US Army Doesn’t Work on ‘Audience Participation’ TV Due to ‘Spontaneity’

The US Army’s regulations on Public Affairs activities are over 100 pages of rules and restrictions governing how the Army interacts with news media, entertainment media and other public events.  They outline which activities require prior approval from Army Public Affairs chiefs (i.e. most of them) and which are generally not approved for Army support or involvement.  In particular it explains that Army employees are usually not allowed to appear in ‘audience participation programs’ because they are too spontaneous for the Army to predict what will happen and prepare the ‘appropriate’ responses.

Section 8-9 of the Army’s regulations covers support to (deep breath) ‘non-U.S. Government authors and producers of documentaries and entertainment-oriented publications and audio and audiovisual products’.  It outlines the criteria for deciding whether a project should be supported, namely:

(1) The product must be authentic in its portrayal of actual persons, places, military operations, and historical events.  If the portrayal is fictional, the product must depict military life in a plausible manner.
(2) The product must foster an improved understanding of the Army and the DOD.
(3) The product cannot appear to condone or endorse activities that are contrary to U.S. Government policy or that are not in the best interest of the U.S. Army or the DOD.

These extremely vague and broad criteria are apparently clarified in the ‘OCPA–LA guide to working with the entertainment industry’, but when I requested a copy of this guide under FOIA they provided a copy of the DOD instruction on working with the entertainment industry, which isn’t the same thing.  I am currently attempting to appeal this response but the US Army’s FOIA appeals process is – shall we say – less than adequate.

Nonetheless the regulations do list a number of different kinds of entertainment products and the Army’s processes for handling requests for assistance.  Certain activities are totally forbidden – for example, appearing in an advert to promote a commercial product.  This is why the series of Budweiser commercials apparently featuring the US Army were actually made with fake soldiers, and used fake emotive ‘homecoming’ moments to promote both their beer and the military.

Despite this, the Army has participated in promotional activities for DOD-supported movies, which are commercial products just as a bottle of beer is.  So clearly these regulations are extremely flexible, just like the rest of the DOD’s rules in this area.

One section is particularly amusing, on Army personnel appearing on TV shows.  It reads:

(1) Appearances by Army personnel in an official capacity or unofficially while in uniform must be approved by the appropriate authority based on the level of interest (local, regional, or national).
(2) Army personnel participation in talk shows with either regional or national interest requires approval by the OCPA.
(3) Any Army personnel participation or support must be unique in character, must not have a commercial counterpart, must not benefit DA and DOD, and must be in the national interest. The participation or support must not interfere with the customary employment and regular engagement of civilian performers. The sponsor must agree before the broadcast to satisfy all copyright  requirements.
(4) Prior approval for appearing on audience participation programs is usually not possible due to the spontaneity of the program. Conduct on such programs should reflect favorably on the Army.

Put simply, audience participation programs mean that members of the public might ask questions or make points that are critical of the military, and their inability to prepare responses for every possible question means that US Army personnel very rarely take part in such programs.  This is yet another way in which the military seeks to censor the public conversation about them, by refusing to lend support or provide access to TV shows that they cannot editorially control.

Documents

US Army Regulation 360-1 Public Affairs Program

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