03 March 2012

Stars and Stripes Relocation Drawing Major Attention

Media organizations don't like it when they become the story, especially the Stars and Stripes, who are being relocated, and they object to their landing zone.

An inside-the-office debate began to simmer when Pentagon officials — answering the order from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to find significant budget efficiencies — saw a way to cut $1 million a year in rent by relocating the newspaper from the National Press Building, a prestigious downtown address. The 80-member newsroom and business staff was ordered to Fort Meade, Md., where it would be housed at no cost alongside the agency that oversees official Pentagon and military media operations.

Staff members objected. And now, concerns that proximity could potentially lead to interference have reached Capitol Hill — which heightens the debate, since Stars and Stripes is subsidized with taxpayer funds but operates with a Congressional endorsement to maintain journalistic independence.

One of the most powerful voices on military affairs in Congress, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, wrote Mr. Panetta this week agreeing that questions of editorial independence for Stars and Stripes were “well-placed, and should lead to a review of possible alternatives to this decision.”

Mr. Levin, a Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, wrote: “If this move is based on cost savings, were other alternatives considered, including other government spaces and other leased locations? If Stars and Stripes is moved to Fort Meade, what will the department do to ensure that the actual and perceived independence of the important service provided by Stars and Stripes is preserved?”

Douglas B. Wilson, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said the decision to relocate the newspaper to Fort Meade “is not a matter of reducing independence for Stars and Stripes. It is a matter of reducing rent costs to the taxpayer.”

He added, “In an era when the entire department is having to find efficiencies, and budgets are being reduced, it would be hard to explain why $1 million a year in rent should not be replaced by free office space.”

Terry Leonard, editorial director at Stars and Stripes, said he and the staff do not object to moving — only to a move that locates them at the headquarters for official Pentagon media operations.

By: Brant

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