Tag Archives: Media

U.S. Air Force Issues “Gag” Order on Public Affairs Reporting: Is Something Up?

Order for Retraining of Public Affairs Officers Signals Tighter Control on Reporting.

The U.S. Air Force has issued new, more controlled directives for its interaction with media reporters. The new directives may significantly limit the access journalists have to reporting on some stories about the U.S. Air Force. Officials within the U.S. Defense Department and U.S. Air Force handed down a memo on March 1, 2018 titled, “OPSEC and Public Engagement Reset” announcing new, more controlled restrictions on media reporting.

Included in the March 1 USAF Public Engagement Reset directive is the specification that, “Media embeds, media base visits and interviews are suspended until further notice.” The statement goes on to read, “Limited exceptions may be provided by SAF/PA.” (Secretary of the Air Force/Public Affairs).

The increasingly evolving defense and aerospace media relies heavily on access to military facilities and personnel to generate a wide variety of stories. Storylines, like the ones you read here on The Aviationist.com, range from public interest stories that inspire young people to pursue a military career to military technology, reporting on news about training and operations and stories about historical topics.

The U.S. Air Force and other military services work in cooperation with media outlets to provide access to bases, training areas and personnel for the purpose of generating news stories in promotion of military doctrine and in compliance with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment that guarantees freedom of the press.

Journalists who report on U.S. Air Force subjects have, in general, voluntarily maintained a balanced relationship between maintaining operational security in the interest of overall national security and bringing news stories to the public audience. Reporters know that if they intentionally or inadvertently report on a topic that violates or presses the limits of maintaining operational security (OPSEC) their access will be revoked and they may create a potentially dangerous circumstance putting U.S. service members and defense initiatives at risk. For all defense journalists, maintaining the balance between operational security and freedom of speech in reporting is a significant responsibility and delicate balancing act.

Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, conducts a media interview at Holloman AFB in 2017 during a media event. Media specific events grant exclusive access to multiple news outlets providing a broad spectrum of perspectives and analysis on Air Force news. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

The reasons for this March 1, 2018 change in media directives for the U.S. Air Force could be multi-fold.

During the last decade defense media has evolved and expanded significantly to include vastly greater numbers of media outlets. The quality and credibility of the outlets range from casual social media to major international network news media. Since the onset of media proliferation most of the military services at the national level have done little to adapt their media services to work safely and effectively with the greater number and scale of media outlets. As a result, some public affairs operations have had greatly increased workloads with little strategic direction set against the backdrop of the evolution in media. For the most part, the system has worked well, but the two entities occasionally must moderate the sometimes-conflicting motives of the media to release compelling stories and the Air Force to maintain security. One example was the September, 2017 fatal accident of U.S. Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz.

Lt. Col. Schultz’s remarkable career eventually led to his involvement in classified operations over the vast Nellis Ranges in Nevada. When he died in an accident on September 5, 2017 popular aviation media was rife with speculation about what Lt. Col. Schultz’s mission may have been at the time. Some outlets questioned if Lt. Col. Schultz’s death was being kept classified to protect specific air force programs from criticism. The Air Force was quick to issue media statements from the command level dispelling those theories.

Another reason for changes in Air Force public relations may be more sensational. Several new key technologies may be reaching a level of maturity that mandates a reset of security to protect them from being compromised. The Air Force and aerospace contractors have been selectively public in their disclosures about major programs like the new Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B). But as more media outlets across the entire spectrum press harder and harder for a “scoop” the necessary operational security surrounding these programs becomes more difficult to maintain.

Finally, another contributing factor to the change in Air Force media policy may be that the current internal system is simply overloaded. Given the increase in media outlets and growth in public interest and new story lines the current Air Force public affairs system is trying to sip water from a fire hose. There are simply too many media outlets, reporters asking for access and stories and too few Air Force public affairs personnel to moderate the exploding demand for media against the very real need to maintain operational security while ensuring the media outlets are producing quality media.

This new media restriction couldn’t come at a worse time for the Air Force from a recruiting perspective. A central problem facing the U.S. Air Force is a critical pilot shortage. While there may be no quick fix for producing proficient new Air Force pilots a reduction in the volume of inspiring media about Air Force careers will not help drive new officers and airmen to join the Air Force.

Brigadier General Brook Leonard, Commander of the 56th Fighter Wing, speaks to reporters during a media briefing at an F-16 training facility. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

An embarrassing incident on social media from January, 2018 at Nellis AFB in Nevada was also highlighted in the news earlier this year. USAF Tech. Sgt. Geraldine Lovely of the 99th Force Support Squadron at Nellis posted derogatory comments about subordinates on a social media platform. Here angry remarks, that included profanity and racial slurs, were viewed by over 1 million people and shared over 8,000 times. Tech. Sgt. Lovely was subsequently disciplined and in-service training for the use of social media by Air Force personnel was initiated in response to the incident.

If there is a singular theme to this story it is that media and stories have expanded and changed faster than Air Force public relations capabilities. This, set against a backdrop of what may be some emerging (and exciting) new technologies for the Air Force has caused the story faucet to be turned off. Now it is up to reporters to figure out innovative ways to quench readers’ thirst for Air Force news in this new information draught.

Top image: News reporters interview Maj. Henry Schantz, commander of the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., on April 18, 2012. Schantz, who is based at Langley Air Force Base, Va., will be piloting the F-22 in Louisville’s 22nd annual Thunder Over Louisville air show, to be held along the banks of the Ohio River on April 21. The Raptor is the U.S. military’s premier fighter aircraft, with capabilities that are unmatched by any other plane. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Utøya island attack: the only police helicopter grounded by budget constraints

After reading my last post about Utøya island attack a friend of mine sent me a detailed description of the exact chronology of the events in Norway, with some more information that I’ll try to summarize to help readers understand  when and how the Norwegian police and special forces reacted.

1522 bomb explodes in Oslo

1727 local police receives first call about shooting at Utøya

1730 informal note from the local to the Oslo police about this call

1738 local police requests police “Delta” unit, SWAT-alike unit

1752 local police arrives at shore close to the island (25 mins is a while, that’s Norway with distances etc)

1809 Delta arrives mainland by Utøya

1825 Delta lands at Utøya by Rigid Inflatable Boat (this is the same time as the helicopter that filmed)

1827 Delta arrests Anders Behring Breivik with no resistance, he still had ammo left

=one hour from first call till arrest, not too bad considering it is an island and they had to wait for the Delta unit.


  • Norwegian police doesn’t have personnel transport helicopters. According to the reports, there should be only one police helicopter with observation equipment. So Special Forces (Delta) have to rely on support from RNoAF (Royal Norwegian Air Force) helicopters.
  • From the latest news it’s not clear whether the Police helicopter ever reached the scene or not.
  • Another point is a quite limited reach from the police helicopter due to the heavy weight of its equipment; from 3 hours to 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  • The helicopter is often grounded due to budget constraints for the police force. It became clear today that due to budget cuts the helicopter was grounded in the “common summer holiday” of 3-4 wks June-July every year in Norway, as well as other holidays. Due to the helicopter being shut down (crew or technical, I don’t know) for the holidays, it took quite some time to get it in the air in this instance, but it was used later in the operation (unknown
    when or how).
  • There should be an interview with the photographer Marius Arnesen who said that they only had fuel for 10 minutes (probably at site); they were originally going to Oslo city to film the damage there.
  • Maybe, if the police helicopter had been able to reach the island earlier, it could have shot Anders Behring Breivik  before he executed one of the youths or helped on situational awareness for the Deltas – revealing that there was only one guy and this could make the search quicker.
  • Most probably, given the complex situation with a coordinated terror attack no one knew the limits of, after the arrest it took the police quite some time to secure the island for possible other terrorists and bomb traps – which of course wasn’t good for the many people with severe gunshot wounds.
  • Someone think that the murderer had brought explosives to the island and planned to gather everyone in the main building for an information meeting and blow it up (although there are conflicting info on the explosives). Perhaps, the leaders and one guard got suspicious and he shot them on arrival to the island, alerting everyone. Given Anders Behring Breivik purchase of 6 tons fertilizer, the assumed 5-600 kgs in the Oslo bomb and the 3 tons left at his farm, there is still quite a bit unaccounted for, that is obviously a priority for the police (the media aren’t really on to that yet).
  • Apparently there were difficult flying conditions, the three ambulance helicopters stopped half way due to the fog+wind (and probably also the unclear situation….).

Above, the Norwegian Police helicopter LN-OCP (source: Wikipedia).

Utøya island attack: another example of news helicopters faster to the scene than police choppers

Follow up post (Jul. 25, 2011)

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me a message after seeing images taken from a helicopter of Anders Behring Breivik shooting people at Utøya island during the so-called 2011 Norway attacks. He couldn’t understand why there could be images of the murderer before the police had arrived into the island.

The explaination is simple: those images were taken by a news helicopter that was able to reach Utøya and shoot the footage well before the Police’s Special Forces could manage to reach the island (1 hour and 35 minutes after Breivik had begun massacring people).

People on Social Networks was astonished that a news chopper could intervene quicker than a police one, however, there are many media helicopters overflying the largest town of the world and, quite often, they are able to get exclusive images in the immediate aftermath of disasters and terrorist attacks.

In my opinion, the question is not why a news helicopter was able to get to the scene before special forces one but: in such events does the news chopper stand in police chopper’s path? Can a news helicopter spur the wrong reaction from a murderer/terrorist who could feel under the spotlight?

Above: a RAI TV helicopter