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[casi] Media protest treatment in Iraq

Media protest treatment in Iraq
Letter to Pentagon accuses US troops of intimidation
By Mark Jurkowitz, Globe Staff, 11/13/2003

The Associated Press says soldiers in Iraq detained one of its photographers
and a driver in late September near the site of the Abu Ghraib prison.
Knight Ridder says its photographer at the scene of the Nov. 2 downing of a
Chinook helicopter had photographs destroyed by the US military. Reuters,
which had a cameraman killed in August in what the US military called an
accident, says another photographer was detained last month by Iraqi police
alleging to be acting on orders from US forces.

Amid growing reports of journalists being harassed and intimidated by troops
policing postwar Iraq, representatives of 30 media organizations, ranging
from CNN and ABC to the Newhouse News Service and The Boston Globe, have
signed a letter to the Pentagon raising concerns about what they view as an
increasingly hostile reporting environment.

Some of the signers say the relationship between the press and the US
military in Iraq has worsened since the major combat ended.

The letter, addressed to Larry Di Rita, acting assistant secretary of
defense for public affairs, says the news organizations have ''documented
numerous examples of US troops physically harassing journalists and, in some
cases, confiscating or ruining equipment, digital camera disks, and
videotapes.'' It also states that the actions are in violation of the
Pentagon's guidelines that stipulate, among other things, that ''media
products will not be confiscated or otherwise impounded.''

Yesterday, Stuart Wilk, the president of the Associated Press Managing
Editors, also sent a letter to Di Rita complaining that troops have been
harassing and endangering journalists in Iraq in recent months and asking
the Pentagon to ''immediately take the steps to end such confrontations.''

''It's back to the bad old days where journalists are being treated as
adversaries,'' said Sandy Johnson, the Washington bureau chief for the AP
and an organizer of the protest campaign. Johnson said she circulated the
letter from the 30 news outlets to express dismay over the ''escalating
number of these incidents in recent weeks. What we want the Pentagon to tell
that military is that this is not acceptable.''

ABC's Washington bureau chief, Robin Sproul, added that ''we had almost none
of these problems'' when hundreds of reporters were embedded with units
during the height of the fighting. She attributes the recent spate of
postwar media/military tensions to ''a turnover of personnel, a different
sort of operation, a different mission, so to speak.''

The subject arose at last week's meeting between the Washington bureau
chiefs and Pentagon officials, including Di Rita. According to several
participants, Di Rita responded by noting that many US troops now in Iraq
are teenagers with little experience in dealing with the media.

Di Rita was out of the country yesterday and could not be reached. A
statement issued by a defense official who asked not to be named said, ''We
have detailed instructions to ensure that journalists in Iraq are treated
properly. We're aware of reports asserting that there have been some
incidents in which those instructions may not have been followed. We are
looking into it and will take appropriate action when appropriate. We remain
committed to ensuring that the press is free to report on developments in

A number of media outlets contacted for this story indicated they had
recently encountered problems covering events in Iraq. Aside from the
incidents involving Reuters, the Associated Press, and Knight Ridder, the
Agence France-Presse photo organization cited several instances in which its
photographers have been detained and disks were confiscated. Boston Globe
reporter Charles Sennott said that when he and a group of journalists
approached the scene of the Chinook copter wreckage hours after the crash,
soldiers fired warning shots at them.

''I think since the embed system broke down . . . trust has broken down,''
said John Walcott, Knight Ridder's Washington bureau chief.

Some journalists say the problems are exacerbated by the fact that soldiers
are in a defensive, hair-trigger posture trying to guard against the
increasing number of deadly attacks by anti-American forces.

''Frankly, I think soldiers are more sensitive when things aren't going too
well,'' Walcott added.

 Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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