Britain revokes permission for former captives to be paid for interviews
( ) - Britain's Defense Ministry banned military personnel from selling personal stories to the news media, following rising public anger over paid interviews with two of the 15 British sailors and marines held captive for nearly two weeks by Iran.
Faye Turney, the only woman among the former captives, told the Sun newspaper that she ``cried my eyes out'' and feared that she was going to be raped and executed. Arthur Batchelor, 20, the youngest of the captives, told the Daily Mirror that he ``cried like a baby'' and that his captors tormented him by repeatedly saying he looked like the British comedy character Mr. Bean.
The British news media have a long tradition of paying major sums for exclusive interviews with people who catch the public eye. Nonetheless, the military's initial decision to authorize the 15 to accept money has been broadly criticized by many members of the armed forces, opposition politicians and families of British soldiers who have been killed or wounded while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Critics have accused the ministry of attempting to stage-manage the public relations fallout over an incident in which British personnel were easily captured on March 23 and appeared to quickly fold under pressure, issuing written and videotaped ``confessions'' that they illegally entered Iranian territorial waters.
Liam Fox, the opposition Conservative Party's spokesman on military issues, said in an interview that the ``squalid public auction'' of the stories had ``cost public sympathy'' for the former captives and ``damaged the dignity'' of Britain's armed forces.
Reg Keys, the father of a British soldier killed in Iraq in 2003, accused the government of using the sailors for ``spin.'' He told the BBC that when his son was killed, his military colleagues were not allowed to speak publicly about his death. ``It seems to me that it is selective,'' he said. ``If the story aids the government in their propaganda against the Iranians, they will allow people to speak, but if it is embarrassing to the government or the Ministry of Defense, you are not allowed to.''
Defense Secretary Des Browne, announcing the ban pending a review of the military's policy, said it had been a ``very tough call'' for military officials to authorize the paid interviews. He said officials decided that in this ``particular and exceptional case,'' it made sense. Officials offered ``support and advice'' to the interviewees, Browne said, with the aim of ensuring they would not jeopardize the military's ``operational security.''
Browne said that the tabloid interviews, as well as a paid television interview with Turney aired Monday evening, had not been ``a satisfactory outcome'' and that ``we must learn from this.''
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said a long-standing military policy of allowing paid interviews was ``written in a time when you were given a token amount for showing up, not life-changing, large sums of money.''
The fee paid to Turney for selling her story to the Sun and the television network ITV1 was not disclosed, but the BBC reported that it could be ``six figures.'' On the television program, Turney said a percentage of the proceeds would be used to help crew members and families from her ship, HMS Cornwall.
``I want everyone out there to know my story from my side, see what I went through,'' she said during the broadcast.
Lt. Felix Carman, another of the former captives, told reporters that it was ``slightly unsavory'' that his colleagues were taking money for their stories. But he said of Turney: ``She is safeguarding her daughter's future. I would like to see what the critics would do in a similar position.''