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News ::
Independant media threatend by US/UK forces (english)
31 Mar 2003
From the New Zealand Herald
British journalists covering the war in Iraq have said their lives are being put at risk because of a decision by the British Ministry of Defence to hinder rather than help correspondents who are not attached to its units.
Free-roaming journalists say their lives at risk


LONDON - British journalists covering the war in Iraq have said their lives are being put at risk because of a decision by the British Ministry of Defence to hinder rather than help correspondents who are not attached to its units.

In some cases, reporters who have made their own way into the country are being forced to sleep in their vehicles in still unsafe streets rather than allowed to park in some of the army bases, air strips and ports that the invading forces have seized.

"My job is to make your lives as difficult as possible.

You will get not help whatsoever," a senior army spokesman allegedly told one group of journalists.

Another senior officer involved in organising facilities for the press said he wanted the Kuwaiti authorities to arrest reporters seeking to enter Iraq and have them deported.

Two Israeli and two Portuguese journalists were detained by US and British soldiers 100 miles south of Baghdad at gunpoint, deprived of food for 48 hours, then expelled from Iraq at the weekend.

One of them, Dan Semama, a correspondent with Israel's Channel 1 television, said guards at the entrance to a US army camp accused the four, who were not accredited to coalition forces, of spying.

Mr Semama said that when one of the Portuguese begged to be allowed to tell his wife and children that he was still alive, "five gorillas jumped on the reporter, who is small and thin and gentle.

They knocked him to the ground, kicked him, stepped on him, tied him up and threw him into the camp.

He came back half an hour later.

He was crying like a child.

"The four had entered Iraq in a rented Jeep and followed a US convoy, reporting home by satellite telephone.

At the gate to their base, guards ordered them out of the Jeep and shouted at them to put their hands up.

When the two Israelis, who have dual nationality, showed their French passports, it only made things worse.

France is not exactly the American army's flavour of the month.

"There was one captain," Mr Semama said, "who wanted us to lie on the ground with our faces in the sand and dust.

'Stick your head in the sand and don't look," he shouted at us.

I told him I was 55 years old.

He replied, 'Do it, or I'll shoot you'.

"The British Army has long enjoyed a reputation for having an excellent relationship with the media, providing assistance and often vital information on conditions in the field.

While individual officers in combat zones in southern Iraq have continued this tradition, they admit they are under orders to deny assistance to non-pool or "unilateral" journalists.

The problem has partly been created by the so-called embedding system under which journalists have been attached to units, providing in some cases unprecedented access to frontline operations.

It seems that Washington and London are not keen for their actions to be scrutinised by journalists outside their control and whose reports are not subject to censorship by "media minders".

The behaviour of officers is, according to a number of senior correspondents, putting lives at risk.

Last night in the border town of Umm Qasr - a town rife with looting and where aid distribution has been postponed over security problems - Royal Marines refused to allow The Independent and other British newspapers entry to a largely empty hotel compound.

"Sorry, mate, if it was up to me, you could come in, but rules are rules," a major said.
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