The inquest into Cheryl James’s death at Deepcut showed the army in poor light. The story on its own was bad. The press reported recruits were bullied and often sexually harassed. In some cases, they were sexually assaulted. A few years after her death an officer was convicted of sexually abusing male recruits. However, these were old news. What we did not know was the scope, severity, and scale of the abuse. Or, how officers and senior officers had handled these issues. In a word, the Army faced a potential public relations disaster.
What did they do to prevent a PR disaster?
On the surface, it appears they did nothing. The public would be excused in believing that the Army simply accepted the inquiry and what it would find. They would let the “chips fall where they may”. Such a view would miss the Army’s subtle public relations strategy. During the review the television show Army Girls was advertised extensively. A couple of weeks before the coroner retired to considered its findings, it was shown on Channel 4 starting on 7 April 2016. The show presented the female recruit’s life as a positive, upbeat, if at times demanding, experience. Although the Army may not have decided the timetable, they did agree to the show as they would want to promote the changes since Cheryl James death in 1995.
Why do they need to tell their story?
Like the Police, the Army want to promote their image. The Police do this through a variety of means, none so effective as the quasi-reality documentary shows. The Police court good publicity as it helps them police by consent. They also need it to encourage recruits to join. The Army needs recruits as well so they have to present an attractive image. To promote their image, they will encourage television shows such as The Army Girls and other public relations services. The show give the human side of army life for female recruits and the public get an insight into the Army. The Army get publicity to attract female recruits. It also helps them shape public opinion.
The Curious case of the Private Eye Army Girls advert.
Good publicity helps to shape public opinion. An example of this approach was the Private Eye advertisement in late April. In early April, Private Eye had a detailed story about the inquiry. The story described serious failings such as senior officers unaware of bullying, the prolific sexual activity (800 used condoms were collected on one sweep alone), and the lax oversight of recruits mental and physical health. The next issue, Private Eye contained a full page advertisement for Army Girls. As with any television show, the producers will time its opening to maximize its audience. However, it would also serve a secondary purpose, the Army’s purpose. The show and the adverts helped to shape the public opinion around the inquiry. So the next time you watch one of these shows, ask yourself “what are they trying to achieve with it?”
The Army Girls show that the Army has changed, or has it?
Despite the Deepcut revelations, the army have a positive message of change for the parents and the female recruits–until the next Cheryl James.
 The Ministry of Defence spend around £50 million a year on public relations. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ministry-defence-spends-50m-press-7288602
 Private Eye, issue 1415: 1-14 April 2016 http://www.deepcut-the-truth.uk/deepcut-inquest-radar-signals/ The next issue, 1416 had the full page advertisement.
 The Army and the military in general want to present an image that will show they have changed since the Deepcut Four emerged. The Army and the military want to show they are no longer a misogynistic, sexist, institution where physical and sexual abuse are part of the culture tolerated, if not encouraged, by the senior officers. Their political masters have to demonstrate they have responded to the claims and they have changed the Army and the military to make I safer.