Revisions Leave Most Combat Reporting Restrictions Intact With PM-Gulf Debate Bjt
Jan. 08, 1991
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon is scuttling some restrictions it planned to impose on the news media if war erupts in the Persian Gulf, but it isn't backing down on a requirement that combat coverage be submitted to military review.
In cutting its ground rules from six pages to two, the Defense Department on Monday dropped an outright ban on publication of photographs or video showing troops in agony or ''severe shock.''
Instead, it requested that such photographs or video not be released before next of kin have been notified.
Also gone was a provision that prohibited reporters from approaching military officials unannounced for spontaneous questioning, sometimes derided as ''ambush interviews.''
Deleted as well was a requirement that all troop interviews be ''on the record.'' Journalists complained that soldiers might fear being candid unless they could talk under an arrangement in which they are not identified by name.
But the Pentagon left intact most provisions restricting journalists participating in combat coverage pools from disseminating anything but the vaguest details of fighting.
Indeed, new language was added that prohibits reporting ''details of major battle damage or major personnel losses'' until such information is released by the military.
''The Pentagon whittled out some of the most useless restrictions, but retained a security review that could be a short, dangerous step from censorship,'' said Jonathan Wolman, Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press.
Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said he believed most of the concerns raised by news organizations after a version of the rules was released last week had been addressed. Still, he said Monday's revisions were ''not necessarily final.''
The security review would force journalists who cover the war from Pentagon combat press pools to submit their work for review by military public affairs officers.
Any material that does not pass review could be appealed, with the final step in that process consultations between Williams and news executives.
''We can't impose censorship,'' Williams said Monday. ''We never intended to and it's not in the ground rules.''
In a note to Washington bureau chiefs sent with the new rules, Williams said: ''I believe we share the common goal of working out a system under which information will be disseminated to the American people without jeopardizing operations or endangering the lives of U.S. service members.''
The note did not explain the decision to conduct a security review of combat journalism. In the interview, Williams refused to say if he had pushed Defense Secretary Dick Cheney or Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to drop the provision.
''I'd just as soon not get into discussing the internal things that we do,'' he said.
The provision calling for the security review reads:
''In the event of hostilities, pool products will be subject to security review prior to release to determine if they contain material that would jeopardize an operation or the security of U.S. or coalition forces.''
But the rules provide that: ''Material will not be withheld just because it is embarrassing or contains criticism.''
In objecting to the review, news organizations have said it is not their intent to publish or broadcast highly sensitive information but that reporters in the combat pools should be trusted to follow a general guideline against disseminating such information and, as was the case in Vietnam, refused credentials if they violate it.
Also left in the coverage rules was a prohibition on reporting ''information on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of enemy camouflage, cover, deception, targeting, direct and indirect fire, intelligence collection or security information.''
A blanket prohibition on reporting postponed or canceled operations also was kept.
And added was new language prohibiting reporting ''operational or support vulnerabilities that could be used against U.S. forces.'' The ground rules said that included ''details of major battle damage or major personnel losses of specific U.S. or coalition units'' until such information is released by the Pentagon.
This provision said reporters in combat pools were restricted to describing damage and casualties as ''light, moderate or heavy.''
The AP's Wolman said that while news organizations were pleased the Pentagon agreed to revise the rules, ''You had to worry about a rule we'd never seen before'' emerging in the new version.
The pool arrangement requires all information reported by journalists in the escorted pools to be shared with those excluded. The pool concept itself has been criticized by media outlets who favor open combat coverage, as was the case in Vietnam and Korea.
In those wars, correspondents traveled freely and, with some exceptions late in the Korean conflict, were not required to submit materials for security review. Censorship was widely used during World War II.