MoD told to 'grow up' after Iran PR 'disaster'

The Ministry of Defence has been urged to "grow up" in its dealings with the press and become "more open" in the wake of the row over payments to the 15 British servicemen kidnapped by Iran.

Senior journalists have described the decision to allow the soldiers to sell their stories as "naïve" and "ridiculous".

Meanwhile, Sun defence editor Tom Newton Dunn has defended his paper's decision to pay, together with ITV News, for an interview with Leading Seaman Faye Turney and accused rival news organisations of "staggering hypocrisy". He also said the amount paid to Turney was "far lower" than the £100,000 which has been reported.

Arthur Batchelor, the youngest of the gthat they were treating the captives badly and they just had the wrong take on it. Someone may have told the navy PR people, rather naively I think, that if you sanction these interviews Navy people will be able to [sit in on the interviews] and say what is true and what isn't."

Norton-Taylor said the case highlighted the MoD's relationship with the media and that the sailors' stories would have come out eventually.

"The alternative would be members of the family getting something in [the press]. It would happen anyway," he said. "The Sun gets tip-offs from squaddies about a lot of things.

"They get money when they give a story to The Sun — the MoD knows that and they turn a blind eye to it.

Equally the MoD would sometimes leak stories to The Sun because that suits them — they know more squaddies read The Sun than The Times or The Guardian.

"It's not just hindsight to say that the rest of the Navy and the armed forces are furious about this."

Sun defence editor Newton Dunn defended his paper's article and the fee, saying: "The hypocrisy of our jealous rivals has been quite staggering. They are the same newspapers and TV news that tabled some of the biggest bids for [Turney's] story last week.

"We are proud to have contributed a sum that was far lower than what a lot of alleged experts have said Faye is going to give some of the money to the ship's charity and put the rest towards a fund for [her daughter] Molly's education."

Press Gazette understands that, although it got the story the rest of Fleet Street wanted, The Sun was not the highest bidder for Turney's account of being held hostage in Iran for 13 days.

A source close to the negotiations said that at least seven newspapers put in offers, the highest being a joint bid by The Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror. The source said the next best was the Daily Mirror with £100,000 (which was later withdrawn), then came Express newspapers with a bid of around £30,000.

The source said The Sun's offer was "much less than £100,000" but still a "considerable five-figure sum".

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