The new regulations have been introduced as a result of instructions from the Defence Department.
They follow recent attacks by Government backbenchers on the Australian press coverage of the war, and earlier approaches to newspaper editors and proprietors seeking a more “sympathetic” press account of the war.
The new military censorship regulations will seriously inhibit the reporting of Australian military operations and civic aid activities in Vietnam.
Few Australian correspondents are likely to accept them. (This correspondent has already declined to do so.)
Australian military activities in Vietnam will go largely unreported in future as a result.
American correspondents have not been informed of the new Australian military censorship rules, but several interviewed in Saigon yesterday said flatly that they would refuse to accept them.
They described them as “unworkable” or “ridiculous”.
Peter Braestrup, Saigon bureau chief of the “Washington Post,” said: “Of course I could not give a guarantee like that. Under those conditions I would not even bother going near the Australians. They sound terribly nervous.”
Australian army routine orders already require that any correspondent with the Australian forces in Vietnam must be accompanied by an army public relations office.
The new Australian military censorship regulations have been imposed on top of the “ground rules for correspondents” laid down by the United States military assistance command in Vietnam.
The regulations set out in very considerable detail, rules designed to protect the security of all military operations in Vietnam (Australian included) and to withhold information which might be of use to the enemy.
Accreditation is granted to all correspondents in Vietnam (Australians included) only on condition that they affirm these regulations.
The new Australian military censorship regulations are, by contrast, highly indiscriminate.
They virtually prohibit any Australian serviceman in Vietnam from discussing any matter, except the weather (and perhaps even that), with an already accredited correspondent.
They cover every conceivable issue of public interest, not merely matters of tactical and strategic security.
They are aimed at preventing the publication of “unauthorised, indiscreet or ill-informed statements on service mattes” which might lead to “serious military and political consequences”.
They forbid any member of the Australian forces in Vietnam from discussing with an accredited correspondent “any matter which is subject to public or political controversy” and “any defence or service matter related to policy, administration, plans, conditions of service or equipment” as well as matter which might affect operational security.
There is also a blanket clause which prohibits Australian servicemen from discussing “impressions deriving from their service activities” related to the matters already stated.
The new Australian military censorship regulations are provisional.
It is believed that the Australian Defence Department is preparing a new draft which will be even more restrictive.
The United States Army Chief of Information in Vietnam (Brigadier-General Winant Sidle) returned to Saigon today after 30 days absence.
He was not available to comment on the effect which the new Australian military censorship regulations would have on accredited American correspondents who wished to voer the activities of Australian forces in Vietnam.
His deputy declined to comment until he had had an opportunity to discuss the matter with General Sidle.