BBC reporter Ben Brown: embedded with UK forces
BBC director general Greg Dyke has called on media academics to research the effects on journalism in general of embedding journalists with armed forces in the Iraq war.
Speaking at a symposium on journalism at Goldsmiths College last week, Dyke emphasised the trade-off for BBC and other news broadcasters between obtaining unprecedented footage and the risk to the journalists.
“Embedded correspondents may have given us better pictures and immediate insight of the battles, but how much physical risk for our journalists and crews is acceptable in return for great pictures and commentary?” he said. “And how do we ensure their reports are placed in the proper context – how can we guard against “embeds” being seen as “in bed” with their hosts?”
Dyke added: “How accurate was the information being given to embedded journalists? And what means did they have available to them to check the facts they were being told?”
BBC news executives had expressed concern at the possibility of journalists “going native” – identifying too much with the military units to which they were attached to – in the run-up to war breaking out (Press Gazette 21 March).
“There needs to be research to know if what we [broadcasters] were being told [by the armed forces] was actually happening,” said Dyke. “Because during that time, you are what you are and you get what you get.
“And it was even more difficult with rolling news. What would be interesting would be to go back through all the 24-hour coverage and analyse which headlines went up when, and whether or not they were accurate.”
Dyke also criticised US news organisations for their “unquestioning” approach to journalism that has led to many US citizens seeking news sources outside the country. The BBC, through its international news service BBC World, saw a significant rise in viewing figures during the Iraq war – particularly within the US. Dyke expressed surprise and shock at what he saw as partial reporting by US networks, and warned against the threat of “Americanisation” of British media. He said any liberalisation of UK media ownership rules must take this into account.
“As broadcast journalists in the UK, we are still surprised when we see some US news broadcasts and some of the attitudes the US networks have to covering the war. When we read that some senior network executives say their coverage should be influenced by what they see as their ‘patriotic duty’, we are surprised.
“We are genuinely shocked when we discover that [Clear Channel] the largest radio group in the United States was using its airwaves to organise pro-war rallies.
“When last year Voice of America pulled an interview they had conducted with Taliban leader Mullah Omar because of pressure from the Department of State, we were also surprised.
“If Iraq proved anything, it was that the BBC cannot afford to mix patriotism and journalism. This is happening in the United States and if it continues will undermine the credibility of the US electronic news media.”
By Wale Azeez