Opinion – Malaria vaccine spin has echoes of Comical Ali

9 Jun 2016

Opinion – Ross Eastgate Townsville Bulletin 9th June 2016

Ross Eastgate

HEY guys, you’ve got to give it to old Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Saddam Hussein’s former minister for information, aka Comical Ali.

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To put it in soldierly terms, the man had balls. You will recall he was the bloke who declared US soldiers were “committing suicide by the hundreds” outside Baghdad while denying there were any American forces in the city. His backdrop was several US tanks only a few hundred metres away with the sound of advancing forces drowning out his commentary.

Multilingual – he was known in the US as Baghdad Bob and Ali el Comico in Italy – he neither made the infamous Iraqi villains pack of cards nor gained much international respect.

Questioned about the accuracy of his reports he claimed he was “a professional”.

It takes balls to stand in front of an advancing enemy and declare they are not there, and Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf deserves kudos on that point.

He also spoke a load of bollocks.

There’s a difference between balls and bollocks.

The last Defence Public Relations director with balls was Brigadier Adrian D’Hage.

The decorated infantry officer disarmed cynical media with his blunt standard response to any crisis.

“We got that wrong, we’ll investigate why we got it wrong and we’ll try to ensure we don’t get it wrong again,” was his regular mantra.

He understood bad news doesn’t improve from not telling and would provide sufficient details to satisfy most intense media scrutiny without compromising formal investigations.

Balls have been conspicuous by their absence in the defence media organisation in recent years though bollocks abound.

VCDF vice-admiral Ray Griggs recently declared Lydia Kellner’s Townsville Bulletin February 19 report on ADF mefloquine misuse was “exaggerated”.

To be fair, this was probably not Grigg’s personal view but one fed to him by the defence media apparatus to “protect the ADF’s reputation”.

It was also misleading and since then this disingenuous assessment has been largely discredited as more affected serving and former ADF members present with their personal experiences.

Reputation ultimately relies on truth.

Protecting professional irregularities and misdemeanours no matter how well- intentioned fails if that protection contradicts fact.

The developing outrage over ADF anti-malarial drug trials is an instructive case.

The medical profession is notoriously self-protective.

As the facts rapidly unravel around the Australian Army Malaria Institute’s severely flawed, possibly illegal trials of dubious drugs, including one not registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Griggs and other non-medical ADF personnel need to consider carefully whether their personal reputations are worth flawed advice from a dysfunctional media apparatus which places organisational “reputation” above individuals.

More importantly, they need to question whether that same PR organisation is focused on promoting the ADF’s core priorities or actually directing its efforts to melding them with radical, social-engineering political agenda of some extreme elements of Australian society which have no relevance to the ADF’s primary role, training to fight wars and kill when necessary.

So guys, it boils down to a battle between balls and bollocks.