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Last Updated: Friday, 10 December, 2004, 12:53 GMT
Journalists reject Iraq criticism
General Sir Michael Walker
General Walker said reports could have incited Iraqi attacks
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has rejected accusations by a senior general that media reports prompted attacks on British troops.

A spokesman for the union said Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker had "no right" to criticise coverage of the Black Watch mission.

Sir Michael had told BBC Two's Newsnight programme that media reports might have "enhanced" violence.

Five members of the 850-strong group were killed in mortar and bomb attacks.

"What the government ought to be doing is thanking journalists for keeping the public well-informed in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances," said NUJ spokesman Tim Gopsill.

Mr Gopsill, editor of The Journalist magazine, said that 62 international media workers had been killed in Iraq since the war broke out.

He also argued the military had a "considerable degree of control" over so-called "embedded" journalists.

The posting of the Black Watch was a major political issue," he said.

"It wasn't the press that whipped it up - it was debated in Parliament," he added.

"When generals turn around and start blaming reporters for their own mistakes, it is a sign they aren't doing their own jobs properly."

Sir Michael had told Newsnight that the initial attacks against the Black Watch had been "enhanced by a media picture that was being laid across a number of channels in all sorts of places."

Bomb attacks

The reports meant "there could well have been a response by those who wished us ill to go and meet us with something like a bomb", he said.

Most of the attacks on the Black Watch happened during the early stages of their redeployment from Basra to near the Iraqi capital, where they relieved US forces preparing for an attack on the city of Falluja.

Black Watch soldiers return to Basra
Black Watch troops have now returned to Basra

They included roadside bombs as well as mortar and small arms attacks on their base at Camp Dogwood.

A 10 Downing Street spokeswoman said: "I think Gen Walker was just making the point that, for reasons of operational security, everybody should be careful about what we say about military developments.

"Obviously, any speculation about timing and movements can put people in danger."

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said Sir Michael's criticism was in no way aimed at embedded reporters.

"The problem was with speculation in the media here in the UK," she added.

She said there would be no change in the MoD's handling of the media, but editors would be urged to consider the difficulties reports could cause to troops on the ground.

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