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.
See: http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=64348

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