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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 March, 2003, 15:53 GMT
How 'embedded' reporters are handling the war
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Journalists reporting the war in Iraq are being given unprecedented access to the battle frontline. The new practice of "embedding" reporters makes compelling journalism, but some warn of the dangers of losing independence.

Anyone who remembers the last Gulf War will notice a big change in how the current conflict in Iraq is being relayed to our living rooms.

In 1991, reporters complained they were being denied access to the battlegrounds of Kuwait, where allied troops were busy routing Saddam Hussein's army. As a result, coverage was thin and journalists, who were miles from the action, found it almost impossible to check the facts they were being fed by the military.

For example, only when the war ended did we discover that precision-guided munitions formed just a small part of the allies' arsenal.

'EMBEDS' CAN REPORT:
General troop strength and casualty figures
Numbers of enemy POWs
Broad information about previous combat actions
Today, hundreds of journalists are on the ground in Iraq, moving with the coalition forces and seeing the fighting at first hand.

These so-called "embedded" reporters eat and sleep alongside soldiers and, thanks to recent advances in technology, bring live reports of firefights and artillery onslaughts into our living rooms.

It's compelling television and it also means viewers get a better understanding of what's going on says Adrian Van Klaveren, the BBC's head of newsgathering.

Protection

"The advantage is that you get to see what's going on at a very localised level. So, when we talk about pockets of resistance, viewers can see exactly what we mean."

Royal Marines
Media and military have come together
The practice of "embedding" has another advantage - journalists are afforded army protection. Reporters who go under their own steam, such as ITN's Terry Lloyd, who was killed last week, must look after themselves.

The BBC currently has 16 embedded reporters in Iraq. Its only non-embedded journalists are those in Baghdad and John Simpson's team in northern Iraq.

Although it has teams poised on the surrounding borders to go in, it's still "too risky" says Van Klaveren.

"There's still a lot of military activity at the moment and bandits. There are some indications they're actually targeting journalists."

'Embedding' journalists... has brought warfare home to us as no war has been brought home before
Former BBC reporter Martin Bell
The practice of embedding remains controversial and has drawn stiff criticism from some quarters.

The relationship between the military and the media has always been uneasy, due mainly to the fact that each has sharply differing aims. While the military sees propaganda as a weapon in itself, a journalist's role is to cut through the half-truths and report both sides of the story.

In the Vietnam war, the tie was stretched to breaking point, with Washington blaming reporters for fuelling anti-war protests. The backlash came in the form of heavy restrictions being slapped on journalists - hence the tight controls in the last Gulf War.

All that seems to have changed with the switch to embedding.

Boot camps

While the policy is said to be the brainchild of the Pentagon, British forces have gone along with it. In the US, many reporters were packed off to "boot camps" in the weeks leading up to the war.

Reporters dash for cover in Kuwait
Reporters dash for cover in Kuwait
American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has praised the reporting as "historic" and the BBC's Van Klaveren says the military has maintained a light touch on reporters.

There has been no censorship, says Van Klaveren, and reporters are not required to submit scripts before broadcast. There are, however, a couple of golden rules - journalists cannot give specific details of locations or outline the future plans of their unit.

But by and large, both sides have been rubbing along amicably, with trust intact.

That won't satisfy the toughest critics though, who say the mere fact journalists are so enmeshed with the military makes it difficult for them to think objectively. If your safety is in the hands of soldiers, the argument goes, you will be unwilling to criticise them.

Van Klaveren dismisses the charge, saying the teams on the ground are professional enough to maintain independence.

He concedes that if life gets more difficult for the US-led forces, this will put an extra strain on journalists. But if restrictions are imposed, audiences will be told.




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