PAO teams with media to balance transparency, security
February 28, 2011
- PAO works with civilian media to cover the commission of Noor Muhammed.
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (Feb. 25, 2011) As the trial of Noor Uthman Muhammed began and concluded last week, an orchestration of events behind the scenes transpired ensuring all the wheels in the machine kept turning. Playing a starring role in the symphony were the Troopers of Joint Task Force Guantanamo's Public Affairs Media Relations Department, charged with facilitating access to the 23 journalists who arrived to tell the story to the world
"It's our job to provide the tools they [civilian media] need in order to tell their story - which is our story," said Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Erica Gardner, media relations noncommissioned officer in charge. "The media can make or break our existence here."
Gardner explained the media relations department helps reporters get the information they need in several different ways.
"We arrange interviews with subject matter experts, we provide tours of the camps and provide them logistical support while they're here," she said.
The logistical support requires coordination with other groups working within the JTF, including members of the Base Engineer Emergency Force, the Commissions Support Group, badging and motor pool.
"We began making all the arrangements with the different groups about three weeks prior to the start of the trial," said Gardner.
Army Sgt. Mathieu Perry guided a group of seven journalists during a tour through Camp 6.
"We make sure they have a ride here and that the questions they're asking are being answered," Perry said.
Perry explained sometimes a question is posed that cannot, for a myriad of reasons, be answered immediately.
"We take down the question and get it to the people who can answer it and then get it back to the members of the media," Perry said.
Near the Commissions building is the media operations center, a hub of press activity during the proceedings.
"We had to make sure all the computers, phones and other telecommunications aspects were working and just make sure the place was clean," Gardner added.
With all the tours given, photographs taken and video footage shot, the media relations department slips into their other role -- ensuring operational security hasn't been compromised.
"We review everything taken during the day to make sure things like guards' or detainees' faces aren't in the photo and different places around the base that we can't photograph: things of that nature," she said, explaining restrictions showing faces are in place to protect both the guard force and the detainees.
Gardener said her Troopers use the media ground rules established by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which are made available to all media agencies who intend to visit Guantanamo Bay, when determining what constitutes a violation.
"There's also an appeals process once we've identified something as an OpSec violation," the first class petty officer said.
All images and footage identified as being on the wrong side of OpSec are saved in the event of an appeal by a journalist. Once an appeal is lodged, the piece in question makes its way up the chain of command where it's reviewed by the JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs Officer Cmdr. Tamsen Reese and other agencies such as the OPSEC office and Staff Judge Advocate before a final decision is made.
"Our MEDREL team is a bridge between communities," said Lt. Col. Don Langley, deputy director of public affairs. "They skillfully balance the need for public openness with the requirement to protect certain categories of information. Their hard work navigating this challenge allows both the JTF and the press to accomplish their missions."