Leading article: He who pays the piper calls a dubious tune

Share

After announcing that the sailors released from Iranian captivity would be allowed to sell their stories to the media, the Ministry of Defence was clearly on the back foot - as well it might have been. In explaining its decision, it said that permission was granted "in exceptional circumstances such as the awarding of a Victoria Cross or events such as those in recent days". Winning a VC and being detained at the pleasure of the Iranian government are indeed exceptional circumstances. But they are also quite different. Whatever persuaded the MoD that they should be bracketed together?

The official reasoning seemed to be that the stories of the 15 would get out sooner or later, probably sooner, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. The rulebook might say that serving personnel were not allowed to enter into financial arrangements with media organisations, but what could prevent their nearest and dearest? Far better, officials could - and did - argue that the Navy and the MoD would "have sight" of what they were going to say and provide "proper media support".

Such an explanation invites two responses. It smacks, first, of abject defeatism. What price any rule if those entrusted with enforcing it say they cannot, or choose not to? The 15 ex-captives are military personnel, subject to military discipline. If they cannot be bound by rules, who can? It goes without saying that their story, told in their own words, will command far more credence (and so a higher price) than a story passed by even the best-informed third party.

Which prompts the second response. If the Navy and the MoD are to "have sight" of these interviews and provide "proper media support", how far will they also dictate the content? Are we talking truth here, or censorship and, perhaps, spin? How accurately will these interviews reflect what these former captives experienced? Could we actually be looking at military or political propaganda by other means? We are entering murky waters, where the border between fact and fiction could be every bit as treacherous as that between Iraqi and Iranian waters.

Yesterday, quite rightly, the considerations were of a more human and less conspiratorial nature. We sympathise with those bereaved relatives who had not sold their stories on principle and felt that to do so would have besmirched the memory of their loved ones. And it is hard not to deplore a system which pays next to nothing in compensation when someone is killed in the line of duty, but allows released captives to earn many times their annual salary from their experience.

It might be going too far to suggest, as some have done, that service personnel now have a perverse incentive to be captured, but it is worth asking whether the balance between fighting and surrendering might not become skewed. Money has introduced a distorting commercial element into an episode that is subject to a Navy inquiry. And if media interviews were regarded as inevitable, could the military not have stipulated that any fees should be donated to armed forces' charities?

All that said, no comment on this distasteful business would be complete without a recognition that the commercial culture of the media is also to blame. It takes two to make a deal, and there would be no issue here if certain media organisations were not prepared to pay for such interviews in the first place. The money on offer was a clear inducement to the sailors to break the rules they had signed up to. Regrettably, the decision of the MoD to waive the rules in these "exceptional circumstances" sends the message that personal enrichment, not just the honour of the service, is the new name of the game - even in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee