CNN armed guard not 'dangerous precedent'

CNN has rebuffed accusations that it has put all war reporters at risk by blurring the lines between journalist and soldier after the armed guard hired to protect one of its news crews returned fire on Iraqi soldiers last weekend.

Reporters Without Borders said the news broadcaster’s use of firearms, by hiring a private security firm, was a practice “contrary to all the rules of the profession”. RWB secretary general Robert MŽnard said: “Such a practice sets a dangerous precedent that could jeopardise all other journalists covering this war as well as others in the future. There is a real risk that combatants will henceforth assume that all press vehicles are armed.

“Journalists can and must try to protect themselves by such methods as travelling in armoured vehicles and wearing bullet-proof vests, but employing private security firms that do not hesitate to use their firearms just increases the confusion between reporters and combatants,” MŽnard added.

The news crew, including former ITN correspondent Brent Sadler, was travelling to Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein, when they were attacked by Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint just outside the town. An armed guard returned fire from the CNN vehicle, and the driver was slightly wounded in the exchange.

A CNN spokesman said it was justified in hiring a security firm to protect its journalists because the broadcaster “had been specifically targeted for attack by some factions in Iraq”.

He added: “Our staff’s safety is paramount and on this occasion it was appropriate for CNN to be accompanied by armed security. Today one security guard, fearing our staff were in mortal danger, fired back and probably saved their lives.”

CNN also insisted that none of its own employees carried firearms and refuted allegations by Reporters Without Borders that it had “set a dangerous precedent” by hiring guards.

“Contrary to the assertions by RWB, this incident has not set a precedent, as there have been occasions in Somalia and Afghanistan where journalists have been accompanied by armed guards. Any decision taken in regard of our staff, and how they may or may not be accompanied, is always based on safety,” the spokesman added.

A BBC spokeswoman said it was not corporation policy for journalists to carry arms or to use armed guards to protect news crews at work.

By Wale Azeez

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