Michael's Dispatches

Nick Gurr: Reply to Michael Yon


Official News Blog of the UK Ministry of Defence

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Thursday, 01 October 2009

Nick Gurr: Reply to Michael Yon

Last week Michael posted a highly critical piece on the ending of his embed with Task Force Helmand (TFH). This attracted a large number of posts from outraged readers supportive of Michael. I undertook to investigate what had happened. I have now done so.

I know that some readers will not be sympathetic to the MOD's position on a matter such as this. But I would be grateful if you would hear me out. It is clear that there has been a (to quote Michael) "Texas-sized" misunderstanding here, made worse by various other factors, and I apologise for any part that MOD has played in that. But there are a few important points that I would like to make:

Michael's embed is the longest of any person this year by quite some way. Most embeds are for between one and two weeks. And demand for embeds with TFH always exceeds our capacity to supply. I wish that were not the case. But it is. Despite this, we have facilitated 136 media visits to TFH since January this year. On average there were about three people per visit, which means that some 400 media people have visited TFH over the first nine months of this year.

Michael's embed ended because the media ops team needed to assist a number of visits by other journalists, including a package from Northern Ireland regional newspapers (home ground for 19 Brigade), reporters from The Times and Independent, a BBC TV crew, a documentary team and a team from PA. Capacity is limited. I can understand that this may have looked different to Michael. But it was the reason that the embed ended when it did.

Hence the Defence Secretary's reply to Anne Winterton.

Last, and most importantly, while we take a number of factors into account in deciding who to embed and when (when an individual was last embedded, when his/her organisation was, readership), a demand for positive coverage is not among them. We believe that the efforts of our forces in theatre will speak for themselves. Of course we hope for balance - and by and large we get that. We have certainly never had an issue with Michael's reporting.

Clearly something appears to have gone seriously wrong in this case. But everyone in theatre is working under huge pressure which will sometimes generate friction and, as I said, I am sorry if Michael felt he was not being treated as he should be. I am assured that the media ops team in theatre worked hard to support him. It is a shame that the experience should have ended on a sour note.

I hope Michael will find the time to drop in for a chat about how we go forward from here when he is next in London.

Posted at 01:16 PM in From the Director




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  • This commment is unpublished.
    jester143 · 11 years ago
    As is usual with any organization, shit and bullshit rolls down hill. It also rolls quicker when the cranial cavity is deeply embedded in the anal cavity. The results are as always, drivel such as this. Thanks Michael for all you do, and for those pure journalists you associate with.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nick · 11 years ago
    By nature I'm a trusting sort so my gut feel is to accept this at face value. The part I don't understand is why the end of Micheals embed was a surprise. I can understand that there might be more embed requests than there are slots but surely this is all agreed in advance... Its not like you can just decide to pop by one day in down town Afghanistan.

    Not sure what the deal is here as I'm not close enough to have all the answers. Could it all be a giant fuck up? possibly. In my experience its all to easy to see conspiracy in a large organisation when in reality its just a couple of over worked people who have fucked up under pressure.

    Bottom line... not sure what happened but I do know I miss the reporting of my my countrymen (I'm a brit) who are working damn hard and are all to often unappreciated :sad:
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dave in SC · 11 years ago
    Much appreciated that Nick would respond with an at-least-somewhat-thought-out argument.

    having never been embedded myself, the issues are at best third hand and subject to perspective skew.

    That said, if an embed is scheduled to end in a week or two weeks, why throw out a reporter when he's only days away from completion? and why throw him out with NO warning? And why disallow him even to stay on the base while he awaits transport?

    Furthermore (it would seem to me anyway), prior communication of said sudden "media visits" would certainly have been planned more than 12 hours in advance, when considering the distance being travelled and coordination being undertaken.

    I'm not calling pure BS on Nick, but the closet continues to smell of bovine...

    From a yank with much appreciation for the Brit's tenacity, please endure your leadership and help us win the fight.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nick · 11 years ago
    Btw... just to be clear. I'm the Nick who posted the comment above but I'm not Nick Gurr :-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Camron Fox · 11 years ago
    Bullshit Nick, I presume?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TheNewGuy · 11 years ago
    That's it? That's all you have to say, Mr. Gurr? You haven't even begun to address the issues Mr. Yon raised in his piece.

    Quite disappointing.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    dennis · 11 years ago
    well, all in all it's over,move on dude. but telling you to git off the base, that was throwing you out to the wolf.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    T Armstrong · 11 years ago
    The MOD are caught in a Catch 22, if they tell the truth to the public, they will have to admit how badly this campaign is being conducted, the mistakes being made in Tactical Doctrine, the insistence on procuring equipment for future 'Major Conflicts' rather than for COIN, the lack of progress and inability of the Civilian agencies to reinforce the headway made by the Armed Services.
    The only way the PR/Propaganda Teams can conduct themselves is to lie, to keep embeds as short as possible to prevent 'Journalists' from acutally grasping the seriousness of the situation, to 'assist trasmission' of copy out of theatre, thus reducing the likelyhood of an embed being critical. Mr Yon, it appears uses his own transmission methods, and coincidentally the arrival of new 'Sat Phone' (I presume) equipment coincided with the termination of his embed.
    What frustrates me is that the MOD is becoming trapped by their own lies, forcing a simplistic debate in the mainstream media and thus within politics about helicopters. If we had a hundred Chinooks tomorrow in Helmand it would not address issues about how we conduct this war, more importantly about what our actual aims might be. For example do the people of Afghanistan actually want a democracy? Or do they want some form of peace and stability even if that means a benign dictator?
    I don't know, and have no way of finding out because everyone that makes these decisions is talking about Helicopters.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Den Beech · 11 years ago
    Nick Gurr is to be commended on the manner of his reply.
    This is top-flight PR-spin at it's best.
    Fact is he does not address the abruptness of the termination, where the expectation was clearly different, and he does not comment on the issues surrounding "the Major" who clearly shouldn't be there if Facebook, brinkmanship and rigid procedures are his forte. A exceptional fighting force deserves more, or so says a 1 -year veteran and in the last few years RSM in the RSA/Angolan campaign.
    What is nice is that Gurr extends a welcoming hand to Yon, who must surely be rated as one of the best independent journalists in Afghanistan.
    Well done MOD, lets get Yon back soon - that will surely prove the sincerity of your extended hand.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jw · 11 years ago
    well nick, may i call you nick? i was struck by how many times you managed to call mr. yon "michael". was this to assure us all that he is a close personal friend, or to diminish him as parent to child? all it did was point out that you weren't addressing the issues as is well outlined by "dave in sc"
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean · 11 years ago
    That fella sure took a lot of time to offer no information, and to avoid addressing the issues you raised in your earlier post.

    They would have been better off saying nothing, really. This pure generic PR, say all sorts of nice nice things response makes them look like they have something to hide.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    PJ · 11 years ago
    Not acceptable. The MOD needs to give answers for why one of the few sources for on the ground information was pulled from the families of soldiers, the UK and foreign public, and the soldiers themselves. If you do not understand this is as much a war of information or a war of perception as much as it is a war in any conventional fashion, than you should not be representing your country in the military. In the war for Afghanistan information/perception, this was a major and an unquestionably needless loss.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marcus Boyd · 11 years ago
    Someone in MOD was f'ing off. Imbeds are planned far in advance, and Yon should have been notified ahead of time, or at least given a few days berth to, get transport and other issues settled. I think he has done a bangup job reporting on the troops. MOD does not deserve him.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rich · 11 years ago
    But hey maybe you could run down to Copenhagen and try your hand at getting the 2016 Olympics?

    OR, maybe ask our President if we need more troops in theater and while your at it some choppers??

    or you could just stfu and stop trying to bullshit the real people of these two Great Countries... imho of course
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Creighton Prawat · 11 years ago
    sir, I think you are sitting on the fence. I am certain that if the shoe was on the other foot you would have a different say all together. It is easy to sit in a nice office and keep out of siight thus out of mind, your lame excuses only serve you. so the next time your in Kabul, I hope you drop in and say hello to one hell'of a reporter. One that was had a set of onions.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Papa Ray · 11 years ago
    MOD has an impossible job. Caught between reality and politics and politicians that have no idea of what is happening or what to do and no money to actually do what is needed.

    Like send right now at least one hundred helicopters and all of the support troops, materials, parts and whatever it is needed to Afghanistan and maintain that effort over years and years.

    Great Britain just can not do that. They are broke not only financially but in political and national spirit.

    The U.S. needs and MUST do the same. Not only Helicopters, but other new equipment and supplies. We can't afford it either but I think we have the spirit of our Republic to do it, even if China has to back the loan to do so.

    Here is how I feel, I will not fit here. (says comment too long) so please go to this link to read.

    I have commented on this and other aspects of this battle in Afghanistan. Please go to comments and page down:


    Thank you

    Papa Ray
    Central Texas
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Charley199 · 11 years ago
    Papa Ray, I concur with all your comments except that "They are broke not only financially but in political and national spirit." Financially yes (how could there be an argument and aren't we all?). But in national spirit? A poll run by the BBC yesterday found that 56% of the population had doubts about the UK's involvement in the war (our Government refuses to call it a 'War' BTW, since from a constituional perspective, they'd be forced to increase troop numbers by 25% if they declared 'War' - so they only refer to it as a 'conflict'...). 56% hardly constitues a broken spirit. And figures indicating public support were often much worse for the Northern Ireland 'conflict'.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tim Ripley · 11 years ago
    Dear Michael,
    In recognition of your unique and determinedly independent success in bringing the reality of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan to many thousands of people worldwide we would like to grant you honorary membership of the Independent Defense Media Association (http://www.ukidma.co.uk)
    Your blog is read and appreciated by junior and senior soldiers alike and as independent journalists ourselves we recognize your skill of telling the soldier’s story, as well as knowing the extreme difficulties you face operating in Afghanistan. We want you know how much we admire your trail-blazing efforts and ask that you come and see us next time you are in London. Dinner is on us.
    Tim Ripley
    IDMA Secretary
  • This commment is unpublished.
    BenJCarter · 11 years ago
    That's Mr. Yon to you pencil neck. I'll bet a NYT reporter would be addressed in the formal, rather than the familiar, in a press release. What a shame.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    P Services · 11 years ago
    That unnamed Major is one Rick Cole, (ex Home Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment), who was in serious trouble before being discharged on redundancy when his unit was being disbanded. Rather than smear the good reputation of a fine fighting regiment, charges against Cole were dropped to avoid embarrassment during the closing months of his units life. Cole resurfaced sometime later in a TA Media unit claiming he had been the Royal Irish's Adjudant which was untrue. He immediately raised eyebrows among newly aquainted more experienced TA colleagues with his cocky, wideboy, womanising unofficer demeanour and his standard of dress in uniform. This unsavoury individual has survived undetected due to the transient nature of his role while serving in the TA and with the Regular Army on Operations. Aided in addition by the constant movement of himself, superiors and colleagues, the noble culture of officers not shopping fellow officers and British Army non commissioned officers remaining loyal no matter what is commendable which has saved Coles bacon but there has been much sucking of teeth! Unfortunatley it takes a world class reporter with the grace not to mentiion his name to sound the alarm on this idiot which regretfully has led to a highly commended colleague from the same unit who served in Afghanistan taking the rap from some quarters. It is high time the British Army looked well into Coles murky past, particularly during his time with the Royal Irish. His like must never again be allowed to be the interface between the British Army and the media. He has disgraced and discredited his TA Media Unit and all British Officers doing their best in the worst of circumstances. Investigate and sack him before he does further damage!

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