By: Greg Mitchell
Close examination of one of the final sections of ground rules for embedded reporters traveling with U.S. forces recently distributed by the Pentagon reveals potential limits on reporting of “sensitive” material in any attack on Iraq. It also discloses how disputes with the media over review of their material, and restrictions on coverage, will be handled and decided.
Most articles about the release of the ground rules to media with embedded reporters has focused on lists of ground rules and the fact that the Pentagon seems to be promising no censorship or review of articles. A section in the ground-rules document labeled #3R states, “There is no general review process for media products.” However, it adds, “See para 6A for further detail concerning security at the source.”
In a copy of the ground rules obtained by E&P, section 6 concerns “Security.” Like the rest of the ground rules, most of this section sounds reasonable on the surface but the potential for severe restrictions on reporting becomes apparent under closer examination. In fact, it includes provisions for “security review” and the removal of “sensitive” information by the military. Also, reporters who do not agree to such review in advance may be denied access to certain information.
The section in question follows:
“6.a. Security at the source will be the Rule. U.S. military personnel shall protect classified information from unauthorized or inadvertent disclosure. Media provided access to sensitive information, information which is not classified but which may be of operational value to an adversary or when combined with other unclassified information may reveal classified information, will be informed in advance by the unit commander or his/her designated representative of the restrictions on the use or disclosure of such information. When in doubt, media will consult with the unit commander or his/her designated representative.
“6.a.1. The nature of the embedding process may involve observation of sensitive information, including troop movements, battle preparations, materiel capabilities and vulnerabilities and other information … when a commander or his/her designated representative has reason to believe that a media member will have access to this type of sensitive information, prior to allowing such access, he/she will take prudent precautions to ensure the security of that information. The primary safeguard will be to brief media in advance about what information is sensitive and what the parameters are for covering this type of information.
“If media are inadvertently exposed to sensitive information they should be briefed after exposure on what information they should avoid covering. In instances where a unit commander or the designated representative determines that coverage of a story will involve exposure to sensitive information beyond the scope of what may be protected by prebriefing or debriefing, but coverage of which is in the best interests of the [Department of Defense], the commander may offer access if the reporter agrees to a security review of their coverage. Agreement to security review in exchange for this type of access must be strictly voluntary and if the reporter does not agree, then access may not be granted.
“If a security review is agreed to, it will not involve any editorial changes; it will be conducted solely to ensure that no sensitive or classified information is included in the product. If such information is found, the media will be asked to remove that information from the product and/or embargo the product until such information is no longer classified or sensitive.
“Reviews are to be done as soon as practical so as not to interrupt combat operations nor delay reporting. If there are disputes resulting from the security review process they may be appealed through the chain of command, or through [Public Affairs] channels to [Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense/Public Affairs]. This paragraph does not authorize commanders to allow media access to classified information.
“6.a.2. Media products will not be confiscated or otherwise impounded. If it is believed that classified information has been compromised and the media representative refuses to remove that information notify the … [Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense/Public Affairs] as soon as possible so the issue may be addressed with the media organization’s management.”
Also see http://www.editorandpublisher.com/editorandpublisher/headlines/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1821864.