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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 23:39 GMT 00:39 UK
Viewpoint: Dangers of war reporting
By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Forty-eight hours ago I was wheeled into an operating theatre, where a surgeon amputated my right foot and lower leg.

A week ago, I was involved in a landmine accident at Kifri in northern Iraq in which my friend, the distinguished Iranian cameraman Kaveh Golestan, was tragically killed.

Since then, more journalists and staff working for them in Iraq have been killed and injured in the line of duty.

Stuart Hughes at hospital
Stuart is still recovering from last week's tragedy

The number of deaths of media personnel during the war in Iraq has shocked the entire profession.

Critics may argue that serious injuries and fatalities are inevitable when reporters, hungry for a scoop, take excessive risks in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition.

I believe such criticism is wholly unfounded.

Calculated risks

The current media market is indeed extremely competitive but the correspondents I have worked with in hostile environments are people of extraordinary sensitivity and compassion.

I took with me a suitcase full of personal safety equipment, including body armour, helmet and a full chemical weapons protection outfit
Their primary objective is to tell a story accurately and fairly, taking measured and calculated risks where necessary but never putting their lives or the lives of local staff at risk.

Neither can the recent deaths of media personnel be put down to a lack of training.

Before the start of the current conflict major broadcasters like the BBC spent huge sums of money sending their employees on courses in battlefield awareness, first aid and chemical and biological protection to equip them with the skills necessary for working in Iraq and the surrounding countries.

No BBC journalist is sent to a war zone without first undergoing a rigorous week-long course to prepare them for their assignment.

Accidents happen

When I left the UK for Iraq I took with me a suitcase full of personal safety equipment, including body armour, helmet and a full chemical weapons protection outfit.

All the equipment was issued and paid for by my employer.

We go willingly, fully aware of the dangers involved
In addition, safety advisers - mostly from a military background - often accompany teams of journalists on assignment to assess the specific risks on the ground.

The inescapable fact is that in war zones as in everyday life people - civilian, uniformed and media - are injured and sometimes die.

We take every safety precaution but sometimes accidents happen.

Ultimately, no journalist is forced to work in a hostile environment. We go willingly, fully aware of the dangers involved.

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