How can military public affairs reclaim its
role as the gatekeeper and use the media to tell the military side of the
story accurately and fairly, whether it is a good story or a bad one?
The military is always concerned about operational security, while the
media wants complete freedom (Wildermuth, 1992). How does public
affairs walk that fine line? Primarily, the media and the military
can be educated on how other “camp” operates, according to Hernandez (1995).
The Uncertainty Reduction Theory seems to be tailor-made as a fix for, or at least a way to ease, what has been a turbulent history of military-media relations. A review of the literature revealed one common factor underlying the suggestions to improve the relationship between the military and the media. It is essential to educate each group about other’s operations.
Hernandez (1995) suggested this thinking by offering recommendations for the military and the media to consider improving future relations with one another. The recommendations include:
Civilian media training. The Army
is incorporating public affairs training into the common-core curriculum
of the officer basic and advanced courses, the Warrant Officer Advanced
Course and the First Sergeants Course before the end of 1998. Students
will learn how to participate in a media interview and how to implement
a public affairs plan within their units, according to Davis (1997). The
goal is to ensure enlisted and officer leaders at similar levels get the
same training. Senior leaders already receive public affairs training
in command information, community relations, and media relations in the
Command and General Staff Officers Course and the Sergeants Major Course
(Davis, 1997). Future plans call for alignment of public affairs
training at the Warrant Officer Candidate School and the Combined Arms
and Services Staff School in the other two courses.
Additionally, Army enlisted personnel will learn how to participate in a media interview, effective with the next printing of the Army common-task soldier’s manual. Soldiers are tested on 18 selected common tasks each fiscal year, ensuring they must be accountable for the information (Davis, 1997).
Teaching soldiers at all levels how to handle themselves during an interview should be emphasized because of media richness (O’Hair, 1998). Under the theory, communication is affected by varying levels of discourse from verbal to written A face-to-face media encounter without the guidance of public affairs personnel is exactly the type of situation many military personnel face during operations today and the kind of communication most effective.
Stay current on the media technology. Future interaction between the military and the media is inevitable. Understanding the impact of technology on reporting, will be particularly important to the military as it seeks a better relationship with the media. Improved satellite communications, digital transmissions and other emerging technologies continually increase the speed that images, taken from the battlefield can be broadcast to the world. Public affairs professionals need to emphasize to military personnel how quickly such technology can take any remark and present it instantaneously.
Commander involvement in media support. Gen. Dennis Reimer, Army Chief of Staff, directed his senior leaders to be positive and proactive, to incorporate the media in their operations, and to be open and let soldiers speak, as he outlined his principles for communicating the military story in a 1995 memorandum (Reimer, 1995).
Ensuring equal media distribution. Journalists in a media pool must share their stories with the rest of the media. Public affairs professionals must act as gatekeepers to ensure stories are equally distributed among all civilian media outlets. PA should reserve a certain number of positions in each pool for freelancers, specialty publications and foreign journalists.