2003 Looks at War Coverage
By Morand Fachot,
EBU Communication service
of the conflict in Iraq, the biggest news story of 2003, was
at the centre of the debates of the second edition of the NewsXchange
conference which took place in Budapest on 6-7 November 2003.
NewsXchange, a not-for-profit conference underwritten by the
European Broadcasting Union (EBU), has the backing of the 70
members of the EBU's Eurovision News Exchange and of the 29
members of European News Exchange (ENEX), the cooperative of
commercial broadcasters. It is also supported by the major international
broadcast news agencies and networks.
conference brought together broadcast news executives, experts
on safety issues in the field and media specialists for a comprehensive
review of the coverage of the war in Iraq, a presentation on
the latest developments in newsgathering technology and debates
about the risks faced by journalists in conflicts and post-conflict
situations. The strained relations between the media and governments
in several countries and the influence of reality TV were also
discussed at the conference, attended by some 340 delegates
from over 40 countries.
in places as far apart as Baghdad, Doha, Jerusalem, the United
States, Moscow, London or Paris took part in the debates via
some 40 satellite link-ups ensured by the Eurovision network.
Embed vs. unilaterals?
2003 opened with "The Year in Pictures" and "A
week in Baghdad," video reports produced, respectively,
by APTN and Reuters TV.
were followed by a lively debate, moderated by CNN Chief International
Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, on the "embedding"
of correspondents in frontline units, the role of "unilateral"
reporters who operated outside official military arrangements,
and what many regarded as attempts on the part of the British
and US military to manage the news agenda.
"The US will control the battle space, it has to,"
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) Bryan
Whitman argued. "When there are civilians we have to be
sure that in no way do they compromise the battlefield. At the
moment journalists are civilians, not combatants," he added.
of hundreds of journalists on the battlefield is a major concern
to the military, as Col Chris Vernon, chief spokesman of the
British Armed Forces in the Gulf region, explained. Concern
based on both risks to operational safety - which could be jeopardised
by careless or untimely reporting - and risks for the personal
safety of journalists, for which the military may ultimately
be held responsible.
acknowledging that "embeds" contributed to better
news coverage as reporters gained first-hand experience of the
complexities of modern warfare, Col.Vernon also stressed that
the presence of large numbers of journalists in the battle zone
represented a burden for the military, particularly in terms
of logistics and security.
of reporters, particularly unilaterals and those based at allied
headquarters, expressed frustration at what they considered
unnecessary restrictions placed on them by coalition forces,
delays in releasing information and attempts at feeding them
an official line.
Frustration was visible on the part of the military too. British
Army Maj.-Gen. (retd) Arthur Denaro called on members of the
media to learn more about the military: "I think we, in
the military, certainly keep training, keep going on courses
right the way through to 1- and 2-star level and we never see
a journalist coming on, we never see anybody from the media
industry. You come and talk to us on these courses, but we never
have anybody coming in to learn with us," he noted.
Gen Denaro also pleaded for more contacts between the military
and the media in peacetime to improve media coverage of conflicts.
"In something which was forecast so well, as this latest
conflict was, I believe there could have been much more effort,
on both sides - by us to educate you and by you to come in and
try understand the dimensions of this multidimensional business
that we're all in," he said.
also featured the launch of a joint study by the BBC and Cardiff
School of Journalism on war reporting and the policy of embedding
journalists with frontline units.
Prof Justin Lewis, deputy director of the Cardiff journalism
school, noted: "The criticisms that were made at the time,
that the embedded reporters were more likely to give a pro-war
spin, do not hold up. But we do have some reservations, particularly
about the narrative that is created by embedded reports, where
the only discussion is about who's winning and who's losing,
with little of the wider picture."
also found that television reports produced by embedded correspondents
during the conflict in Iraq gave a "sanitised" picture
reporters who accompanied the British and US military were able
to be objective, they avoided images that would be too graphic
or violent for British television, the study concluded. A situation
Mark Damazer, deputy director of BBC News, described as a "disservice
participants were split on many of the issues discussed during
this first session, the general consensus was that comprehensive
coverage from the battle zone was best ensured by a combination
of reporting from embeds and unilaterals, not by reliance on
a single category of correspondents.
of the second session was given by a warning from Sir Jeremy
Greenstock: "everybody should travel with their own hired
protection, if possible in protective vehicles
measures have to be taken even by visiting journalists,"
the British representative to the Coalition Provisional Authority
moderated by BBC World main anchor Nik Gowing, started with
a tribute to the winners of this year's Rory Peck Award and
a tribute from the International News Safety Institute to journalists
and media workers killed in action.
occasion INSI, which held its first General Assembly on the
eve of NewsXchange, launched a book "Dying to tell the
story," dedicated to all media workers who fell covering
the Iraq war.
discussed some of the issues currently preoccupying news organisations
around the world: is it time to reassess safety training? What
about the use of security advisers? Is there ever a justification
for these or journalists carrying guns?
issue of armed security escorts for journalists was hotly debated.
"I would have five or six dead colleagues had it not been
for the defensive action that had been taken," said Eason
Jordan, CNN executive vice president and chief news executive,
following the showing of footage of the shootout between the
security guards protecting CNN correspondent Brent Sadler and
armed men near the town of Tikrit. "I
very much regret that we find it essential at times to put armed
protection in the field, but Iraq is not the first place where
it happened. We faced it in Somalia, in Afghanistan. I have
no regret whatsoever that this action was taken to keep our
colleagues alive," said Jordan.However,
many participants expressed concern that armed security escorts
might make the work of journalists more - not less - dangerous
at times of war.
Cramer, managing director of CNN International disagreed with
those who argued that a line had been crossed irreversibly with
this incident. "This is not a Rubicon, we have not crossed
the line, this is a slippery slope," he said, "we
are - whether we like it or not - legitimate targets."
Cramer also argued that attacks against journalists were often
motivated by greed, "We are travelling ATM machines, we
have many carloads of many shiny boxes, very expensive cameras,
which represent an opportunity for robbery," he noted.
misadventure experienced by Channel 4 correspondent Lindsey
Hilsum and her crew, held up on the road from Amman to Baghdad
by two armed men who took $4,500 and a satphone, supported this
claim. However, cameraman Tim Lambon, who was travelling with
Lindsey Hilsum at the time, argued that they might have been
killed had they been armed.
Participants were evenly split between proponents and adversaries
of armed escorts for journalists.
The divide was mainly - but not exclusively - between representatives
of large US or British news organisations, main users of armed
escorts, and media organisations from other countries which
cannot afford the cost of hiring security guards, a point highlighted
by a reporter for Dutch public broadcaster NOS who covered the
Iraqi conflict: "Our policy is not to have armed guards
just because it costs too much. We can't afford it. It's very
simple, so we don't even discuss it. There is no way we could
ever afford it," he said.
Another major issue addressed at the session by Dr Anthony Feinstein,
a clinical psychologist from the University of Toronto, and
Mark Brayne, director of the Dart Centre Europe, was whether
news organisations were doing all they could to help journalists
who may suffer from trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder
technology that allowed the remarkable coverage of the Iraq
war and new developments that may revolutionise the broadcast
news industry in the coming months were presented in a special
session which included a video featuring highlights from the
September 2003 International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam.
With remarkable leaps in graphics and virtual reality, there
are new ways to make inaccessible stories more informative and
visually stimulating. Experts demonstrated technology allowing
this to happen and also debated the dangers of technology going
too far and distorting reporting. [For more on the technology
used to report the war via satellite, see Technical
Review in this issue.]
The coming year will, in all likelihood, present more challenges
to the news industry and - given the growing success of the
NewsXchange conferences - more broadcast news executives, experts
on safety issues, and media specialists will gather to discuss
these at NewsXchange 2004. TBS
version of an article first published in the January 2004 edition
of 'The Channel', magazine of the Association for International