By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
With much media there already, the 13-member
Department of Defense national media pool, which
rotates quarterly, will remain on-call in Washington sp.
THE MUCH-MALIGNED media pools that were in place during the Persian Gulf war will not be used for coverage of U.S. troops in Bosnia.
“What we knew going into this was, first of all, there would be plenty of media in-country,” said Clifford H. Bernath, principal deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. “So, at no time in the planning for this operation did we talk about media pools. They just would not have been appropriate.”
The 13-member Department of Defense national media pool, which rotates quarterly, will remain on-call in Washington, but it is unlikely it will be activated for the Bosnia operation.
The earliest public affairs planning for Bosnia began more than a year ago, Bernath explained.
“What we were planning for is, how do you get the most access to the military people and how do you get overwhelming numbers of media all the access that they need?” he said. “You’ve got a limited number of troops, you’ve got a very limited number of supplies, logistics and trucks and food and tents. How do you get media the access they need with these limited resources?
“So all of our planning has been around openness, access, unrestricted coverage and those principles,” Bernath added.
The nine principles for news coverage of military operations ? worked out by DoD officials and Washington bureau chiefs following Operation Desert Storm ? will be the basis for public affairs operations in Bosnia.
The issue of security review ? a source of great contention in Desert Storm ? flared up briefly early on, but the matter quickly was resolved.
Security review flap resolved
A set of guidelines coming from U.S. Army headquarters in Europe included a provision for security review of news material by public affairs officers (PAO), specifically that news media would “Afford the unit PAO a last pass of material for classified information.”
“I immediately protested,” said Associated Press Washington bureau chief Jonathan Wolman. “The Pentagon said it was a mistake and withdrew it within 24 hours.”
Wolman called security review unacceptable “for a peacekeeping mission, and one that’s not a secret.
“I do believe them when they said the security review was unintended,” he said, adding that AP correspondents would not have agreed to that provision.
The mixup, Bernath explained, “Shows me that you just have to keep communicating and communicating and communicating.
“In this case, as soon as the first person above that level saw it, they knew it was a mistake and it was easily corrected.
Nobody fought to save that,” he said. “So that’s the good news.
“The bad news is that . . . somewhere along the line, some commander is going to say, ‘I want to see your copy.’ That will just happen,” Bernath said. “Somebody, very quickly, above that person should be in place to say, ‘No, you’re not going to see that copy.’ “
Bernath noted that “it’s important that people know who’s the first line to call, who’s the second line to call, who’s the final line to call, and work it out.
“We figure that the more we can put out now, the more detail we can put out, that the fewer the problems [will be] that they’ll run into later on and the easier it will be to resolve it.”
Instead of security review, the military will employ security at the source.
“Security at the source is that if you don’t want a reporter to report on something, you don’t show it to him or her,” Bernath explained, adding that “the media have been extremely cooperative on this.”
Here’s how it works, Bernath said: “You’re the reporter, I’m the commander, and over here I have a piece of equipment that’s sensitive. I would say to you, ‘You can shoot in this direction, but don’t shoot over here.’ And normally, we would try to say why.
“I don’t know of a case where a reporter has gone ahead and shot it anyway,” Bernath said, “but that’s security at the source.
“If you don’t tell a reporter, ‘Don’t shoot it,’ then the reporter has a right to shoot it,” he added. “Then you’ve got a problem. You can either convince the person ? and, again, it works, and we’ve done all this ? You say, ‘Oh, gee, I forgot to tell you, but that’s classified. Would you please not use that?’ And they will almost undoubtedly not use it.”
This mission differs from others since Desert Storm in another significant way: it is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operation involving a host of other nations.
“You’ve got a U.S. chain of command and you’ve got a NATO chain of command, so far as information is concerned,” Bernath explained. “We’ve done a lot of work with the NATO side, working out how we’re going to work the media and how we’re going to get information [to them].”
Bernath said PAOs have worked with Army Gen. George Alfred Joulwan, “who wears the U.S. NATO hat,” as well as with NATO ministers and U.S. military senior public affairs officers “throughout the current chain of command.
“Everybody has conceptually signed up to this, that we need to get out information quickly, that we can’t have this cumbersome release authority,” Bernath said. “We can’t have a release authority on the NATO side that filters everything through the political side of the NATO structure.
“So everybody is on board with that, at least conceptually.
“Now, we know we’ll hit some problems, but we at least we have the leaders signed up to these principals,” he commented.
In addition, although there will be press from many countries covering this operation, the U.S. media guidelines “don’t distinguish between different types of media. There’s no preference that we have worked into the system.
“There will be some sorting going on, probably people who speak English will have a better chance of getting to our troops than those who don’t speak English, but there’s no guidelines to say who goes first in an established pecking order,” Bernath explained.
The U.S. and other participating NATO nations will have their own cells within the NATO Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) to answer NATO-related policy questions about their country.
In addition, there will be U.S. Joint Information Bureaus (JIB) at other locations, as well as smaller JIBs at key areas where forces are to be located. There also will be public affairs officers, known as Mobile Public Affairs Detachments (MPADS), at the brigade level.
By the time the deployment in Bosnia is complete, Bernath said 59 public affairs people, both enlisted and officers, are expected to be in-country at the various U.S. information sites.
An additional 16 people will make up the U.S. part of the NATO information office.
With so many journalists already in Germany and Bosnia, there is increased pressure on public affairs officers.
“We’re trying the best we can,” said Bernath, explaining that public affairs people are being drawn from existing units and reservists.
One issue pending when Bernath spoke to E&P at the Pentagon was
the logistics for sending reporters with the troops as they travel by train from Germany to Hungary, and then into Bosnia.
“We’re working on that,” he said. “There are obviously a lot more media who want to go than we have seats for, but we want to make sure that we come up with a reasonable number. The trains haven’t left yet, so there’s still a lot of arguing going on.”
While the troops have not been given media training, per se, they have been told some basic guidelines for dealing with the press.
“We tell them that it’s your right to talk to the media, or to not talk to the media,” Bernath said. “If you talk to the media, you’re free to say anything that’s within your mission area. You’re not free to speculate on policy, or to speculate on things outside of your area of knowledge.
“We’ve given them information, just normal information . . . to keep them informed,” he added, so they know “the rationale of the leaders, why they’re going to fight, why they’re going on a mission.”
Another way the military is trying to keep people informed is through its new BosniaLINK home page on the world wide web (http://www.dtic. dla.mil/bosnia/). About a year ago, DoD launched the DefenseLINK (CQ) web site (http://www.dtic.dla. mil.defenselink/), which also offers access to BosinaLINK.
“What we wanted to do, was give people an easy way to access all the information that we were releasing, as we released it, on Bosnia,” Bernath said. “What we’ll be doing is loading up everything as we release it, and then people can log on and get the information.”
In the 36 hours preceding this interview, shortly after BosniaLINK was launched, Bernath said there were 66,000 hits on DefenseLINK, and 45,000 hits on BosniaLINK, compared to the usual 68,000 or so per week.
Bernath has held a few briefings for Washington bureau chiefs and other newspeople, explaining some of the basics about clothing, fuel, getting places, and to talk about how the information centers will be set up.
Although later meetings actually have been convivial, Bernath’s first encounter with the Washington bureau chiefs was a bit more contentious.
“From the time Desert Storm ended and we implemented the new guidelines, up until right around Haiti, really ? maybe it was before that, in Rwanda and Somalia ? there really hadn’t been much interaction [between the media and military]. We didn’t have major conflicts,” Bernath explained. “And there were still a lot of bad feelings from the media about being manipulated in Desert Storm.
“So I came into this job and had this first bureau chiefs meeting, and it was kind of like popping the cork off of a [bottle]. There was a lot of animosity and distrust,” he recalled.
“I was kind of surprised by it,” he said, “because we were there, in my opinion, trying to do the same thing we are doing here. Then we kind of got into it a little bit and we had a good dialogue and things couldn’t be better.
“I think they were expecting me to come in and start telling them what all these rules were, and really my goal was just the opposite.”
The Department of Defense makes information available on the world wide web through DefenseLINK and on BosniaLINK, which includes material about Operation Join Endeavor.
?(The Department of Defense makes information available on the world wide web through Defense LINK and on BosniaLINK, which includes material about Operation Join ENdeavor.) [Photo & Caption]