The Pentagon has no plans and no capacity to impose "blue-pencil censorship" on journalists involved in future military operations, a spokesman said yesterday.
Air Force Col. Robert J. O'Brien said ground rules on the type of information correspondents would be authorized to report from the battlefield have undergone three drafts and are still being revised. None of the drafts, he said, contemplated a direct censorship system.
In Cairo, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger denied any decisions have been made on handling the press in a wartime situation.
"There hasn't been anything like a decision and there hasn't been anything remotely resembling a suggestion of censorship or anything of that kind," he said, calling stories suggesting otherwise "a whole lot of nonsense."
Michael I. Burch, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had formulated a proposal for a coverage pool of television networks, a radio reporter, a weekly news magazine reporter and wire service reporters, but no daily newspapers.
But officials said that Weinberger had not given final approval to his public affairs officials' suggestions.
And Burch said yesterday that he no longer is convinced that all four major television networks should be represented on a pool before the first newspaper reporter is invited.
Weinberger reiterated the difficulties posed by including a newspaper reporter, saying, "It is very hard to do 1,300 papers as opposed to three radio-TV networks or two or three news magazines and so on and so forth."
An article in The Washington Post Friday said correspondents involved in future military campaigns would be exposed to "an extraordinary degree of battlefield censorship . . . akin to the censorship exercised over the press in World War II."
O'Brien said that statement was erroneous and resulted from a misinterpretation of the first draft of the proposed ground rules.
That draft said the battlefield commander is the "sole releasing authority for all military information . . . contained in any medium" and that information independently obtained by correspondents "is not to be transmitted or released to the public unless officially released by U.S. or Friendly Forces commanders or their representatives."
The penalty for violation of these strictures could be loss of accreditation and expulsion from the scene.
The ground rules also included an extensive list of the types of information that would not be "releasable".
O'Brien said correspondents would be required to sign statements agreeing to observe whatever ground rules are adopted, but would not be required to submit any material for prior censorship.