By: E&P Staff
In a Memorial Day column for The New York Times, media writer David Carr examines new restrictions on American reporters in Iraq — just as their numbers dwindle, making their jobs even more vital.
Carr observes that most military campaigns in Iraq “go on without notice, because while troop numbers are surging, the media that cover them are leaking away, worn out by the danger and expense of covering a war that refuses to end.”
Then there’s this: “Since last year, the military?s embedding rules require that journalists obtain a signed consent from a wounded soldier before the image can be published. Images that put a face on the dead, that make them identifiable, are simply prohibited.”
An excerpt follows. The full column is available at www.nytimes.com.
Working reporters say the soldiers in the field are not overly concerned with media coverage ? they have more serious matters in their gunsights. The journalists also suggest that the current regulations have allowed the military to take concerns for the privacy of soldiers and their families and leverage them into broader constraints on information.
Ashley Gilbertson, a veteran freelance photographer who has been to Iraq seven times and has worked for The New York Times (along with Time and Newsweek among others), said the policy, as enforced, is coercive and unworkable.
?They are basically asking me to stand in front of a unit before I go out with them and say that in the event that they are wounded, I would like their consent,? he said. ?We are already viewed by some as bloodsucking vultures, and making that kind of announcement would make you an immediate bad luck charm.?
?They are not letting us cover the reality of war,? he added. ?I think this has got little to do with the families or the soldiers and everything to do with politics.?
….Journalists are frustrated with the new regulations in part because, as this current surge has progressed, there have been further pinches on information. On May 13, the Iraq Interior Ministry said bombing sites would be off limits for an hour after an event; just days later, Iraqi police forces fired shots over the heads of working press to enforce the decree.
In a war where the enemy could be around every corner and support on the home front is weakening, officials are starting to see menace everywhere. In April, military officials placed new restrictions on soldiers? blogging that define attempts to solicit ?critical or sensitive information? as acts of espionage. In an operational security slide presentation (which was partially published in the Danger Room blog on Wired) for military supervisors, media is defined as a ?nontraditional? threat in the same category as drug cartels.
There is already so much that American readers and viewers cannot see simply because Iraq has become too dangerous for reporters to do the routine footwork of combat journalism. The Committee to Protect Journalists puts the number of slain media workers at 143; many others have been severely wounded….
Capturing the brutal realities of war is a tradition in this country dating back at least to Matthew Brady, and it is undoubtedly part of why Americans, regardless of their politics, have come to know and revere the sacrifices that generations of soldiers have made on their behalf.
When this war began, the government attempted to manage images by banning photographs of coffins returning to United States soil. If the government chooses to overmanage the wages of war in Iraq, there is a real danger that when this new generation of veterans, whose ranks grow every day, could come home to a place where their fellow Americans have little idea what they have gone through.