Thursday, July 02, 2009

Two Stories of (Military) Censorship

The first story deals with the Joint Guam Program Office (JGPO) which is the group in charge of organizing and publicizing the transfer of Marines from Okinawa to Guam over the next few years. This story came out several months ago, and dealt with JGPO allegedly cutting off all media access to the Marianas Variety (most prominently to the Guam Industry Forum III). The stated reasons was due to repeated inaccuracies in their reporting and taking press releases and other documents from JGPO and publishing them out of context. The Marianas Variety made a big deal (as they should) about being "banned" from access to the event and possibly to military information about Guam, although by the next day everything seemed to be in order again and the ban or censorship issue was quietly dropped by just about everyone.

A JGPO or a military ban on the Marianas Variety is to be expected. Whereas the Variety's main competition on Guam The Pacific Daily News considers itself to be a "real" newspaper, with stateside corporate and editorial connections, and a long illustrious history of feeding the people of Guam lessons in Americanization and citizenship, the Variety seems to be machalapon to put it nicely. The Pacific Daily News has a very clear ideological filter. It is anti-government of Guam, it is pro-business, it is anti-Chamorro activist and pro-military. It will deal with Chamorro issues so long as their is a profit angle, some business sense to it, but it stays away from dealing with Chamorro issues in any political sense. The adherence to this clear ideological lens becomes a key part of the sophistication of the PDN. That it knows what is and isn't news, that it can set an agenda for Guam, that it knows what Guam really needs and has no problems with putting it out there.

The lens provides a sleek and easy way of determining all of these things. Activists protesting or criticizing, that's old news, they haven't had anything new to say in more than ten years, its all just noise, no agenda, no ideas, just complaining. On the other hand, a businessman saying that the military buildup is good for Guam, is treated as if we have just looked into the face of God and he has smiled back gently at us and told us quoting some comforting Bob Marley lyrics that everything is going to be fine and good. The word which best describes the PDN from this perspective is clarity. The world is clear and simple ideologically. The island may be in serious trouble todu i tiempo, all the time, but we are always told through the news stories covered, what is important, and can divide that importance into the camps of who is at fault for ruining the island, and who are those we can rely on to fix it. Hayi manggaihinasso yan hayi mantaihinasso? Hayi mama'titinas adilanto yan hayi umi'isao? Hayi fina'maolek yan hayi atkagueti?

The Variety on the other hand is a portrait of ideological inconsistency and lack of clarity. The Marianas Variety publishes far more stories which are critical of the military, the Federal Government, and also covers Chamorro political struggles, but it doesn't do this out of some ideological lens that states that activists are good, military is bad. The Marianas Variety is a newspaper which constantly responds to whoever is talking to it and whatever stories are out there. This can mean however, that "stories" that it writes are simply press releases from organizations or people. It can mean that a story only takes one side of an issue. But ultimately is means that the world of Guam in the Marianas Variety is as complex as the world actually is. You can see the newspaper pro-business one day, anti-business the next. Apparently liberal one day, stark-raving mad conservative the next. Pro-Chamorro, anti-Chamorro. Anti-Gov Guam and then anti-Federales. If you ever want to see this in action, check out their editorial pages. Those things are literally insane in a borderline schizophrenic sense. Editorials from The New York Times, Townhall.com, arch conservatives, daily letters to the editor from Matt Phillips and Felix Aguon, columns by Guam Senators, a column by Dave Davis, columns by two Variety reporters. There is no pretense of a liberal or a conservative side, and there is no mirroring of the PDNs strategy of simply asserting that whatever we put here is the right side, its just a mess of different opinions.

The military and JGPO would be right being suspicious of the Marianas Variety, since they don't possess the sophistication of the PDN and therefore constantly let through opinions and stories that they "shouldn't." They sometimes reflect mindsets which are more critical of the military or the United States, and those are precisely the things in a colony such as Guam today which need to be forgotten, edited out or neutralized.

So that temporary ban is to be expected, the second however is much less so. The second one comes from CNN and covers the fact that the military paper Stars and Stripes is accusing the Department of Defense of censorship in Afghanistan and Iraq!

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Variety Banned by JGPO
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
by Jennifer Naylor Gesick
Marianas Variety News

THE Joint Guam Project Office yesterday barred the entry of the Marianas Variety staff to all three venues hosting the Guam Industry Forum III. Two Variety reporters and a staff photographer were told by officials at the check-in tables at the Sheraton, Hilton and Marriot hotels that the Variety has been “banned” from attending the event.

Onsite industry forum personnel notified the reporting staff that the ban was on a “federal level” and was issued as a “government order” from U.S. Marine Corp Capt. Neil Ruggiero with the Joint Guam Project Office. JGPO is the liaison between Guam and the military regarding the military buildup.

The ban was in effect in all venues, as confirmed by Variety reporters in the field. Press passes were printed for every media company on island, except for the Variety.

When reached for comment yesterday afternoon, Ruggiero refused to call the restriction a “ban,” and claimed that the forum personnel were subcontracted and were not speaking directly for JGPO.

Registration fee
Ruggiero argued that Variety could have attended the event as a business if the publishers had registered with the forum.

“Marianas Variety was given the same opportunity as anyone else, they just chose not to be paying registrants, [Pacific Daily News] chose to pay and they were allowed access,” he said.

“I had to pay to work, everybody has to pay to be there,” Ruggiero added.

However, any media covering the event was allowed in free.

In response to claims of a violation of the freedom of the press in restricting access to the forum, Ruggiero responded that “the press who only stays one session is allowed in free.” That accommodation was not extended to the Variety.

Ruggiero also said that a Variety columnist was given access to represent the paper.

Variety columnist Jayne Flores confirmed that she was given a pass, but Ruggiero later said, “I told her she could not come as Marianas Variety or write any news for them.”

Firing range
The “ban” stemmed from a story titled “DoD’s plan to build off-base ranges confirmed,” published in the Jan. 15 issue of the Variety, in which the JGPO was reported to have confirmed speculations on the Department of Defense’s plan to build firing ranges on Route 15 in Yigo, commonly known as “the back road to Andersen.”

“These are small arms ranges that are not new to Guam; rifle and pistol ranges as well as machine gun ranges that are direct fire weapons and primarily used for the annual qualifications of Marines,” the Variety quoted a written article submitted by Ruggiero on behalf of the author Lt. Col. Rudy Kube, JGPO’s operations director.

Prior to publication of the story, the Variety editor informed Ruggiero that Kube’s piece would be rewritten as a staff-story. He did not object to the request, but protested when the article was published.

Ruggiero has since informed the paper’s staff that Variety would no longer have any access to any JGPO officials.

Out of context
“Your paper took an editorial out of context. In doing so your readers did not get the full story,” Ruggiero said. “We chose to no longer deal with your paper.”

Ruggiero denied sending a response to the editors, which is commonly done to properly address such issues. “No, I did not write a rebuttal letter. I wanted Amier [Younis] (Variety operations manager) to reprint the original letter as a whole,” he said.

Ruggiero could not grant Variety’s request for access as of press time. “I will have to talk to my boss about that.”

Expressing her opinion on the media ban, Sen. Judy Guthertz, in a letter promptly written yesterday to JGPO director Maj. Gen. David Bice, USMC (Ret.), stressed the importance of granting all media companies equal treatment.

She wrote, “I am writing to express my disappointment that representatives of the federal government have reportedly prohibited a member of Guam’s media, specifically the Marianas Variety, from covering the Guam Industry Forum.

“I understand that JGPO may have a problem or problems with the content of one or more of the Variety’s news stories or editorials. Whatever the case may be, I urge you to strive to work out those problems with the editors and publisher, and not prevent members of the media to cover an important part of what will likely be our island’s more important story this year,” she told Bice.

The letter concluded: “Multiple media voices can be of great value to a community, especially one as small as Guam, where coverage from different sources can often help to provide a variety of points of view.”

*********************

Stars and Stripes accuses U.S. military of censorship in Iraq
June 24, 2009

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Stars and Stripes, the newspaper that receives U.S. military funding to help it cover and get distributed free to American forces in war zones, complained Tuesday of censorship by military authorities in Iraq.

In a story on its Web site, the newspaper known as Stripes said the military violated a congressional mandate of editorial independence by rejecting a request to embed reporter Heath Druzin with the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, which is attempting to secure the city of Mosul.

The military cited various problems in Druzin's reporting on previous embed assignments with units of the division, according to the story.

One example noted by the military was a March 8 story that said many Mosul residents would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces, the Stripes Web site said.

"Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news," Maj. Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin's embed request, according to the Stripes story.

A military official in Iraq defended the move to turn down the reporter's request.

"U.S. Army units in Iraq remain committed to the media embed program and appreciate objective media reporting," said Lt. Col. David H. Patterson Jr., a spokesman for Multi-National Corps-Iraq. "The relationship that Druzin established with the command during a previous embed did not facilitate being invited back."

Patterson added that Druzin was welcome to embed in another unit and that the 1st Cavalry Division was open to having a reporter other than Druzin.

"Accusations of censorship are without merit," Patterson said.

Other allegations against Druzin by the military included that he used quotes out of context, behaved unprofessionally and persisted in asking Army officials for permission to use a computer to file a story during a communications blackout period, the Stripes story said.

Terry Leonard, editorial director at Stars and Stripes, denied the Army's allegations, calling Druzin's previous reporting on the division accurate and fair.

"To simply say 'you can't send him because we didn't like what he wrote' is unacceptable," Leonard said. He noted that Congress set up Stripes as an independent newspaper so that "no commander can decide what news troops in the field receive."

Army officials have offered to allow a different Stripes reporter to embed with the division or to allow Druzin to embed with a different Army unit in Kirkuk, Leonard said.

Stripes rejected those offers because the military has no right to deflect coverage from Mosul or decide which Stripes reporter covers its operations, Leonard said.

"To deny Mr. Druzin an embed under the reasons stated by Maj. Bellard is a direct challenge to the editorial independence of this newspaper," Leonard wrote in his appeal to the decision, according to the Stripes story. "That independence is mandated by Congress. The denial of the embed constitutes an attempt at censorship and it is also an illegal prior restraint under federal law. ... The military cannot tell us what stories to write or not write."

Stripes receives close to $10 million a year from the Department of Defense to help defray the costs of covering "contingency" operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the publishing and distribution of roughly 85,000 free newspapers a day, Leonard said.

The newspaper receives additional government subsidies, with the total amounting to less than half of its budget, he said. Other revenue comes from ad sales and circulation at permanent U.S. military bases and elsewhere, Leonard said.

CNN has been denied embed requests on occasion but never because of the past conduct of individual journalists. The reasons have almost always involved logistical details involving security and force coverage.

2 comments:

kob said...

That is an exceptional analysis about these publications. The JGPO ban on the Marianas Variety is not something the military could easily get away with stateside.

It's imperative for the broader community of professional reporters and media organizations to show solidarity with the Variety staff and register a protest.

I'm wondering about the JGPO for entirely different reasons. The Washington Post had a story House Would Sharply Raise Cost of Guam Project
that cited, without question, a JGPO claim that construction wages on Hawaii are 250% higher than those on Guam. There's language in a defense bill that pegs prevailing wages for build-up related construction work to Hawaii's. I did some earlier research on it and found nothing close to a 250% difference in the wage data. Moreover, another important measure might be cost of living to Guam. I have to wonder if if the JGPO is trying to set a specific agenda.

I hope the staff at the Pacific Daily News and other news organizations on Guam read your analysis because I think it is important.

Other reporters need to act, because what happened to the Variety is a warning to them as well to play nice with the JGPO.

Pat
Guamblog.com

Michael Lujan Bevacqua said...

Hafa Adai Pat, Si Yu'us Ma'ase for your comment. I appreciate your blog very much, because you ask very good questions and have brought out some details to things relating to this part of the region that I didn't consider carefully enough (especially on the economic side of things).

You are right that the JGPO should cite from where their figures come from. Its obviously meant to scare people into thinking that the buildup won't happen if this goes through (as was the case with Matt Rector's H2 fee increase law), and Guam is truly hampered in handling this buildup when these sorts of assertions aren't even challenged or checked up on. I really wish that more people recognized that if the island wants to benefit from this buildup in any meaningful way (meaning other than "collateral benefits"), than you have to call the military on its BS, and you have to use what little room you have to negotiate in order to force their hand.

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