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Reporting from Iraq is a Deadly Job

Reporting from Iraq has proven to be a deadly job: more than 40 reporters have been killed in the 19 months since the start of the war. The security situation has grown so perilous in recent months that several areas of the country are virtually inaccessible to western reporters.

Wall Street Journal Reporter Farnaz Fassihi sparked a debate in the United States when her private e-mail leaked to the press last month. She wrote what only her friends were supposed to read: "I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in anything but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling."

Dexter Filkins published a similar report in the New York Times, describing Iraq as a "shrinking country" for journalists: "Village by village, block by block, the vast and challenging land that we entered in March 2003 has shriveled into a medieval city-state, a grim and edgy place where the only question is how much more territory we will lose tomorrow," writes Mr. Filkins.

Joel Campagna of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press-freedom organization based in New York City, says car bombings, mines, stray bullets and increasingly frequent kidnapping have limited the freedom of movement in Iraq.

"It is simply too dangerous for reporters to go out and cover news events the way they did, for example, last year. When there was an explosion or a bombing, instinctively journalists would go and try to head to the scene of a news event. Nowadays that’s not happening," says Mr. Campagna. "When journalists do go out it is with considerable calculation about their security, about how safe it is and in general news organizations have scaled back their movements outside of Baghdad and even within Baghdad." Mr. Campagna says many free-lance reporters have left the country, fearing for their safety and news media have scaled back the number of correspondents they send to Iraq.

Marjorie Miller, foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, says her paper currently has four reporters in Iraq, three in Baghdad and one embedded with the US army. She says the kidnapping of two Italian aid workers and American and British contractors -- from their homes -- prompted the paper to move its journalists from a private house to a guarded hotel in central Baghdad. She adds the lack of security has also affected how reporters do their work.

"They are definitely more confined than they were many months ago. For example, we used to be able to routinely drive to Najaf, which gave you a view on the ground as well as the view in Najaf," says Ms Miller. "Recently, we have to fly in by helicopter, and so you can’t get as clear a sense of what’s going on between Baghdad and Najaf and then you pretty much have to go in and stay a short time and get out."

The foreign editor of The Los Angeles Times says it takes more time and more people to get in-depth stories. Iraqi stringers are employed more often to contribute reports from the field. "There are areas where they can go that we don’t feel comfortable going. They go in armed with a lot of questions and the context of the story that we are writing and they do some of the on-the-ground reporting for us. And then we wait for the right opportunity to go somewhere," adds Ms Miler.

However, Iraqi reporters are not much safer, notes Joel Campagna of the Committee to Protect Journalists: "Statistically, what we are seeing is increasing risk for Iraqi employees of media organizations, and if we look at the number of journalists killed in 2003, we saw 13 were killed in action in 2003. The majority of those were western journalists, foreign correspondents working for international news organizations. In 2004, 20 journalists have been killed, and of that 16 have been Iraqis." Mr. Campagna says news coverage from Iraq has become so expensive that only major media organizations can afford to send reporters there. When they venture out of Baghdad, it is usually under the protection of the US army. Some observers say this makes coverage of Iraq incomplete.

Independent reporter Lorna Tychostup, who spent about 12 weeks in Iraq over the past year says: "If you don’t live out with the people, if you are not eating their food, if you are not traveling in their neighborhoods, if you are not breathing the same air, how are you going to know what the truth is of the Iraqi experience?"

In November last year, Time Magazine and ABC News joined forces to survey people all over Iraq on how their lives had changed since the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Observers say that scope of reporting is almost impossible now.