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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 09:58 GMT
Falluja - gone but not forgotten
By Jonathan Baker
World News Editor

Why has Falluja dropped off the bulletins? Has saturation coverage of the US assault has been replaced by a lack of insight? Jonathan Baker addresses the concerns of some viewers.

US marine in Falluja
There was blanket coverage of the US assault on Falluja...

The latest dilemma concerns reports from Falluja, where American troops launched an assault last month in an attempt to quell resistance from insurgents.

We were able to cover that, albeit largely from a military viewpoint, because we were working under the protection of the US military.

But since the action ended, viewers and listeners have been demanding to know more.

What is life like in this badly damaged city? What are the true casualty figures? What has happened to the thousands who fled before the soldiers moved in?

We'd like to know the answers to those questions as well.

We've found it difficult to find them, although it's certainly not for any want of trying.

Residents pick through the rubble of a house destroyed in Falluja
...but the lack of coverage since has disappointed some viewers

But Iraq is arguably the most dangerous country to be in the world at the moment, and Falluja is perhaps the most dangerous part of Iraq.

We have to balance concerns about the safety of our staff with our natural journalistic desire to find the information viewers are asking for.

Security considerations

During the assault on Falluja, because of security considerations, we were embedded with the American troops.

This enabled us to bring vivid first-hand accounts of the fighting to our audiences - but as we kept making clear, we were not able to give the other side, to give some closer idea of what the effect of that assault was on the citizens of Falluja.

And since then, as we are no longer operating under the protection of the military, we've had very great difficulty getting any information out of there at all.

Don't think the BBC has forgotten about Falluja - there is an untold story which we are trying to find ways of telling.
Jonathan Baker

Nearly all the pictures you've seen in the last few months coming out of Iraq, not only in Falluja but elsewhere as well, have been shot by Iraqi or Arab cameramen, mostly working for news agencies, because security makes it so difficult for foreigners to move around.

We are potential targets for snipers and kidnappers.

But even they are no longer operational in Falluja and the aid agencies are only just talking about going back in. So we have had to rely on whatever meagre sources we can pick up.

Practical difficulties

It's not a question of us being censored or being refused information; it's just the simple, practical difficulties of obtaining it and we're doing everything we can.

There are some people there who are able to log on to the web, loggers who work online, and obviously we've got telephone communications; we have BBC Arabic Service people working with us in our Baghdad bureau, and we can plug into their extensive network of communications.

So we're doing the best we can but there is a tremendous dearth of information and this is not just an issue for the BBC - it's for every media organisation, not excluding Arabic channels.

We are acutely aware that we not providing the newsgathering service we would like, and which we routinely offer in other parts of the world.

Map of Iraq

However, we are proud of our continued commitment to the reporting of developments in Iraq more widely.

We're the only British broadcaster to have maintained a continuous presence there in the last two years.

Continuing problems

Some viewers ask why we don't explain on the news why we aren't reporting from Falluja.

On a channel like News 24, where more time can be devoted to other events in Iraq, it's perhaps easier to refer to the continuing problems.

Nevertheless, we have always been very frank in all our reporting from Iraq in describing the conditions in which we are working, what we know and what we don't know.

When we're working with the military we are always completely upfront about explaining the circumstances in which we're working, because inevitably that does give you only one part of the story.

But don't think the BBC has forgotten about Falluja. There is an untold story which we are trying to find ways of telling, and those efforts will continue.



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