Reporters under fire

Governments at war always try to use the news to their own advantage. The choice of means for doing so in the Falklands crisis offers one more illustration of the difference between democratic Britain and authoritarian Argentina.

In Britain the press is criticized and exhorted. In Argentina journalists are jailed.

In Britain the government controls the information it gives out. In Argentina the government controls the information the press gives out.

In Britain the press answers back. In Argentina the press complies.

It all goes to prove the adage that in war the first casualty is truth.

There can be no doubt where the public has the better chance of obtaining the facts and opinions on which to base its judgment of the present conflict. But even in Britain questions are raised about whether the nation's best interests are served by the degree to which the Ministry of Defense is restricting information. And the rest of the the free world gets a disappointing impression from such episodes as the government attacking BBC efforts to be evenhanded.

The Argentine junta is not content with complaining. Three British journalists have been kept in prison for a month on charges of espionage. Three Scandinavian journalists, one of them working for Newsweek, have been ordered out of the country. Various reporters from other countries have been detained or questioned. This week's brief terrorizing abductions of British and American journalists have been suspected to be the work of secret police or the so-called free-lance hit squads that may or may not have government sanction. They may have been acting to embarrass the junta, according to one view, and the junta reportedly offered protection to foreign journalists requesting it.

As Argentina tries to move toward international respectability from its role as aggressor in the Falklands, it will have an even harder time if it cannot assure the safety of journalists, let alone the freedom of the press.

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