Media crews quit Baghdad

withdrawn from Iraqi capital

Goldenber, left, and di Givanni:

The risk that Saddam Hussein might turn on Western journalists and use them as human shields persuaded The Daily Telegraph to pull out Baghdad correspondent David Blair on Tuesday.

Foreign editor Alec Russell said: “It was a difficult decision. It went right up to the editor [Charles Moore] and Jeremy Deedes [managing director]. We just thought the risks weren’t worth it.

“It is not that we thought he was at particular risk from the bombing campaign –that’s one of the attendant risks of being a war correspondent in a war zone – it was just that in this war it’s a fight to the finish with Saddam and there seems to be a serious risk that correspondents could get taken as human shields or have reprisals against them.

“The issue was, will Saddam at the last minute turn on Western journalists? He might do. Can we afford to take the risk? No, we can’t, so we’ll pull him out and lose coverage.”

Blair got out through Jordan and is heading back to the Iraqi border from Amman.

Times editor Robert Thomson decided to pull Janine di Giovanni out of Baghdad. Foreign desk executive Martin Fletcher said: “It was the responsible decision. It was too dangerous to keep someone there.”

Di Giovanni came out overnight, arriving in Jordan early on Tuesday. “We are going to get her back in as fast as we possibly can,” said Fletcher.

Guardian and Observer correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg, together with photographer Sean Smith, remain in the Iraqi capital for the time being. She is said to be in constant touch with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who is comfortable with her being there – as long as she is comfortable. She and Smith, along with other members of the media, have moved out of hotels in the centre of the city to safer, residential areas. A spokesman for Guardian Newspapers said: “Their safety is paramount and is constantly under review.” Robert Fisk, The Independent’s very independent Middle East correspondent, is also staying put. Editor Simon Kelner is relying on Fisk’s vast experience to assess the safety of his situation from the ground.

GMTV was the first British broadcaster to withdraw a journalist from Iraq. Alan Fisher, GMTV chief news correspondent, has pulled out of Baghdad amid safety worries following George W Bush’s warning that journalists should leave the country. The Foreign Office has also included Iraq and Kuwait on its list of countries to avoid.

Fisher will relocate to somewhere close to the Iraqi border. A GMTV spokeswoman said: “As ever, we are keeping the safety of our staff paramount.” Other GMTV journalists will remain in the region.

The move follows withdrawals from Baghdad by the European Broadcasting Union, US networks NBC and ABC and Australia’s ABC.

Other British broadcast journalists remaining in Baghdad have moved from their hotels to dwellings further away from government buildings and other potential targets of the US and British forces.

Meanwhile, ITN editor-in-chief Stewart Purvis sent a “thank you” message to all staff on Wednesday morning for their part in preparing the broadcaster for coverage of the war.

He reserved special praise for ITN journalists in the Gulf who declined en masse to take up the offer to be excused from their assignment.

In an e-mail, he said: “In particular our teams in Baghdad have thought long and hard before deciding they will stay. The ITN tradition is to trust the judgement of the people on the ground and we have done that again. If any or all of them were to decide that a change of circumstances meant they wanted to leave Baghdad they would have our total support for that too,” he said.

By Jean Morgan and Wale Azeez

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