From the Winter 2003 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 16.
Statement of Principles: News Coverage of Combat
The following principles were adopted in 1992 following the Gulf War by representatives of major American news media and the Pentagon to be followed in any future combat situation involving American troops.
Principles that should govern future arrangements for news coverage from the battlefield of the U.S. military in combat:
1. Open and independent reporting will be the principal means of coverage of U.S. military operations.
2. Pools are not to serve as the standard of covering U.S. military operations. But pools may sometimes provide the only feasible means of early access to a military operation. Pools should be as large as possible and disbanded at the earliest opportunity — within 24 to 36 hours when possible. The arrival of early-access pools will not cancel the principle of independent coverage for journalists already in the area.
3. Even under conditions of open coverage, pools may be appropriate for specific events, such as those at extremely remote locations or where space is limited.
4. Journalists in a combat zone will be credentialed by the U.S. military and will be required to abide by a clear set of military security ground rules that protect U.S. forces and their operations. Violations of the ground rules can result in suspensions of the credentials and expulsion from the combat zone of the journalists involved. News organizations will make their best efforts to assign experienced journalists to combat operations and to make them familiar with U.S. military operations.
5. Journalists will be provided access to all major military units. Special Operations restrictions may limit access in some cases.
6. Military public affairs officers should act as liaisons but should not interfere with the reporting process.
7. Under conditions of open coverage, field commanders will permit journalists to ride on military vehicles and aircraft whenever feasible. The military will be responsible for the transportation of pools.
8. Consistent with its capabilities, the military will supply PAOs with facilities to enable timely, secure, compatible transmission of pool material and will make these facilities available whenever possible for filing independent coverage. In cases when government facilities are unavailable, journalists will, as always, file by any other means available. The military will not ban communications systems operated by news organizations, but electromagnetic operational security in battlefield situations may require limited restrictions on the use of such systems.
9. These principles will apply as well to the operations of the standing DOD National Media Pool System.
Accompanying Statement on Security Review
Note: The news organizations originally proposed 10 principles. One dealt with security review and said: “News material –words and pictures — will not be subject to security review.” The Pentagon proposed instead a principle that said: “Military operational security may require review of news material for conformance to reporting ground rules.” This fundamental disagreement could not be bridged, and representatives of the press and the military issued their separate views on this matter, as follows.
News Media Statement
The news organizations are convinced that journalists covering U.S. forces in combat must be mindful at all times of operational security and the safety of American lives. News organizations strongly believe that journalists will abide by clear operational security ground rules. Prior security review is unwarranted and unnecessary.
We believe that the record in Operation Desert Storm, Vietnam and other wars supports the conclusion that journalists in the battlefield can be trusted to act responsibly.
We will challenge prior security review in the event that the Pentagon attempts to impose it in some future military operation.
Department of Defense Statement
The military believes that it must retain the option to review news material, to avoid the inadvertent inclusion in news reports of information that could endanger troop safety or the success of a mission.
Any review system would be imposed only when operational security is a consideration — for example, the very early stages of a contingency operation or sensitive periods in combat. If security review were imposed, it would be used for one very limited purpose: to prevent disclosure of information which, if published, would jeopardize troop safety or the success of a military operation. Such a review system would not be used to seek alterations in any other aspect of content or to delay timely transmission of news material.
Security review would be performed by the military in the field, giving the commander representative the opportunity to address potential ground rule violations. The reporter would either change the story to meet ground rule concerns and file it, or file it and flag for the editor whatever passages were in dispute. The editor would then call the Pentagon to give the military one last chance to talk about potential ground rule violations.
The Defense Department believes that the advantage of this system is that the news organization would retain control of the material throughout the review and filing process. The Pentagon would have two chances to address potential operational security violations, but the news organization would make the final decision about whether to publish the disputed information. Under Principle Four, violation of ground rules could result in expulsion of the journalist involved from the combat zone.
Adopted March 11, 1992