Holding the line

The International News Safety Institute issue a statement for reporters in Iraq:

The International News Safety Institute on Friday pleaded with journalists to resist calls to carry guns in Iraq following the horrific murders of three more news staff.

The Iraq correspondent for Al Arabiya News Channel, Atwar Bahjat, cameraman Khaled Mahmoud Al Falahi and technician Adnan Khairallah were shot by unidentified gunmen near Samarra yesterday as they covered the attack on the holy sites in the city.

The triple slaying was one of the worst single incidents of a war that has now claimed the lives of 104 journalists and support staff in 23 months, making it the bloodiest conflict for the news media in modern times.

At a news conference after the killings, a reporter asked President Jalal Talabani to allow journalists to carry weapons to defend themselves.

“Send me an official request and I will approve it and inform concerned agencies to give you the right to carry arms,” he replied.

INSI believes that the safety of journalists would not be improved, and in fact probably would be diminished, were they to carry weapons.

“Journalists increasingly are being targeted in conflict largely because they have lost, in the eyes of certain elements, their status as neutral observers. If they bear arms they reinforce this misguided belief by placing themselves on one side or another,” said INSI Director Rodney Pinder.

The vast majority of Western journalists roam Iraq – around Baghdad hotel rooms, mostly – with contracted security agents. The idea of journalists themselves carrying weapons may be an understandable desire, but surely unwise. Reporters are not combatants and while the media has been targeted in Iraq unlike any conflict before – the US and insurgents carry responsibility for this – journalists must not become simply an extension of the armed forces. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to know the difference. The most dangerous reporting in Iraq is now done almost solely by Iraqi and Arab journalists. Western news organisations have established an almost colonial arrangement with local news groups and reporters. It may well be highly dangerous to discover the true reality of life under US occupation, but Western audiences should be made aware who is truly taking the major risks.