Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nothing like a good moan

There's been a lot of hoo-hah in the press recently about the fifteen sailors and marines who were kidnapped by Iranian Imperial Guards* recently, only to be returned a fortnight later unharmed. It's an interesting question how they managed to get themselves captured, but I won't castigate our armed forces for doing a very difficult and dangerous job in tricky circumstances. Mistakes are made, and this one wasn't fatal. Hopefully they'll learn from it and move on.

What gets me throwing things at the telly is the way our politicians are behaving over the whole thing. And our media. When they were captured, the Iran Fifteen were heroes - hard pressed young men and women fighting to free a country not even their own. Then the Iranian TV pictures started to come out, showing them admitting their mistake, joking with each other, meeting President Ahmadinejad. Some commentators expressed concern about this, others were outraged that prisoners of war could be so treated, but every night they were there on the news, every morning staring out from the front pages of the papers.

Then they were released, for whatever strange political reason the Iranians might have had. For a brief moment they were returning heroes, lauded by all and praised for their bravery in the most trying of circumstances. Freed from their oppressors, they could finally tell their own side of the story.

But as soon as it emerged they were going to be paid for this, and in the case of the lone female, paid handsomely, public opinion turned nasty. And with it, our vacillating politicians.

The last few days have been fun in a sickening way as the government has convulsed over the decision to let them sell their stories, then deciding that it wasn't such a good idea and banning it from ever happening again. The opposition have leapt on the opportunity to put the knife in. It's all turned into a great big mess.

Now, as a rule of thumb, I don't think serving personnel in the armed forces should sell stories about their combat experiences to newspapers. From an operational point of view, it's not a good idea to tell the world how you go about patrolling the Shatt al-Arab waterway, and until the military has conducted its own enquiry into the whole matter, raking over the facts in the media is hardly helpful.

But there is one small fact that marks this situation out as very different from other, similar incidents. Iranian TV filmed and broadcast pictures of the hostages every day of their ordeal, and the world's television networks were more than happy to spread those images around the globe. Like it or not, the fifteen hostages were made into media celebrities, and a very one-sided image of them portrayed. It's only fair that they be allowed, within the constraints of maintaining military security, to explain their side of things. And to an audience as large as the one that enjoyed the nightly reports of their incarceration.

It's true the navy could have organised a press conference, lined the fifteen up and let the reporters ask their questions. But that would have made page five of the papers at best, maybe a two minute slot on the local news for the area where each hostage came from.** The wider world would likely not care what became of them, moving on to the next news item. Anyone who knows anything about the way our media works these days would realise that the only way a newspaper was going to run with the story was if it had exclusivity, and the only way it could guarantee that was to pay for it. You might not like it, but that's the way of the chequebook journalist these days.

None of the fifteen hostages asked to be made into media darlings. Not like the so-called celebrities who pop up on Big Brother or any of a million similarly mindless unreality TV shows. They were made famous without their consent, and should therefore be allowed at least the chance to answer their critics.

And if that means selling their story to the highest bidder, well that says more about the society we've built for ourselves than it does about them.

* Sounds like something out of Star Wars, doesn't it.
** Wales Today managed to find a tenuous link so it could run a report.

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Blogger Vincent said...

Fair point and telling that our media-savvy, spin-heavy politicians seem to have come out of it worse than the Iranians.

April 12, 2007 3:12 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

It's almost amusing to watch the spin come right back at them. Only they're the people in charge, and that's kind of scary.

April 12, 2007 6:53 pm  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Not saying it's right but sometimes you endure a trauma and selling your story is the way you get by for a bit. I mean, their military careers could be jeopardized because of their compliance with their captors. Things like that happen. Not the same thing, but when I lived in BC I lived on an Island for three years and we'd use the float planes to travel to Vancouver. There was a float plane accident, company I flew with regularly, and the pilot saved everyone on board and was given the govenor general's medal for bravery. But his employer fired him, although he wasn't at fault for the accident.

They didn't like having a 'celebrity' pilot on the payroll, because it overshadowed the owners (also pilots).

We're great in society for building up heroes just to tear them down. Heaven help you if you're a #1 bestseller or an award-winner. For every person genuinely happy for you there will likely be three sharpening knives and aiming for your back.

April 13, 2007 9:42 pm  

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