THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Screening of war reporters stirs complaint

Associated Press / August 27, 2009

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BRUSSELS - The International Federation of Journalists complained yesterday that news people covering the war in Afghanistan are being monitored by the US military to see if they are sympathetic to the American cause.

The federation said journalists seeking to travel under the protection of US armed forces in Afghanistan may be screened first by an American public relations firm to see whether their coverage portrays the military in a positive light.

“This profiling of journalists further compromises the independence of media,’’ Aidan White, general secretary of the Brussels-based federation, said in a statement.

“It strips away any pretense that the army is interested in helping journalists to work freely,’’ the federation statement said.

The complaint followed the publication Aug. 24 of an article in the Stars and Stripes, an independent daily covering the US military, reporting that embedded journalists were being screened by The Rendon Group, a Washington-based public relations company.

The article said the company “gained notoriety’’ before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq “for collaborating with the Iraqi National Congress,’’ an opposition group “reportedly funded by the CIA [that] furnished much of the false information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion.’’

A US military spokeswoman in Kabul said the Rendon reports were used only to ascertain what a journalist’s specific interests might be.

“What is important to note is that we do not deny access to journalists wishing to cover operations in Afghanistan based on the tenor of their reporting,’’ said Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker.

“That has never been [Pentagon] policy; in fact, it’s the exact opposite.’’

“Whether their coverage in the past has been positive or negative is a nonfactor,’’ Sidenstricker said in a phone interview.

American affiliates of the international journalists federation joined in protesting the screening.

The International Federation of Journalists represents more than 600,000 journalists in 123 countries.