Al-Arabiya journalist Mezan al-Tumeizi died of his wounds shortly after this picture was taken. Inset: Reuters cameramen Mazen Dana and Taras Protsyuk
News chiefs are "terrified" of sending independent journalists to Iraq, fearing they are in danger of being shot by the US military as well as being targeted by Iraqis.
Chris Cramer, CNN International's managing director, told Bryan Whitman, assistant US secretary of defence for public affairs: "there are very few organisations now prepared to cover Iraq because we are terrified of our staff having their arses shot off."
Three Reuters cameramen – Taras Protsyuk, Dhia Najem and MazenDana –havebeen killed during the conflict in Iraq.
Confronting Whitman, who spoke via a live link from Washington, David Schlesinger, global managing editor for Reuters, demanded to know whether non-embedded journalists were guaranteed the same level of protection as their colleagues embedded with the US military.
"Are non-embedded journalists fair game?" said Schlesinger, who added that he had no confidence that the US government's recommendations on journalists' safety had been carried out by American military commanders in Iraq.
Whitman said: "The military expect to find members of the press covering the conflict and they treat them with the same dignity and respect as any non-combatant civilian."
But Eason Jordan, CNN chief news executive, said there had been only a "limited amount of progress" after several meetings aimed at improving safety between news organisations and the US authorities.
"Actions speak louder than words," said Jordan, who highlighted the plight of Abdel Kader al-Saadi, the alArabiya journalist who was arrested in Fallujah by US forces and held in custody without charge.
The arrest and physical and emotional abuse of a journalist employed by NBC and an al-Jazeera journalist were also raised by Jordan, who said: "We hear good words but not the actions to back them up."
Whitman said: "I appreciate the challenges you have sending journalists into situations like this. But if you accept that then you have to accept the consequences that arise."
The dangers faced by journalists working in Iraq was also highlighted by a website, Al Qual'a, which carried a pledge to "slaughter" journalists "like sheep" if they "stand beside the Americans and do not broadcast the truth about the number of soldiers killed in Iraq".
John Martinkus, an Australian SBS journalist who was kidnapped by an Iraqi gang while working inWest Baghdad, said his interrogators were "very angry with me about a lot of the coverage of the war." He said the group had been monitoring him for three days, during which he had remained in the Green Zone and the safety of the Palestine Hotel.
"The press think they are safe where they are but it could bemore dangerous because they are being monitored," said Martinkus. His captors also looked him up on the search engine Google to check he was whom he said he was.
Cramer said he was "not surprised" by the sophistication of Iraqi kidnappers who had targeted journalists.
"It is my view that it's not possible to go into Iraq without security," Cramer added. "The game has really changed."