HL Deb 07 February 1991 vol 525 cc1271-3

3.10 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on the media coverage of the conflict in the Gulf.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Government's policy on media coverage of the conflict in the Gulf is to allow all reasonable freedom and access for reporting, subject only to constraints essential to protect the security and safety of the operations of coalition forces.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for his reply. Since I tabled this Question, the wall-to-wall media coverage of the Gulf war has been mercifully mitigated. However, is he quite satisfied that no information is currently being broadcast which is of use or comfort to the enemy, especially when those broadcasts emanate from Baghdad?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we have in force a voluntary arrangement which, generally speaking, is working well. However, we watch matters such as the tone of the coverage and the potential of some material to provide information helpful to Iraq. Where appropriate, we approach the media organisations under the guidance which has been published.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that so far there have been no breaches of security?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I can only repeat that, generally speaking, the arrangement is working well.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, will my noble friend consider the headlines in the Today newspaper of the day before yesterday: "Tie an orange ribbon"? Is it in the best security interests of our troops in the Gulf that it is indicated that every so often the ribbon behind the tanks will be changed so that the allied planes can identify our tanks as distinct from enemy tanks?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I take note of my noble friend's remarks but I do not believe that that is a media question. That is a military matter.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is not the noble Lord aware that several British commentators have persistently made the point that they can in no way make or give reports which would endanger allied soldiers or allied policy in the future? In addition, very senior British and American officers make statements to journalists. We must beware of the point already made by the Minister that over-keen journalists, particularly those in Baghdad, could let slip some information which could have very serious consequences. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, we must be particularly on our guard against that aspect of the situation.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the noble Lord makes some very fair points. Most media organisations are sensitive to the requirements and are as anxious as we are not to endanger our forces or their operations.

Lord Elton

My Lords, are any steps taken to evaluate the propaganda material sent via our media from Baghdad and, where appropriate, to let that evaluation be known to the British public?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we consider that broadcasters have a special duty to ensure that audiences here are left in no doubt as to the circumstances of film transmitted from Baghdad or other parts of Iraq; in particular, the fact that access to any scene of damage can be stage managed by the Iraqi authorities.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, can the noble Lord say rather more about the voluntary arrangement which the Government have with the media organisations? For example, does that arrangement stretch across the whole coalition? Do broadcasts from Baghdad by the one cable television network still transmitting from there fall within the voluntary arrangements so that nothing is shown on British television which may be damaging to our own troops?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am not able to answer that question. I shall look into the matter and write to the noble Lord.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, can my noble friend explain why almost all national newspapers head their articles with a logo picture of Saddam Hussein which makes him look young, benign and attractive, which is somewhat different from reality? It is clearly a photograph which he designed himself.

Lord Reay

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I have no doubt that the media organisations will take note of that.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us welcome the unqualified tribute paid in another place by the Prime Minister to the quality of the BBC coverage in the Middle East? I repeat that we welcome very much his expressions of support.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I take note of what the noble Lord says.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, can the Minister draw the attention of the media to an old wartime expression: careless talk costs lives?

Lord Reay

My Lords, my noble friend makes another wise observation.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, can the noble Lord assure this House that Her Majesty's Government are having regular meetings with representatives from the television channels and newspapers in relation to media coverage of the Gulf war? Many of us take this issue extremely seriously when the lives of so many of our servicemen and women are at stake.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord and the House that the Government take this matter equally seriously. We are in regular contact with the media. There is considerable contact at both official and ministerial level.