ICE blogs

September 6, 2009

Concern over screening of journalists embedded with US military

Filed under: Blogroll, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 10:49 am

The Pentagon has contracted a controversial public relations firm to screen journalists wishing to accompany American forces in Afghanistan.

Stars and Stripes, an independent news sources for the US military community, has reported that any reporter seeking to embed with American forces could be subject to a background profile by the Rendon Group, which notoriously helped create the Iraqi National Congress in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That opposition group, reportedly funded by the CIA, provided much of the false information about

Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion. Rendon examines individual reporters’ recent work and determines whether the coverage was ‘positive’, ‘negative’ or ‘neutral’ compared to official objectives. Two months ago, the US military barred a Stars and Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division because the reporter ‘refused to highlight’ good news.

The Pentagon’s screening plans came under severe criticism from groups representing journalists. Amy Mitchell, deputy director forPewResearchCenter’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, commented: ‘That’s the government doing things to put out the message they want to hear and that’s not the way journalism is meant to work in this country.’ Ron Martz, president of the Military Reporters and Editors Association, said: ‘The whole concept of doing profiles on reporters who are going to embed with the military is alarming.

‘But Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a public affairs officer with US Forces Afghanistan inKabul, said: ‘We have not denied access to anyone because of what may or may not come out of their biography. It’s so we know with whom we’re working.’ She said the Rendon reports were generated only after a reporter had been assigned to cover a unit and were done on an ad hoc basis, typically for lesser-known journalists and those new to covering the war inAfghanistan.

The recent merger of US and NATO public affairs outfits inKabul gives more public affairs officers access to the background reports and other services provided by Rendon. The backgrounders are part of the work Rendon does for the Defense Department under its $1.5 million ‘news analysis and media assessment’ contract, according to military and company officials.

The work includes statistical analysis of reporting trends inside and outside of the country and coverage of specific topics such as counter-narcotics operations. It also analyses how effectively the military is communicating its message.

Revealed: the hidden role of fixers

Filed under: Blogroll, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 10:43 am

Fixers play crucial roles in the production of foreign news - yet they are rarely given the credit they are due, according to Colleen Murrell, senior lecturer in journalism at Deakin University, Melbourne.

Writing in the latest edition of the Australian Journalism Review, Murrell argues that correspondents need fixers to achieve relative autonomy in story production. ‘They need them to be their “eyes and ears” on location.’ Based on an analysis of interviews with 20 foreign correspondents and five fixers, she concludes that the foreign correspondent is rarely the sole editorial figure on the road but is, instead, the main actor representing the creative interplay of a succession of fixers or ‘local producers’.

The dangerous situation in Iraq has made the BBC change its policy of hiring local fixers from short-term to long-term contracts, with fixers playing increasingly important editorial roles. ‘As if to underline this change, correspondents and fixers from the BBC have begun to use the term “local producer” rather than fixer.’

In another paper, Gail Phillips, of Murdoch University, in Perth, argues that television news projects an archetypal image of ‘white Australia’ instead of a range of peoples and cultures. ‘More disturbingly, when we do encounter people from manifestly different racial, cultural or religious backgrounds, they tend to be featured as victims or as social deviants, or as in some way “unAustralian”.’

Phillips suggests reporters need to be encouraged to build relations with people from ethnic minorities so they don’t feel like strangers when they are doing a story.

  • For details on subscriptions to the Australian Journalism Review, contact Jolyon Sykes, treasurer of the Journalism Education Association of Australia, PO Box 5, Thirroul NSW 2515, Australia; email:

September 4, 2009

ethics conference in China

An interesting conference coming up on ethics and intercultural communication (with a focus, I think, on western misunderstandings of China), at one of China’s top journalism schools, Wuhan University.

Date: 9-10 December 2009. Details in the attached.

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