Stars and Stripes:

Inherent Conflicts Lead to Allegations of Military Censorship

NSIAD-89-60: Published: Dec 14, 1988. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 1988.

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Mark E. Gebicke
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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO investigated allegations of censorship, news management, and command influence at the Stars and Stripes newspapers.

GAO found that: (1) institutional and cultural differences between the military and media made it difficult for the papers to simultaneously accomplish their missions to provide accurate, uncensored news and their military mission to provide mission-oriented material; (2) although the Department of Defense (DOD) revised its publications policy in 1984 in order to help prevent censorship, the revision actually permitted greater military influence by establishing an advisory board for each paper to be chaired by the appropriate unified command's public affairs officer, and by prohibiting investigative reporting; (3) according to a panel formed by the Society of Professional Journalists, evidence of censorship and inappropriate news management was conclusive at the Pacific Stars and Stripes, but inconclusive at the European Stars and Stripes; (4) allegations at the Pacific paper concerned attempts by military officials to influence reporting on subjects sensitive to host countries, attempts to influence Stars and Stripes personnel actions, and military unresponsiveness to reporters' inquiries; (5) most of the allegations in Europe involved external influence by commanders and their public affairs officers, who caused stories to be withheld or delayed, or were unresponsive; and (6) although 47 percent of the wire services' stories on DOD were negative, only 35 percent of the wire services' DOD stories published in the European paper were negative, and only 27 percent were negative in the Pacific paper.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Instruction 5120.4 is being replaced by a new DOD directive, which should be published in 1993. Informal coordination is complete. DOD briefed the Joint Committee on Printing in July 1992. A draft of DOD Directive 5120.aa was published in the Federal register on August 5, 1993, for 30 days of public comment. All basic actions are complete except the issuance of the Directive which is imminent.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct that guidance be issued stating that: (1) Stars and Stripes shall have a civilian Editor-in-Chief whose term of office shall be fixed for a period of 3 to 5 years; (2) Stars and Stripes shall have editorial and news policy provisions that emphasize subjects of interest to the readership; (3) military officers shall not interfere with or attempt to influence news content; (4) investigative reporting is allowed; and (5) content analyses, similar to the one GAO performed, shall be done on a periodic basis to ensure that U.S. troops in the two different parts of the world are exposed to approximately the same news from back home. Also, the new guidance should either abolish the advisory board or change its mission to help Stars and Stripes to report on news of interest to the readership.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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