I don’t think the SAS should be in Afghanistan. That said, there are good reasons why the activities of the SAS on deployment are meant to be kept secret. Both the media and John Key have behaved incredibly irresponsibly.
Do the publishing of pictures and the name of Willi Apiata after he apparently took part in combat alongside Afghan special forces in Kabul place him and the other SAS soldiers in greater danger? Well, the experts all seem to think so and I have no reason to doubt them. Certainly, I would think that Apiata would be a high value target for the Taliban. It’s hard to see how the deployment of the SAS to Afghanistan would remain politically tenable if Apiata were killed and the Taliban would know that. The experts are saying this will affect the SAS’s operations due to the greater danger they face.
When the picture was first published online by the Herald, it didn’t include Apiata’s name. Apparently, the media thought it was him and asked Key if would confirm it. Which he did. Key says “At the end of the day, I’m not going to stand up and lie to the New Zealand media. If it’s Willie Apiata, it’s Willie Apiata. It was pretty clear to anyone who knows the man that that’s who it was.”
You’re the PM, John. Act like it. If there’s something you can’t tell the media for security reasons say so and don’t tell them. That’s what Clark would have done. You should have said ‘guys, if you publish these pictures and claim one of those people is a national hero you make the SAS a greater target. I’m asking that you will act responsibly’. I doubt the media would have run the pictures in their paper edition or Apiata’s name.
The problem has been that, right from the start, Key has kept on giving the media titbits of information that ought to be kept secret. He gave little hints about what the SAS is up to. He went so far as to say that the SAS would be training a special Afghan commando force but not participating in combat actions with them. It appears that was another lie and it only served to make the media even more interested in signs that the SAS was involved in combat. Again, Key should simply have refused to give any information on what the SAS was doing and refused to confirm any reports from elsewhere. That’s been the practice for decades and for good reason. Key should have shown some responsibility.
So should the media. John Roughan’s attitude – “When you’re on patrol in Kabul we don’t think he’s preserved from being photographed.” – is frankly incredible. I’m glad this plonker wasn’t around during World War 2: ‘when you’re all getting on boats to head to Normandy we don’t think you’re preserved from being photographed’. Informing the public is important but not if it means putting people’s lives in greater danger.
But that’s the media for you. They don’t know the meaning of the word responsibility. This is why Key needed to display some leadership and strength from the start. He ought to have refused to give any information of SAS activities and requested that the media not reveal any. Sometimes being a leader means telling people they can’t have what they want. But Key isn’t that kind of Prime Minister. Not that kind of man. I think he still doesn’t understand the import of his words as Prime Minister and the duty of care that comes with that. He’s too desperate to be liked and keep everyone happy.