Public Affairs Guidance on Embedding Media

(issued on January 17, 2003)

SUBJECT: Public Affairs Guidance (PAG) on embedding media during possible future operations/deployments in the US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR).

This message provides guidance, policies and procedures on embedding news media during possible future operations/deployments in the CENTCOM AOR. It can be adapted for use in other unified command AORs as necessary.


2.a. The Department of Defense (DoD) policy on media coverage of future military operations is that media will have long-term, minimally restrictive access to US Air, ground and naval forces through embedding. Media coverage of any future operation will, to a large extent, shape public perception of the national security environment now and in the years ahead. This holds true for the US Public; the public in allied countries whose opinion can affect the durability of our coalition; and publics in countries where we conduct operations, whose perceptions of us can affect the cost and duration of our involvement. Our ultimate strategic success in bringing peace and security to this region will come in our long-term commitment to supporting our democratic ideals. We need to tell the factual story – good or bad – before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do. Our people in the field need to tell our story—only commanders can ensure the media get to the story alongside the troops. We must organize for and facilitate access of national and international media to our forces, including those forces engaged in ground operations, with the goal of doing so right from the start. To accomplish this, we will embed media with our units. These embedded media will live, work and travel as part of the units with which they are embedded to facilitate maximum, in-depth coverage of US Forces in combat and related operations. Commanders and public affairs officers must work together to balance the need for media access with the need for operational security.

2.b. Media will be embedded with unit personnel at air and ground forces bases and afloat to ensure a full understanding of all operations. Media will be given access to operational combat missions, including mission preparation and debriefing, whenever possible.

2.c. A media embed is defined as a media representative remaining with a unit on an extended basis—perhaps a period of weeks or even months. Commanders will provide billeting, rations and medical attention, if needed, to the embedded media commensurate with that provided to members of the unit, as well as access to military transportation and assistance with communications filing/transmitting media products, if required.

2.c.1. Embedded media are not authorized use of their own vehicles while traveling in an embedded status.

2.c.2. To the extent possible, space on military transportation will be made available for media equipment necessary to cover a particular operation. The media is responsible for loading and carrying their own equipment at all times. Use of priority inter-theater airlift for embedded media to cover stories, as well as to file stories, is highly encouraged. Seats aboard vehicles, aircraft and naval ships will be made available to allow maximum coverage of US troops in the field.

2.c.3. Units should plan lift and logistical support to assist in moving media products to and from the battlefield so as to tell our story in a timely manner. In the event of commercial communications difficulties, media are authorized to file stories via expeditious military signal/communications capabilities.

2.c.4. No communications equipment for use by media in the conduct of their duties will be specifically prohibited. However, unit commanders may impose temporary restrictions on electronic transmissions for operational security reasons. Media will seek approval to use electronic devices in a combat/hostile environment, unless otherwise directed by the unit commander or his/her designated representative. The use of communications equipment will be discussed in full when the media arrive at their assigned unit.


3.a. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs OASD (PA) is the central agency for managing and vetting media embeds, to include allocating embed slots to media organizations. Embed authority may be delegated to subordinate elements after the commencement of hostilities and at the discretion of OASD (PA). Embed opportunities will be assigned to media organizations, not to individual reporters. The decision as to which media representative will fill assigned embed slots will be made by the designated POC [point of contact] for each news organization.

3.a.1. In accordance with REF. A, commanders of units in receipt of a deployment order may embed regional/local media during preparations for deployment, deployment and arrival in theater upon receipt of theater clearance from CENTCOM and approval of the component command. Commanders will inform these media, prior to the deploying embed, that OASD (PA) is the approval authority for all combat embeds and that their particular embed may end after the unit’s arrival in theater. The media organization may apply to OASD (PA) for continued embedding, but there is no guarantee and the media organization will have to make arrangements for and pay for the journalists’ return trip.

3.b. Without making commitments to media organizations, deploying units will identify local media for potential embeds and nominate them through PA channels to OASD (PA) Information required to be forwarded includes media organization, type of media and contact information including Bureau Chief/Managing Editor/News Director's name; office, home and cell phone numbers; pager numbers and email addresses. Submissions for embeds with specific units should include an unit’s recommendation as to whether the request should be honored.

3.c. Unit commanders should also express, through their chain of command and PA channels to OASD (PA), their desire and capability to support additional media embeds beyond those assigned.

3.d. Freelance media will be authorized to embed if they are selected by a news organization as their embed representative.

3.e. Units will be authorized direct coordination with media after assignment and approval by OASD (PA).

3.e.1. Units are responsible for ensuring that all embedded media and their news organizations have signed the “release, indemnification, and hold harmless agreement and agreement not to sue,” found at
<>. Units must maintain a copy of this agreement for all media embedded with their unit.

3.f. Embedded media operate as part of their assigned unit. An escort may be assigned at the discretion of the unit commander. The absence of a PA escort is not a reason to preclude media access to operations.

3.g. Commanders will ensure the media are provided with every opportunity to observe actual combat operations. The personal safety of correspondents is not a reason to exclude them from combat areas.

3.h. If, in the opinion of the unit commander, a media representative is unable to withstand the rigorous conditions required to operate with the forward deployed forces, the commander or his/her representative may limit the representatives’ participation with operational forces to ensure unit safety and inform OASD (PA) through PA channels as soon as possible. Gender will not be an excluding factor under any circumstance.

3.i. If for any reason a media representative cannot participate in an operation, they will be transported to the next higher headquarters for the duration of the operation.

3.j. Commanders will obtain theater clearance from CENTCOM/PA for media embarking on military conveyance for purposes of embedding.

3.k. Units hosting embedded media will issue invitational travel orders, and nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) gear. See para. 5 for details on which items are issued, and which items the media are responsible to provide for themselves.

3.l. Media are responsible for obtaining their own passports and visas.

3.m. Media will agree to abide by the CENTCOM/OASD (PA) ground rules stated in para. 4 of this message in exchange for command/unit-provided support and access to service members, information and other previously-stated privileges. Any violation of the ground rules could result in termination of that media's embed opportunity.

3.n. Disputes/difficulties. Issues, questions, difficulties or disputes associated with ground rules or other aspects of embedding media that cannot be resolved at the unit level, or through the chain of command, will be forwarded through PA channels for resolution. Commanders who wish to terminate an embed for cause must notify CENTCOM/PA prior to termination. If a dispute cannot be resolved at a lower level, OASD (PA) will be the final resolution authority. In all cases, this should be done as expeditiously as possible to preserve the news value of the situation.

3.o. Media will pay their own billeting expenses if billeted in a commercial facility.

3.p. Media will deploy with the necessary equipment to collect and transmit their stories.

3.q. The standard for release of information should be to ask “why not release” vice “why release.” Decisions should be made asap, preferably in minutes, not hours.

3.r. There is no general review process for media products. See para 6.a. for further detail concerning security at the source.

3.s. Media will only be granted access to detainees or EPWS [enemy prisoner of war] within the provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. See para. 4.g.17 for the ground rule.

3.t. Having embedded media does not preclude contact with other media. Embedded media, as a result of time invested with the unit and ground rules agreement, may have a different level of access.

3.u. CENTCOM/PA will account for embedded media during the time the media is embedded in theater. CENTCOM/PA will report changes in embed status to OASD (PA) as they occur.

3.v. If a media representative is killed or injured in the course of military operations, the unit will immediately notify OASD (PA), through PA channels. OASD (PA) will contact the respective media organization(s), which will make next-of-kin notification in accordance with the individual’s wishes.

3.w. Media may terminate their embed opportunity at any time. Unit commanders will provide, as the tactical situation permits and based on the availability of transportation, movement back to the nearest location with commercial transportation.

3.w.1. Departing media will be debriefed on operational security considerations as applicable to ongoing and future operations which they may now have information concerning.


For the safety and security of US Forces and embedded media, media will adhere to established ground rules. Ground rules will be agreed to in advance and signed by media prior to embedding. Violation of the ground rules may result in the immediate termination of the embed and removal from the AOR. These ground rules recognize the right of the media to cover military operations and are in no way intended to prevent release of derogatory, embarrassing, negative or uncomplimentary information. Any modification to the standard ground rules will be forwarded through the pa channels to CENTCOM/PA for approval. Standard ground rules are:

4.a. All interviews with service members will be on the record. Security at the source is the policy. Interviews with pilots and aircrew members are authorized upon completion of missions; however, release of information must conform to these media ground rules.

4.b. Print or broadcast stories will be datelined according to local ground rules. Local ground rules will be coordinated through command channels with CENTCOM.

4.c. Media embedded with US Forces are not permitted to carry personal firearms.

4.d. Light discipline restrictions will be followed. Visible light sources, including flash or television lights, flash cameras will not be used when operating with forces at night unless specifically approved in advance by the on-scene commander.

4.e. Embargoes may be imposed to protect operational security. Embargoes will only be used for operational security and will be lifted as soon as the operational security issue has passed.

4.f. The following categories of information are releasable.

4.f.1. Approximate friendly force strength figures.

4.f.2. Approximate friendly casualty figures by service. Embedded media may, within OPSEC [operational security] limits, confirm unit casualties they have witnessed.

4.f.3. Confirmed figures of enemy personnel detained or captured.

4.f.4. Size of friendly force participating in an action or operation can be disclosed using approximate terms. Specific force or unit identification may be released when it no longer warrants security protection.

4.f.5. Information and location of military targets and objectives previously under attack.

4.f.6. Generic description of origin of air operations, such as “land-based.”

4.f.7. Date, time or location of previous conventional military missions and actions, as well as mission results are releasable only if described in general terms.

4.f.8. Types of ordnance expended in general terms.

4.f.9. Number of aerial combat or reconnaissance missions or sorties flown in CENTCOM’s area of operation.

4.f.10. Type of forces involved (e.g., air defense, infantry, armor, marines).

4.f.11. Allied participation by type of operation (ships, aircraft, ground units, etc.), after approval of the allied unit commander.

4.f.12. Operation code names.

4.f.13. Names and hometowns of US Military units.

4.f.14. Service members’ names and home towns with the individuals’ consent.

4.g. The following categories of information are not releasable since their publication or broadcast could jeopardize operations and endanger lives.

4.g.1. Specific number of troops in units below Corps/MEF [Marine Expeditionary Force] level.

4.g.2. Specific number of aircraft in units at or below the air expeditionary wing level.

4.g.3. Specific numbers regarding other equipment or critical supplies (e.g. artillery, tanks, landing craft, radars, trucks, water, etc.).

4.g.4. Specific numbers of ships in units below the carrier battle group level.

4.g.5. Names of military installations or specific geographic locations of military units in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, unless specifically released by the department of defense or authorized by the CENTCOM commander. News and imagery products that identify or include identifiable features of these locations are not authorized for release.

4.g.6. Information regarding future operations.

4.g.7. Information regarding force protection measures at military installations or encampments (except those which are visible or readily apparent).

4.g.8. Photography showing level of security at military installations or encampments.

4.g.9. Rules of engagement.

4.g.10. Information on intelligence collection activities compromising tactics, techniques or procedures.

4.g.11. Extra precautions in reporting will be required at the commencement of hostilities to maximize operational surprise. Live broadcasts from airfields, on the ground or afloat, by embedded media are prohibited until the safe return of the initial strike package or until authorized by the unit commander.

4.g.12. During an operation, specific information on friendly force troop movements, tactical deployments, and dispositions that would jeopardize operational security or lives. Information on ongoing engagements will not be released unless authorized for release by on-scene commander.

4.g.13. Information on special operations units, unique operations methodology or tactics, for example, air operations, angles of attack, and speeds; naval tactical or evasive maneuvers, etc. General terms such as “low” or “fast” may be used.

4.g.14. Information on effectiveness of enemy electronic warfare.

4.g.15. Information identifying postponed or canceled operations.

4.g.16. Information on missing or downed aircraft or missing vessels while search and rescue and recovery operations are being planned or underway.

4.g.17. Information on effectiveness of enemy camouflage, cover, deception, targeting, direct and indirect fire, intelligence collection, or security measures.

4.g.18. No photographs or other visual media showing an enemy prisoner of war or detainee’s recognizable face, nametag or other identifying feature or item may be taken.

4.g.19. Still or video imagery of custody operations or interviews with persons under custody.

4.h. The following procedures and policies apply to coverage of wounded, injured, and ill personnel:

4.h.1. Media representatives will be reminded of the sensitivity of using names of individual casualties or photographs they may have taken which clearly identify casualties until after notification of the NOK [next-of-kin] and release by OASD (PA).

4.h.2. Battlefield casualties may be covered by embedded media as long as the service member’s identity is protected from disclosure for 72 hours or upon verification of NOK notification, whichever is first.

4.h.3. Media visits to medical facilities will be in accordance with applicable regulations, standard operating procedures, operations orders and instructions by attending physicians. If approved, service or medical facility personnel must escort media at all times.

4.h.4. Patient welfare, patient privacy, and next of kin/family considerations are the governing concerns about news media coverage of wounded, injured, and ill personnel in medical treatment facilities or other casualty collection and treatment locations.

4.h.5. Media visits are authorized to medical care facilities, but must be approved by the medical facility commander and attending physician and must not interfere with medical treatment. Requests to visit medical care facilities outside the continental United States will be coordinated by the Unified Command PA.

4.h.6. Reporters may visit those areas designated by the facility commander, but will not be allowed in operating rooms during operating procedures.

4.h.7. Permission to interview or photograph a patient will be granted only with the consent of the attending physician or facility commander and with the patient's informed consent, witnessed by the escort.

4.h.8. “Informed consent” means the patient understands his or her picture and comments are being collected for news media purposes and they may appear nationwide in news media reports.

4.h.9. The attending physician or escort should advise the service member if NOK have been notified.


5.a. Media organizations should ensure that media are properly immunized before embedding with units. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-recommended immunizations for deployment to the Middle East include hepatitis-A; hepatitis-B; rabies; tetanus-diphtheria; and typhoid. The CDC recommends meningococcal immunizations for visitors to Mecca. If traveling to certain areas in the CENTCOM AOR, the CDC recommends taking prescription antimalarial drugs. Anthrax and smallpox vaccines will be provided to the media at no expense to the government (the media outlet will bear the expense). For more health information for travelers to the Middle East, go to the CDC web site at <>.

5.b. Because the use of personal protective gear, such as helmets or flak vests, is both a personal and professional choice, media will be responsible for procuring/using such equipment. Personal protective gear, as well as clothing, will be subdued in color and appearance.

5.c. Embedded media are authorized and required to be provided with, on a temporary loan basis, nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) protective equipment by the unit with which they are embedded. Unit personnel will provide basic instruction in the proper wear, use, and maintenance of the equipment. Upon termination of the embed, initiated by either party, the NBC equipment shall be returned to the embedding unit. If sufficient NBC protective equipment is not available for embedded media, commanders may purchase additional equipment, with funds normally available for that purpose, and loan it to embedded media in accordance with this paragraph.


6.a. Media products will not be subject to security review or censorship except as indicated in para. 6.a.1. Security at the source will be the rule. US military personnel shall protect classified information from unauthorized or inadvertent disclosure. Media provided access to sensitive information, information which is not classified but which may be of operational value to an adversary or when combined with other unclassified information may reveal classified information, will be informed in advance by the unit commander or his/her designated representative of the restrictions on the use or disclosure of such information. When in doubt, media will consult with the unit commander or his/her designated representative.

6.a.1. The nature of the embedding process may involve observation of sensitive information, including troop movements, battle preparations, materiel capabilities and vulnerabilities and other information as listed in para. 4.g. When a commander or his/her designated representative has reason to believe that a media member will have access to this type of sensitive information, prior to allowing such access, he/she will take prudent precautions to ensure the security of that information. The primary safeguard will be to brief media in advance about what information is sensitive and what the parameters are for covering this type of information. If media are inadvertently exposed to sensitive information they should be briefed after exposure on what information they should avoid covering. In instances where a unit commander or the designated representative determines that coverage of a story will involve exposure to sensitive information beyond the scope of what may be protected by prebriefing or debriefing, but coverage of which is in the best interests of the DoD, the commander may offer access if the reporter agrees to a security review of their coverage. Agreement to security review in exchange for this type of access must be strictly voluntary and if the reporter does not agree, then access may not be granted. If a security review is agreed to, it will not involve any editorial changes; it will be conducted solely to ensure that no sensitive or classified information is included in the product. If such information is found, the media will be asked to remove that information from the product and/or embargo the product until such information is no longer classified or sensitive. Reviews are to be done as soon as practical so as not to interrupt combat operations nor delay reporting. If there are disputes resulting from the security review process they may be appealed through the chain of command, or through PA channels to OASD/PA. This paragraph does not authorize commanders to allow media access to classified information.

6.a.2. Media products will not be confiscated or otherwise impounded. If it is believed that classified information has been compromised and the media representative refuses to remove that information notify the CPIC [Coalition Public Information Center] and/or OASD/PA as soon as possible so the issue may be addressed with the media organization’s management.


7.a. OASD (PA) is the initial embed authority. Embedding procedures and assignment authority may be transferred to CENTCOM PA at a later date. This authority may be further delegated at CENTCOM’S discretion.