Media warned that truthful reports could help enemies

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The Independent Online

The British media has been warned to minimise speculation on forthcoming military activity for fear that some reports could be of use to the enemy.

A letter sent by the D-Notice Committee, an independent body based at the Ministry of Defence, reflects the Government's concern about newspaper, television and radio reports of the various military options available.

The MoD claimed that some of the reports could be of assistance to the enemy because they were so near the truth. Stories of the SAS being engaged in firefights, while untrue, were causing anxiety and distress to families of servicemen.

Rear-Admiral Nick Wilkinson, the secretary to the committee, said in the letter: "As the next phase of military and intelligence planning and action now gets under way, here and in other countries co-operating against this particular terrorism, informed speculation may become very close to the truth. It would be operationally very helpful therefore, and a reassurance to those who may be going into action in the coming days or months, if editors could now minimise such speculation, whether by their own journalists or by retired military people, and if even greater care could be exercised in considering information which could be of use to the terrorists and their supporters."

The committee's note came after Downing Street urged the media yesterday to be "responsible" in reporting the current crisis and not to spread undue personal alarm.

Rear-Admiral Wilkinson told The Independent: "There has been a flood of stories and speculation very close to the truth. We are reaching a stage in time now when we have to be careful. I am not here to stop stories, just to ask people to be careful and to point out that the mechanism is in place to make checks if necessary."

The MoD said news organisations should not think "a D- Notice has been slapped on them". The Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee (the formal title of the D-Notice Committee), which advises the media on national security, consists of 13 media representatives and four senior civil servants. It is based at the MoD building in Whitehall.

A senior MoD source said: "There has been all kinds of speculation, some of it wild, but some quite near the mark. There have also been stories which are utterly untrue at the weekend that British special forces had been involved in firefights with the Taliban inside Afghanistan. We have had lots of phone calls from worried family members over that."

Senior military officers have been taken aback by the accuracy of some of the situations foreseen in the press.