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Journalists prevented from covering arriving military caskets

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering    

Journalists prevented from covering arriving military caskets

  • The Department of Defense ordered airbases to enforce rules preventing media coverage of deceased soldiers returning to the U.S.

Oct. 30, 2003 — Months after the Bush administration declared an end to major combat in Iraq, flag-draped caskets continue to arrive at military airbases while the Pentagon continues to restrict the media from showing it.

In March, the Pentagon issued a directive to U.S. military bases announcing that its policy against allowing media coverage of the unloading of military caskets was to be enforced, according to an article in The Washington Post last week.

The military-wide policy dates back to November 2000, when the Pentagon announced on the eve of the Gulf War that other military bases were to adopt Dover (Del.) Air Force Base’s policy. Dover, the main arrival point for caskets and the airbase with the biggest military mortuary, has had restrictions against media coverage of the unloading of caskets since 1991.

Doug Clawson, managing editor of Stars and Stripes, says the Bush administration doesn’t want reporters to write about or film the return of dead U.S. soldiers out of fear it will generate public opposition to the war and ongoing military presence in Iraq.

“I think that they think it may be damaging for the public to see what the residue of war can be,” said Clawson, whose independent daily newspaper is funded by the Department of Defense and read by military personnel and their families.

The number of U.S. soldiers killed since President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1 has exceeded the number of U.S. casualties during the six-week war, 117-114.

Although the media is not allowed to attend the arrival of the caskets, a Department of Defense spokesman said reporters are allowed to attend the government-organized memorial services. It is more meaningful and productive for journalists to attend memorial services, he said, because the public will get a “greater appreciation” for the victim.

Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at The Poynter Institute in Florida, disagrees with the DOD’s policy. Clark said although he preferred that the media did not cover such a grievous event, the media should be entitled to make its own news judgements.

The coverage of caskets arriving at airbases, said Clark, “should be a matter of self-restrain, rather than government control.”


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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