WASHINGTON, March 13, 2018—The Military Reporters and Editors association expressed concern Tuesday about new Air Force public affairs guidance that journalists worry could restrict the public’s access to information about the Air Force.
Air Force public affairs leaders issued guidance on March 1 urging service personnel to be more careful about disclosing unclassified but still sensitive information to the press.
The Air Force’s public affairs personnel would have to be re-trained on guidance governing operational security before embedding media with deployed units or conducting base visits. Interviews are being approved on a case-by-case basis. Written statements are being more closely scrutinized.
In a statement on behalf of the MRE board, John M. Donnelly, the group’s president and a reporter with Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call, said:
“We respect the need for operational security. That’s why there is classified information. We understand, too, that sometimes even unclassified information can convey important details to an enemy.
But security must be balanced against the need to inform the public. We worry that the definition of the kind of unclassified information that can be withheld is subjective. Given the ambiguity about what’s allowed and the message from the top stressing secrecy, officials who are wary about their careers may err on the side of withholding information. And in a worse case scenario, such guidance could be used to justify keeping out of public view data that may simply be embarrassing to the Air Force but that the U.S. citizenry needs to know.
When it comes to unclassified information, the presumption in a democracy should favor disclosure. Ultimately, the proof will be in the execution of this new guidance, and MRE will be closing watching that.”
MRE is a national membership organization based in Washington, D.C. that comprises nearly 300 reporters, editors, public affairs professionals, researchers, academics and students who specialize in national security.