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Mon 3 Mar 2008 12:21 PM

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Prince Harry coverage labelled 'propaganda'

Critics claim media coverage overlooked a failed military strategy in Afghanistan.

Prince Harry coverage labelled 'propaganda'
MEDIA COVERAGE: Critics have claimed coverage of Prince Harrys, pictured, tour overlooked the UKs failed military strategy. (Getty Images)

Prince Harry on Sunday spent his first full day back in Britain after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, amid claims that media coverage had been "propaganda" and overlooked a failed military strategy.

The 23-year-old's time fighting the Taliban in the volatile Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan has dominated the British media since a prominent US website blew his cover on Thursday, forcing military brass to pull him out.

But dissenting voices are now beginning to be heard above the widespread praise for the young prince, not least because of the British media's agreement with the Defence Ministry to a news blackout until he returned.

A disappointed Harry returned to Britain Saturday vowing to return to the frontline as soon as possible after two days of detailed reports, photographs and television footage plus headlines hailing him a "hero".

The royal and his superiors say the coverage could help the public appreciate more their role in Afghanistan while the former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, said it was "not unhelpful" for recruitment.

A high-profile parliamentary committee warned last month that pressure on Britain's military to meet its commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, where about 12,000 soldiers are committee in total, has battered morale and spurred experienced officers to leave.

Some though, question whether the news blackout deal had eroded trust between media organisations and their audiences.

The renowned publicist Max Clifford told The Guardian Saturday he believed the deployment was a "total, superficial, PR exercise" aimed at "rebranding" Harry - who has a reputation as a wayward party animal - in a more positive light.

And one columnist at the Mail on Sunday said the focus on Harry and criticism of foreign media for breaking a gentleman's agreement was "sheer propaganda" that "may make us feel 'our boys are winning' in Afghanistan".

"But this is not the truth at all," wrote Suzanne Moore in the right-of-centre weekly.

"Instead of secret meetings between the MoD (Ministry of Defence) and TV and newspaper editors and the Palace, wouldn't this time have been better spent in working out what we are trying to do in this brutalised country, as no-one is quite sure any more?"

Centre-left publications the Independent on Sunday and The Observer both highlighted the lack of analysis about Britain's wider role in Afghanistan in the coverage of Prince Harry.

Former British soldier Leo Docherty, a Iraq war and Afghanistan veteran, said air strikes of the kind Harry called in as a battlefield air controller were not succeeding in winning the hearts and minds of local Afghans.

"This [the coverage] is war reduced to entertainment, willingly ignorant of the truth that young men like Harry, both British and Afghan, are dying violent pointless deaths in Helmand province," he wrote in the Independent on Sunday.

"Outrage is the only response to this, not entertainment."

The Observer said scant attention had been paid in the media clamour to the complexities of the Nato-led mission and tensions between allies, particularly over troop numbers and rules of engagement.

Little, if any space, had been given to recent claims about the Afghan government's fragile grip on power in the face of the obdurate Taliban, the difficulties of reconstruction or Nato's counter-narcotics strategy, it wrote.

Meanwhile, the head of Britain's armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, refused to be drawn about whether Harry will return to the frontline.

He told Sky News television: "I would have to be clear that the risks to the operation in the widest sense of the people deployed on that operation would be no higher that they would normally be in such circumstances."

The head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, has said while Harry's ambitions and enthusiasm were understandable, he could not see him returning for at least 18 months.

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