In the face of criticism, the Army has for the first time formally outlined a policy outlining media access to military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, giving clear but limited control to mourning families while reserving the final word for cemetery officials.
Under the policy, family members will be able to grant or deny varying degrees of media access to funeral services: none, visual or visual and "limited audio." In the latter category, the main speaker is outfitted with a wireless microphone to transmit the eulogy to the media; reporters cannot hear family members speak or approach them at the site.
When a family does grant media coverage, according to the new policy, journalists are permitted to report only from a "designated media area," chosen by the cemetery’s superintendent, that is "close enough to allow visual recording . . . without intruding on the ceremony or the military formation."
Before these regulations were signed and accepted by the Secretary of the Army Sept. 12, the cemetery had a near-identical "informal" policy, said Kaitlin Horst, a spokesperson for the cemetery. Like the official policy, the informal policy allowed families to make the initial decision on media access, but gave cemetery authorities ultimate control over what reporters saw by designating where the media could locate inside the cemetery gates.
The informal policy came under fire this spring when The Washington Post ran an article about the media being kept from covering Lt. Col. Billy Hall’s funeral, even though the Marine’s family gave reporters permission to be there.
"[The military] arranged the Marine’s burial yesterday so that no sound, and few images, would make it into the public domain," Dana Milbank wrote in the article. "Journalists were held 50 yards from the service, separated from the mourning party by six or seven rows of graves, and staring into the sun and penned in by a yellow rope."
During a round-table discussion of the proposed policy in August between Army officials, journalists and members of veterans groups, several in attendance recommended that the provision outlining the "designated media area" be worded more precisely so that a situation such as the one Milbank experienced could be avoided, the Army Times reported. But the newly written policy doesn’t appear to reflect any such change.
The Reporters Committee has been involved with the matter from the start.
On May 8, RCFP Executive Director Lucy Dalglish wrote a letter to the Deputy Director of Operations at the cemetery expressing discontent with the tighter restrictions placed on reporters who had permission to be there, and asking for details on the creation and justification of the policy. Arlington Cemetery officials never responded.