Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wire Update: Military Admits Monitoring Reporters' Work in Afghan War

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2009 -- Newswire services this evening reported that the U.S. military in Afghanistan acknowledged Thursday that it pays a private company to produce profiles on journalists covering the war.

The Associated Press said that despite a report showing the company rated some reporters on their work, officials denied that the information is used to decide which media members travel with military units.

Pentagon officials are responding to a recent series of stories in the Stars and Stripes newspaper that said journalists were being screened by a Washington-based public relations firm, The Rendon Group, under a $1.5 million contract with the military.

The newspaper, which is also partly funded by the Defense Department, said it had obtained documents showing Rendon graded journalists' work as "positive," "neutral" or "negative" and suggested ways to make the coverage more positive, AP said.

AP noted the following details:
"U.S. Forces Afghanistan has never denied access to any reporter based upon their past stories," said a statement issued Thursday by Army Col. Wayne M. Shanks, a military spokesman in Afghanistan.

Shanks said the Rendon contract provides a number of services, including news releases and "talking points" as well as reports on media accuracy. The information is used partly to assess how well the military is doing in getting information out, Shanks said.

He said the military gets information on journalists, including biographical details and recent topics they have covered, to prepare commanders for interviews. A sample profile released Thursday included information on reporters under the headings of professional "Background," "Coverage" and "Perspective, Style and Tone."

Rendon has said a small part of its contract involves preparing profiles of reporters preparing to travel with U.S. troops. These reviews are done only upon request and are intended to give commanders a better idea of what topics the reporters embedded with the unit are most likely to ask about, according to Rendon.

In a statement posted on its Web site, Rendon said it provides analysis of news content focused on themes such as stability and security, counterinsurgency and operational results.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters that he had not "seen anything that violates any policies." But he also appeared to question why the activity was needed, AP said.

A number of reporters in the Pentagon and elsewhere are demanding to view their profiles. The International Federation of Journalists also complained about the policy Wednesday.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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