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Media's access to U.S. forces will be most open since Vietnam War

WASHINGTON—The Department of Defense this week began releasing press slots to U.S. and foreign news organizations whose journalists will join military units to cover any war with Iraq. Also circulating within the military is a memo detailing the rules that will apply to those correspondents in combat.

The memo, which Knight Ridder obtained Friday, declares that the "media will have long-term, minimally restrictive access to U.S. air, ground and naval forces." It adds: "We need to tell the factual story—good or bad—before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do."

The more than 500 news personnel assigned by their employers to join military units for the duration of any combat will be required to sign a pledge to obey official ground rules. Any violations of those rules could result in the journalist's expulsion and loss of access for his or her employer.

The last war in which the media were permitted so open an opportunity to cover U.S. forces in combat was Vietnam. Accreditation in that war also required the media to sign a pledge not to release sensitive information.

The memo says there will be "no general review process" for stories, film or photos produced and transmitted by the correspondents assigned to land, air and sea units. "These ground rules are in no way intended to prevent release of derogatory, embarrassing, negative or uncomplimentary information," the memo adds.

The ground rules include:

_Delays in the release of news reports may be imposed to protect operational security.

_Battlefield casualties may be reported as long as the service member's identity is protected from disclosure for 72 hours or upon verification that his or her next of kin has been notified, whichever is first.

_Media products generally won't be subject to security review or censorship. The primary safeguard will be to brief journalists in advance about what information is sensitive and what the rules are for reporting this type of information.

_Media products won't be confiscated or otherwise impounded. If military press officers think that classified information has been compromised and the journalist refuses to remove that information, they will notify Defense Department superiors and take up the matter with the journalist's news organization.

The memo says military units will provide transportation, lodging, meals, and chemical and biological warfare suits and gas masks for journalists assigned to them. Journalists are required to bring their own helmets and protective vests, and to be immunized for a list of diseases that soldiers also are immunized against.

The Defense Department memo defines which categories of information are releasable and which aren't.

The guidance specifies that there will be no release of:

_Numbers of troops in units below the corps level.

_Numbers of aircraft in units at or below the air expeditionary wing level.

_Numbers of ships in any formation smaller than an aircraft carrier battle group.

_Numbers of other equipment or crucial supplies such as tanks, artillery, landing craft, radars, trucks, water, etc.

_Names of military installations or specific geographic locations of military units, unless specifically released by the Defense Department or the U.S. Central Command commander.

_Information about future operations.

_Photos showing the level of security at military installations.

_During an operation, specific information on friendly troop movements, tactical deployments and dispositions that would jeopardize security or lives.

_Information on ongoing engagements, unless authorized by the on-scene commander.

_Information on missing or downed aircraft or missing vessels while search and rescue and recovery operations are being planned or are under way.

_Photos showing an enemy prisoner of war or detainee's recognizable face, nametag or other identifying feature.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.