Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Handbook
Appendix F - Engagement With the Media
Provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) have an important role to play to ensure that progress is being made and the benefits are communicated to local communities, to the Iraqi people as a whole, and to international audiences. Having an Iraqi face associated with success is key to building the legitimacy of local governance, which greatly assists in building and maintaining public understanding, acceptance, and support for the work of the United States, international community, nongovernmental organizations, the government of Iraq, and U.S. Forces-Iraq (USF-I) - both in Iraq and more widely. Without this support, both in Iraq and among the international public, PRTs cannot achieve operational success. The media is the primary conduit to both these audiences. The key to success is to know and follow the latest U.S. Embassy press guidance.
To help convince people that PRTs and the coalition are making a real difference, it is essential that PRTs are able to identify examples of success; develop these into useable media products; and disseminate the information through local, regional, and international media outlets as well as through face-to-face contacts with key local leaders and influencers. This procedure requires close coordination with key delivery partners and developing excellent relationships with the media through regular, personal contact at a senior level, which also help associate PRTs with positive outcomes.
While a proactive approach to media relations is important, so is the ability to counter negative coverage of U.S. military activities. PRTs should monitor media outlets or use other U.S. government assets to monitor and maintain effective situational awareness of media reporting trends and be prepared to rebut inaccurate reporting promptly when necessary. Interpreters and locally employed civilians can be used to assist in this regard, but such statements must be in keeping with the U.S. public affairs policy.
Provincial Reconstruction Team Media Guidelines
The policies, programs, and practices of U.S. Embassy-Baghdad are the continuing focus of intense worldwide news media coverage. The public affairs section has the lead in this effort and has authority over the public affairs function of all embassy elements under chief of mission authority.
All inquiries, requests for comments, or interviews from the news media directed to the embassy and embassy personnel should be referred to the U.S. Embassy-Baghdad press office (e-mail: BaghdadPressOffice@state.gov). The press office will research, coordinate, and clear responses.
The ambassador is the primary on-the-record speaker for the embassy. After the ambassador, the Counselor for Public Affairs, the spokesperson, and other embassy officers are sometimes designated for a specific purpose to speak for the embassy. This designation is neither automatic nor permanent. Officers may be asked to provide information on the record, attributable to the embassy and the spokesperson by name; on background, attributable to a U.S. official; or off the record, not attributable.
The public affairs section compiles all media guidance for the embassy. Press releases, fact sheets, Web content, and media talking points produced by any embassy element for dissemination to the Western public or Western press must be authorized by the public affairs section after being cross-cleared with other concerned sections.
For clearance of press items, including articles for State Magazine or hometown newspapers, the author should contact the public affairs section at BaghdadPressOffice@state.gov to obtain clearance through the State Department's Bureau of Public Affairs.
Articles and imagery created by embassy employees for external publication always require pre-publication clearance in Washington, DC. The public affairs section is available to assist in obtaining such clearances. If the subject matter relates to official duties, the public affairs section will generally consult the employee's supervisor prior to clearing the article or imagery.
Types of interviews
- On the record. All that is said may be quoted directly and attributed to the official by name and title.
- On background. What is said can be reported but not attributed. The official's remarks may be quoted directly or paraphrased and are attributed to a "State Department official" or "administration official," as determined by the official.
- On deep background. The source cannot be quoted or identified in any manner, not even as "an unnamed source." The information is usually couched in such phrases as "it is understood that" or "it has been learned." The information may be used to help present the story or gain a better understanding of the subject, but the knowledge is that of the reporter, not the source. No information provided may be used in the story. The information is only for the reporter's background knowledge.
- Off the record. The information is provided to provide a confidential explanation, not for publication. Nothing of what the journalist is told may be used in the story. The information is meant only for the education of the reporter.
Specific guidance for interviews
All PRT personnel are reminded that all official contacts with the press must be approved in advance by the public affairs section. All calls from any media representatives should always be referred immediately to the public affairs section without providing any additional comment.
Any interview - whether on-the-record, on background, or off the record - must be approved in advance by the public affairs section. For any approved interview, the public affairs section can provide a press officer to sit in and tape the actual exchange to ensure accurate reporting.
- Interviewees, whether on the record or on background, should avoid being drawn into commenting on policies or subjects outside their immediate area of responsibility.
- Journalists are always "on duty." Be aware that a journalist may well draw on any exchange, even those that take place in an informal setting.
- In general, avoid making "off-the-record" comments to the news media unless you have specific instruction. Never e-mail "off-the-record" comments in any case.
- Journalists are not U.S. government employees and are not entitled to see or receive classified or administratively controlled information.
Provincial Reconstruction Teams and Other Offices under the Office of Provincial Affairs
Field offices of the embassy under the Office of Provincial Affairs will also engage with the media. These field posts should contact the public affairs section for instructions if they are asked for an interview or comment by the U.S. and significant international media or if the media contact is likely to result in embassy involvement later on. PRT media engagement with local Iraqi media is at the discretion of the PRT leader and the public diplomacy officer and does not need to be referred to U.S. Embassy-Baghdad if the subject to be discussed is PRT specific. Specific questions from field posts regarding media relations may be addressed to the public affairs section PRT Regional Coordinator for Public Diplomacy.
Department of Defense Public Affairs
All questions from the media on matters related to Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I, currently designated as USFOR-I) operations should be referred to the MNF-I press desk at 240-553-0581, extension 3747 (DSN: 318-239-3747) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Specific guidance regarding embedded media is available from the Combined Press Information Center press or e-mail email@example.com.
If employees are contacted by their hometown media while on duty in Iraq, all of the policies above apply. Requests to give interviews to hometown media will generally be favorably considered, but the requests must be submitted to/through the public affairs section and the appropriate office in the State Department's Public Affairs Bureau for approval. Such approval must be sought well in advance. When approved, the interviews should focus on personal experiences and not on policy recommendations or topics outside of the employee's expertise.
For more information or guidance on a specific request, please contact the public affairs section at BaghdadPressOffice@state.gov.
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