Military facilities

Each branch of the U.S. military has its own broad guidelines regarding media access to bases. In addition, each base often has the authority to implement its own regulations. For that reason, it is best to call the individual base for its policy on press access.

Generally speaking, the military has been more restrictive about access to its facilities since the Sept. 11 attacks, and courts will continue to be deferential to the military regarding access limits. Military posts usually require that journalists be escorted by a military public information officer, which means that access often depends on a scheduled appointment.

Reporters have been denied access to events at military bases. A federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled in 1996 that regulations banning media from covering the arrival at military bases of the remains of soldiers killed abroad do not violate the First Amendment. The Department of Defense argued that freedom of speech and of the press do not create a right of access to government property simply because access could aid in reporting. In ruling for the government, the court said that the restrictions did not place a significant burden on newsgathering and did not "impede acquisition of basic facts, the raw material of a story." (JB Pictures v. Department of Defense)

Military restrictions on the press may extend beyond the borders of permanent facilities. For example, in September 1997 the Pentagon declared a neighborhood in Baltimore a "National Defense Area" after the crash of an Air Force fighter jet. Residents were evacuated after the plane crashed during an air show flyby; they were not allowed to return to their homes for three days. Eight-foot-tall tarpaulins were erected around the plane to shield investigators as they searched for evidence of the cause of the crash, the Baltimore Sun reported. Two days after the crash, reporters and photographers were allowed access to the site although an armed Air Force security squadron stood guard and the plane was roped off to keep reporters at least 60 feet away, according to the Sun.

A 1996 California Attorney General's opinion stated that police may exclude "unauthorized persons," including members of the news media, from military aircraft crash sites and "recover" photographs that may have been taken of classified materials. (66 Op. Att'y Gen. 497)