Media fears backlash after Al-Jazeera bombing claim

BBC safety experts are travelling to Kabul to inspect the damage to its offices and will also try to ascertain what happened to the bombed offices of Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

It is understood that safety officers, who have stopped off to carry out a risk assessment of the area where four journalists were shot dead on Monday, will try to gather evidence from the bombed Al-Jazeera site as well as its own offices.

The inspection follows claims by the chief editor of Al-Jazeera, Ibrahim Hilal, at Newsworld in Barcelona that its offices were targeted by the US.

His claims alarmed journalists who feared Western broadcasters in Afghanistan might be seen as legitimate targets if the view took hold in the Middle East that the satellite channel had been deliberately bombed by the US.

"If that’s the perception, then things could become very, very dangerous for journalists," said Ron McCullagh director of Insight News TV. "We need to send out a very clear message that we condemn the bombing of any news organisation."

Nik Gowing, BBC World presenter, agreed that journalists needed to send "a very clear message" that the targeting of news organisations for "providing some material that has been very uncomfortable must not be allowed to continue".

Hilal claimed that circumstances pointed to the offices being deliberately targeted at a time when there would be less of an outcry because Western broadcasters had got into the area and were no longer reliant on Al-Jazeera footage from Kabul.

"I still believe the decision to exclude our office from the coverage was taken weeks before the bombing. But I don’t think they would do that while we were the only office in Kabul."

He claimed that co-ordinates for its office had been passed on to the Pentagon days before the strike. The BBC is also understood to have passed on details of the location of its satellite uplinks.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Brian Hoey told Newsworld that only ABC had passed on details of its whereabouts. "The US military does not and did not target news media organisations," he said. "It wouldn’t make sense to try to shut them down when they could just step outside with a videophone and start broadcasting."

Hoey was unable to confirm which buildings had been bombed, but claimed that those that had been targeted were known Al-Qaeda meeting places and facilities.

By Julie Tomlin

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