School of Media and Communication

Phil Taylor's papers


Managing Media: the MoD view by Martin Howard

2002 Rolls Royce Lecture

Managing Media: the MOD view after September 11
Martin Howard, Director-General of Communications, Ministry of Defence

I do feel a bit of a fraud. I am two years in this business and a complete amateur at dealing with public relations, the media and all the rest of it. It so happened that the two years have coincided with a peak of almost unparalleled operational activity for the armed forces. We are going to talk a lot about Afghanistan. It also covered the aftermath of Kosovo, included Sierra Leone twice, included foot and mouth, it included Macedonia, it included the Kursk crisis and of course it's now included the so-called global war on terrorism. What I am going to do, in a rather clumsy way, is take you through the chronology, as I saw it, of what has happened since September 11. As we go through this I will take us down some byways and highways on principles and lessons that we have learnt or relearnt-in all these things, you nearly always relearn lessons rather than come up with new ones.

I thought I would start with media coverage of defence on September 10. It's worth getting this sorted in your mind. The first thing is that, as far as the media and the public were concerned, defence was not core government business. When people think about government, they think about health, education, transport, crime, but they very rarely think about defence, mainly because defence does not have an impact on you every day. Nor is it domestic. The media, certainly in recent years, has claimed it is much more focused on domestic issues than on overseas things. It's not very political, in the sense of being party political between the two sides. Once or twice the issue of defence has got spiky during my time as director of news and become a grade 'A' party political issue, but that's about it.

This is a particular bugbear of mine. Defence is not well understood in the media. There are a variety of reasons for that: the armed forces are quite small now, so not many people have experience of them, and what knowledge there is tends to be nostalgic, thinking about times of square bashing and bullying up shoes and so forth. There is also a great tendency in the media to think of the army as synonymous with the armed forces, much to my Navy and Air Force colleagues' irritation. Quite often during the foot and mouth crisis you would see pictures of people in camouflage clothing helping out and doing very important work, who are from the RAF and the Navy but were invariably reported as the Army.

To illustrate this, a very senior BBC journalist was talking to a group of senior MOD people and he was talking about the sinking of the Kursk submarine. For a while it looked like the Royal Navy was going to be involved in doing things and this very senior BBC man said the MOD did brilliantly because it had a very credible spokesman in a chap called Mike Finney (who worked for me). According to the BBC man, this chap was great, first of all because he was in the Royal Navy and wearing a Royal Navy uniform, secondly, because he commanded a submarine so he knew what he was talking about, but thirdly, and most importantly, he had a beard. That stereotype of a naval officer is rather like the stereotype of a civil servant always wearing a bowler hat (I have never worn one in my life and I don't know anyone who does).

The last characteristic of the media view of defence was that, in general, the armed forces were great. We do some research on people's views of the armed forces and the approval ratings are very high figures-up in the 80 to 90 per cent range. But there is no sense of the kind of integration between what the MOD does and what that means for the armed forces and vice versa, and that's a problem which we have to deal with. In general the media tend to think that the armed forces do things in spite of the MOD rather than because of the MOD. So on September 10 my principal aim was to promote understanding, to get defence in the news. I wasn't too worried whether it was good news or bad news-in some ways even bad news is quite good, because it promotes debate.

Everyone will know where they were on September 11. I can tell you where I was. I was in the Royal United Services Institute, chairing my management board, and in the middle of that board the chief press officer got a phone call on his mobile. He said something seemed to be happening-we had word of a helicopter having crashed in Macedonia and there was something about an aeroplane hitting the World Trade Center. He went back to the office to see what was going on and we carried on talking. I returned to find that the World Trade Center had collapsed in rubble.

The first point is that you had a crisis evolving as a live TV performance-certainly the first one I have ever seen happen like that. It was a live TV performance on the 24-hour news channels, which were showing no other news whatsoever. I thought, by the way, that overall Sky got it best over those first couple of days, not least because it had the link into Fox. We had, therefore, a complete reversal of my normal problem. There was a huge media appetite for what was going on, what we were going to be doing about it, how many dead there were, who we were going to bomb-and almost no information that we could give back to them, for obvious reasons. Yet they still had to fill 24-hour news services and pages upon pages of newspapers. During this time they were tearing their hair out saying, 'What can we write? What can we put down? What can we broadcast?' It was very hard and I won't say that Sky and BBC 24 were grabbing people off the street to ask them randomly what they were doing, but it got quite close to that from time to time.

All we could do during those first couple of days was to concentrate on the messages which we as a government wanted to get out. The first was support for the US-that was a very strong message.

The second message was to try to give reassurance about what we were doing at home-whether we were vulnerable, whether there were maybe even attacks on their way to us. For many hours on that first day there were rumours flying around of other aircraft in United States airspace and even one or two about rogue aircraft in British airspace.

The third thing was the determination that the act could not be allowed to stand without bringing whoever did it to account, and that we weren't going to give in to terrorism. Indeed the whole essence of the September 11 act was that it appeared to be an attempt to use terrorism as a force for strategic change in the world. That's been something that we have been anxious to avoid happening.

So that was what was happening on the day. Obviously frantic, but the next step was to think in a more considered way about what we were going to do. One could argue that this is the biggest story since the war, and there is bound to be a military dimension to what we do. We need to be geared up and ready-to-roll. This is where you have to start from, in my position. It isn't about messages and press conferences and things like that, but about the nuts and bolts of what are we going to do-how many people have we got, what do we need to reinforce?

First of all, we cancelled all routine events we were doing. In a sense, it's quite frustrating, because I had instituted a series of fortnightly briefings of defence correspondents where we would brief on what was going on and where they could ask questions. It all went pretty well, but there is no point having fortnightly briefings when there is nothing to say. The next thing was to enhance coverage in the press office. The MOD provide a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service, anyway, but it's only one person on overnight at any one time. We felt we needed to double up, so we brought extra people in.

We also began a summary of the key points that were coming out in the media for senior people in the ministry and also a summary of the stance being taken by different media outlets. This is actually essential. There is just so much stuff and busy senior people and ministers couldn't wade through it all. The next thing was to attempt to establish a daily schedule, including policy meetings (I will come back to the point that someone like me needs to be involved in the policy making on how we are going to respond to this).

The other key question under this heading was, if we get into military action, which seemed extremely likely, should we establish a daily press conference as we did during the Kosovo war? If you do that you get locked into it, people get bored because you can't say anything and it becomes a story if you then stop having the press conferences. So I favoured the idea of variable geometry, of having a press conference one day, a background briefing another, a statement in the house and so on. That is more or less what we did, and just as well because there was nowhere near enough material to justify having a press conference every day.

I called in editors and news editors to talk about arrangements with the media if we were to go to war and deploy overseas. If you look on the MOD website you will find a thing called the Green Book, that sets out the principles of how we work with the media during war. It's actually a bit out of date because it tends to talk about war correspondents and so on. The environment is very different now to when it was written around about the time of the Gulf War, but editors don't want it changed because they think you'll never get agreement on a revised version. So I wanted to take editors through how it might work and the constraints and otherwise we would have to apply. Quite a lot of what I said became academic-it wasn't needed-but I will come back to that in a moment.

The next stage, obviously, was planning: how the government, how the coalition, were going to respond. This is where I want to go down one of my byways to talk about principles. I am talking about principles in the context of Afghanistan, the war on terror and so forth. But actually I would say the principles I am about to talk about apply to any military crisis. Indeed, I think you could probably say they apply to the media on a day-to-day basis. It's just that, when we are in a crisis, you have to do it quicker and you have to do more of it. The first principle, as I mentioned earlier, is the absolutely vital need to integrate media planning with policy. If I don't know, or if my director of news doesn't know, what is going on then we cannot hope to have a sensible grown-up relationship with the media to explain to them and through them to the public what is happening and why it's important. So I attended all the meetings with the ministers and all the chiefs of staff meetings, and the media are a fixed agenda item on all those meetings-not an add-on, but a crucial part of what we do.

The next thing is clearly coordination across Whitehall. What you have to remember is that, although the military response has got a lot of the publicity, the response to the September 11 attacks is not simply military. There is a diplomatic element to it, there is a law enforcement element to it, there is a legal aspect to it, there is a financial aspect to it, there is even, as Clare Short would say, a development or aid angle to how we respond to terrorism and indeed how you deter future acts.

There is a need to decide which audiences are important to us, and decide also which messages we want to get across. Now, of course, you know different audiences will require slightly different messages, but there is interchange between the two. I think a slightly sharper example of this was the hostage crisis in Sierra Leone, which I will return to later, back in 2000, where we were having to decide what our public posture was and how we were going to respond to this. There are several audiences there: British public opinion, the hostage-takers themselves, who were listening to the BBC World Service all the time, the Sierra Leone government and international communities. It's very important to get that right, and very important to recognise that things will be read across from one message to the other. Maximum transparency-you may not believe this, but it certainly was a principle which I applied.

If I can take some small credit, it was my idea to actually brief on and then publish our policy paper on campaign objectives, which appeared in November 2001. I think that was the right thing to do-I think it helped explain to people just how we were thinking about what we were going to do in response to September 11.

As part of being proactive with the media, we also wanted to brief third parties-I would ask the sort of defence experts who are going to be appearing on Sky if they would like to come in. I would just take them through what they were doing, not to tell them what to say, far from it, but so that they actually had a knowledge base for when they went on. This was a very important point for keeping our own people in touch with what was going on and I will return to this too later. We have got 300,000 people either in the armed forces or who work for the MOD and they deserve to know what is going on, ideally before the media do, and that is not always easy to achieve.

And then finally, never lie, a very important point for me and a very important point, I think, for the credibility of the government press machine. I don't lie to the media. There are some things I can't tell them, but I usually explain why that is. There are things like psychological operations or deception operations, which do go on-they are part of the military art-but which do not have anything to do with me as a press officer. I think if you go down the road of having lied at one point, your credibility is then shot, even when journalists have actually rather expected you to do it. I said this to Paul Adams when he was appointed as BBC defence correspondent and he said, 'Surely there might be circumstances when, for strategic or tactical reasons, you should tell us an untruth.' I said, 'No'. I may not tell you anything at all, or certainly not deliberately set about to mislead you, because that way your credibility is shot.

There are also a number of restraints applying to this. The first was of course that it was overwhelmingly going to be a US-led military response. They were setting the agenda, they were setting the timescale, and one of the interesting things about this crisis was the time it took between it happening and the actual launch of military operations-nearly a month, and that was pretty unexpected. Certainly, the pattern of the Clinton presidency had been that when these things happened there would be a response pretty well straight away. That didn't happen this time and I think that was good. I think it was the right thing to do, although it also meant that speculation built up so again there was this lack of information for us to pass on. Obviously, links with the United States were very important. I made a very early contact with Torie Clark, who is my opposite number in the Pentagon, and we talked on a pretty regular basis during the build-up to military action.

The other problem was the enemy. It's not like Iraq, it's not like the West Side Boys who kidnapped our soldiers in Sierra Leone. We weren't sure who did this, we weren't sure if it was a group, we weren't sure if it was a country, or as it turned out, a combination of the two. So there was a lack of clarity on that.

The nature of our contribution was likely to be difficult to present in a very interesting way. In essence the three contributions we were going to make, and indeed we did make, were, firstly, nuclear submarines with cruise missiles. Well, that's very interesting but it's not actually a very visual thing. We also had to keep some of the details very secret. Once you have said, we are firing off cruise missiles, well, that's it really.

The second one was the use of RAF aircraft for refuelling, reconnaissance, surveillance, and so on. That was actually extremely substantial and very important. One of the interesting secrets of the war is that US naval aircraft find it easier to refuel from RAF aircraft than from their own American ones. It's all to do with the shape of the drogue and the probe-don't ask me too much of the details.

And, of course, the third contribution was largely the special forces which you know we don't normally talk about. Indeed, for a range of reasons a lot of the work has to be very covert. But the combination of those three things meant that, actually, there wasn't an awful lot we could say about what we were doing. The other complication was a thing called Exercise Saif Sareea, which is Arabic for 'swift sword', which had been planned for years in advance. It just so happened that at the time of this crisis we had 30,000 troops in Oman and no matter what we said-and I say this until I am blue in the face-this had nothing to do with the war on terror. But it was just too good a story to sort of link the two and not helped by the fact that there were dozens and dozens of journalists flown out there at our expense to cover the exercise. So it's something you have to deal with.

Going to war, the first problem we had was choreographing the announcement. What was going to happen was that the first military actions were cruise missiles strikes. They were obviously going to hit their targets, and the plan was that shortly after they hit their targets President Bush would speak, and about 15 minutes later Tony Blair would speak. We would then provide a background briefing, if there was anything to brief, and it would be followed by a press conference the following morning.

The original American plan was that President Bush would speak 45 minutes after the first missiles hit home. Of course, there were already lots of journalists in and around the area and it was reported on CNN, so it was hurriedly brought forward, as indeed the whole thing was. The second problem we had was to try to talk about what the facts were-which units were taking part in this exercise, which submarines, which aircraft, which soldiers, which targets were they attacking, had they been successful, had we suffered any casualties (the casualties didn't really come in at that stage, because it was all stand-off stuff), but there was very little information we could give. We put that up on the website and basically referred journalists to that.

The other big problem we had was of course the lack of images. There was a little bit of the inevitable pictures of cruise missiles hitting targets but frankly, since the Gulf War and Kosovo, it's all a bit passé. Everyone has seen that and we couldn't even get it in colour, so God knows. So the next thing we faced, having gone into military action, was the problem of timescales. This is an actually crucial point I want to get across to you. One of the most difficult things I have to deal with is that media timelines are extremely short. For the 24-hour news channels it's measured in seconds, in minutes, hours at the outside. By and large, military action at this sort of strategic level, particularly with the time it takes for information to flow, is measured in hours and days. That is just a fact of life and that sort of difference in timescales is extremely hard to manage.

Government in general, I think, is not very good at working within media timelines, and that includes the military. They don't quite understand that once you say something to the media it will be out there within seconds. You get it onto wire service, news channels, whatever. You have also a media thirst for facts. Now, some journalists are very good friends of mine, and they will all say to me they are interested in accuracy. That's true, I think, generally speaking. Most journalists would much prefer to have accurate facts, but they must fill their newspapers or their broadcasts with something. If they can't get accurate facts, they can get plausible facts, and there are plenty of other people out there who will be prepared to supply or speculate, and so these things will appear.

How do you deal with this? On some occasions the thing to do is just simply say, 'We don't know.' It's very hard for government departments to say, 'We don't know,' because it sounds as if we don't know what we are talking about, but that is very frequently the reality of the situation. The second thing is to correct things which have been said and which turn out to be wrong. The most striking example of this is the sinking of the Belgrano during the 1982 Falklands War. In answer to a parliamentary question, it was stated that the Belgrano was steaming towards the task force. It wasn't, but the information given to us, the naval staff, at the time was, quite honestly, wrong. It was used as an answer to a PQ and as a result became part of the accepted wisdom. The Government made a huge mistake there, because when it was discovered in fact that the Belgrano hadn't been steaming towards the task force, what should have happened is that a minister should have gone to the House of Commons and said, 'Sorry, the information was duff, but it actually made no difference-it was a threat to the task force and we were justified in sinking it.' Many things would have been avoided by that, not least the trial of Clive Ponting, which I was involved in. So be prepared to correct mistakes, because it is extremely important.

Let me return to the different problem of timescales, particularly the problem of keeping our own people informed, who tend to work Monday to Friday, nine to five, when they are not actually engaged in operations, when the media have things on the wires within minutes, at any time of the day or night. You clearly can't tell them at 2 o'clock in the morning. There is a timescale that needs to be there, about 12 hours realistically, if you are going to tell most people what is happening. This tension, between the fact that the media can act very quickly and that our own internal machine cannot, caused me more uncomfortable moments during this crisis than anything else. The Chief of Staff would usually bash me about the head if our own people hadn't been told about what's going on.

A similar sort of issue applies with Parliament. I will put my cards on the table here. I am old-fashioned in that I certainly believe Parliament should be told first what's going on. Equally, the fact they don't start work until 2.30 in the afternoon is not particularly helpful. In practice, if you are going to do a statement in Parliament you can't do it before 3.30pm, by which time you have missed the morning bulletins, the lunchtime bulletins and you are right up against deadlines, certainly for tabloid newspapers. So I entirely approve of keeping Parliament informed, but I am a moderniser as far as its hours are concerned. It would help if they actually would start at 8.30 in the morning. Whether that will ever happen is another matter.

Just a couple of examples of how timescales can really make a huge difference. Bombing Iraq: you could say we have been doing that for quite a while but there was, about a year ago, a quite heavy raid launched by US and UK aircraft over Iraq. It was unusual in the sense that some of the targets were outside the so-called no-fly zones. This became a huge story very, very fast. Needless to say, at about 6.30 on a Friday night I was still around. We had four people in the press office and the phones immediately went white hot and we were having to answer things. Of course, people want to know what's going on, so I rang the Permanent Joint Headquarters, which is our military command centre, and said it would be helpful if you could give us details.

The first information I was told was that the British aircraft involved were GR7s. Now for those of you who don't know that, the GR7 is a Harrier, an old jump-jet aircraft, and there are no GR7s in the Gulf. In fact the aircraft carrying out the attacks were GR1s, which are Tornados. Now, I don't know how that mistake was made. Maybe someone rather hurriedly put down a 7 instead of a 1-I don't know. Fortunately I was there that day and I have been around in this game long enough to know that this was just simply not the case. If my duty press officer had handled it we would have imparted that story in good faith saying that Harriers were involved in this attack, something completely untrue. We would have looked like a bunch of berks, actually, if we had said it.

The second issue on bombing Iraq was: had we hit any targets outside the no-fly zone? First of all, the answer is yes. We have hit two targets outside the no-fly zone. Fifteen minutes later it is, no, it's one outside the no-fly zone, one inside. Fifteen minutes later, one target inside the no-fly zone. We had 40 to 50 calls in that time-difficult if you haven't got the right facts.

The other example, of a rather different nature, was in Sierra Leone, the hostage crisis which I have mentioned before where, again typically on a Friday, 7 September 2000, it was decided that we would take military action to release our hostages, negotiations having failed. The time was left to the commander who inevitably chose the attack to go in overnight Saturday to Sunday, the day that Charles Guthrie, the then Chief of Defence Staff, was appearing on 'Breakfast with Frost'. I was going with him. It had been agreed months in advance, and about an hour before we were due to go on we had information that the hostages had been released, and that they were safe.

This was a huge dilemma. Should Charles Guthrie go onto the Frost programme and say this has all been going on and it's been a success-thinking back to precedents like the Munich Olympics, where at one point the Israeli hostages were said to be alive and then it turned out they were all dead. A great dilemma. There were lots of phone calls direct to Sierra Leone, talking to the commander. In the end we decided that Guthrie could do no less than actually go onto the Frost programme and say the biggest military story for years. We had to do it, and we did, and I think it was the right thing to do. Certainly David Frost thought it was the right thing to do, giving him his one and only scoop for many years.

But it just illustrates the problem we have of trying to deal with these things at the rate at which the media work and against deadlines, particularly when things are actually happening thousands of miles away.

The next thing I want to talk about is the issue of public support and why it's important. Why do we talk to the media at all? There are plenty of people in the military who would rather not, so why bother. The reason why it's important, first of all, is that we owe it to the public to explain what we are doing with £24 billion worth of public money. Secondly, the nature of modern warfare has been such that we are in asymmetrical warfare generally speaking, where the opponents we have faced are militarily weak and their only response is to try to undermine the will of those that are attacking them. One way of trying to undermine us is trying to influence public opinion and media opinion. As a result, hearts and minds is absolutely central to modern military campaigns. It's not something that you can ignore or leave as an add-on, if we want to maintain public support.

So how did it work in Afghanistan? Well, the Taliban were pretty slow off the mark in picking upon the importance of this. They are not broadcasters, as you will have observed, and did very little in the first few days or weeks of the bombing campaign. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were rather sharper off the mark. You will all remember, I think, the very vivid television pictures of Osama bin Laden sitting in a cave with an AK47, saying what he is going to do us all. And all through that well-known Arabic TV station al-Jazeera.

Had anyone heard of al-Jazeera before this crisis? Al-Jazeera is actually very well-known amongst those of us who have studied and dealt with the Middle East. They are the only independent TV station in the Middle East, the rest all push out government stuff, and one of the things I was quite keen to ensure was that we did not regard al-Jazeera as the enemy. They were certainly in a sense hurting us quite badly in terms of public opinion, but they were not the enemy. It was important for our own people to appear on al-Jazeera, which they did, and indeed had a very tough time of it. But it was the right thing to do.

As Osama bin Laden's appearances became less frequent, for a variety of reasons, the Taliban ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef became more of a central figure. But then the Pakistanis closed him down. We never really had the same problems in Afghanistan of harrowing, difficult TV pictures that we did, say, in Kosovo, and there were lots of reasons for that.

Obviously, rebuttal is a very important part of what I do, what government does. But there are real pitfalls in being over-aggressive in rebuttal. First of all, going back to the point I mentioned earlier on, it's possible you have got your facts wrong. I think one of the worst things that happened during the Kosovo campaign was after the civilian convoy was attacked. I can't remember who said it, whether it was Jamie O'Shea or someone else, but they said, 'It couldn't have been us, it's probably the Serbs doing it and trying to blame it on us.' Of course, it turned out we had done it in the first place, but the better answer in those circumstances would be to actually say, we don't know, but we are investigating. When we have got an answer we will tell you what the answer is.

The other problem, I think, with over-aggressive rebuttal is that it basically pushes the idea in the media that we are into propaganda, as opposed to actually telling the truth about what's going on. It doesn't take much for the media to decide that this is propaganda. Just look at the press coverage over the so-called new office set up in the Pentagon, the Office of Strategic Influence. That's absolute nonsense-we really shouldn't be getting into that.

The final link to this is the importance of joining up with the Americans. We set up, rather belatedly in my view, what we call coalition information centres, where we brought people together to try to decide what our overall messages were, what we were going to be saying that day. There's one in London, one in Washington and one in Islamabad. I have to say I think the most effective one was the one in Islamabad. It was very interesting to see the way that the Pakistani press shifted its view of the Taliban and al-Qaeda over that period-it became much less hostile to us.

Where we are now is the problem of troops on the ground, which has always been the most difficult thing. The first problem we had there is that the preparations for the move were in the public eye. It is a fact of life, and I don't mind saying this publicly, that it is almost impossible to prepare troops for a move, without it becoming public. Lots of squaddies talk to the Mirror and lots of squaddies talk to the Sun. It is now a fact of military planning that we cannot assume that if we decide to put troops on 'reduced notice to move' or improve the readiness of a particular unit it will not get in the newspapers. I don't regard this necessarily as rather regrettable, it just makes life more complicated.

In this particular case it was made even more complicated by the exercise I mentioned earlier, Saif Sareea, which was coming to a climax in October, just the time when nothing much seemed to be happening in Afghanistan, but a time when there were lots of ministers, lots of senior military officers, lots of journalists, on the ground in Oman, the journalists wondering what on earth they were going to write about. They fell back on that tried and tested thing of hunt the contradiction. A minister will say something, you then ask a commander who says something slightly different. Next day the headline is we are all in a muddle and that's what happened. We had a very bad weekend, I think, 27-28 October.

These things happen, and we just have to accept that is going to be the case. You can either completely shut up and not say anything to the media or let people speak to the media and let them speak in their own words. There is nothing worse, I think, than military people, chiefs of staff, mouthing what politicians say. They should be able to say things in their own words and if that means from time to time we get a problem, well, so be it.

Then there was what I'd called the Old King Cole effect. We did actually have to put quite a number of troops on 'reduced notice to move' against the possibility of having to move out there, and the whole point of having troops on notice to move is that we prepare for contingencies. It doesn't mean they are going to go, but it became accepted wisdom that, because we were reducing notice to move, they were going to go, so when it turned out we didn't need all these troops and we could relax the notice to move we had a U-turn disaster, Old King Cole and so on.

The problem of a two centre crisis was that we then had a focus for media attention in London and a focus for media attention in Afghanistan. Of course it's the media that decide which is the more important focus, and we need to match up with that. It became Afghanistan. It's now probably more back in London.

To pool or not to pool. I talked earlier on about the Green Book and the idea of accrediting journalists and putting them into journalistic pools who would then be looked after by the military, taken to do various things. We were going to do this and we had journalists lined up-the ballots had been carried out by the Newspaper Association-but it turned out that we didn't need it, because before we actually put a single boot on the ground there were 500 journalists in Afghanistan. So the idea that we would have this artificial pool did seem to be pretty crazy. That is probably the pattern more and more. We are going to be going into operations where the journalists are going to be there anyway, under their own steam.

Then, finally, we needed to make sure that the commander on the ground, in this case John McColl, had one of my people alongside him as part of his command team, to help advise him on how best to deal with the media, and indeed, to some extent, to make sure the media didn't dominate his life.

That brings us to the present. I think it's probably true to say that defence is a minority sport, once again. I don't think its very likely that we will ever have an MOD day in the same way that the BBC had an NHS day the other day. I look forward to it, if anyone wants to propose it. When you look at the coverage at the moment in the newspapers, roughly eight or nine pages a day are devoted to the war on terrorism. On 10 October it was 135 pages. It's that sort of difference in scale, but I think the terms of trade have changed a bit. There is more of an awareness in the public eye that defence is actually important and relevant. It is, in a sense, as much a public service as health, education and transport. This is, I know, something that the Secretary of State Geoff Hoon is very keen to promote.

But the other interesting thing is that, despite all my efforts in saying, yes, we must get defence out in the public eye, when you ask the public whether they would like that, they would say, 'Well, actually, no, not really. We are just content that they are there and that they are good at their job and then when they are needed they will go and they will do it.' They don't necessarily actually want to see much evidence of the MOD or of the armed forces wandering around.

To repeat my very last point, those troops remain deployed. We had a couple of shooting incidents in Afghanistan and there will be more. It's quite likely that someone will get killed. People have already been killed, of course, but some of our own people might well be killed. Those will be stories we haven't yet got into, so-called phase two operations in the war against terrorism.

Are we going to be doing anything with Somalia? Are we doing anything with the Yemen? There's lots of speculation about Iraq, but I have to say that's really centred more on weapons of mass destruction than terrorism. Nevertheless, there are lots of debates about that. If we go for another phase two, another major military operation, it will suddenly become big news.

Finally, we are looking very hard at what all this means for the long-term future of the MOD and the armed forces-what it means for how we structure ourselves, how much money we spend on defence. In fact, today in Birmingham there is a seminar being held with experts, including some eminent journalists, to discuss what we are calling the new chapter in the strategic defence review, which will be published later this spring. This will address things like: should we be doing more at home by way of homeland defence, should the military be more involved in providing homeland defence. Again, just to return to that research we did, we asked people, 'Do you think it would be a good thing to have the military visibly guarding the airports and things like that?' By and large, they were rather hostile to that. They actually much prefer for it to be police doing that, which was not completely expected in the immediate aftermath of what happened on September 11.

Did the world change on the September 11? Yes, I think it did, I think it did change quite dramatically, for a lot of people. It didn't change the way some people thought-terrorism has not become a force for strategic change and long may that be the case. But I think it has changed people's attitudes, and it certainly changed to some extent the nature, shape and size of some of our armed forces

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