition, a masterclass in propaganda.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.