Vt. Air Guard seeks to review, censor F-35 photos

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SOUTH BURLINGTON — The Vermont Air National Guard has announced it wants to review and possibly censor photographs and videos taken by local journalists when the new F-35 aircraft are stationed in South Burlington.

The air guard invited certain members of the Vermont media to an information session on Wednesday to go over new procedures, including restrictions of what can and can't be photographed beginning in mid-September when the new planes arrive.

Some journalists attending the briefing reported they pushed back at the thought of the military determining what information, including video or still photographs, could be shown to Vermonters.

Media members also said they were unhappy with the Vermont air guard indicating that using cellphones — a standard newsgathering tool for journalists — would be prohibited for photographs.

Some journalists also objected to an air guard ban on live video reporting or streaming of the F-35s.

The guard's proposed restrictions include no pictures of engines and open cockpits, media members said after the briefing. The guard wants the right to review and then order videos or photographs deleted on the spot.

The air guard is changing from F-16s to F-35s in a move that has been criticized by some community members and groups concerned about expected noise increase.

The proposed rules do not restrict the recording of the noise levels, media members said.

It was unclear why longstanding past practices and regulations by the Vermont Air National Guard were not being maintained. Some media members said they questioned if any journalists in other states would agree to such restrictions.

Lt. Chelsea M. Clark, public affairs officer for the Vermont air guard, said Thursday that she heard the complaints from the media about the restrictions and she planned to bring them up the chain of command.

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She declined to say who was responsible for drafting the proposal that came through the Department of Defense.

Clark also declined on Thursday to make public a copy of the talking points or rules she outlined to the journalists during the meeting, which lasted more than an hour. Media members attending the session said the guard had promised copies would be provided.

Attempts to reach Vermont Adjutant General Gregory Knight was unsuccessful on Thursday.

Clark had sent an email to a limited number of members in the Vermont news media inviting them to a discussion Wednesday afternoon about future news coverage of the F-35s.

"There are changes with the F-35 aircraft for imagery and security; which require review before the photos can be released/published," Clark wrote in her email to those invited.

"The more understanding we have on the front-end, the smoother the process will be when the aircraft are here and we are out on the flight line," she said.

Those invited were told "it would benefit you and your organizations with the information as we change from the F-16 Fighting Falcon to the F-35 Lightning II. We want to provide you access while maintaining safety and operational security at the 158th Fighter Wing."

The journalists invited were listed by the air guard as part of "our media teams."

Among those attending the session were representatives from the Associated Press, Burlington Free Press, the Other Paper (South Burlington), television stations WCAX, My NBC5, and ABC22/Fox 44 and Vermont Public Radio and VtDigger.

The guard invited about one-half of the daily newspapers and about one-third of the weekly newspapers circulating in Vermont. Three of the four largest TV stations and one radio station also were among those receiving the email invitation.


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