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Experts: Press and military must cooperate | (UPI) -- Cooperation between media and the military is essential for the press to provide comprehensive coverage of military action, representatives from both groups said last week at a National Press Club discussion panel in Washington.

The panel was part of a symposium to discuss the media's coverage of recent and future U.S. military action that was jointly sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the Center for National Security Law from the University of Virginia School of Law.

Robert M. O'Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, which sponsored the event together with the University of Virginia Law School, said the forum provided the media and military an opportunity to foster a sense of cooperation between the two groups.

"There's a sense that this is actually constructive dialogue among those who will shape the policies," he said.

The 50 media representatives and a handful of military and government spokesmen met for several roundtable discussions.

Military representatives included Richard Falkenrath, special assistant to President Bush and senior director for the Office of Homeland Security's Policy and Plans department; Larry Mefford, assistant director for the FBI's department of counter-terrorism; Dennis Murphy, assistant commissioner for public affairs at the U.S. Custom Service; and Bryan Whitman, the Defense Department's deputy assistant secretary for public affairs.

Media speakers included Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie and Peter Copeland, editor and general manger of the Scripps Howard News Service, among others.

The media must strike a balance between what could be detrimental to National Security and keeping the public informed about what the government is doing, said keynote speaker Steven Roberts, syndicated columnist and Professor of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University.

There is nothing more patriotic than a reporter asking probing questions about what the government is doing, he said.

"Raising those questions, even at the height of conflict, is the highest form of patriotism," he said. "I am troubled by what I see as the culture of secrecy in our presidency."

Journalists exercising their craft at this time in history must continually seek to balance the needs of national security with the responsibility of reporting the facts American citizens need to know as voters, he said.

During a roundtable discussion, the Defense Department's Whitman said that reporters would be given access to the military should the country go to war with Iraq, but limited or censored if the government determines that releasing information will breach national security. In general, the military tries to be accommodating to the media, he said.

"I think truth matters," he said. "It's got to matter in this conflict, if there is one."

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