Broadcasters count cost of war coverage

 Broadcasters are drawing up plans for covering the war on terrorism – and counting the growing cost.

The BBC has 135 staff covering the story and is also relying on its network of bureaux, said director of news, Richard Sambrook.

Correspondents dispatched to the region include Matt Frei, Kate Clark and Zubeida Malik, who are among those in Pakistan. Catherine Davis and Jacky Rowland are in Afghanistan, as is John Simpson, who made it into Taliban country dressed in a burka. Kate Adie is in Oman trying to get onto a Royal Navy ship.

With fewer reporters and fewer resources to cover the story, Andrew Macdonald, editor of Channel 4 News, said less emphasis was being placed on getting into North Afghanistan and more on focusing on events "as and when they happen".

Channel 4 News has Ian Williams and Tristana Moore in Pakistan, while Gaby Rado was due to arrive in Tajikistan on Wednesday. "Before the World Trade Center attacks these countries wouldn’t have featured in mainstream news or current affairs in a million years," said Macdonald. "We are suddenly realising that people don’t know much about them, so news is also having to play the role of current affairs and provide background, analysis and context."

Richard Tait, editor-in-chief at ITN, which supplies C4 News, said savings had been made by cutting back on party conference coverage: "It is about focus and putting our resources at the sharp end.".

Although ITN has provisions in its budget to cover such crises, it may have to go to ITV in the event of a prolonged conflict – as it did during the Gulf War – for extra funding.

BBC chiefs must also decide how much extra they wanted to invest.

Julian Manyon is currently in Pakistan for ITV News. Bill Neely and Mark Austin have left New York and will be covering the story, while Tim Rogers is in North Afghanistan.

Reporting from an area with difficult terrain has already thrown up unique difficulties. The BBC is the only broadcaster with a satellite truck that has been able to get just inside the border.  Sky News’s Moscow correspondent, Geoff Meade, whose visa got him into Tajikistan from where he took a helicopter to Northern Afghanistan, is reliant on a satellite phone, costing up to £5 a minute to use.

"It’s back to old-fashioned reporting," said Meade, who described Afghanistan as "the most difficult place he has ever had to work in".

"There is no infrastructure, no land lines and no mobile phones, so things can be very time-consuming and frustrating," he said.

By Julie Tomlin

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