Prince Harry coverage criticised as 'propaganda'

There were increasing claims on Monday that media coverage of Prince Harry's 10-week tour in Afghanistan had been "propaganda" and overlooked a failed military strategy there. ( AFP )

Meanwhile, British newspapers reported that the 23-year-old was set to get a promotion following his time fighting the Taliban in the restive Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, cut short when a US website blew his cover Thursday, forcing the military to withdraw him.

According to The Times and The Sun tabloid on Monday, Harry is guaranteed a promotion next month, having completed two years in the army, along with a 5,000-pound (6,500-euro, 9,900-dollar) annual pay increase.

The Daily Telegraph also reported, quoting an unnamed senior source, that he will be assigned to train young soldiers in his role of Forward Air Controller, which involves calling in air strikes and and carrying out surveillance.

The prince returned to Britain on Saturday to a hero's welcome, and vowed to return to the frontline as soon as possible, though British military chiefs have said that prospect is unlikely for 18 months or so.

But dissenting voices are now beginning to be heard above the widespread praise for the young prince, not least because of the British media's agreement with the defence ministry to a news blackout until he returned.

The royal and his superiors say the coverage could help the public appreciate more their role in Afghanistan while the former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, said it was "not unhelpful" for recruitment.

A high-profile parliamentary committee warned in January that pressure on Britain's military to meet its commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, where about 12,000 soldiers are stationed in total, has battered morale and spurred experienced officers to leave.

Some, though, question whether the news blackout deal had eroded trust between media organisations and their audiences.

Centre-left publications the Independent on Sunday and The Observer both highlighted the lack of analysis about Britain's wider role in Afghanistan in the coverage of Prince Harry.

Former British soldier Leo Docherty, an Iraq war and Afghanistan veteran, said air strikes of the kind Harry called were not succeeding in winning the hearts and minds of local Afghans.

"This (the coverage) is war reduced to entertainment, willingly ignorant of the truth that young men like Harry, both British and Afghan, are dying violent pointless deaths in Helmand province," he wrote in the Independent on Sunday.

The Observer said scant attention had been paid in the media clamour to the complexities of the NATO-led mission and tensions between allies, particularly over troop numbers and rules of engagement.

Little if any space had been given to recent claims about the Afghan government's fragile grip on power in the face of the obdurate Taliban, the difficulties of reconstruction or NATO's counter-narcotics strategy, it wrote.

The renowned publicist Max Clifford told The Guardian Saturday he believed the deployment was a "total, superficial, PR exercise" aimed at "rebranding" Harry - who has a reputation as a wayward party animal -- in a more positive light.

And one columnist at the Mail on Sunday said the focus on Harry and criticism of foreign media for breaking a gentleman's agreement was "sheer propaganda" that "may make us feel 'our boys are winning' in Afghanistan."

"But this is not the truth at all," wrote Suzanne Moore in the right-of-centre weekly.

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