US networks question Iraq coverage

When a journalist, especially a war correspondent, begins to
question whether his job is worth risking his life, that's a turning
point. It's happening in Iraq. Following the recent spate of deaths of
some of their comrades, journalists in Baghdad are beginning to voice
their disquiet. So are their employers. The big American TV networks
are particularly disturbed and beginning to review their coverage of
Iraq. Many TV executives are beginning to concede that the story is
becoming almost impossible to cover comprehensively because of the risk
to their staff. They feel they are particularly susceptible because of
the equipment their crews must carry – and are sometimes mistaken for
weapons. As Steve Capus, president of CBS News, which last week lost
two of its Baghdad crew, a cameraman and a sound engineer, both
British, and is still agonizing over newswoman Kimberley Dozier, put
it: "Camera crews are very much more easy to target".

His initial
reaction, he admits, was to ask himself is it worth it? Most news
executives here are reluctant to admit they are considering cutting
back on their coverage. "Is what we are getting worth the risk?" asked
Chris Cramer of CNN. For the moment, on balance, he thinks it is. While
some smaller news organisations have already pulled out, the big
American networks stay on. They have a total at the moment of about 30
people in Baghdad. Some individual correspondents in Iraq are
nevertheless . beginning to voice their disquiet. "It can have a
tremendously traumatic effect when someone you had dinner with last
night is kidnapped, or a cameraman next to you is blown to bits,"
admitted Susan Bennett, an official of the Freedom Forum, a press
foundation which keeps official tab on the deaths of journalists in
Iraq, now up to 71 – compared with 63 in Vietnam and 69 in WW2. "Being
a journalist used to be a badge of neutrality, which hopefully would
get you safe passage from both sides Now it's just the opposite" she
claimed. To which ABC correspondent Jake Tappet added: "Going across
the street to get some milk is now a life decision." All of which
attests to the claim that Iraq is turning out to be the deadliest war
ever for journalists.


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