Murders in Afghanistan send chill through media

Burton

The ambush and murder of four journalists working in Afghanistan has "sent a terrible shudder through the industry", according to a top BBC news executive.

Vin Ray, deputy head of newsgathering, said the deaths of Harry Burton, Azizullah Haidari, Julio Fuentes and Maria Grazia Cutuli was "incredibly sobering and chilling".

The killing of the Reuters journalists Burton and Haidari, along with Fuentes of El Mundo and Cutuli of Corriere della Sera caused UK-based TV news organisations to ground their staff on Tuesday while a major review of safety guidelines was carried out.

The British Safety Group – which includes representatives from the BBC, ITN, CNN and news agencies APTN and Reuters – took part in a two-hour conference call on Tuesday to discuss safety issues on the ground. The group was formed following the death of Kurt Schork and Miguel Gil in Sierra Leone last year.

BBC, ITN and Reuters are among the broadcasters which have decided to limit road travel to a minimum and restrict movement in and out of Kabul after the four journalists were killed when their car was stopped near a bridge at Tangi Abrishum, on the way to the capital.

BBC journalists will now fly into Afghanistan rather than use the roads.

Journalists have been told to only travel by road if they are part of a convoy, and all other safety guidelines, such as travelling in marked cars, are being re-enforced. Some journalists have been accompanied by armed guards to protect them from pro-Taliban groups and armed bandits on cross-country roads.

Ray described the situation in Afghanistan as "one of the most worrying times we’ve been through in recent years".

The safety group agreed that journalists, including ITN’s Bill Neely and John Gilbert and the BBC’s Matt Frei, should remain in Spin Boldak and not travel on to Kandahar.

"We have already acquitted ourselves well, with brave and courageous journalism, and we don’t have anything to prove," said Richard Tait, ITN’s editor-in-chief.

"The important thing now is the safety of our staff and we are taking an extremely cautious approach."

A Reuters spokesman said the safety of its journalists was "paramount" and that road travel outside urban areas was being limited, although the situation was "continually under review".

Tait said the situation had deteriorated since the fall of the Taliban. "Before, there was a very clear front line and all the correspondents were with the Northern Alliance," he added.

"Now there’s no such clear demarcation; there are gangs of brigands on the roads and a general breakdown of order.

"The worrying thing is that the journalists who were killed were four of the most experienced foreign correspondents in the business," said Tait.

The journalists killed on Monday were travelling near the front of a convoy from Jalalabad when they were forced from their cars and shot.

It brought the death toll to seven journalists in eight days.

Read Yasir Ballal’s account of how he got out of Afghanistan safely

By Julie Tomlin

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