Banks' Notes 28.10.05

By David Banks

No one likes to cut and run. Not soldiers, not politicians and,
given the macho nature of our business, particularly not journalists.
I’m talking, of course, about Iraq. Our troops can’t retreat: they’re
fighting a rearguard action for Bush and Blair’s reputations. Our
politicians won’t turn tail: but then it’s not their lives that are
being wasted.

But the men and women of the British media can and must come home. Immediately.

Since
the coalition invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Iraq peacekeeping
campaign has cost the lives of more than 100 journalists, a higher toll
than that of British forces. Most journalists killed have been Iraqis,
who have been as dedicated as their Western counterparts to reporting a
dirty war.

We rejoiced in the return of Rory Carroll, the
Guardian reporter released by kidnappers last weekend. But Carroll
wasn’t the only Guardian staffer to fly home. Foreign editor Harriet
Sherwood, citing the kidnap as “my worst nightmare”, ordered all her
troops back while the paper reviews the wisdom of staffing the story.

The
Independent’s intrepid Robert Fisk (pictured), a past critic of timid
“hotel journalism”, admitted to Press Gazette the situation was now so
dangerous that even he considered the returns might not be worth the
risks. ITV News, devastated by the death of reporter Terry Lloyd and
disappearance of ITN cameraman Fred Nerac, does not have journalists in
Iraq; Reuters, which has had four staff killed and others wounded,
houses its six-man staff in a compound patrolled by armed guards.
Tabloids such as the Daily Mirror only send staff on a needs-must
basis. Embedding journalists with the military seems only marginally
safer than an unthinkable go-it-alone policy: those reporters can do
little more than dramatise the terse handouts from army spinmeisters.
And in doing so, to the insurgents, they become a tool of the military
and, thus, justifiable targets.

Unable to report freely, targeted
by kidnappers and suicide bombers and caught in the crossfire by friend
and foe, journalists in Iraq are in an impossible situation.

Big
beasts like John Pilger and Martin Bell will think me craven for saying
so, but say it I will to any editor who cares to listen: BRING THEM
HOME!

Googling the words “cost-cutting” and “newspapers” brought
me face-to-face with my past with a bang: Trinity Mirror and David
“Rommel” Montgomery was what it produced. Monty’s investment company
Mecom is buying Berliner Zeitung (promising “no slash and burn”) while
Sly Bailey, the chief exec who succeeded the arch-costcutter at
Trinity, is planning another devastating knife attack on company
spending.

At least no one can blame me this time.

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