nuLabour in its paranoid death throes is increasingly cracking down on the long-held liberties of British citizens. One of its victims is freedom of speech.
Reading today's newspapers you would therefore not be surprised to see several articles accusing the MoD of banning Service personnel from social networking websites.
The MoD has strongly refuted these claims asserting that service personnel "are perfectly entitled to express their opinions on issues unrelated to work without seeking any authorisation". It is only on matters relating to defence that restrictions apply and prior authorisation must be sought; the military censors do not put a virtual blue line through social internet chat..... not yet anyway.
The MoD's policy is defined in its Defence Instruction and Notice "Contact with the Media and Communicating in Public". In line with the recommendations of the National Recognition Study this policy expressly encourages dialogue with the public:
"All members of the Armed Forces are encouraged to engage with the public about what they do."
"New and emerging internet technologies present significant opportunities for communicating with the public. Service personnel are encouraged to use self-publishing on the internet or similar channels to communicate with the public directly..."
"Day-in-the-life" or online diary type articles appear reasonably regularly in the press. These would obviously have been passed over the censor's desk. But unfortunately they would also have been subject to MoD spin-doctoring.
"Presentational aspects are an integral part of all MoD activity and decision-making. It is a core task of all personnel to consider how to portray their activities in an interesting and accessible way, for both the internal and external audiences."
Many of us would welcome the opportunity to read blogs containing first-hand, un-spun posts from service personnel, especially from the frontline, but it would be naïve of us to expect such accounts not to have been subject to censorship.
On a related matter, the MoD was accused of poor PR in an article in PRBlogger (Ministry of Defence PR staff uneducated about online?) for its failure to refute a negative report which appeared in the Economist. In its response to PRBlogger the MoD made the interesting comment that it does in fact refute significant inaccuracies appearing in the mainstream media but it does so anonymously, using pseudonyms. As an example the MoD referred ot its comment on an article in The Mail - ironically about the alleged ban on using social networking websites - where it used the pseudonym "DH".
MoD: Discussion on www.prblogger.com
The Mail: Soldiers banned from using MySpace and Facebook