Back Issues 24.02.06

F E B R U A R Y 1 9 9 1

Gulf war: ethics debate re-opened

The return of British journalists to Baghdad following the outbreak of the Gulf War had reopened the debate on the ethics of reporting from behind enemy lines. The journalists had been allowed back in after Saddam Hussein’s regime had reversed an earlier decision to expel them. Among the journalists back in Baghdad were The Sunday Times’ Marie Colvin, The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn and Richard Beeston of The Times.

ITN had a team led by Brent Sadler.

Pressure to withdraw journalists

There was soon controversy and news organisations came under pressure to withdraw their journalists after there was an outcry from politicians over the reporting of an Allied bombing of a bunker in the Iraqi capital. Tory MPs accused the BBC of being "duped" by Iraqi disinformation and propaganda. Daily Telegraph editor Max Hastings, who refused to have a reporter in Baghdad, said: "Neither the Allied Command nor the reporters operating on the tightest rein in Baghdad can make any conclusive judgement about whether the bunker destroyed was a civilian or military installation."

Guardian staff adopt anti-war stance

The Guardian NUJ chapel passed a resolution opposing the Gulf war and supporting a campaign for its peaceful settlement. While the move was said to be "widely supported" among members, some Guardian journalists believed it would compromise their journalistic integrity and left the meeting before the vote. The trigger for the resolution was said to be a leader by editor Peter Preston calling the hostilities a "just" war. Preston said the resolution would make no difference. "I’m going to carry on doing exactly what I was doing before, reporting the war neutrally," he said.

Personal message to Saddam — on a bomb

The Bishop of Birmingham had criticised the Birmingham Evening Mail for inviting readers to send Saddam Hussein a personal message on an RAF bomb. In a full colour page one promotion, Evening Mail readers were offered the chance to write a slogan on a bomb to be delivered by RAF Jaguar jets stationed in the Gulf. The Bishop, the Rt Rev Mark Santer, denounced the stunt on Central Television.

"Once you start going down the slippery slope of treating your opponents with contempt or hatred, you start degrading yourself."

The editor of the Mail, Ian Dowell, said the idea came from RAF crews’ habit of chalking messages on bombs being loaded on Gulf warplanes and was designed to reflect the "tremendous support" British servicemen were receiving from the West Midlands. However, he repented: "When we printed our early edition, I have to admit that in cold print, the artwork could have been interpreted as insensitive. I dropped the item from our main run."

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