Archive for March 2003

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[eccr] War reporters face new challenges

Tue Mar 25 10:23:20 GMT 2003

Title: War reporters face new challenges

War reporters face new challenges

By Allan Little
BBC world affairs correspondent in Kuwait city

The conflict with Iraq has changed the face of war reporting with an unprecedented number of journalists in the battle zones.

I am standing in the lobby of an international hotel in Kuwait city.

It is just after dark. A US army major is talking urgently into a mobile phone to a journalist who has got lost in southern Iraq.

"These voices you can hear," the major is saying. "Are they English or Arabic? Arabic.

This feeling that so far we are all inescapably part of someone's war effort is unsettling

"Then lie flat on the ground. Do not move.

"Switch off your mobile phone because if it rings it will give away your position. Stay there all night.

"When you hear American forces arrive wave something white and put your hands up.

"Now", he adds ominously, "is there any message you would like me to pass on to your next of kin while you still can?"

Who is the hapless, terrified hack who has phoned the US army press office in Kuwait in desperation, unable to move and now fearing for his life?

He has run across the Iraqi border and headed blindly into the battlefield and has run up against units of the Iraqi army.

How has he got himself into this position? Is he still there this morning? Has he survived the night?

'Reality TV show'

There are too many of us here. There are 2,000 reporters accredited with the US military.

Of those 500 are embedded with the coalition forces and they are telling the story of this war - graphically, dramatically, instantly and sometimes live, commentating on battles as they unfold, and before the outcome is known.

It is astonishing and unprecedented. It changes everything about what we do.

An old friend rang me this morning. He is working as a cameraman with one of the American networks.

I have worked with him in dangerous places before - Rwanda, Zaire, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe - and he is a calm and fearless man of careful judgement.

He has seen a lot. I trust his judgement.

"I'm desperately worried Allan" he says.

"None of the team I'm working with here has ever been to a war before and they want to cross the border and go wandering into the battlefield.

"You should hear them talking about this war. They think it's a reality TV show".

Reporting tactics

Information is part of the war effort.

The Coalition War plan demands that by the time US tanks reach the gates of Baghdad, the Iraqi regime will know - because they will have seen it on satellite television - that their authority has collapsed everywhere else in the country.

What we report - and the way we report it - is therefore a key part of the military campaign.

The military have a term for it. They call it "Information Operational Effect".

This is all new to me.

In 1991 I was on the other side. I was with the Iraqis.

For me it wasn't Desert Storm, it was the Mother of All Battles.

We cannot escape the fact the Iraqis wanted us there - allowed us to be there - because they thought we would be useful to them.

It was their version of "Information Operational Effect".

Tribute paid

Some of my good friends are embedded with the US and UK military.

They are doing what seems to me to be a brilliant job. They are keeping cool, distanced, serious. It is not - emphatically not - a reality TV show to them.

Nor is it to those on the other side.

One or two of my good friends are in Baghdad. I know what it is like for them there.

I pray for their safety. I admire what they are doing beyond measure.

But this feeling that so far we are all inescapably part of someone's war effort is unsettling.

And it is this - and not the neophyte adrenaline rush excitement of those who think of this war as reality TV - that is driving good people across the border in search of voices and experiences that are not policed by either side's military spin doctors.

The news that an ITN crew was lost in southern Iraq came as a sobering reality check to the mood that has sometimes prevailed here.

Terry Lloyd was one of Britain's most experienced television journalists.

In Bosnia where I worked opposite him, he was a generous and thoughtful colleague and a welcome friend in any bad place.

I saw him the other day and he greeted me with warmth and we punched each other's local phone numbers into our Kuwaiti mobiles promising to get together to talk about how to proceed. I had hoped we still would.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/03/24 12:50:27


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