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Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

The risks of reporting from the frontline

Monday, January 18th, 2010

On Wednesday executives from news organisations will be meeting Ministry of Defence officials about reporting the war in Afghanistan. Some editors have been asking whether risks of being in the frontline are getting too high to justify sending their staff; some have even enquired of their defence correspondents whether there is another way of providing coverage without exposure to bombs and bullets.

 The answers to both the questions are “no”. Safety measures will reduce the risk to life and limb, but there is no foolproof answer to bombs and mines. Similarly, one can write about knowing Afghanistan, after all dozens of columnists do it every week, but even they would need some reporting on the ground on which to base incisive analysis of the conflict. In reality, if one has any pretensions of attempting to report what is unfolding – either embedded with the military or working autonomously – then one simply has to be there.

Most journalists who cover conflicts know the hazards involved and are not sanguine about them. I had dinner with Rupert and a mutual friend, Chris Hughes of the Daily Mirror, before all of us went back to Afghanistan discussing what can be done to minimise the danger. We concluded that at the end of the day what we needed most was to stay lucky.

Wet Trousers by frontlineblogger.

  The British Government, along with other Nato nations, has been keen to get journalists outside the defence field to visit Afghanistan in an attempt to push stories about reconstruction and governance and away from the “bang bang”. They are taken to Helmand and Kandahar and generally tend to stay in the main bases away from the combat zones.

“I think across Whitehall there is a view that we do want to show what is going on in Afghanistan not least because we believe that progress is taking place there,” says James Shelley, the head of news at the Ministry of Defence.

Other friends had died covering conflicts over the years. I was in Sierra Leone when Kurt Schork, an American journalist, was killed in a rebel ambush and in Iraq when Terry Lloyd, of ITN, died on the road to Basra. On those occasions there was grief and soul searching. Most reporters carried on, but a few others were persuaded to call it a day from covering conflicts. 

Thomas Harding, of the Daily Telegraph, feels it is imperative to carry on. “Surely it would be an insult to the memory of Rupert Hamer for us to stop covering the war from the frontline?” he asks.


“I think it’s essential that we are where the soldiers are, following in their footsteps, showing what they’re facing in Helmand. It’s because we do build up a rapport with them in such places that we can expose things which went wrong in the past such as lack of equipment. I have had lots of embeds in the last five years, and that’s the way I would like to continue. I believe that stopping us from being with the troops would be a victory for the Taliban.”

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