US defense chief Gates tightens military's media rules

Robert Gates, 2 July Robert Gates is concerned at a "lax" approach

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a tightening of the rules covering the US military's dealings with the media.

The move comes in the wake of the sacking of the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, over a Rolling Stone magazine article.

Gen McChrystal and his aides had mocked and criticised top US officials.

In a memo to key Pentagon civilian and military officials, Mr Gates criticised the recent "lax" approach.

US officials said the new order was planned well before the McChrystal incident and was not linked to it. They also said it is was not meant to be a gag on the Pentagon.

'Prosecution'

Mr Gates wrote in the three-page memo entitled Interaction with the Media: "I am concerned that the department has grown lax in how we engage with the media.

Start Quote

Does it mean that a soldier on the field is going to be prohibited from speaking to an embedded reporter? Absolutely not. That is not the intent”

End Quote Douglas Wilson Assistant Defense Secretary

"We have far too many people talking to the media outside of channels, sometimes providing information which is simply incorrect, out of proper context, unauthorised, or uninformed by the perspective of those who are most knowledgeable."

Mr Gates added: "The leaking of classified information is against the law, cannot be tolerated, and will, when proven, lead to the prosecution of those found to be engaged in such activity."

But Pentagon media secretary Geoff Morrell said that Mr Gates was still committed to an open approach with the press, who were "not the enemy".

The order was "designed to get our department much more disciplined", Mr Morrell said.

The new order requires top officials to clear interviews "or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications" with the office of Assistant Defense Secretary Douglas Wilson.

Mr Wilson said of the order: "Does it mean that a soldier on the field is going to be prohibited from speaking to an embedded reporter? Absolutely not. That is not the intent."

Gen McChrystal left the army after the Rolling Stone article, in which he or his aides mocked or criticised President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser James Jones, US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and the special US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.

US Gen David Petraeus arrived in Afghanistan on Friday to take over command of American and Nato forces fighting the Taliban.

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