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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Iraq abduction raises media fears
James Brandon pictured with kidnapper
James Brandon was abducted from his Basra hotel room
Safety for journalists reporting from Iraq has once more come under the spotlight, with the kidnapping of a British reporter.

James Brandon, 23, a freelance journalist for the Sunday Telegraph, was kidnapped after 30 masked gunman stormed into his Basra hotel on Thursday night.

Journalist organisations say that no amount of training could have prepared anyone for such an abduction.

Forty-six media staff have been killed since the war in Iraq began in March 2003, with a further two missing.

"All different aspects of training are given to journalists, but being taken hostage by a large number of people - what can you do?" said health and safety officer for the National Union of Journalists Don Mackglew.

"In this instance, [Mr Brandon] was sitting in his hotel room when 30 men burst in.

"No one could have done anything. [BBC world affairs correspondent] John Simpson, who's been out there day in, day out, couldn't have done anything."

Hostile environment training should include hostage taking, but you can never be entirely safe
Rodney Pinder
International News Safety Institute director

The NUJ advises all members considering going to an area of conflict to undergo "hostile environment" training.

This usually covers personal safety, civil unrest, military tactics, abduction and enduring captivity - essentially situations that journalists could encounter once they leave a safe area, such as a hotel.

"People regard a hotel as a safe environment," Mr Mackglew said.

"It is very seldom that journalists are attacked in hotels."

He added it was believed to be the first time a journalist has been kidnapped in this way.

The International News Safety Institute, set up in 2003 by news organisations and journalists to try and limit the number of journalists killed while working, said while training is essential, it is difficult to be prepared for every eventuality.

'Extremely disturbing'

"We'll have to examine what happened, but it is difficult to know what else to do as [Mr Brandon] was sitting in a supposedly safe hotel," director Rodney Pinder said.

"People have to be aware of the risk. Hostile environment training should include hostage taking, but you can never be entirely safe."

He described the latest violence against journalists in Iraq as "extremely disturbing".

"It is bound to have yet another deadening effect on reporting there.

"There will be a further hunkering down by Western journalists, they'll be covering just the bare essentials.

"Opportunities for initiative reporting have gone."

Journalists as targets

The International Federation of Journalists expressed its concern, but saw it as a continuation of a serious situation.

"Since the start of the war we have seen an amazing increase in the targeting of journalists.

"Every incidence, including this very sad case, is just a confirmation of that," said deputy director Sarah De Jong.

"The question for us is whether this person was targeted for being a Westerner or for being a journalist. Obviously we are very, very concerned."

She reiterated the organisation's policy towards conflict zones.

"We are trying our best to tell journalists to be as prepared as possible and to also tell employers about their responsibilities to staff.

"If a journalist is scared or feeling threatened then they should be pulled out.

"Obviously we don't want to interfere as they should be there to report, but they have to understand the risks of the situation."




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