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Media Coverage Of The War In Iraq: Problems And Limitations Of Embedded Journalists - 2003-03-31

Much of the reporting on the war in Iraq for US and other western media has come from “embedded” reporters. The term refers to the hundreds of journalists who are traveling with US and British forces. Some observers have been critical of the practice, saying the embedded journalists may show favoritism to coalition forces. Others say they have not painted a complete picture of the true nature of war.

Among those following media coverage is Tony Borden of the Institute for War and Peace reporting. From London, Mr. Borden spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about embedded media coverage of the war in Iraq. He says he “criticizes colleagues in the field with a slight bit of hesitation” because a number of journalists have been killed, while others are at “significant risk.”

He says, “Embedded journalism has been subject to criticism because you are stationed with a unit; you are under the protection of a unit. In a sense you identify with the unit.” He says that could affect objectivity. Mr. Borden says there are a number of problems with the current system. He says there are limitations on what can be reported, and the journalist is in effect “serving as a mouthpiece for the unit that you’re with. Another problem is that you’re speaking in vignettes.“ He says it’s very difficult for the average viewer to put all those stories together into “one coherent picture and comprehensible picture.”

He says he’s also concerned about the twenty-four hour news cycle on such things as cable news channels. He says, “Because of the temptation to use live feeds, we’re actually only getting live feeds. And live feeds are contrary to what we think of as the careful practice of journalism itself, by doing the story, by checking with both sides, by really putting your story together.” He says there are too many images of journalists “running with the troops and I think the twenty-four hour cycle is not really serving the best journalistic profession.”

He says the print media is making a “late surge” after being overshadowed by the broadcast media in the early days of the war. He says now “you’re beginning to ready some truly extraordinary field reporting where people are actually able to give a real perspective of the gruesome nature of war.”