Peacekeeping operations are carried out under the full glare of public scrutiny. By using satellites and modern communications technology, the press is able to distribute reports and pictures faster than the news can be released by the peacekeeping force. Incidents, sometimes embellished or slanted toward a partisan viewpoint, are screened on television the same day and in the press the next morning to excite audiences in the countries that are parties to a dispute and their allies.
The role of the press during delicate negotiations is indeed of incalculable importance. When information is withheld, journalists fall back on speculation. Such speculation, although usually inaccurate, is often near enough to the truth to be accepted as such by large sections of public opinion, and even by governments. Belligerents may sometimes find it advantageous to leak part of a story to the press to build up public support for their own position. On occasion, such activities can grow into a fully orchestrated press campaign. In such circumstances, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the UN to set the record straight without destroying its neutrality.
Units may encounter a media press pool. Often civilian reporters are mixed with military journalists. Open and independent reporting is the principal means of coverage.
TOPIC: Operations Security and the Media
DISCUSSION: The media will be present on any future battlefield. The media plays a major role in keeping soldiers and family members informed and, to a great extent, how the American and world public perceive the operation. This phenomenon can greatly enhance the mission or it can have the opposite effect. The challenge for the Army's leaders at all levels is to learn to deal with media and to implement effective command information programs.
LESSON(S): Units should develop a list of rules for dealing with the media. Some recommended rules are:
- No correspondent is authorized access to classified information.
- Correspondents inside controlled areas that are not accessible to the public must be escorted. Such areas include military airfields, battle positions, assembly areas, command posts, and other areas designated by the on-site commander.
- Tactical and operational information will not be released.
- Off-the-record statements will not be made in briefings or discussions with media members. Public or media knowledge of any classified activity associated with an operation does not imply or mean that information is unclassified or may be released or confirmed.
- Reporters must adhere to unit standards of noise and light discipline.
- If escorted in pools, reporters will not stray away from escorts.
- Reporters will not photograph recognizable dead Americans or allied soldiers, charts, maps, supply depots, or EW assets.
- Units should review news copy and all information which may endanger troop safety or mission success.
- Commanders may deny reporters requests to accompany military elements on a combat mission if the commander assesses that participation will jeopardize mission success.
- Conflicts between unit commanders and reporters on interpretation of ground rules will be addressed to the chain of command.
- Reporters must be reminded that their personal security is not a primary concern of military commanders.
- Review CALL Newsletter No. 92-7, Dec 92, In the Spotlight - Media and the Tactical Commander.
TOPIC: Preparation for Press Conferences
DISCUSSION: The Army story is best told through contact with solders. Encourage media to see what soldiers are doing and to talk to them about their jobs. Impressions are important. The lack of planning for press conferences can lead to imbalanced coverage. This coverage can hurt soldier morale. Command information programs can be used to keep pace with the media news reports and to keep soldiers informed. Speculation in civilian news reports has always fostered rumors among soldiers and detracted from the credibility of the command information program.
- Rehearse before speaking to the press. Military spokesmen should be familiar with the PAO guidance. If time permits, role play of the media may include the asking of "tough questions." The term "No comment" should only be used as a last resort. An alternative is to say, "We don't discuss rules of engagement because it may jeopardize the safety of our soldiers."
- Prepare a short general mission statement on why you are deployed. Select three or four main points which you wish to present. Allow the media access to soldiers that are willing to be interviewed.
- Ensure that soldiers are in the proper uniform when interviewed.
- Identify a location in advance for the press to take still photos and video tapes. Make sure everyone in the area knows that the media is there.
- Consider all conversations with the media as on the record. Anyone can request that their names not be used, especially when providing background information that is attributable to an army spokesman or a participating soldier.
- Commanders should remember that the press has power. Use it to pressure the belligerent sides.
Chapter XIII: Combat Service Support (CSS)
Appendix A: Area Handbooks
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