BBC's Loyn defends role of journalists in Afghanistan

Loyn: praised the work of war correspondents

In a debate last week largely critical of the war on terrorism and the reporters who cover it, BBC correspondent David Loyn, just back from Afghanistan, rejected claims from the audience that killed and captured reporters had made mistakes, been "foolish" or had become targets because they were one-sided in their reporting.

"They were killed because it is an extraordinarily lawless country," he said. Defending the four journalists shot while in a convoy on the road from Jalabad to Kabul, Loyn said he had been on that road just half an hour before and it was perceived to be a safe road.

Others had been kidnapped and killed for their money – journalists wandering around with satellite phones and loads of dollars were very vulnerable.

"And to say journalists were killed because they were partial is just wrong," Loyn stressed, praising the work of the war correspondents and, in particular, teams from the News of the World and The Mirror he had met "who did excellent reporting. One of them told me his last job before he went to Afghanistan was at Leeds Crown Court.

"None of them had had any experience of war reporting. I think Fleet Street did itself rather proud in this war." Loyn was speaking from the floor at a City University journalism department debate on war coverage where the panel included author and journalist Phillip Knightley, Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai Brown, Times columnist and editor of Spiked-online Mick Hume, DA-Notice Committee Secretary Nick Wilkinson and the London executive director of Al-Jazeera, Yosri Fouda.

Knightley, who thought journalists had now become targets, commented: "You begin to wonder after a while why war correspondents want to do it.

"They get killed, they suffer post-trauma distress disorder. There are lots of reasons – the commonest one is that they feel they have a duty to tell it how they see it and they might make some little difference – but there are others who feel it is an adventure, they love that quick little sprint along the edge of death."

It was also good for their careers, he pointed out, instancing Evening Standard editor Max Hastings and BBC world affairs editor John Simpson. Three years after Hastings got into Port Stanley first in the Falklands war, he was editor of The Daily Telegraph and Simpson – first into Kabul – was now so famous around the world, his foreign correspondent BBC colleagues claimed that the only question they were ever asked was "Do you know John Simpson?".

Correspondents had "to answer for themselves a little bit that so many of them have been killed, because in Afghanistan, unlike in other wars, they began to go armed, wear uniforms and some have even taken part in battles," warned Knightley.

There was a wide split in the audience over whether journalists should inject emotion into their reports or maintain a strictly impartial view.

 

By Jean Morgan

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