Home > SPJ News > SPJ Convention Delegates Pass Three Resolutions On Coverage of America's War on Terrorism

SPJ News
Latest SPJ News | RSS

SPJ Convention Delegates Pass Three Resolutions On Coverage of America's War on Terrorism


SPJ News Release

Saturday, Oct. 6, 2001

News editors, Business editors, Feature editors,
Photo editors, Assignment desks

Sarah A. Shrode, SPJ Director of Communications,
425/452-4846 or sshrode@spj.org

DOUBLETREE HOTEL, BELLEVUE, Wash. – Delegates to the 2001 Society of Professional Journalists National Convention adopted 11 convention resolutions today; three of them focused on media coverage of America’s war on terrorism.

These resolutions, approved at the Society’s Main Business Session today, Oct. 6, addressed obtaining public information on the attacks, ethical coverage of the war on terrorism, and fairly and accurately telling the story of diversity in the war.

“This is not only one of the most momentous events in the history of this country, it is just as momentous in the history of journalism in this country,” said SPJ President-Elect Al Cross, political columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, who will be sworn in tonight as SPJ president. “We must be careful not to get so caught up in the national cause that we lose our independence, which is the basis of our credibility, or our abilities to gather and disseminate the information that citizens want and must have.”

The resolution on obtaining information – authored by the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee – addressed releasing names to the persons arrested and detained in the United States as suspected terrorists, getting names of injured and deceased in a timely manner, prohibiting military officials from reviewing news reports for security issues prior to publication and other numerous other issues that might impede journalists’ work. SPJ has said it will continue to work with a coalition of journalism organizations on a statement of principles to Congress and the Bush administration.

“I wanted to make sure that the body of the Society of Professional Journalists put its full force and weight behind this resolution and therefore behind our efforts with other journalism organizations to make a bold statement about the relationship between the government and the media at this important time in our nation’s history,” said Freedom of Information Committee Chairman Ian Marquand, special projects coordinator at KPAX-TV in Missoula, Mont.

The other resolutions on media coverage of the terrorist attacks state the Society’s position on ethical, diversified news coverage of such events.

“I think it’s important that SPJ reinforce the four principles we have emphasized in our Code of Ethics in every opportunity and in every situation,” said SPJ Ethics Committee Co-Chairman Fred Brown, capital bureau chief at The Denver Post. “Even in the most rapidly developing stories, journalists need to pause and to remember and to live up to those principles.”

The SPJ Diversity Committee encourages journalists to tell the story of the diversity of the human experience boldly even when it is unpopular to do so.

“In these times of heightened patriotic passion, it’s especially important that journalists don’t lose sight of their commitment to seeking the truth and telling an accurate story,” said SPJ Diversity Committee Chairwoman Sally Lehrman, an independent journalist at BestWrit. “We must redouble our efforts to reach outside our own experience and report on the complexity of the diverse populations that make up the United States and the world.”

The complete text of the 11 2001 SPJ Convention resolutions follows.

A resolution on press coverage of the war on terrorism
WHEREAS American news organizations have a distinguished history of providing the public and government officials with essential information during times of warfare and national crisis, and
WHEREAS a free and autonomous press is as central to the preservation of democracy as is a strong military, and
WHEREAS media organizations have handled information concerning troop movements and deployments in a responsible manner during past conflicts, and
WHEREAS in light of the terrorist attacks on September 11 the role of the press in informing the nation about public safety concerns and the military and diplomatic actions of its government will be tested in novel and profound ways, and
WHEREAS during the Persian Gulf War, the Department of Defense inhibited news coverage of combat operations by forcing reporters and photojournalists into small pools controlled by military officials and tried to exercise editorial control over news content, and
WHEREAS the Pentagon and the news media subsequently reached an accord regarding coverage of military campaigns that recognized that open and independent reporting would be the norm for such coverage, and
WHEREAS military public affairs guidelines acknowledge that the dissemination of timely and accurate information concerning combat operations serves the interests of the U.S. armed forces, and
WHEREAS probing journalistic scrutiny of the war on terrorism and publication of dissenting viewpoints are not signs of disloyalty to the nation but rather expressions of confidence in democratic self-government and fulfillment of the First Amendment function of holding government accountable, and
WHEREAS President George W. Bush and members of his administration have signaled that incursions against terrorist networks will differ from conventional warfare in that they will involve significant covert action, both on international and domestic fronts, and
WHEREAS overclassification significantly dilutes the ability of agencies and others to determine what information truly needs to be protected in the name of national security and inhibits government officials from communicating effectively with the public by threatening them with criminal prosecution, and
WHEREAS with the nation having faced for the first time since the Civil War widespread violence and loss of life on its own soil, the American public is in urgent need of reliable information, and
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists call on the Bush administration to take the following steps:
* Immediately release to the public as soon as possible information concerning the identities and charges against persons arrested and detained in the United States as suspected terrorists and material witnesses pertaining to the September 11 attacks.
* Promptly make available the identities of all injured or deceased victims of terrorism.
* Adhere to the mandates of the current Executive Order on Classification, which instructs that if there is any “significant doubt about the need to classify information, it should not be classified.”
* Reaffirm the 1992 Pentagon guidelines on coverage of combat operations, including the commitments to provide journalists with access to all major military units and to special forces where feasible, permit news organizations to use their own communications systems to file reports and use press pools not as a standard device but only when specific circumstances so require, such as when military action is conducted in remote areas.
* Act promptly, in consultation with representatives of the news media, to establish a clear set of military security ground rules for its anti-terrorism initiatives.
* Prohibit prior security review of news reports by military officials.
* Provide, as called for by the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996, expedited review of Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by news organizations on these issues.
* Mandate secrecy only when it directly serves the imperatives of national security or foreign policy.
* Allow media organizations and members of the public to observe or photograph evidence of terrorist assaults, as long as doing so does not interfere with rescue and clean-up workers.
* Lift the nationwide ban on helicopters or other aircraft owned or leased by news media in a manner consistent with public safety and curtail indiscriminate obstructions to newsgathering and photojournalism, and
* Exert pressure on this nation's allies and other foreign governments to grant visas to U.S. journalists wishing to cover military and diplomatic events as they unfold overseas and tell foreign governments in the strongest terms that threats against journalists or efforts to censor their work will not be tolerated;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that in the unlikely event that the Department of Justice seeks information from a member of the news media relating to the terrorist assaults of September 11 or any facet of the investigation, the Society of Professional Journalists call on the attorney general and U.S. attorneys to follow the guidelines concerning subpoenas to the press found at 28 C.F.R. ß 50.10, and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists call on Congress to provide oversight of the Bush administration's policies regarding public disclosure of its military and diplomatic activities and to convene hearings to explore these issues at an appropriate time.
Submitted by the Freedom of Information Committee

A resolution on journalists' response to terror
WHEREAS the terrorist attacks of September 11 have inflamed public passions, created a voracious appetite for news and made it both more important and more difficult for journalists to serve the public in a professional and ethical manner.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists urge all journalists to reaffirm their commitment in the Code of Ethics to:
* Seek the truth and report it by providing the public with as much information as possible from a variety of sources both inside and outside the government. In such a highly charged atmosphere, it is critical that journalists test the accuracy of information from all sources and explain the context for potentially inflammatory information;
* Minimize harm by being sensitive to the suffering of victims and families. Avoid stereotyping that victimizes entire groups simply because of their ethnic or religious background. Inappropriate labeling can fan the flames of bigotry.
* Act independently by making news judgments that serve the public’s right to know while withstanding the temptation to pander to national passions, prejudices and jingoistic displays of patriotism. It is especially important during times of national crisis for journalists to hold those in power accountable, without acceding to pressure from government officials to withhold information from the people.
* Be accountable by exposing journalistic practices that abandon independent, fair and dispassionate reporting precisely at a time when the nation and its people need the best journalism possible.
Submitted by the Ethics Committee

A resolution on diversity in the face of terrorism
we realize the story of Sept. 11 will have ramifications for years to come, and
WHEREAS reporting fairly and accurately on the events of Sept. 11 is a core responsibility of the free press, and
WHEREAS journalists must tell the story of the diversity of the magnitude of the human experience boldly even when it is unpopular to do so.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists urge its members and fellow journalists to redouble their commitment to:
* Use language that is informative and not inflammatory;
* Portray religious fundamentalists, Muslims, Arabs and Middle Eastern Americans in the richness of their diverse experience;
* Seek truth through a variety of voices and perspectives that help audiences understand the complexities of the events in Pennsylvania, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Submitted by the Diversity Committee

A resolution honoring the international work of the Freedom Forum
the Freedom Forum has worked diligently to promote and preserve a free and independent press in the United States and in other countries, and
WHEREAS thousands of journalists from Asia to Africa and from Europe to Latin America have benefited from the seminars, training and conferences organized by the Freedom Forum, and
WHEREAS the Freedom Forum international offices have provided support and encouragement to journalists in areas where the freedom to speak, write and publish are not enjoyed to their fullest, and
WHEREAS the Freedom Forum is now required to cut back on its international programs because of financial considerations, and is closing its international centers,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists extend its heartfelt thanks to the Freedom Forum for its vision and energy in promoting the values of free and independent news media in other countries, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society note with sorrow what we hope will be a temporary absence of the Freedom Forum and its programs from the world stage, and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that when the Freedom Forum reestablishes its international program, the Society stand ready to help and to encourage its members actively to participate in and support those activities.
Submitted by SPJ's International Journalism Committee

A resolution supporting release of the identities of jurors
WHEREAS one of the basic rights guaranteed Americans by the Bill of Rights is a fair, speedy and public trial, and
WHEREAS jurors are a critical element of the judicial system, deciding on a person's innocence and guilt and, in extreme cases, whether they should live or die, and
WHEREAS the identities of jurors have historically been part of the public record, allowing the public to see that justice is administered in a fair and impartial manner, and
WHEREAS journalistic interviews with jurors provide the public with insights into the judicial system and how controversial verdicts are reached, and
WHEREAS such disclosure helps to demystify the judicial system and could encourage people to perform jury duty when called upon by the courts, and
WHEREAS there is a movement away from this openness, in the name of protecting jurors from harassment by the media, and
WHEREAS incidents of juror harassment by journalists are virtually nonexistent, and
WHEREAS there are already existing measures judges can use to protect jurors from harassment short of withholding public information, and
WHEREAS these rules would not prohibit the parties in a case from knowing the identities of jurors, and
WHEREAS rules sealing the names of jurors, such as those issued by the Utah Judicial Council, are antithetical to the administration of justice and the concept of open government.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists condemn such efforts to withhold the identities of jurors from the public and the media and urge the courts of the United States and the courts of the individual states to keep these public records open, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED< that the Society of Professional Journalists calls upon the Utah Judicial Council to rescind its rule authorizing judges to withhold the identities of jurors and maintain the openness in the judicial system our Founding Fathers envisioned.
Submitted by the Utah Professional Chapterr

A resolution condemning the jailing of writer Vanessa Leggett
Houston writer Vanessa Leggett has been sitting behind bars since July 20 because the Justice Department wants her notes and tapes from interviews with people involved in a murder investigation, and
WHEREAS in the entire Western Hemisphere, three people are behind bars for doing the work of journalists, and
WHEREAS Vanessa Leggett already has served the longest jail sentence in U.S. history for a journalist in these circumstances, and
WHEREAS the roles of the news media and the criminal justice system are not interchangeable in that reporters should not be doing the jobs of police officers and prosecutors, and police officers and prosecutors should not be doing the jobs of reporters, and
WHEREAS the U.S. Justice Department has traditionally respected this distinction, and
WHEREAS the government should have no role in deciding who is and who is not a “legitimate” journalist,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists call on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn her contempt citation and send Vanessa Leggett home.
Submitted by the Resolutions Committee

A resolution condemning the subpoena of a journalist's phone records
the U.S. Department of Justice recently obtained the telephone records of Associated Press reporter John Solomon without his knowledge, and
WHEREAS Solomon had written a story about an investigation into irregularities in the 1996 campaign of New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli. Quoting unidentified law enforcement officials, Solomon's story revealed that a federal wiretap had captured Torricelli discussing campaign donations.
WHEREAS the Justice Department apparently subpoenaed Solomon's phone records in an effort to find out who told him about the wiretap.
WHEREAS that subpoena apparently violated the Code of Federal Regulations, which required the Justice Department to take “all reasonable alternative investigative steps” before subpoenaing the personal phone records of a journalist. Solomon’s story appeared May 4, and the Justice Department had his phone records 10 days later.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists condemn the U.S. Department of Justice for its actions in this case and that it encourage the department to review and follow its own guidelines.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society call on the Justice Department to refrain from examining journalists' phone records without their knowledge and instead notify journalists of such subpoenas so that they can challenge this action.
Submitted by Resolutions Committee

A resolution commending the Voice of America
the Voice of America in September obtained an interview with Taliban leader Mohammed Omar, and
WHEREAS the U.S. Department of State sought to intervene against use of that interview, and its spokesman called the broadcast inappropriate, and
WHEREAS the VOA nevertheless used the interview in a five-minute report in the local Afghan languages and in its English broadcasts, and
WHEREAS the Society of Professional Journalists believes truth is best revealed in the light of contesting opinions.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society commend VOA for its editorial integrity in this matter, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society salute the courage of VOA’s news executives who risked the displeasure of their own government in the service of their mission to inform, and that it find VOA's practice in this case an exemplar of the most fundamental principles of democracy, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society condemn the efforts that were made to prevent VOA from carrying out its mission of responsible, objective and comprehensive reporting, and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the Society continue to monitor how the VOA fares and oppose any attempt by the government to curb or sway the free and fair news reporting and discussion intended in the service’s charter.
Submitted by SPJ’s International Journalism Committee

A resolution thanking President Ray Marcano
Ray Marcano has set an example for all journalists through his leadership of Society of Professional Journalists, and
WHEREAS he has raised the profile of the Society of Professional Journalists, making numerous appearances on television, on radio and in print as a spokesman for the ideals of the Society of Professional Journalists, and
WHEREAS he has been a fearless spokesman for public access, speaking out on behalf of the Orlando Sentinel in its fight to obtain access to the autopsy photos of race driver Dale Earnhardt, and
WHEREAS he has spoken out on behalf of Vanessa Leggett, who went to jail rather than turn over the products of more than four years of research into a murder case, and
WHEREAS he has given selflessly of his time and his talents for the benefit of the Society and its members,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Society of Professional Journalists commends Ray Marcano for his dedication and sacrifice and expresses its gratitude for a job well-done.
Submitted by the Resolutions Committee

A resolution thanking the host chapter
a national convention of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation's largest journalism organization, requires extensive planning, and
WHEREAS the Western Washington Pro Chapter of the Society found itself planning a convention under less than ideal circumstances, and
WHEREAS the chapter aided in planning additional programs in response to terrorist attacks that took place only weeks before the convention was scheduled to convene, and
WHEREAS the chapter’s members have put in years of effort to stage a stellar convention, and
WHEREAS this convention has in fact been successful in spite of the many challenges,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that these delegates gathered in Seattle express their heartfelt appreciation for a job well done.
Submitted by the Resolutions Committee

A resolution thanking SPJ’s headquarters staff
the Society of Professional Journalists' headquarters staff has devoted months of planning to the staging of this annual convention, and
WHEREAS that effort culminated this year in packing up and moving virtually the entire headquarters a vast distance across the country, and
WHEREAS the convention fell only a few short weeks after terrorist attacks that left many questioning whether the Society should hold a convention at all, and
WHEREAS in spite of it all the staff staged a convention that surpassed all reasonable expectations,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the members of the Society of Professional Journalists express their sincere appreciation to the dedicated members of the SPJ headquarters staff.
Submitted by the Resolutions Committee


Society of Professional Journalists-
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208-4045
fax: 317/920-4789

Join SPJ
Join SPJWhy join?