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Revised Guidelines for Gulf Coverage Retain Security Reviews

January 16, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon on Tuesday put into effect its final guidelines for press coverage of Persian Gulf combat, adding a rule that will bar unescorted reporters from accompanying combat units and clarifying the ″security review″ of press pool stories.

The new guidelines add an explicit provision that the ″ultimate decision″ on what to publish will rest with ″the originating reporter’s news organization,″ not with the military.

News organizations protested last week when the Pentagon released a draft of guidelines calling for military review of reports produced by journalists who cover combat in ″pools″ that operate under official escorts.

If war breaks out in the Gulf, most press coverage will be confined to these press pools, organized by the military. Pool journalists share their material with correspondents who were unable to see the front lines for themselves.

In refining its guidelines, the Pentagon tightened its control over the reporting process by stating flatly that journalists who are not under military escort ″will not be permitted into forward areas.″

Assistant Secretary of Defense Pete Williams said the new guidelines restricting so-called unilateral coverage were issues ″in response to many questions.″

The guidelines state that ″news media personnel who are not members of the official ... media pools will not be permitted into forward areas.″

″Reporters are strongly discouraged from attempting to link up on their own with combat units,″ the guidelines said. ″U.S. commanders will maintain extremely tight security throughout the operational area and will exclude from the area of operation all unauthorized individuals.″

Escorts also will be required on Saudi bases, though not necessarily on U.S. bases, the guidelines said.

Several news organizations said in letters to the Pentagon last Wednesday that the Pentagon’s guidelines would unacceptably limit combat coverage to pools and give the military too much control over reporting.

Correspondents were given far greater freedom to roam the countryside unfettered by military escorts in covering the Vietnam War. In World War II and the Korean War, however, dispatches from reporters were censored by military authorities.

As in last week’s version, the guidelines said that reviews of pool reports would be aimed at safeguarding military security and not at weeding out material ″for its potential to express criticism or cause embarrassment.″

In the event of disagreements, the guidelines provide for review by higher authorities in Washington, including Williams. All along, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said that the review process would ensure that the military could not censor stories.

The final guidelines also add a provision barring journalists from carrying weapons of their own.

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