Reporters get detailed rules for war coverage

Feb 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As journalists deploy to their assigned military units this week for the United States’ widely anticipated military intervention in Iraq, they’ll begin sharing some of the same burdens as their military hosts. And they will face a new set of rules detailing how they collect and report the news while traveling with the U.S. armed forces.
The key Pentagon regulation governing the more than 500 journalists who are to be embedded with U.S. troops gives wide latitude to a unit’s commander to impose news embargoes to protect operational security.
But at the same time, the rule says embargoes are only supposed to be imposed to protect operational security and “will be lifted as soon as the operational security issue has passed.”
Another set of regulations spells out details that are never supposed to be reported, including intelligence information, tips about planned operations and specifics about troop numbers or supplies..
“Extra precautions in reporting will be required at the commencement of hostilities to maximize operational surprise,” the rules state.
Still other rules bar embedded journalists from packing their own firearms and require them to get permission before using camera lights at night, which might give away a unit’s position.
In addition, regulations bar photography showing security measures at military camps and stories that divulge information about missing or downed aircraft while search-and-rescue or recovery operations are planned or under way.
The identity of battlefield casualties is also supposed to be protected from disclosure for 72 hours or until the next of kin have been notified, whichever happens first.
According to the regulations, violations could result in “immediate termination” of a reporter’s journey with a U.S. unit and ejection from the theater of operations.
But the rules also specifically “recognize the right of media to cover military operations and are in no way intended to prevent release of derogatory, embarrassing, negative or uncomplimentary information.”
Still other rules:
Bar photographs or videos of an enemy prisoner’s face;
Prohibit reporting about the “effectiveness of enemy camouflage, cover, deception, targeting, direct and indirect fire, intelligence collection or security measures”;
Require escorts during press visits to medical care facilities;
Prohibit photographing the wounded in a medical facility without the consent of the patient and the facility’s commander.
The sort of information that can be reported routinely includes the approximate size of friendly forces; confirmed figures of enemy captured; information and location of military targets and objectives after an attack; general descriptions of the origin of air operations, “such as `land-based”’; types of ordnance used in general terms; operation code names; and names and hometowns of U.S. military units.
Despite the breadth of the regulations, Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said the embedding plan gives journalists more access to the action than they have had since Vietnam almost 30 years ago.
“It’s a very positive step,” Ms. Cochran said. “The presumption is in favor of releasing information.”
All of the major news organizations have stated that they will also have reporters who are not assigned to military units, and therefore are not subject to the same restrictions.