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Military to launch news service

KUWAIT CITY -- The US military will begin its own news service in Iraq and Afghanistan to send military video, text, and photos directly to the Internet or news outlets.

The $6.3 million project, expected to begin operating in April, is one of the largest military public affairs projects in recent memory, and is intended to allow small media outlets in the United States and elsewhere to bypass what the Pentagon views as an increasingly combative press corps.

US officials have complained that Iraq-based media focus on catastrophic events such as car bombs and soldiers' deaths, while giving short shrift to US rebuilding efforts.

The American public "currently gets a pretty slanted picture," said Army Captain Randall Baucom, a spokesman for the Kuwait-based US-led Coalition Land Forces Command. "We want them to get an opportunity to see the facts as they exist, instead of getting information from people who aren't on the scene."

The project, called Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System, or DVIDS, will also give the Pentagon more control of the coverage when calamities do happen.

Army camera teams will be able to use their access to battle zones or military bases to film the aftermath of rebel attacks on US troops, or US raids on insurgent targets, and then offer free pictures to news outlets within two hours.

At times civilian media are kept away from such events.

"We have an unfair advantage," Baucom said. "We're going to be able to get closer to the incident. . . . The important thing is that we provide the public with accurate information."

Media analysts argued that the military has a vested interest in making sure its viewpoint is heard.

"The Army wants to get their view across and they are using a technique as old as any public relations manuever ever devised," said Aly Colon, an ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, the journalism research and education center in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I would view the Army's decision in the same way that I would view OPEC creating a communications system to help the American public understand what it means when prices go up," he said.

"This is the kind of news that people get in countries where the government controls the media. Why would anybody here want to buy into it?" said Mac McKerral, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The Army is in the midst of contracting to outfit five mobile public affairs detachments with a suitcase-size reporting kit containing digital video and still cameras, a laptop computer, and a Norsat NewsLink 3200 satellite broadcast terminal. Four teams will be based in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

Much of the effort is aimed at packaging and shipping locally focused stories to small and medium-sized newspapers and television stations in the United States, said Army Colonel Rick Thomas, who heads the effort.

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