Saturday, August 29, 2009

Group: US is monitoring journalists in Afghanistan

Group: US is monitoring journalists in Afghanistan

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The International Federation of Journalists complained Wednesday that news people covering the war in Afghanistan are being monitored by the U.S. military to see if they are sympathetic to the American cause.

The federation said journalists seeking to travel under the protection of U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan may be screened first by an American public relations firm to see if 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 U.S. military, reporting that journalists were being screened by The Rendon Group, a Washington-based public relations company.

The article said the company "gained notoriety" before the 2003 U.S. 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 U.S. military spokeswoman in Kabul said the Rendon reports were only used 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 Lt.Cmdr. 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 non-factor," Sidenstricker said in a telephone interview.

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

Roberta Reardon, President of the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, whose members include broadcast journalists said: "If the military pre-approves only certain journalists to report a specific point of view or agenda, our decisions cannot be made independently or freely, and that threatens our democracy."

Bernie Lunzer, president of the Newspaper Guild, called the screening of journalists "over the line" and said it erodes "the ability to report the truth objectively and without government censorship."

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

On the Net:

http://www.ifj.org/en

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