As a rule, U.S. Air Force personnel should not employ physical violence against news reporters who disobey their instructions, newly updated Air Force guidance says.
If reporters are present at the scene of an accident or incident in which Air Force classified information is exposed, Air Force officials should “explain the situation and ask the media to cooperate.”
But “Do not use force if media representatives refuse to cooperate unless declared an NDA [National Defense Area],” the Air Force guidance advises.
“If photographs are taken after a warning is issued, Air Force officials must ask civilian law enforcement authorities to stop further photography of the exposed classified information and to collect all materials with that coverage.”
However, “If no civilian law enforcement authorities are on the scene and media representatives take unauthorized pictures, do not seize the materials or hold the photographer.” Rather, the senior Air Force official at the scene should “immediately contact the managing editor or news director” of the news organization and “request the return of media coverage having suspected classified information.”
That is one of the scenarios envisioned in a newly updated Air Force Instruction 35-104 on “Media Operations,” dated 13 July 2015.
The Instruction generally favors constructive engagement with the news media, both on principle and out of self-interest.
“Releasing official information through the media can help create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of national interest and policies, as well as mitigate any adverse effects from unofficial, misinformed, or hostile sources,” the Instruction states.
Of course, Air Force personnel are directed “not [to] release classified information” to members of the news media. Interestingly, however, the new Instruction also says that there are “circumstances when exposure to sensitive or classified information is allowed.”
“The commander may grant access [to sensitive or classified information] if the reporter agrees to a security and policy review of the communication product. Agreement to a security and policy review in exchange for this type of access is strictly voluntary; however, if a reporter does not agree, then access to sensitive information may be denied. If a reporter agrees to a security and policy review, it will be conducted solely to ensure that sensitive or classified information is not included in the product.”
In general, “the primary responsibility for protecting classified information lies with the Air Force, not the reporter, and the reporter can justifiably refuse any requests for prior review,” the Air Force Instruction said.