Mar 10, 2007
Controlling The Message
The U.S. military asserted that an American soldier was justified in erasing journalists' footage of the aftermath of a suicide bombing and shooting in Afghanistan last week, saying publication could have compromised a military investigation and led to false public conclusions.
The comments came Friday in response to an Associated Press protest that a U.S. soldier had forced two freelance journalists working for the AP to delete photos and video at the scene of violence March 4 in Barikaw, eastern Afghanistan. At least eight Afghans were killed and 34 wounded.
"Investigative integrity is one circumstance when civil and military authorities will reluctantly exercise the right to control what a journalist is permitted to document," Col. Victor Petrenko, chief of staff to the top U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, said in a letter Friday. ...
"When untrained people take photographs or video, there is a very real risk that the images or videography will capture visual details that are not as they originally were," he said. "If such visual media are subsequently used as part of the public record to document an event like this, then public conclusions about such a serious event can be falsely made."
The AP also raised concerns about the military's efforts to restrict its coverage of the Feb. 15 crash of a U.S. helicopter in southern Zabul province in which eight soldiers were killed and 14 wounded. Two AP journalists and their vehicle were searched extensively in an effort to prevent footage of the wreckage getting out.
Petrenko justified that action on the grounds of "operational security" exercised when "equipment, aircraft or component parts are classified."
He maintained that the U.S. military had no intention of curbing freedom of the press in Afghanistan.