Jon Snow: “Editors sold their souls” to MoD

Jon Snow, Channel 4 news anchor, reveals his anger on Radio 4 at the news blackout on Prince Harry’s deployment to Afghanistan. On a programme stacked with pro-war journalists, he was asked by media analyst Steve Hewlett how he felt when he found out there had been an embargo. Snow replied:

I was absolutely enraged. I couldn’t believe that 400 editors could have signed up to this.


Because we have a protocol which we live by on every working day of the week which is that if someone vulnerable in terms of national security is making a movement or whatever we may well know about it but we won’t in fact tell the listener

If Brown is going off to Iraq you know perfectly well because you have to make your own arrangements but you don’t talk about it.

It seems to me that there was nothing so very different about a movement of Prince Harry to Afghanistan and if they wanted complete secrecy it could fit with that protocol

The argument from the media organisations that went along with it was that this was in essence what they had sort of done.

No, and it’s not true. I am certainly aware that the basis of the discussion was: if you do not sign up to this he will not go, we will not deploy. Therefore the media suddenly became charged with a role in the deployment of a soldier to Afghanistan, which seemed a most bizarre position to be in.

This was propaganda, this was not journalism, this was not ferreting about to get at the truth, this was doing somebody else’s bidding, this was the picture that the Ministry of Defence and others wanted put across the front pages of the newspapers, this was a hole in one for the Palace, the military authorities and Prince Harry, there was no journalism involved at all, not one element of it.

The media, certainly the BBC, who were in this like everyone else, would dispute that, they would say that the quality of access, that one of the reasons that the deal took some time to stitch together was that arguments over — it appears to me anyway, they appear to be saying — the quality and amount and depth of access, so they are saying that the access enabled them to tell more of the story, to let listeners and viewers see more of what is really going on in Afghanistan because of the access they got because of the deal they had done.

That’s complete garbage, isn’t it.

Do you think…?

Absolute garbage. What was going on? What was going on was a number of posed photographs. Did they say: “We moved around the village and Harry posed on a motorbike. Whose it was we don’t know, it was red, it was probably nicked from some Afghan.”

What was the truth? Does an air traffic controller actually shoot from a machine gun nest? The BBC didn’t reveal this to us.

No, this was a series of manipulated photo-opportunities, it was not journalism and did not in any sense describe what was going on in Afghanistan.

Were you surprised at the reaction to your comments?

Not remotely. Not remotely. Do you think 400 editors who have sold their souls for a mess of pottage are in some way going to start being nice to me about my one lone voice of rebellion? No, absolutely not.

But I know I was right. And I have to tell you, I have had a vast mailbag from editors, friends, journalists, other people saying: “Spot on mate” — and viewers too.

Has it done the prince any good?

I think it’s done the press a lot of harm. Has it done the prince any good? Of course. Of course it’s a much better image than someone rolling around in the street half drunk.