The spirit of Scud FM lives on!

Those who remember the First Gulf War will recall that news coverage of the allied campaign that began in January 1991 differed considerably from the coverage of the Falkands War that had been fought just nine years previously. Being in the main city of the Philippines, Manila as the first allied air raids commenced, there was a strange sense of the world shrinking as CNN carried live reports of the military action. It was very different from the pre-packaged broadcasts from the South Atlantic.

The most vivid memory of the war is of my mother phoning to say that my father had departed for the Gulf. It seemed incomprehensible, he was fifty-four years old and had left the Fleet Air Arm in the 1960s. It seemed that the Royal Air Force was so short of groundcrew that civilian technicians like my father we asked to go to work at one of the bases from which the RAF was flying. My mother was convinced that he was bound for Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. Someone in the RAF to whom I spoke thought it more likely that the civilians would be deployed in Cyprus, in a reserve capacity. As it was, he had travelled no further than an Italian base in Sicily when the conflict ended.

The personal connection gave me a much more keen interest in the coverage of the closing days of the conflict. The BBC focus for coverage of news of the war was Radio 4 FM. It became known as “Scud FM,” Scud being the name of the missiles used by the Iraqi forces against the allied advance.

When Saddam’s forces were driven from Kuwait, the allied offensive halted and there were no further “breaking news” stories. However, Scud FM had become used to resources and airtime and did not wish to return to peacetime allocations. One cartoon showed allied soldiers outside of the studios shouting to those inside, “come out, the war is over!”

So it is with Covid-19. “Follow the money,” would say an economist and writer I knew in Dublin. Follow the money now and billions are being poured into particular departments, ministers have gained unprecedented powers. Once it has been given, it is hard to take back money and influence. People do not readily relinquish budgets and authority.

In the coming months there will be an ongoing struggle unconnected with clinical realities between those reluctant to return their former low profile positions and those shouting at them that the war is over.

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