The BBC says reporters embedded with forces must remain objective
BBC News executives have warned journalists covering the war in Iraq to be aware of the threat to their objectivity posed by being embedded within the armed forces.
A BBC source said war correspondents had been alerted to the risk of “going native” because of the close relationships likely to be forged with the armed forces.
“The top brass have had words and warned that they have to be on their guard against going native.” The warning comes amid anticipation that allegations of a lack of impartiality are likely to be levelled at the BBC no matter how it reports the war.
News executives are aware that the only perspective embedded journalists will have of the war will be that obtained from being in close proximity to the US and British forces.
Overviews of the war’s progress will be provided in daily briefings by the Ministry of Defence from the US and UK forces’ joint press centre in Qatar.
BBC foreign news editor Jonathan Baker said the BBC obviously had to respect the operational security of the armed forces, but would make it clear when restrictions were placed on news reports by the MoD.
“We have to take responsibility and heed their requests for us to keep strategic information secret,” he said.
Journalists’ conduct while reporting on war is governed by the Ministry of Defence’s “Green Book”, which states: “Correspondents must accept that, in the conditions under which they will be operating, the appropriate operational commander has the right to restrict what operational information can be reported and when.
“Subjects that correspondents may not be allowed to include in copy, or radio, or television reports without specific approval may include at least some of the following: composition of the force and location of ships, units and aircraft; details of military movements; operational orders; plans or intentions; casualties; organisations; place names; tactics, details of defensive positions, camouflage methods, weapon capabilities or deployments; names or numbers of ships, units or aircraft or names of servicemen.”
Baker said: “At the moment, we don’t expect to have difficulties with the procedure, but beyond that, we’ll have to see how it works in practice.”
Max Hastings, former editor of The Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard who reported on the Falklands War, confirmed that journalists did run the risk of losing objectivity while closely linked to the “home” military.
Speaking on Sky News this week, Hastings confessed to having become too involved with British soldiers during the war against Argentina.
“I was accused of getting too involved with the troops. I have to plead guilty to that. I personally wanted our side to win. When you’re there, I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of being on our side. It’s for the editors back home to make sense of it.”
By Wale Azeez