Journalists in the War Zone
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/5/2006 7:00:00 PM
The war in Iraq has become the most dangerous for journalists since Vietnam. Since the war began in 2003, 61 journalists have died as a result of hostile actions, and 39 have been kidnapped, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That was driven home in a sudden and horrible way on Jan. 29 when ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were seriously injured by a roadside explosive that hit their convoy in Taji, Iraq. Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ, discusses the dangerous state of affairs for war correspondents with B&C’s Anne Becker.
Some critics say network news divisions are less than responsible to send anchors—their biggest stars—to war zones when they know the conditions there are so dangerous. Do you agree?
I don’t get that argument. Bob Woodruff—and any other network anchor—is a journalist, and if they’re going to be reporting the news to us, it’s important for them to go and see for themselves and do reporting on the ground. Why wouldn’t you send them out on assignment? If they’re sitting at a desk reading the news every night and they never get out and see anybody else and talk to anybody in the field, what kind of journalist are they? I’d think they would want to go out and their news organizations would want them to go.
When did foreign correspondents change from being viewed as untouchable to being viewed as targets?
It’s something that has evolved over time. There were a couple of cases during the Vietnam war where journalists were captured and killed, but it was nothing like the situation today. You have a situation in Iraq with insurgent groups targeting not just journalists, but all foreigners. That’s something that foreign correspondents have to live with every single day, and it certainly is a very dramatic change from other foreign reporting situations—just walking out of their hotel they know they could potentially be a target of a kidnapper. They’re targets because they’re foreigners as much as because they’re foreign journalists. Let’s not lose sight of that. There are many other foreigners who have been kidnapped in Iraq; it’s not just journalists.
A lot of conflict zones have simply become much murkier places to operate.
The attack that wounded Woodruff and Vogt generated a lot of publicity at a time when more soldiers are being injured. Do you think the media is obsessed with itself?
There is plenty of focus on the bigger picture and the many other incidents involving the U.S. military, Iraqi civilians, contractors, etc. For journalists who are there risking their lives every day, when a high-profile member of their profession is seriously injured it gets their attention very fast. Day in and day out, what the press is writing about is not itself and the dangers it faces but the broad situation in Iraq as best they can report it—what is happening to US troops, what is happening with Iraqi security.
What do you say to those who think that, when networks air footage of kidnapped journalists, they are actually aiding terrorists’ intimidation tactics?
That’s a ridiculous argument. The videos we’ve seen of Jill Carroll may be chilling, but they’re certainly news. I can’t imagine why the networks would not run them. What the insurgents are hoping to accomplish with these kidnappings is very difficult to discern. And when they make a video and they release it, that video has news value, and so it is definitely something that needs to be reported.
Geraldo Rivera took some heat a couple years ago when he said he carried a gun while covering the conflict in Afghanistan. What did you make of that?
We tell journalists they should not ever carry guns. If they are traveling armed in a conflict zone, it blurs the perception of who they are. They’re there as neutral observers to see what’s going on and write about it for the rest of the world. They are not combatants and they shouldn’t do something that may make some people perceive them to be something other than an independent observer.
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