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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 15:47 GMT
The risks of war reporting
Volker Handloik (right), reporter for Germany's Stern magazine
The Afghan war has now claimed reporters as victims
As the deaths of three European journalists in northern Afghanistan throw into focus the dangers of reporting on war from the field, the BBC's Kevin Bishop, who is in charge of the BBC operation in Northern Afghanistan, looks at the precautions taken during the current conflict.

In a small dusty room just inside the BBC compound here in Khodja Bahaouddin, two walls are lined with bags labelled with the new buzz words of newsgathering in a war zone.

NBC kits (packs aimed at protecting from the affects of nuclear, bacteriological or chemical attacks), flak-jackets, helmets, trauma packs and saline solutions. A note on the wall explains the procedure for medical evacuation.


We do take precautions and we do realise that no story is ultimately worth dying for. But we still come here and always will

The new journalists' kit sits here side by side with the old faithfuls - cameras, microphones, notepads and tape-recorders.

For us, going to the front line these days involves loading up our armoured Land Rover with the safety equipment that could just save someone's life.

We all know that a flak jacket will not save you from a mortar blast, or that an accurate sniper will find his way around the most advanced helmet.

But having this extra level of protection can save you from shrapnel or a ricochet bullet. The trauma pack contains the first aid kit that could keep someone alive long enough to get him or her to medical attention.

Hostile environment training

All BBC journalists - whether correspondent, cameraman or engineer - must complete a week-long course (held in rural Berkshire) in Hostile Environments and Battlefield First Aid Training.

The BBC's Justin Webb in flak jacket
Flak jackets are part of the kit which help keeps reporters safe
Journalists are trained in treating bullet wounds, carrying wounded colleagues through hostile terrain and giving mouth-to-mouth and pulmonary resuscitation.

We are trained to spot sniper positions, assess the protective value of walls or vehicles from shell blast and scan the ground for land mines.

But vital as it is, no training can guarantee your survival. It can only increase your chances of making it through. Nobody is bullet-proof in a war and the tragic events of the last 24 hours have made this fact more evident than ever.

Ambition

The desire to get as far as possible and find out what is happening over the next mountain ridge is a trait shared by journalists in all conflicts.

Many are brave, some foolhardy, but they all share the desire to bring home the reality of war to their public.

The BBC's John Schofield
The BBC's John Schofield who died while reporting in Croatia
So many colleagues I have shared a beer with over the last few years are not here to see this war with us: Miguel Gil, the APTN cameraman from Catalonia, killed in Sierra Leone last year; Kerem Lawton, the APTN producer who died in Macedonia earlier this spring; John Schofield, a BBC reporter who was caught in an ambush in Croatia in the summer of 1995.

And not only in war zones - Peter Martini - a colleague and good friend died while driving our satellite dish home to the UK after the Russian elections five years ago.

I often think about them while trundling along to the front in our armoured car.

Lost colleagues

What makes people like us come to wars like this when the list of our colleagues who have died grows longer every year?

It is a question I cannot answer. We do take precautions and we do realise that no story is ultimately worth dying for. But we still come here and always will.

My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who died yesterday. I shudder to think that my loved ones might ever have to receive that call.

But I also think of a colleague of mine, Anthony Lloyd of The Times, whose book My War Gone By - I Miss it So is the most honest account of being a war journalist I have read.

The title says it all. I know that when I leave here in a week or two I will miss Khodja Bahaouddin and the Afghans I have come to know here. I hope I can come back soon and not have to report on a war.

See also:

03 Nov 01 | South Asia
Taleban free French reporter
05 May 01 | World
Perils increase for journalists
19 Apr 01 | South Asia
Appeal over BBC journalist killing
17 Nov 00 | Americas
Killers hit Colombian press
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