'Honesty is key to relations with military'

Staff working for Western news organisations have become "walking ATMs" for insurgents who are using kidnapping to fund their operations, according to CNN's Baghdad bureau chief.

Cal Perry, 27, spoke to Press Gazette as the fourth anniversary of the current conflict in Iraq nears on 19 March.

He has been working for CNN in Iraq for more than three years and has been running the bureau since November 2006. Perry emphasised that safety was his number one priority and editorial content second, saying that Iraqi insurgents have got much "better" over the last four years.

He said: "It's a fine line to walk — you do not want to ever tip off your future movements. For example, if we set up an interview we never set an exact time for that interview, we want to leave some time available that we can turn around if we're uncomfortable about that situation, and we can keep people off guard.

"You never know who is listening; we live in an age of technology where people listen in on cell phone conversations.

The insurgency here has gotten far better than four years ago. They've learned, they've had plenty of experience, it has become a graduate course in insurgency and guerrilla tactics — they know what they're doing and they're very good at what they're doing."

Perry said that CNN has built a strong relationship with its Iraqi team members. As an American, he said his access to the streets in Baghdad is limited, but he had "an incredible local staff" working at great risk to themselves to bring the stories in.

Perry is permanently based in Iraq, but tries to escape to "normality" regularly.

He travels home to Washington DC to visit his parents at least twice a year, as well as breaking out every seven to 10 weeks to a place such as Dubai or Jerusalem, where he said the first thing he does is "sleep for a completely inappropriate amount of time".

Perry combines the general management of the bureau with supporting the correspondents, and additional on-air reporting. The number of staff under Perry's supervision can vary from 25 to 50.

While newsroom staff can sometimes find themselves working for 26 hours at a time, Perry said that on the rare occurrence of a slow news day or when there's another global story that will take news precedence on the channel, he insists people leave the newsroom.

"We take advantage of the exceptional pirated DVD system that resides in the green zone.

"We have a room in the bureau with a pool table, a nice couch where we can sit around and talk about the lack of our social lives and laugh about that."

Perry has worked hard at building up relationships with the military, and said the key to this is to be honest about your intentions.

"It does you no good to tell the military you're there to show the good work that the boys in this area do and then once you're on the streets turn to an Iraqi and say ‘are you fearful of US troops?'

"When you pitch the story to the military you have to say ‘I want to go down there and look at the problems in the area'. That by no means in my experience disqualifies you from that embed, in fact the military appreciate the honesty and want to try to show you the good things that they are doing.

"I think the working relationship between the media and the military is a new thing and still developing, and the media only benefits itself by being totally honest with the military in its

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