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UK Military Blog Restrictions

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Chris Vallance | 13:29 UK time, Friday, 10 August 2007

We reported the RAF's experiment with video diaries on YouTube on the last programme. But now the Guardian reports that MOD has issued new restrictions on blogs, emails, social networking sites and text messages According to the article:

Soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel will not be able to blog, take part in surveys, speak in public, post on bulletin boards, play in multi-player computer games or send text messages or photographs without the permission of a superior if the information they use concerns matters of defence.

The Ministry of Defence have responded to the Guardian's report saying the restrictions are not new, merely a clarification of existing guidance, they also say they are not trying to restrict free speech merely ensure there are no breaches of operational security. The MOD's director general of media communications, Simon McDowell says in a statement on their website:

"It is nonsense to suggest that the MOD is attempting to "gag" personnel. A routine instruction has merely been refreshed and reissued. Its very first line reads "we want our people to communicate the roles and achievements of the MOD and Armed Forces." This document just sets out the approval procedures to be followed before people speak publicly about work related issues, broadly in line with the standard procedures of every major organisation."

Earlier the paper quoted McDowell as saying the MOD was looking at ""legitimate outlets for people to express themselves"." mentioning experimental moves to enable service personnel to blog (Ars Technica links to this naval blog)

As mentioned we featured one RAF sponsored YouTube diary on Tuesday. Hear that interview here. In that interview it was clear that the officer in charge was uncomfortable with some political subjects being dealt with in an RAF supported video diary. The military will have a difficult task being hands off enough to maintain the blogs authenticity while at the same time trying keeping an eye on what is said in them.

Unlike the US few UK soldiers do blog (compare the numbers at this leading milblogging portal), but those that do make fascinating reading. One of the most interesting www.soldieringon.co.uk doesn't appear to be available any more, the diary of a soldier James Berry recovering from serious injury sustained in conflict. It contained moving first hand accounts of his recovery and experiences in hospital, material like this:

I was very cross that they had only just thought to put me on the waiting list, and then felt a little disappointed that having lost an eye in the course of my duty I was waiting along with people who had got drunk and had car accidents, or been in fights.

Posts like that, as indeed with the great majority of milblogs, make it much easier to sympathise with the soldier's situation. And as at least one user of the Army Rumour Service pointed out, soldiers have also used online spaces to campaign for positive changes, such as the provision of more accomodation for families visiting injured servicemen

Most large organisations have blogging policies and many are uncomfortable with the idea of employees blogging about their work. One survery suggested 1 in 10 companies had fired someone for violating corporate blogging/message board policies. But the negative PR risks have to be weighed against the positive. Speaking on last week's show Group Captain Russ Laforte said of the RAF's YouTube experiment.

"These things are not risk free but then again we've nothing to hide and we want the British public to see what were up to."

Indeed, letting the public see the good work an organisation does in way that they will trust probably does mean letting them see some of the bad from time to time too. You might say it was a case of "Who Dares Wins"


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