By: Greg Mitchell
Updated at 5:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Editor’s note: Late Friday, E&P received a copy of ground rules sent directly by the Pentagon to a major national newspaper. This document duplicates the original rules first reported by E&P Friday morning, but offers more details.
The U.S. military plans to take extraordinary steps to provide the media access to combat zones in Iraq, but only after making reporters agree to a series of strict prohibitions, according to a lengthy document sent by a press officer for a major U.S. military base to a news organization that will be “embedding” reporters with American forces preparing for an attack on Iraq.
The document offers the first detailed glimpse into Pentagon planning for media coverage of the campaign.
Obtained by E&P on Thursday, and its source confirmed by the news organization, the document reveals that during the invasion, “Information on on-going engagements will not be released unless authorized for release by on-scene commander.” In addition, “Date, time, or location of previous conventional military missions and actions, as well as mission results are releasable only if described in general terms.”
On Wednesday the Pentagon began telling news organizations how many reporters at each media outlet can accompany U.S. forces. The total will reach 500 or more. Many editors and news directors, while welcoming this opportunity, have also wondered what the trade-offs might be in working under official control.
The Pentagon has long promised to release “ground rules” to embedded reporters.
According to the military document obtained by E&P, media traveling with U.S. forces will be prohibited, during an operation, from reporting “specific information on friendly force troop movements, tactical deployment, and dispositions that would jeopardize operational security or lives.” It observes, “Embargoes may be imposed to protect operational security” but “will only be used for operational security and will be lifted as soon as the operational security issue has passed.”
The military will strictly prohibit “information regarding future operations.” No information “identifying postponed or canceled operations” will be allowed.
Also banned is the release of names of military installations “or specific geographic locations of military units … unless specifically released by the Department of Defense” or operation commander. “News and imagery products that identify or include identifiable features of these locations are not authorized for release.”
Regarding the start of the war, the document (which was sent by the military press officer to the reporter via e-mail) states, “Extra precautions in reporting will be required at the commencement of hostilities to maximize operational surprise. Live broadcasts from airfields, on the ground or afloat, by embedded media are prohibited until the safe return of the initial strike package or until authorized by the unit commander.”
In a section labeled “Ground Rules,” the military describes 14 “releasable” categories of information, and 19 “not releasable since their publication or broadcast could jeopardize operations and endanger lives.”
The document says, “Ground rules will be agreed to in advance and signed by media prior to embedding. Violation of the ground rules may result in the immediate termination of the embed and removal.” One such rule is “Embedded media are not authorized use of their own vehicle while traveling in an embedded status.”
The document adds, however, “These ground rules recognize the right of the media to cover military operations and are in no way intended to prevent release of derogatory, embarrassing, negative, or uncomplimentary information.”
In fact, the document promises what appears, on the face, to be a remarkable effort by the military to accommodate media access, although how much they will be allowed to report remains to be seen.
In the first part of the document, directed at the military units, it notes, “Use of priority inter-theater airlift for embedded media to cover stories, as well as to file stories, is highly encouraged. Seats aboard vehicles, aircraft, and naval ships will be made available to allow maximum coverage of U.S. troops in the field.”
Continuing in this vein, the document says, “Units should plan lift and logistical support to assist in moving media products to and from the battlefield so as to tell our story in a timely manner.” It even suggests, “In the event of commercial communications difficulties, media are authorized to file stories via expeditious military signal/communications capabilities.
“No communications equipment for use by media in the conduct of their duties will be specifically prohibited. However, unit commanders may impose temporary restrictions on electronic transmissions for operational security reasons. Media will seek approval to use electronic devices in a combat/hostile environment.”
In laying out general ground rules, the document tells the media, “All interviews with service members will be on the record.” Interviews with pilots and aircrew members are authorized “upon completion of missions; however, release of information must conform to these media ground rules.” Visible light sources, such as flash cameras or television lights, will not be allowed when operating with forces at night unless approved in advance.
“Battlefield casualties may be covered by embedded media as long as the service member’s identity is protected from disclosure for 72 hours” or upon notification of next of kin, whichever comes first, the document says. In addition, media visits to medical facilities will be supervised.
Among the 19 “not releasable” categories of information (besides those already mentioned) is any mention of a specific number of troops, aircraft, or ships below very large levels.
* Photography showing level of security.
* Rules of engagement.
* “Information on effectiveness of enemy camouflage, cover, deception, targeting ,direct and indirect fire, intelligence collection, or security measures.”
* Information on effectiveness of enemy electronic warfare.
* “Information on missing or downed aircraft or missing vessels while search and rescue and recovery operations are being planned or underway.”
* Photographs or broadcast showing an enemy prisoner of war or detainee’s “face, nametag, or other identifying feature.”
Material that will be “releasable”:
* “Approximate friendly casualty figures by service.”
* Within certain limits, “embedded media may … confirm unit casualties they have witnessed.”
* Figures on enemy personnel detained or captured.
* “Size of friendly force participating in an action or operation can be disclosed using approximate terms.”
* Information and location of military targets and objectives previously under attack.
* Generic description of origin of air operations, such as “land-based.”
* Types of ordnance expended in general terms.
* Number of missions or sorties flown.
* Names and hometown of military units and service member names and hometowns with their consent.
The document also notes that the military units are responsible for ensuring that all embedded journalists and their news organizations have signed the “release, indemnification, and hold harmless agreement and agreement not to sue” found at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Feb2003/D20030210embed.pdf.
It further notes, “Media embedded with U.S. forces are not permitted to carry personal firearms.”