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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired December 27, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET


SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists and newsmakers to discuss news coverage around the world.
We've seen the story of Iraq live on our television screens and in the pages of our newspapers. Every aspect and every event chronicled and captured by men and women, camera crews, photographers, producers, correspondents, editors and translators. But being able to bring the story home does not and has not come without a price.

The conflict in Iraq has been a difficult and dangerous journey for journalists. The war itself, those short weeks from March 22 to May 9, claimed the lives of at least 16 journalists, the worst catalogue of death in our progression in so short a time.

In this special show, we dedicate our discussion to those colleagues who lost their lives in pursuit of the story. They are the subject of a new book, "Dying To Tell The Story," which is published by the International News Safety Institute as a tribute to those who died.

And with me now, from Atlanta, the editor of that book, Chris Cramer, who is also the managing director of CNN International. He's also the honorary president of the International News Safety Institute; from Brussels, Daniel Demoustier, a cameraman with ITV News. He was with correspondent Terry Lloyd, who died when his vehicle came under fire in southern Iraq. In Toronto, Dr. Anthony Feinstein, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and author of "Dangerous Lives: War and the Men and Women Who Report It." He's an authority on how journalists react psychologically to covering stories in dangerous places. From Washington, Colonel Jay DeFrank, who is the director of Press Operations at the U.S. Defense Department; and here in the studio, John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor. He has reported from more than 100 countries, including 30 war zones, in his 30 year career.

John, let me begin with you. You were one of the contributors to the book. You make a tribute -- you write about the story of what happened to your translator, Khamal Mohammad (ph). Why was it important to you to contribute?

JOHN SIMPSON, BBC: I felt I owed it to him, actually, apart from anything else. I led him into that position and he was killed as a result.

The feelings, not perhaps wholly of guilt, because it wasn't a foolish thing that we did -- we were careful about what we did -- but even so, I think we owe it to our colleagues to just kind of remember them and remember the circumstances under which they were killed.

And that's why I was so impressed by the idea of the book. You know, I mean, I'm paid to compete with CNN, but I do admire the idea behind it and I think it's an excellent one.

MACVICAR: Chris, let me turn to you, as the editor of this book. Why did -- what was your purpose in doing this, beyond the notion of wanting to pay tribute to all of those who died?

CHRIS CRAMER, CNN INTL.: Well, Sheila, I think this was first and foremost a tribute to those colleagues. You said 16 who died -- almost certainly 18 -- two missing, feared dead, and three or four since the so- called end of hostilities.

This was a quite extraordinary period for the media. In the last few years, it's been a quiet extraordinary period for the media and a very alarming period for the media. And what we wanted to do was to pay a tribute to those colleagues who voluntarily went into this war zone and many of them did not come out again.

We also wanted to examine some of the issues which confront the profession at the moment, the issue of safety, the issue of stress, the issue of preparing themselves to go into hostile environments, and also the issue which is very alarming, which is that there are many factions and many regimes and some constituencies around the world who don't like this profession, don't like the media, would like us not there, would like us not reporting and not providing a flow of information. And that's very, very alarming.

MACVICAR: Daniel Demoustier, you were with Terry Lloyd, with Fred Nerac and Hussein Osman the day that Terry was killed and, as Christ has said, Fred and Hussein went missing, almost certainly killed themselves.

For you to contribute to this kind of a project, was it helpful to you yourself to be able to write down what happened, your thoughts about that?

DANIEL DEMOUSTIER, CAMERAMAN: Oh, absolutely. It was very difficult to do, obviously, because in our case, as you know, these two people are still missing, and our editor-in-chief, David Mannion, he wrote a very beautiful article on Terry Lloyd. But for Fred and Hussein, it's particularly difficult because we still don't know what exactly happened to them and they're still missing, and hopefully to keep the attention on them, it might help them in anyway or help their families.

MACVICAR: Do you feel, Daniel, and do you believe ITN feels, as though you have gotten some kind of conclusive answers about at least what happened to Terry Lloyd?

DEMOUSTIER: Well, there are some possible theories, but there's nothing we can prove.

We believe -- we have enough evidence or witnesses who are saying that they were actually not in their own car anymore, that they had actually been taken out by the Iraqis, out of their car, but what happened after that, we still don't know. We have no single proof, and this is something that's particularly difficult because we have to continue our work and they're still not there, and we can't finish this story before we find the bodies.

MACVICAR: Colonel DeFrank, to turn to you here, the question arises and has been raised about the U.S. military's seeming unwillingness to recognize the need for full and frank investigations which would lead to clarity about what happened in these situations and perhaps the assignment of responsibility.

COL. JAY DEFRANK, U.S. DEFENSE DEPT.: Well, first I think it's important to keep in mind that we never deliberately target noncombatants in situations like this. When a noncombatant, whether that's a journalist or somebody else, gets killed, it means that something went wrong, and we do investigate those and we investigate these incidents thoroughly.

Now we may never get the clarity that everybody would like on these types of incidents, but it doesn't mean that we don't investigate them. We investigate them to the extent that we believe we understand what happened, what went wrong and what, if anything, we can learn from those incidents to prevent them in the future.

MACVICAR: Chris Cramer, as a news manager, have you been satisfied with the reports that you have seen coming from the U.S. military?

CRAMER: I can see an area of diligence in looking at precisely what happened in the case of the Palestinian Hotel and other incidents.

I think what concerns the media profession is that there were large numbers of journalists and their support staff in place in and around Iraq, and many of them were prepared for that hostile environment. Some, amazingly, were not.

I think if I was wearing a military hat, and I'm not, I would want to go that extra mile to demonstrate to the free media that every stone had been -- that no stone had been left unturned. I'd like to go -- I think the miliary should go the final mile and beyond that to demonstrate that, you know, the fog of war is not a shroud for everything, that it doesn't -- it's not inevitable that journalists will die. It's not inevitable that journalists will be injured.

We were very fearful that this particular conflict would result in a very large casualty rate, and sadly we were proven right, and that's very depressing.

SIMPSON: Can I just say, it's a factual, it's a mathematical point, that it was much more dangerous to be close to American troops than it was to be close to Iraqi troops.

Of the journalists who died in actual combat of one kind or another, seven were killed by the Americans during the actual war. That's probably now up to 10. That's too many and I really feel that something ought -- that there should be some recognition by the U.S. forces of the dangers that they present to a free media. I really think that this isn't good enough just to say it was the fog of war. Why wasn't it the fog of war for the Iraqis? Why is it only the fog of war for the Americans?

MACVICAR: Colonel DeFrank.

DEFRANK: Yes, first I'd like to say that during that period of time that, using your figures, 10 journalists may have been killed in actual combat operations, somewhere in the vicinity of 400 servicemen had been killed too.

We're engaged in a combat environment where many of the adversaries are irregulars. They're not uniformed. They have to make split-second decisions that have life-and-death consequences, and if the make the wrong decision, a number of people can get killed. Many of these people aren't firing with just a rifle. They're using rocket-propelled grenades, they're using bombs, they're using rockets, they're using a variety of weapons that can kill a number of people and these soldiers have an obligation to defend themselves and to defend the forces that they're with.

MACVICAR: Chris Cramer, do you think that in what you have seen that the U.S. military has taken forward lessons from this conflict, that battlefields will be safer for journalists in the future?

CRAMER: I think you may have put your finger on it. What happened earlier this year was probably and sadly not a one-off.

We have many more parts of the media now who, by definition, are going to deploy their staff to war zones, for TV, for radio, for continuous television, for newspapers, for magazines. You know, it may be no coincidence that the death toll among media in March and April of this year, I suppose the most alarming one since the Vietnam War and a similar period during the Vietnam War.

My view is that I understand that members of the military have to make snap decisions. We take that for granted. I also appreciate that we're there as volunteers. We're not there as inhabitants and we're not there as military people.

I do think it behooves military minds, both American military minds and elsewhere in the world, to say, to go that extra mile, to demonstrate to the public their terms of engagement are cognizant of the fact that there are going to be hundreds and hundreds of members of the media around the front lines in the future.

MACVICAR: Gentlemen, stay there. We're just going to take a quick break. Going live and staying safe, we'll examine the issue of safety in the war zones when INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS continues.



We're discussing the new book "Dying To Tell The Story" and the effects of war on journalists.

Once again, our panel, here in the studio, John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor; from Washington, Colonel Jay DeFrank, who is the director of Press Operations at the U.S. Defense Department; in Toronto, Dr. Anthony Feinstein, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, who has studied the question of trauma in journalists; in Brussels, Daniel Demoustier, a cameraman with ITV News; and in Atlanta, Chris Cramer, managing director of CNN INTERNATIONAL.

Anthony Feinstein, in Toronto, I want to begin with you. You've examined this question of the impact of war, the psychological trauma that war can have on journalists who are, as Chris has said, by choice in conflict zones carrying out work. In a study of the Iraq War, have you found a difference or a greater or lesser degree of trauma than in previous conflicts in journalists you've studied?

ANTHONY FEINSTEIN, AUTHOR: The data that I collected in Iraq was collected very early on in the conflict, during the conventional phase of the war and, once again, I found fairly high rates of symptoms of post- traumatic stress disorder and clinically significant depression.

MACVICAR: When you say fairly high rates, what do you mean by that?

FEINSTEIN: Well, compared to some of the earlier data collected over the last couple years, the frequency and intensity of symptoms were not as high, so the number of journalists reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder had dropped somewhat compared to, say, wars in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.

I want to stress that the data was collected in the early part of the Iraq conflict.

MACVICAR: So it doesn't include this post sort of formal war period, if you will, where there is still a tremendous amount going on?

FEINSTEIN: Indeed. And one could argue that perhaps now it's even more stressful for journalists to be there.

MACVICAR: Do you see a difference between those who were imbedded and those who were not imbedded?

FEINSTEIN: That was one of the interesting things to look at here. We were able to do a comparison between imbedded and non-imbedded and their exposure to life-threatening events, for example, was very similar. There was no difference between the two groups. And so with respect to their depression scores and their post-traumatic stress disorder scores, there was in fact no difference between the imbedded and the non-imbedded journalists.

MACVICAR: Colonel DeFrank, is it the estimate, do you think, of the Pentagon, that in choosing to use imbeds in this conflict, this is something that you will use again in the future, whether it is because of the kind of coverage you get or because of the kind of safety it presents?

DEFRANK: Well, I think the key is that imbedding proved that it could be very successful. It proved that both military people and media people could live together in a combat environment and do their jobs in a professional way.

Whether imbedding will be used in any future conflict or not, of course, is situational. If you look back at the last conflict, before this particular one, or two conflicts ago, to the area over Serbia, that was largely an air war fought over the horizon from primarily one base in Italy with a few others supporting it. Imbedding just wasn't practical in a situation like that because in frontline fighter aircraft there isn't room for an imbedded journalist and the base itself, which was host to a lot of fighting forces brought in from elsewhere, couldn't sustain imbedded reporters.

MACVICAR: John and Daniel, both of you were in this last conflict. Both of you chose assignments which were not imbeds and both of you were with colleagues who paid a terrible price. Given what you know now, and given how you saw that war go forward, John, do you think you would -- what do you think you would chose to do if a similar situation arose again?

SIMPSON: I think I'd only want to be an independent reporter in these things. I think you have to have a degree of independence. The imbedded experiment, as it were, worked superbly for the BBC. We were very proud of the coverage. We were actually quite grateful for the opportunity to be up there in the front. So there is nothing that I would say about independent reporting which would be any kind of criticism of imbedded reporting.

But I just feel that that isn't enough. It's not simply enough to be with one side. You have to have people who are separate, who are taking a wider and broader look, and if that means they've got to be out in the middle, well, so be it. I'm not asking for any kind of sympathy. I'm not the slightest bit bitter that I was injured and all my team were injured and my translator was killed.

I do think that there's an absolutely duty on the American military, if they're going to fight these wars, to be very careful about who they shoot and kill, and I do not feel that there was the proper degree of care in this last war.

MACVICAR: Chris Cramer, as the head of the -- the honorary president, rather, of the International News Safety Institute, safety for journalists is something that you have campaigned for, that you argued strenuously for. Given what happened, given the way we know the war unfolded, the way in which it continues to unfold, how well prepared do you think most journalists are who are in the field? Are people there who should be there?

CRAMER: I think if you'd asked me that question two or three years ago, I would have said that the industry by and large was in the dark ages when it came to understanding that they can't and shouldn't go off to war zones without some basic sort of training and equipment. I think these days the industry is getting better. The broadcast industry, if you like, is out there at the front -- BBC, CNN and other broadcasters are -- best practice, when it comes to safety and looking out for their staff.

The print industry is woefully a long way behind and incredibly there were many colleagues who were in and around Iraq as unilaterals, you know, alongside John, probably, who had no training, no equipment, no basic understanding of how to operate in a war zone, which is incredible. I mean, you don't ask a fireman to go fight a fire without training him and looking after him when he gets back.

In the area of post-traumatic stress and the whole notion that it may be effected by what we cover, to Anthony Feinstein's point, I think the industry has a hell of a long way to go. There are many of my colleagues who still think they can strut off to a war zone and come back without it having any effects on them at all, which is basically ridiculous, and I think if the industry wakes up to the fact that they can be effected by what they cover, gosh, they might even be better journalists.

MACVICAR: Anthony, I noted the chapter that you wrote in "Dying To Tell The Story," you quoted a woman journalist saying that some companies think that giving someone a flak jacket and sending them off to cover -- take a hostile environments course and sending them off to war is enough, and that simply is not enough. Is there still a reluctance, do you think, on the part of media organizations, to recognize the need for greater assistance?

FEINSTEIN: I think there is, and I think there's great naivety around this particular question. Just to reinforce what Chris said, I think you heard what a very dangerous war this has been, many people killed, and that's undoubtedly going to effect some people psychologically.

The fact that it's a minority of people doesn't mean that you shouldn't provide the necessary care to them. My data has shown that for the most part, journalists are very resilient in dealing with the pressures of war, but there is going to be a group, and often a significant group, who decompensate, and they're going to need the help, and I think the management needs to understand that.

MACVICAR: Are journalists, do you think, as a group, particularly reluctant to understand that they may be paying a psychological cost?

FEINSTEIN: Well, certainly I've had a number of journalists say to me that they're very worried that if they complete questionnaires or they divulge how they feel, that it will work its way back to management and they might get penalized. I think that's varied going from organization to organization, but it's a very real issue. There's a stigma attached to it and that stigma is not going to disappear overnight.

MACVICAR: And John, do you think from your colleagues, people that you know, people are willing to accept that there is in fact a psychological cost paid?

SIMPSON: Yes, I think, you know, journalists by their nature, by their instinct, are less likely to accept that than a lot of other people.

I'm at a slightly sort of pre-counseling age, really, but I could see how beneficial it was to me, for instance, to carry on after this friendly fire incident of ours with somebody else who had suffered in it, my producer, and just talk to him all the time about it and he talked to me about it.

You know, there are personal benefits, but I do think that we have a commitment, actually to look after people under these circumstances.

MACVICAR: Well, thank you all very much for joining us on this special edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Chris Cramer, in Atlanta; Daniel Demoustier, in Brussels; Dr. Anthony Feinstein, in Toronto; Colonel Jay DeFrank, in Washington; and John Simpson, here with me in the studio. Thank you all very much.

That's all for this special edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Sheila MacVicar in London.

As a postscript to the program, we leave you with the names of the journalists who died in the line of duty this year.



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