Freelance safety plea to media after Iraqi kidnap

News organisations have been urged to give freelance journalists in war zones the same protection as staffers following the abduction of James Brandon.

The freelance reporter was released after 20 hours but other journalists have been less fortunate.

On Sunday, a freelance Iraqi cameraman was found dead near Fallujah where he is thought to have been covering the affects of a US bombing.

And on Tuesday an Iraqi photographer, working for Reuters, was wounded in Najaf.

The NUJ has written to every national newspaper editor urging minimum safety standards for all contributors working in war zones.

Newspapers organiser Barry Fitzpatrick said: “Minimum standards need to be applied on insurance cover and safety training for freelances.”

According to the International News Safety Institute the death toll of media workers in the current Iraq conflict has now reached 49.

INSI director Rodney Pinder said: “We would advise freelances to think three, five and ten times before even going to Iraq. The dangers to journalists working outside the protected areas are extreme and the chances of getting a story worth the risk are slim.

“Newspapers have an obligation to provide all people who work for them with proper safety training. We suspect there is a temptation for news organisations to employ freelances or outsiders because they don’t they feel they have the same responsibility to them. We would argue that they do.”Brandon is an independent freelance who was in Iraq filing stories for The Scotsman, The Independent and The Sunday Telegraph.

His abduction from a Basra hotel and subsequent release on Friday made pages one, two and three of this week’s Sunday Telegraph.

Deputy editor Matthew d’Ancona said: “There’s a lot of debate going on in the industry about the position of freelances in wars such as Iraq.

“There’s been a distinction between staff reporters, who are trained as all ours are, and those who are there under their own steam.

“James is someone who knows Iraq very well – he’d been out there most of last year and worked for the Baghdad Bulletin and Bloomberg.

“In this particular case his hotel was raided by 30 gunmen and no amount of training can prepare you for that.”

No decision has been made on whether Brandon’s adventure has earned him a place on the paper’s staff.

But d’Ancona said: “We are looking forward to having a proper sit-down conversation with James and talking about the future.”

I WAS PREPARED TO KILL TO ESCAPE IRAQIS

James Brandon told ITV News of his ordeal and how he was “prepared to kill” to escape his Iraqi kidnappers, in his first UK broadcast interview on Tuesday, Wale Azeez writes.

Interviewed by ITV correspondent Martin Geissler in Kuwait, four days after he was freed Brandon said he found a knife, with which he intended to “fight my way out.”

Brandon said: “I went to the door and tried to pull it open with the knife …if anyone was behind the door they were going to get killed if I was to get out alive. I wrenched the door open, and was about to really go to town when I realised it was a woman. I was still determined to get out whatever the cost so I threw her against the wall, held the knife to her neck and said ‘unless you help me I’m going to kill you’.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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