Rules Change for Photos of War Casualties
June 19, 2007
By Andrea Seabrook
The U.S. military recently has established new rules for embedded journalists in Iraq that require the signatures of injured soldiers before their images or voices can be used by the media.
This is a shift from the previous policy, which required that media outlets wait for next-of-kin notification before broadcast.
In January, The New York Times published "Man Down: When One Bullet Alters Everything," an article by correspondent Damien Cave that told the story of several soldiers and what happens when one is shot in the head by a sniper during an operation. Staff Sgt. Hector Leija, the man who was shot, died.
The story included a photo of one of Leija's fellow soldiers dashing to recover Leija's helmet. In it, blood smears the floor.
Cave says that he felt the picture was a "sign of how hard the military was working to save this guy's life."
The military and Leija's family didn't feel that way. The family was hurt, the military was angry. As a consequence, the military pulled journalist Damien Cave out of the unit with which he was embedded.
Cave protested and eventually was allowed back, with a different unit. But the rules were different. Now, he needed permission from the soldiers before he could publish their photos.
Under the old rules, a soldier could opt out if he didn't want to be in a reporter's coverage. Now, the journalist must ensure that each soldier agrees to be in the story or photo.
Col. Steve Boylan, the top public affairs officer in Iraq, says this is to protect soldiers' privacy. He adds that as long as soldiers aren't identified by name, journalists are free to use any images they want.
But Cave and other journalists say the new rule has a stifling effect on their coverage of the war: Fewer images are allowed, and fewer soldiers can be identified, they argue. Cave also says that something is lost when the soldiers fighting the war are left anonymous. All of this, he contends, means the public has less information about the war.
Cave says he is working within the military's new rules, although he doesn't have much choice: It is too dangerous for U.S. journalists to cover the battlefield without the protection of the military.