Security Issues in Iraq at Forefront

Jul 14, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Flak jackets and helmets may again become the uniform of TV journalists reporting from U.S.-occupied Iraq, where the increase in guerrilla-style hostility is both a story to cover and a subject of renewed discussions about safety between the news crews there and the executives back home.
“It is a very dangerous situation,” said Paul Slavin, senior VP of news gathering for ABC News. He considers the level of danger in Iraq still “tolerable” but volatile enough to have last week OK’d “significantly” ramped-up security measures for ABC staffers in Iraq.
“We never reduced our security,” said Marcy McGinnis, senior VP for news coverage at CBS News, which, like numerous other news organizations, employs professional security consultants and escorts in hot spots such as Iraq. “They go with us everywhere,” Ms. McGinnis said.
Since last year, CNN has kept in its Atlanta newsroom a representative of the British security specialists who ran the training camps at which the news network’s staffers were prepared for hostile-environment assignments.
“Because the Saddam Hussein regime repeatedly and explicitly threatened to kill CNN journalists, CNN provided exceptional and unrivaled security and safety gear for its staff in Iraq before and during the war, and that continues now,” said CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan, who described CNN’s precautionary measures as “appropriate and prudent.”
Executives are hesitant to divulge many details of their security plans, but for some networks there have been ongoing changes of hotels (which are still home and work space for many journalists), daily bulletins from their security professionals about which areas are deemed particularly dangerous, and restrictions about even the numbers in which the journalists can move about and when they are to have armed escorts.
CBS even insists there always be a second vehicle along on journalistic excursions in case one breaks down.
The question of security took on increased importance in the wake of the July 8 death of an Australian sound man free-lancing for NBC. The sound man died as the result of a shrapnel wound he received in an insurgent attack on a U.S. military unit in the town of Fallujah.
One topic of discussion has been whether or when the increase in attacks on Westerners might make the wearing of body armor routine for journalists once again. Those same media members happily tossed the heavy gear after U.S. forces took control of Baghdad in early April.
For all the TV news organizations that responded to questions about the current dangers in Iraq, the risks are still deemed endurable but the situation is considered fluid.
“On a daily basis we are reviewing and assessing the security issues,” an NBC News spokeswoman said, “but it is an important story.”