Martin Bell: Risk-averse war journalism 'failing' viewers

Former BBC correspondent Martin Bell has claimed TV war reporters have ‘failed’ the public by covering conflicts from hotel rooftops.

Giving a lecture entitled “The Death of News” to students at The University of Salford, he said coverage was being watered down and called for more reporting from the frontline.

“The journalists have a responsibility to show what’s going on and they have failed,” he said.

Bell blamed the threat of terrorism for the change – but said correspondents needed to be nearer the action, despite the danger.

“We aren’t allowed to show the reality of what goes on,” he said.

“We can’t show the loss of life or the grieving of relatives because it could upset people. Foreign stations show a lot more than over here.”

British journalists covering the recent round of fighting between Israel and Gaza were prevented from entering the Palestinian territory – reporting instead from the top of a hill near the border.

They had to rely on local freelances to get pictures from inside Gaza – and were unable to show much of the human suffering before the 9pm watershed.

Arab rolling news network Al-Jazeera was widely praised for its coverage.

Bell added: “At one point you could go pretty much anywhere you wanted but since 9/11 everything’s changed.

“Journalists simply can’t go where they want to go.”

“I can’t believe the risks we used to take. We had no body armour or armoured vehicles. We didn’t really need them.

“But now it seems more and more journalists every year are being killed.”

Estimates for the number of journalists killed, arrested or kidnapped doing their jobs vary between press freedom campaign groups.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 60 journalists, one media assistant and a blogger died in the line of duty in 2008.

The Committee to Protect Journalists found that 41 journalists were killed in direct connection to their work in the same period.

Bell said he believed that the Government’s decision to send troops abroad was linked to the media’s lack of coverage.

“Politicians are sending our armed forces to war because they themselves don’t understand the reality of war,” he said.

Bell, who was hit by a piece of shrapnel while covering the war in Bosnia in 1992, has worked in the industry for 40 years.

He said he was hopeful that they ‘glory days’ of journalism would return.

“The times are changing and journalists will have to change with them,” Bell told students.

“But out of all the bad things happening at the moment, I like to think there will again be a place for serious journalism.”

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