Actions of CNN hot shots could backfire on media

When the cartoon-like figure of Geraldo Rivera, star reporter of the US network Fox News Channel, announced last year he was taking a gun into Afghanistan with the intention of shooting Osama bin Laden, he was derided by the vast majority of his colleagues.

One, the highly respected Chris Cramer, called him a “strutting braggart” who was putting other journalists’ lives at risk by his gung-ho actions and his unashamedly partial brand of reporting.

But now CNN, the company for which Cramer works, finds similar charges being laid at its own door. This week its reporter Brent Sadler travelled to Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, to report on the US forces’ progress in securing control of it. Sadler took with him a guard of armed security advisers, who returned fire when an Iraqi checkpoint began to attack them.

It’s another step across the line that divides the impartial journalist from the active combatant. Reporters Without Borders called it a “dangerous precedent” that could jeopardise all other journalists covering this and other wars.

If journalists, or those protecting them, are seen to be involved in combat, they can easily become “fair game” in the eyes of those they are reporting on.

CNN rightly points out that the protection of its journalists must be paramount and that the guards’ actions probably saved Sadler’s life. In a war that has claimed far too many journalists’ lives, that is, of course, something to be grateful for. None of its journalists are armed, CNN says, even though they are being targeted by some factions.

But there are other, better ways of protecting journalists than surrounding them with bodyguards. One is to make sure they don’t put themselves in a position, ahead of the US forces, where they are exposed to the risk of being fired upon.

Cramer had noted that reporters were once recognised as a “special protected breed of men and women”. Sadler’s actions blur that recognition still further.

Judge sets privacy poser

Another month, another set of lawyers claiming privacy victory on the steps of the High Court.

As usual, it’s no such thing. This time it’s the turn of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. Yet their partial victory has little to do with privacy and everything to do with superstars’ commercial control of their image.

Yet Mr Justice Lindsay’s comments that the Government must “grasp the nettle” of privacy legislation or risk it developing through the courts are more of a cause for concern.

Another step towards privacy law? More of a hint of a shuffle – in the wrong direction.

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