Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Embedded Reporters Are Newest Casualties of Associated Press Breach

In September the Associated Press published a graphic photo of marine Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard dying in Afghanistan with one leg blown off and the other badly mangled. Both Bernard’s family and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates implored AP not to publish the photo. The pleas fell on deaf ears, and AP published Julie Jacobson's color photo anyway.

Military policy at the time was that military casualties could be photographed at a distance if done respectfully and if the casualty could not be identified.
"Casualties may be covered by embedded media as long as the service member's identity and unit identification is protected from disclosure until OASD-PA has officially released the name. Photography from a respectful distance or from angles at which a casualty cannot be identified is permissible; however, no recording of ramp ceremonies or remains transfers is permitted."
Now, after AP’s breach of common sense and ethics, the military has “clarified” its policy for embedded reporters in eastern Afghanistan. Reporters will not be allowed to photograph or record U.S. casualties.
“Media will not be allowed to photograph or record video of U.S. personnel killed in action,” says a ground rules document issued September 15 by Regional Command East at Bagram Air Field.

This language is new. A version of the same document dated July 23 says, “Media will not be prohibited from covering casualties” as long as a series of conditions are met.
AP’s breach in publishing a clearly identifiable photo despite pleas from Bernard’s family (and trying to deceive the family by showing them only a fuzzy black and white copy of the clear color photo they eventually published) has resulted in a blanket no photo rule for all embedded journalists in eastern Afghanistan.
“The clarification was added to ensure that service members’ privacy and propriety are maintained in situations where media have unique and intimate access as embedded reporters,” Clementson wrote by e-mail in response to questions. “While RC East does everything possible to accommodate an embedded reporters’ ability to cover the war in this region, there is also a command responsibility to account for the best interests of its service members.”

The change occurred after the wide distribution of a photograph of a dying U.S. Marine. On September 4, the Associated Press released a photo of a mortally wounded Marine in Afghanistan.
An interesting aspect to this story is the role of blogs in getting a story out that regular news outlets ignored.
The new Regional Command East rule drew little notice before Friday, when it was reported by the blog of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It has since appeared on other blogs, including one from PDN sibling publication Editor & Publisher.
See previous posts on AP’s publication of the photo of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard here and here.

UPDATE: The military has revised the ban on photos in eastern Afghanistan to allow photos of casualties but with no identifiable features of the casualty:
October 15:

“14. Media will not be prohibited from viewing or filming casualties; however, casualty photographs showing recognizable face, nametag or other identifying feature or item will not be published. In respect to our family members, names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without the service member’s prior written consent. If the service member dies of his wounds, next-of-kin reporting rules then apply. Media should contact the PAO for release advice.”

1 comment:

OregonGuy said...

I'm sure we'll hear that the press is the victim here.