Sunday, 13 September 2009

Increased danger for war correspondents

Radio 4 this morning relayed the poignant blog of Sultan Munadi the New York Times translator and reporter who was killed, probably by "friendly fire", in a recent commando raid. He described how he spent two years among the unsympathetic glass, concrete and steel of Germany, and how he longed to get back to his birthplace in the Panjshir Valley. Having survived Soviet bombing and the "prison" of Taliban rule, he looked forward to a better situation. "Being a journalist is not enough," he wrote, "it will not solve the problems of Aghanistan. I want to work for the education of the country, because the majority of people are illiterate. That is the real problem facing many Afghans. I am really committed to come back and work for my country."

That raid also took the life of one of our own, Corporal John Harrison, as well as three Afghans. It succeeded in its prime objective of rescuing the Anglo-Irish journalist Stephen Farrell. It transpired that Farrell had been warned that his trip was fraught with danger. There were calls from fellow-journalists for the New York Times to withdraw him from war zones in future. There is a line between bravery and foolhardiness.

It is this thing, the World Wide Web, which has done most to jeopardise the lives of reporters in conflict zones. There was a time when journalists were as untouchable as holy men or diplomats. When the only mass media were the newspapers and radio, their correspondents were valued by all sides as the only people who could provide an outlet for the combatants' cases.

Now journalists are as disposable - or as usable as hostages - as any other citizen. Any insurgent with a computer or even a mobile phone can get his views onto the Internet within seconds. The blatant slanting of news by some US TV news channels does not help the safety of Western journalists, either.

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