See media as partner, officers told
Stars and Stripes March 19, 2008
GARMISCH, Germany — Journalists have become part of the modern battlefield.
Learn to deal with it, seasoned military officers from 34 nations were told Friday during a media class at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
The class was part of a larger, three-week course trying to get multinational forces on the same page as they work to stabilize war-torn places such as Afghanistan.
Many new and emerging nations — and there are many in southwestern Asia — have never had to face the press in war and reconstruction zones. Media and reporters from those nations are learning on the job as well.
In Friday’s class, two reporters and an Army media specialist told the assembled officers that if they can’t beat them, join them.
“You have to be willing to take risks with the media and get burned,” said Greg Jaffe of the Wall Street Journal. “If you’re not out there talking to the media, explaining what you are doing, you’ve failed.”
“You will never make a professional journalist part of your public affairs machinery,” added Susanne Koelbl of Germany’s Der Spiegel. “It is a give and take … like everything.”
Army Lt. Col. Rich Spiegel, a veteran public affairs officer, told the class it is a mistake for militaries to believe they are at cross-purposes with the media.
“That is likely to doom the relationship before it starts,” Spiegel said. “How can we not embrace the media in today’s environment?
“Welcome the media, take the media with you and provide security. And for all of that, we must expect nothing [from the media] in return.”
The Marshall Center was formed in 1993 by the United States and Germany to support budding Eastern European nations after the fall of the Soviet Union. The goal was to apply military guidance in a collegelike setting on issues of democracy, human rights and free enterprise.
The center’s newest course — Program for Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction — was born out of a rising goal in Afghanistan and elsewhere for multinational forces to approach peacekeeping holistically.
“The military is an indispensable but insufficient part of the equation,” said Ann L. Phillips, a professor of national security studies at the center. “But the civilian side is not staffed up, not trained up and does not have the resources to pull its weight in this environment.”
The course also will address the rule of law, charity organizations, legitimizing governments and other areas that have problems gaining a foothold in failing states. About half the presenters are not military, and about half are non-U.S.
Some attendees voiced concerns with the media — how it sensationalizes, how it chooses its story angles, how uncontrolled it can be.
Koelbl, who has reported extensively in war zones, said a military or government has limited results when it tries to spin stories. The people caught up in war, she said, aren’t affected by spin.
“The facts on the ground speak for themselves,” she said, “and have their own dynamics.”