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Media and Military Operations
Recently there has been much debate about the effect of media reports on military conduct. Most of this has to do with the security that the military needs to conduct their operations and the dangerous are some of the reports that the media sometimes leaks out. A recent article found in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy argued that First Amendment freedom was compromised because the military had such strong reviews when dealing with the security of media reports in both the Persian Gulf War and Operation Enduring Freedom (Lee, 2002). The article was fair enough to indicate that the judicial proceedings of the Supreme Court really did not relate to the things that happen in military operations during a war. However, it was also concerned that stopping these individuals in the media was harmful to free expression but not as much as punishing individuals in the media that had already acquired specific information (Lee, 2002).
There had been previous comments made about the security reviews of various information that the media had acquired and whether it was acceptable in order for the military to make sure that sensitive information was not released and that the amount of information and scope of that information released to the public was kept within the parameters of what would be safe as relating to national security (Lee, 2002). It is no secret that the military does limit access to the battlefield for the media (Nation, 1991). Some of this is naturally for safety reasons for the media members involved and the rest of it has to do with safety for the military individuals that are working on that field. For the most part, individuals in the media do their job with a great deal of skill and tact but it is not impossible to assume that there would be individuals in the media that would provide sensitive information to those that should not have it simply because they would say what they choose to report and provide too much detail (Nation, 1991). There is also a certain amount of sensationalism in the media and this could cause information to be reported that should have been kept secret. It is these types of issues of national security that the military is striving to avoid by not allowing as many media personnel on the battlefield and by attempting to screen what information they receive before they can pass it on to anyone else (Nation, 1991).
Many cases have indicated that the government often limits access to much of the military operations where there is a definite and important reason for doing this (Globe, 1982). These cases also discuss the Constitution and how this document finds the withholding of military information and the screening of press information before it goes to the public acceptable practice for the military in wartime. Screening what the media sends to the public has been a tradition in the military for quite some time and this is largely because of national security concerns (Globe, 1982). There is much information that military individuals might accidentally impart to a journalist and it is the desire for military to avoid this and to keep individuals in their charge in this country as safe as possible. Combat journalism is very important as it allows individuals who are not on the front lines to have an idea of what it is actually like for the soldiers (Globe, 1982). These individuals in the media are willing to go and risk their lives to report this information to others. This is certainly worth recognizing and has merit, however, that does not allow them the freedom to compromise the nation's security simply because they have an interesting story and want to get recognition for it. There are those that are in favor of the security reviews that the military conducts before press information is allowed to go public and that those that are opposed to it (Lee, 2002).
However, many that are opposed to it suggest laying down specific ground rules for the media and insisting that they follow them (Lee, 2002). Trusting the media to do this is actually not a good idea. This is not to imply that all media individuals are untrustworthy. However, most reporters are out to get a story and they will say and do what they need to in order to get that story. They would not deliberately attempt to compromise national security, but they may inadvertently do so in revealing specific information in that story. From the standpoint of security, trusting media to follow ground rules is actually more damaging than the security reviews ever could be (Lee, 2002). Sticking with a consistent policy for the media during wartime activities and still allowing them to have as much access as is reasonably possible should be the basic plan that military will involve themselves with and has basically been the plan that they have stuck to in the past. Sometimes this causes conflict between the desire of the media to report accurately and completely what they see and the need for the military to keep sensitive and secure information to themselves (Lee, 2002). The officer in command in that area at the time must use his own discretion to determine how much information should be given out to media and whether security will be compromised by this. It then becomes this individual's job to ensure that the security of this country is not compromise and that those who want to read about the military activities and see it on the news still get the chance. During the Persian Gulf War there were many restrictions on what the press could and could not say in their reports. Because of this, the media brought forth a lawsuit against the military seeking relief and judgment so that they could print what they wanted to print regarding military issues and what they saw the battlefield (Nation, 1991).
The argument was based around the idea of the First Amendment and that the military was violating this amendment by prohibiting the individuals in the media from gathering the news that they saw. The district court would not dismiss the case, nor would they agree to grant any kind of judgment. At that point, the court decided to table the issue and wait until there was another military operation (Nation, 1991). They felt that they did not have the kind of information to determine the exact guidelines that should relate to how much access the media can have to military operations overseas. Because of this, the media felt as though they did not get a fair deal and when the war in 2003 came about this afforded the courts the further military action that they were discussing and requiring to make a determination of what kind of guidelines must accompany the media when they go overseas and deal with wartime activities (Nation, 1991).
There have been several cases that have dealt with access to the battlefield by members of the press and none of these have been conclusive. Many still argue that the constitutional right of access remains and the media should be allowed to report whatever they see and hear on the battlefield (Kenealey, 1992). Branzburg v. Hayes was one of the many court cases in which the Supreme Court made the statement that First Amendment freedom of the press did extend to protection for being able to seek out news (Branzburg, 1972). However, even though the court cited with the media on this point they also pointed out that any reporter could be required to reveal to a grand jury any confidential source that he or she had used because the government must investigate any crimes that it finds and it has a compelling interest to do so (Branzburg, 1972). This case was very encouraging to those in the media who wanted right of access to the battlefield. However, it was not the only case that was brought to the courts.
In Pell v. Procunier (Pell, 1974) and Saxbe v. Washington Post (Saxbe, 1974) the court looked at things a little bit differently. In these it was pointed out that constitutional amendments did not require anyone in the government to allow the media to have access to any information that the general public could not also obtain. Naturally, the general public could not obtain information about military operations overseas unless the press provided them with this information. Because of this, these cases believed that the media did not have unrestricted access to the battlefield that the Branzburg case seemed to give them. Both the Pell and the Saxbe case upheld previous governmental regulations which limited the media's access to prisoners. Most of these cases dealt with access to prisoners and county jails, but they cleared the way for cases that eventually worked their way around to military operations (Lee, 2002). From county jails and prisoners the court got around to access by…[continue]
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