Followers of this blog have read much in the last few weeks about claims by Stars and Stripes that the U.S. military in Afghanistan used analyses of journalists work by a contractor, the Rendon Group, to blacklist reporters there or improperly steer their coverage.
The newspaper produced no journalists or other hard evidence to substantiate those allegations, but today I came across a piece by a British reporter who asserts that blacklisting is being carried out in Afghanistan by British and American-led NATO forces.
I was blacklisted for more than a year, reporter Jerome Starkey wrote for Harvards Nieman Watchdog in a piece labeled commentary.
Starkey, who is identified as the Afghanistan correspondent for the Times of London, says that "many journalists I know here still prefer access to truth," and that rather than risk being denied embeds or other forms of access to news, far too many of our colleagues accept the spin-laden press releases churned out of the Kabul headquarters.
Self-censorship is compounded by the embed culture, which encourages journalists to visit the frontlines with NATO soldiers, who provide them food, shelter, security and ultimately with stories, he wrote. British troops will only accept journalists who let military censors approve their stories before they are filed.
Although I cannot vouch for most of Starkeys claims and I hope we will hear from other reporters who will go on record either supporting or rebutting them that latter part about the British review policy was confirmed to me by a senior military spokesman in Afghanistan.
The review policy is supposedly to prevent the dissemination of sensitive operational details, but Starkey says that the British invariably use it as an opportunity to editorialize.
Such an ill-advised practice, a throwback to the dismal state of military-media relations during the first Gulf War nearly 20 years ago, casts a pall over any and all reporting produced under such constraints. U.S. and NATO commanders should lean on the British to rescind it.
Read Starkey's full commentary at Nieman Watchdog.