'Animosity to CNN led Iraqis to kick us out'

Robertson: “Iraqis don’t like it when they think you’re ganging up on them”

A feeling of “ongoing animosity” between the Iraqi Government and CNN led to its team, including British-born senior correspondent Nic Robertson, being ejected from the country.

Speaking to Press Gazette from Amman this week, Robertson told how he and his colleagues were accused of “creating rumours and unprofessional behaviour” and then kicked out by the Iraqi information minister.

CNN, which was the only Western news organisation allowed to stay in Iraq during the first Gulf War, was dismissed from the country on Friday.

Late in the afternoon Robertson and his team, including correspondent Rym Brahimi, were visited at their Baghdad hotel by the information minister and the director of the official Iraqi news agency. They were told to leave Iraq “immediately”.

Robertson and Brahimi explained to the officials that it was too late to organise themselves quickly enough to leave before nightfall, and proposed to wait until first light.

“But the minister said in a very loaded statement that if we didn’t leave by nightfall the situation could be taken ‘out of our hands’, implying that our safety couldn’t be guaranteed,” Robertson said.

However, the team left at 8.30am, crossing the border into Jordan four hours later. They had to give an undertaking that they would stop all reporting until they had left the country.

Robertson and Brahimi could not begin reporting from Jordan without press accreditation and so had to move to Amman first.

The CNN team is preparing to move back to the border, with a view to crossing back into Iraq “at the first opportunity”.

A catalogue of events over the past two months, which began when Robertson arrived for his current assignment, led to his ejection.

The CNN team moved out of its hotel, the Al-Rashid, near government buildings, to The Palestine, as a safety measure in the run up to the war.

Other foreign journalists followed suit, thinking that CNN had inside information, and the Iraqi authorities accused Robertson and colleagues of propagating rumours. “The Iraqis don’t like it when they think you are ganging up on them,” he said. “Also, our pictures of Iraqi soldiers surrendering made the authorities focus their attention and want to get rid of us.

“The best understanding I can give this is to look at the relationship between CNN and Iraq. We were restricted to four staff, while the BBC has eight to 10. Officials were being put under a lot of pressure by the Government before war started.”

By Wale Azeez

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