I woke up this morning to the news that the UK government has signed a £3.5 billion contract for the production of the Scout Specialist Vehicle. There had been rumblings for a while that the British Army was trying to push through at least one major procurement before the next election – Scout is supposedly boiler plate ready and the announcement handily coincides with David Cameron’s trip to the NATO Summit where he can now say the UK is meeting its obligations and is tough on defence.
Leaving aside whether the procurement of the armoured vehicle is good for the British Army or UK industry (that will be more than ably covered by my colleague Tim Fish) what struck me most this morning was the UK’s breakfast news coverage.
For those that still get their news from the BBC (although I’m not sure who they are), they woke up this morning to hear that the UK government was investing £3.5 billion in buying nearly 600 new tanks.
You could say that an armoured vehicle is an armoured vehicle, but there is a hell of a lot of difference between a reconnaissance vehicle and a main battle tank – I don’t care whether you have a specialist interest or are Joe Public, it still matters.
The mistake is symptomatic of a much deeper malaise in UK defence reporting by the general media, particularly when it comes to technology. In a recent Sunday Times piece, a commentator suggested that the proliferation of RPGs and thermobaric munitions could mean that more airliners would be shot down over conflict zones in the future – no, no, no.
In an age when the right facts are usually only a Google search away it shows just how little interest there is in the general media in ensuring that they get the basic facts right when it comes to the topic of defence. I accept this might be because it isn’t seen as an important area of journalism, but if TV news and the newspapers are falling so short on a subject area in which I have some specialist knowledge, then how can I trust the reporting on other areas I care about but have no deep knowledge, such as health or welfare?
Although I’ve mainly taken aim at the UK media, which is what I’m exposed to most, this does not appear to be a uniquely British phenomenon.
Popping on to my Facebook feed overnight was an infographic from News Corps Australia posted by a friend living down under. The graphic purported to be a handy reference to how Australia planned to fight back against IS in the Middle East.
However, I’m at a loss to understand how the US Air Force’s F-16 Falcon Thunderbirds display team is being brought in to the battle against the insurgents…
You could argue that the public often gets the news that it deserves. If there is no interest in defence matters then why should newspapers and news programmes invest in high quality reporting on the subject?
But that misses one of the main raison d’etres that the fourth estate ascribes itself in western democracies, particularly when it comes to some of its special protections – to keep the public informed on the facts behind political decision-making even when they don’t care.