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Media lobby Pentagon over Iraq safety

The meeting followed the deaths of around 40 media employees – including 33 journalists – since the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq…

From The Guardian (UK), June 3, 2004
By Patrick Barrett

Some of the world’s most powerful media organisations have joined forces to lobby the Pentagon to improve the safety of journalists in war zones where US forces are present.

Representatives from Reuters, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, al-Jazeera, Fox News, CBS, ABC, Associated Press, Spanish TV station Telecino, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, met with US military representatives headed by acting assistant secretary of defence Lawrence Di Rita last week to discuss how to reduce the number of media deaths caused by US forces.

The meeting followed the deaths of around 40 media employees – including 33 journalists – since the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq, and subsequent suggestions that US forces could have been responsible for the deaths of up to 11 media employees in the country.

Pentagon officials – including representatives from the US Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force – were told that the fact that soldiers were not adequately trained to identify and handle the press, combined with a failure of communication on the ground, had directly contributed to the deaths of journalists.

According to David Schlesinger, the global managing editor and head of editorial operations for Reuters, which coordinated the day-long conference, the aim was not to establish a code of conduct for journalists and the military, but come up with practical steps that would make it safer for the media to operate in war zones.

Of particular concern are incidents such as the shooting last August of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, who was killed by an American soldier after his camera was mistaken for an anti-tank weapon.

“The most important thing was to get the dialogue going. The Pentagon is a very complex organisation,” Mr Schlesinger said.

“We got people talking, we aired a lot of issues. People at the Pentagon were able to go back with specific comments on areas where journalists felt we needed to make progress quickly. Areas like communication, training of military personal as regards journalists, access and accreditation.

“Journalists have a job to do and we will do it in our own way, and the military have a job to do and they’ll follow their own rules of engagement. We are trying to get an understanding of the issues out in the open. But from both the military and the media there was an understanding that a commitment to change was needed,” he said.

Schlesinger added that while the US military considered the proposals made last week, a group of senior executives representing the different media would be established to pursue the issue.

“We’ll be forming a group of half a dozen or so people from print, the wires, from TV and the Arab media, who will continue to press for change,” he said.

Also present at the meeting were senior news editors and executives including Eason Jordan, the chief news executive and executive vice president at CNN; Jack Cushman, the national security editor for The New York Times; BBC News deputy director Mark Damazer; John Stack, the vice president of newsgathering for Fox News; and Guy Dinmore, the Financial Times’ Middle East correspondent.
A spokeswoman for CNN said the meeting had seen a frank exchange of views.

“The meeting was blunt and constructive and discussions will continue in an effort to heighten the safety and security of journalists in Iraq, where more than 40 news organisation employees have died since the war began in March of last year,” she said.

US military implicated in further deaths

The debate comes at a sensitive time for relations between the US military and the media operating in Iraq. Many media organisations have suffered the loss of personnel in the country. American forces have been confirmed as responsible for the deaths of seven journalists, including employees from the BBC, Reuters, Telecinco and Arab TV stations al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera.

In addition, the US military has been implicated in the shooting of two further media employees – an Iraqi cameraman employed by America’s ABC network who was shot in Falluja earlier this year, and the ITN correspondent Terry Lloyd. French ITN cameraman Fred Nerac and Lebanese translator Hussein Osman are still missing following the incident in which Lloyd died.

Vocal attacks by senior coalition figures on Arab media organisations that have repeatedly shown images of casualties following US military action, are regarded by many in the media as increasing the dangers for Middle Eastern journalists in particular.

Reuters is still pressing the Pentagon to reopen the investigation into the accusations made by three of its Iraqi employees that they were tortured and subjected to humiliating sexual abuse while being held by US troops.

The build up of media activity before the formal handover of power from coalition forces to the new Iraqi government on June 30 is also seen as a potential flash point for conflict in the country, with growing concerns that the media could be in the firing line.

Last week Chris Cramer, the managing director of CNN international, warned the International Federation of Journalists that reporters were now regarded as a legitimate target by forces operating in some countries.

In an interview with MediaGuardian.co.uk, he warned that the issue of safety in Iraq could become critical with the increasing number of journalists entering the country to cover the exchange of power.

“I think it’s at a real head now. We are looking at a terrifying world generally and particularly for journalists. All news organisations are going to have to think long and hard about the number of people in Iraq now and in the future.

“We are planning our coverage very much with safety in mind,” he said.

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