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New rules limit use of soldiers' words in Bosnia

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New rules limit use of soldiers' words in Bosnia05/20/96 BOSNIA-- Reporters staying with military units in Bosnia for more than…

New rules limit use of soldiers’ words in Bosnia

05/20/96

BOSNIA– Reporters staying with military units in Bosnia for more than 24 hours can no longer quote soldiers by name unless they receive individual consent in advance, under new rules announced by the Pentagon in late April. The rules, prompted by publication of an officer’s comment that “Croatians are racist,” state that a reporter “should consider most information received as background (not to be attributed to an individual by name).”

Previously, the rules instructed reporters to obtain consent to use any soldier’s name but said nothing about quotations. Under the new guidelines, reporters can not quote a source unless they ask permission and then inform the source what quotations will be used. However, “one-on-one” conversations are to be considered “on the record.” A soldier has the right to retract direct quotes at any time if he realizes after the conversation “that he gave erroneous information,” according to the rules.

The policy applies to “embedded media” — reporters who live and travel with U.S. troops for a time period ranging from 24 hours up to a month. Those reporters who are with the units for less than 24 hours are allowed to treat all comments as “on the record.”

According to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon, who said he proposed the new policy in conjunction with commanding officers in Bosnia, the Pentagon was facing resistance from units who did not want “embedded” journalists to stay with them. The new policy was prompted to ease this resistance, Bacon said.

“It was not reasonable to expect … anybody in the units to be on guard and talking on the record 24 hours a day in all situations,” Bacon said in a Department of Defense news briefing, stressing that those in a combat unit are not trained to deal with the press.

He said that reporters would still be able to use quoted material, as long as certain “ground rules” are established first between the reporter and soldier. “I think it’s just a matter of fundamental courtesy that people be given a right to decide whether they’re going to talk for a quotation or not,” said Bacon.

Soldiers and reporters in Bosnia are reportedly referring to the new rule as “the Ricks rule,” after Wall Street Journal reporter Tom Ricks wrote a late December article that quoted controversial comments by U.S. Army Col. Gregory Fontenot, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division of Bosnia. Colonel Fontenot reportedly told two black soldiers that “Croatians are racist,” prompting an internal investigation of officer, according to the Washington Times. (Eagle Base Joint Information Bureau, APO AE 09789, April 25, 1996 Weekly Message for Commanders)