Press urged to put safety first in Iraq

Lee Gordon, right with Iraqi street children, made the Sunday Telegraph splash

After a week in which two British journalists were held by Iraqi militia, newsdesks have been urged not to make reporters take unnecessary risks.

Following the uprising in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, rebel fighters have kidnapped 40 foreign nationals.

At time of going to press, three Czech broadcast journalists, a French TV reporter and a magazine freelance from Japan were being held by Iraqi groups.

The International News Safety Institute, which advises 100 media organisations worldwide, estimates that up to 2,000 journalists are working in Iraq. Spokeswoman Sarah de Jong said: “In view of some of the events that have taken place over the weekend, we are advising journalists to stay put and stay off the roads wherever possible. Most of the foreign nationals have been taken while on the roads.

“Some journalists are bunkered down and have their own armed protection, but a lot of journalists are not in that position and not in safe locations at all.

“The bigger news organisations take this type of situation quite seriously and don’t put much pressure on their people. It’s been communicated to their people on the ground to stay down.”

She urged bureau chiefs not to make unnecessary demands on reporters in the field and advised journalists who must travel to use unassuming local vehicles, rather than SUVs, which are said to have become targets.

Freelance Lee Gordon, who has been in Iraq for several months, was stopped outside Fallujah late last week, hooded and bundled into the back of a pick-up truck. After being interrogated at gun-point he was released on condition that he told the rebels’ story accurately. His report made the front page of this week’s Sunday Telegraph.

Stephen Farrell, from the Times, was kidnapped on the road between Fallujah and Baghdad just hours after entering Iraq by road from Jordan on 5 April. After being interrogated for eight hours, he was released by a rebel leader, who told him: “I need for you to tell the news.”

Chris Eades, from Kent News and Pictures, said he had urged his photographer in Baghdad, Teri Pengilley, not to move until the situation had quietened down. He said: “It’s never been our intention to go into the middle of hotspots as they are happening – AP has local boys who know the area, know the people and don’t stand out. We are not going to beat AP when it has 40 photographers in Fallujah and we have one.

“We are mainly concerned with events that affect the British squaddies down south. The past week has been ridiculous and there’s no real point in us going out to play at the moment.

Teri’s instructions are to keep her head down.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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