Pentagon begins television channel
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Pentagon Channel targets troops
By Guy Taylor
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Pentagon has created its own 24-hour television channel to cut out the middle man — the national media — in covering news events at the headquarters of the world's most powerful military.
Created with $6 million in congressional funds, the Pentagon Channel earlier this year began airing full coverage of defense press conferences and other programming targeted at U.S. troops.
"We carry all of the briefings from start to finish with no editorial content," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Allison Barber, adding that briefing footage is then fully archived at the channel's Web site, www.pentagonchannel.mil.
The channel is picked up by the existing American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), which is shown on U.S. military bases worldwide, and also gets sent via satellite to bases inside the United States.
That's something historic, according to military officials, who explain that the Pentagon Channel marks the first time that the U.S. military has been able to provide its own programming to troops stationed inside the country.
The AFRTS, which for decades has informed and entertained troops posted abroad, cannot legally provide programming to U.S.-based forces because its content consists of recycled and live material from such commercial sources as Fox, CNN and NBC.
"We realized that we didn't have a good way to provide news here in the States," said Miss Barber, adding that major commercial networks often ignore certain troop-sensitive stories, such as press conferences on vaccines or personnel changes.
The Pentagon Channel contains 100 percent military content, with the goal of being a pure conduit of information for the troops. Although its primary programming includes Defense Department briefings and interviews with top defense officials, the channel also carries stories about the daily life and work of service members.
With all programs anchored by military personnel, the most popular show so far is a daily 30-minute newscast, said Miss Barber, although she added that another program called "Why I Serve" is an immense hit with the troops.
" 'Why I Serve' has brought viewers inside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for interviews of soldiers who've lost limbs," she said. "It just stops you in your tracks."
Miss Barber said the Pentagon Channel makes every effort to avoid propaganda charges by, among other practices, offering live coverage of such events as press conferences from beginning to end, while commercial networks will pick up only the sections they deem newsworthy.
"It would be propaganda if we tried to spin it," she said.
The Pentagon Channel is headquartered in Alexandria with the AFRTS, which broadcasts to 177 countries, more than any other network, said AFRTS Director Melvin W. Russell.
Mr. Russell and Miss Barber said the Pentagon Channel was a result of Mr. Rumsfeld's progressive plan to broaden and improve the Defense Department's public-affairs arms, both internally and externally.
Although civilians can pick up the Pentagon Channel with a satellite dish, the channel's target audience is the members of the U.S. armed forces, both active and reserve.
"We want to get the message out to them," said Miss Barber, adding that news about the Defense Department is "so important because we're asking from the men and women of our military more than any company asks from their employees."
"It's our responsibility to equip them with everything they need to be successful in their job," she said. "Communication is the key element of that."
For citizens and military personnel interested in what Americans nationwide are doing to support the U.S. armed forces, Miss Barber urged them to learn more about a new Pentagon program called the "America Supports You" campaign.
She pointed people to the Web site, www.americasupportsyou.com, for information about the program, which highlights citizens, businesses and groups undertaking projects to support the troops, especially those deployed in the war on terrorism.