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US Military Ends Journalist Profiling Contract

KABUL - The U.S. military is cancelling a contract with a public relations firm after coming under criticism for using the company to rate the output of journalists reporting on the Afghanistan war.

News photographers take pictures of a German ISAF Quick Reaction Force regional command north (QRF) soldier during a drill in the Marmal mountains near the German ISAF headquarters in Masar-i-Sharif, north of Kabul, July 1, 2008. (REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch) The Rendon Group had provided profiles of journalists that rated their output as "positive", "neutral" or "negative", although the military said it did not use the ratings to manipulate coverage or deny reporters access to cover the war.

"The Bagram Regional Contracting Center intends to execute a termination of the media analyst contract ... for the convenience of the U.S. government," military spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker said.

The contract -- worth $1.5 million -- with the Washington-based firm was first revealed last week in the military's own Pentagon-funded but editorially independent newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

The paper said the profiles included suggestions on how to "neutralise" negative stories and generate favourable coverage.

The profiles had been sharply criticised by journalism advocacy groups.

"It strips away any pretence that the army is interested in helping journalists to work freely. It suggests they are more interested in propaganda than honest reporting," Aidan White, general secretary of the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, said last week.

Commanders denied they used the profiles to attempt to influence coverage, or to determine which journalists would be allowed to accompany troops on "embedded" assignments.

(Reporting by Peter Graff; Editing by Jerry Norton)
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