Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Where's the warning to the viewer?

Robert Fisk writing in the Independent makes an interesting point about our news from Iraq—
"Hotel journalism" is the only way to describe it. More and more, Western reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the streets of Iraq's towns and cities.

Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. Several Western journalists simply do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad.

So grave are the threats to Western journalists that some television stations are talking of withdrawing their reporters and crews altogether.1 Amid an insurgency where Westerners - and many Arabs as well as other foreigners - are kidnapped and killed, reporting on this war is becoming close to impossible.

Not many British and American papers still cover stories in Baghdad in person, moving with trepidation through the streets of a city slowly being taken over by insurgents.

So questions are being asked. What is a reporter's life worth?

Is the story worth the risk?

And, much more seriously from an ethical point of view, why don't more journalists report on the restrictions under which they operate?

During the 2003 US-British invasion, editors often insisted on prefacing journalist's dispatches from Saddam Hussein's Iraq by talking abut the restrictions under which they were operating. But today - when our movements are much more circumscribed - no such "health warning" accompanies their reports. In many cases, viewers and readers are left with the impression that the journalist is free to travel around Iraq. Not so.

"The US military couldn't be happier with this situation," a longtime American correspondent in Baghdad says. "They know that if they bomb a house of innocent people, they can claim it was a 'terrorist' base and get away with it. They don't want us roaming around Iraq, and so the 'terrorist' threat is great news for them. They can claim they've shot 600 or 1 000 insurgents and we have no way of checking because we can't go to the cemetery or visit the hospitals - because we don't want to get kidnapped and have our throats cut." [emphasis added]


1 Two weeks ago French President Jacques Chirac issued a warning to French journalists—

"I want to reiterate that the French authorities have formally advised against sending journalists" to Iraq, the president said.
After the government secured the release of two French reporters held for months, another reporter has disappeared. It's more than the French government wants to deal with. [back]

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