The British news media have been asked to submit to stern censorship rules in their coverage of a war in the Gulf. Operating against a somber mood, symbolized by a massive 534 to 57 House of Commons vote Tuesday in favor of going to war, newspaper, television, and radio editors have been handed a seven-page Ministry of Defense set of censorship guidelines. It outlines 32 subjects on which information must not be published without official clearance.

The guidelines forbid journalists to mention specific locations, troop numbers, and operational techniques unless officially authorized to do so.

British journalists working in the electronic media have been warned to think twice before relying too heavily on foreign news agencies and on Cable News Network, the American global TV service.

Executives of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the commercially supported Independent Television News (ITN) have tried to dispute some of the guidelines, including the handling of casualty figures.

With a war cabinet headed by Prime Minister John Major already beginning to operate at 10 Downing Street, the Ministry of Defense told editors: ``There is an obvious danger that publication of authoritative information about the operations of British or allied forces could unwittingly jeopardize their success.''

It went on to warn of the dangers of providing detailed information on ship or aircraft losses, the damage to fighting units, and the loss of combat troops.

Defense Ministry officials are using the experience of the battle for the Falkland Islands in 1982 as a touchstone for their media approach to the Gulf crisis. In the Falklands campaign there were bitter disputes between the Defense Ministry and British news organizations about what the public had a right to know about the fighting.

An ITN executive asked: ``What happens if CNN carries words and pictures which our own government says we must not use?'' The entire censorship system could become a laughing stock, he said.

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