74 embeds accept Iraq war medal

Some 74 journalists have requested campaign medals from the MoD for being embedded with British forces in Iraq — sparking a debate over journalistic ethics.

Some 128 journalists were embedded with the British military during Operation Telic — the first six weeks of the British invasion and liberation of Iraq. In a written Parliamentary answer this week, junior defence minister Tom Watson revealed that 74 war correspondents accepted the offer of a campaign medal from the MoD, of which 62 have so far received it. The remaining 12 are held pending collection or confirmation of addresses.

A further five journalists have notified the MoD to say they did want the medal, Thomas said. Those journalists embedded with the MoD who did not express a preference either way did not receive the medal.

Among those to accept the award were Mark Nicholls from the Eastern Daily Press, who said: "You could extend it further and ask whether journalists should accept CBEs or OBEs. Does that mean they are accepting what some see as political honours? It's a case of where do you draw the line?

"We never went out there thinking ‘great, we'll get a medal', nobody expected it or gave it a thought. When we returned and it was announced we'd be offered a medal I thought, I'm happy to accept it."

Sunday Telegraph defence editor Con Coughlin was not involved in the recent Gulf War, but said he received medals from the MoD, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for reporting on Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

He said: "It's just a campaign medal, it's not a recognition of valour. You get it simply for being there, it seems pointless to me."

John Mills, a photographer from the Western Daily Press, also accepted his campaign medal. He said: "To accept a medal from the military did seem at odds with the relationship the press should have with it. But to be offered a medal as a soldier is important and to turn my medal down seemed disrespectful, it wasn't right to say it wasn't good enough for me."

Among those not to apply for the award were Burhan Wazir (now at The Times, formerly with The Observer). He said: "My primary reason was that I don't think journalists should get so close to government and start accepting gongs for stories that newspapers would have sent them out to do anyway. I think there's an issue of transparency here. That was why I declined it."

Guardian reporter Audrey Gillan, who also did not apply for the award, said: "I was an independent observer and we get other types of rewards. I didn't need anything from the government to say that I had been there.

I believe in the last Gulf War almost everybody took them, but I just felt that it wasn't something I wanted to do." Sunday Times correspondent Hala Jaber said she too would decline a medal: "There are local Iraqi journalists who are more entitled to that kind of medal just for hanging in there every day. I'd rather somebody else — my local fixer or my local correspondent that are doing that kind of work more intensely than we are — should get it.

They're doing a great job, but it would give them some recognition, especially if it's the Brits and the MoD doing it, because at least it would recognise that these people were doing a good job on the ground. These people don't get a chance to be embedded."

Clive Myrie from the BBC was among those not to accept a medal. He said: "I was doing the job of a reporter. I happened to be embedded with UK forces, which, in some people's eyes, put me on one side of the conflict as opposed to another, and I didn't want to exacerbate that by taking a medal."

The Observer's Paul Harris said he accepted his medal "on a satirical basis".

He said: "I agree with the arguments as to why one wouldn't accept a medal from the MoD as a journalist because it is such an obvious mistake for the MoD to make — it violates any idea of journalistic ethics about remaining unbiased and only being an observer even within the embedded system. I accepted it on a basis of a cock-up rather than a conspiracy by the MoD."

Daily Telegraph foreign editor Alan Philps said: "My own view is that for the help the British military give us we are grateful, but a certain distance has to be preserved in order to maintain professional integrity."

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