A D-notice, the UK’s way of censoring military information, is being considered as a way of allowing Prince Harry to be deployed to a war zone in secret, according to the Observer today. General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the army, has blamed media coverage for the decision not to send the third in line to the throne to Iraq with his squadron.
He has said: "This close scrutiny has exacerbated the situation and this is something I wish to avoid in the future." Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph also mentioned D-notices saying "observers" suggested the Ministry of Defence and Clarence House had left themselves "hostages to fortune" by announcing the deployment instead of using the D-notice committee and the Press Complaints Commission to request a media blackout.
It is difficult to see how a D-notice, recommended by the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee which includes media representatives, could be effective. British media would abide by it but it has no force in the rest of the world and it does not stop militias gathering intelligence.
Someone would notice that the Prince was no longer at his base in Warminster or his favourite watering holes. The news would soon be out even if it was not in the British news. Perhaps, the military who have got egg all over their faces, are trying to demonstrate that they are doing their best to to deploy Prince Harry but not to actually send him.
Canute-like they would be able to demonstrate they were powerless. Later: A further thought on D-notices. The whole rather gentlemanly system looks increasingly fragile in the age of the web and blogs. It depends on rather broad notices — in this case it might be a prohibition of publishing details of and, if there is doubt, discussion between an editor and the secretary of the advisory committee.
The probelms are recognised as this answer to a FAQ on the D-notice website illustrates: The DA-Notice system has never been a watertight, 100% system. Not only its voluntary nature, but also the enormous diversity of the British media (including some small outlets that have never followed the DA-Notice guidance), mean that it has always been a ‘damage limitation’ system.
The internet has produced some new considerations, and many unanswered questions about the future, but the very size and diversity of the net means that, just because something is on a foreign website, it does not necessarily mean that it has immediately been widely seen.