A coalition of 16 journalism groups today urged the Bush administration to abide by guidelines the Pentagon and media groups established after the 1991 Persian Gulf War if an invasion of Iraq occurs.
The plea came as the coalition issued an updated Statement of Principles first released a year ago.
Journalists remember how their hands were tied a decade ago in trying to give Americans a full understanding of how the Gulf War was waged, the groups said. That served neither the military nor the public, and it is a mistake that should not be repeated.
Combat-coverage guidelines established by the Pentagon after the Persian Gulf war—and agreed to by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney—call for providing journalists access to all major military units and to special forces where feasible; allowing news organizations to use their own communications systems to file reports; and using press pools not as a standard device but only when specific circumstances dictate, such as when military action is conducted in remote areas.
The journalism groups urged the government to ban military censorship of news reports.
The statement notes that coverage of American military actions in Afghanistan was limited because of the nature and small size of the units involved. However, it seems reasonable to expect that coverage of any action against Iraq will be easier to facilitate.
The groups noted they are encouraged by recent statements coming from the Pentagon.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently began an extensive series of training camps for journalists who would cover a war in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the Pentagon has decided to embed large numbers of reporters with ground and air troops.
Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, wrote a Columbia Journalism Review essay that lists a number of ways in which journalists have been able to freely cover the war in Afghanistan, yet also acknowledges the military has made mistakes and can do better. In a letter to American Journalism Review, Clarke wrote, "While our policies have attempted to facilitate broad access for journalists, they are by no means perfect. We will continue to work with the media to improve them."
Veteran reporters, though, remember similarly encouraging words before and during the Persian Gulf War. The coalition of journalism groups encouraged the Pentagon to put any agreements reached in Washington into writing that would be binding on commanders in the field.
The group is encouraged by regular meetings at the Pentagon involving Washington bureau chiefs, and suggests those meetings be expanded to include military reporters and veterans of military coverage.
Members of the coalition include the Society of Professional Journalists, Military Reporters & Editors, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Investigative Reporters and Editors, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Public Radio News Directors Inc., National Society of Newspaper Columnists, National Association of Science Writers, National Coalition Against Censorship, Student Press Law Center, National Press Club, Native American Journalists Association, Asian American Journalists Association, Washington Independent Writers, Freedom of Information Center at the Missouri School of Journalism; Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota.
To read the Statement of Principles, click here.