March 23, 2004
By Claire Cozens, press and publishing correspondent
The safety of journalists in Iraq has "deteriorated significantly" over the past few months, a senior Reuters editor has warned as he urged the US government to do more to prevent deaths like that of award-winning cameraman Mazen Dana last year.
Dana was shot dead by US troops while filming outside a Baghdad prison last August, and became the second Reuters cameraman to be killed in Iraq. The first, Taras Protsyuk, died when a US tank shell struck the Palestine hotel in Baghdad on the eve of the routing of Saddam Hussein the Iraqi capital.
His death provoked an international outcry and the US government eventually bowed to calls for an investigation into the killing, the results of which have now been seen by Reuters.
But today the news agency's global managing editor, David Schlesinger, said the situation for journalists in Iraq had actually got worse since the two deaths.
"We believe that the Reuters staff killed in Iraq, Taras Protsyuk and Mazen Dana, would both still be alive if the recommendation regarding improved communications between US units in the field and the military's high command had been implemented before their deaths," he said.
"In recent months the safety of journalists in Iraq has deteriorated significantly. To avoid further needless loss of life it is imperative that these recommendations be implemented immediately throughout all areas of conflict."
Dana was shot after a soldier mistook the camera he lifted to his shoulder to begin filming for a rocket propelled grenade launcher.
The US government report exonerates the soldier, saying that although his actions were "tragic and regrettable" they were "justified based on the information available... at the time" - a conclusion Reuters disputes.
But the report recommends that communications between media organisations and the military be improved, and says there should be better methods of "identifying journalists in the theatre of war".
Journalists operating independently in last year's war in Iraq were warned that - unlike in previous conflicts - the military would not be able to take into account their whereabouts.
When the BBC's offices in Kabul were bombed, the US military admitted it made no effort to distinguish between satellite uplinks for broadcast news communications and the identifiable radio or satellite communications of the "enemy".
But today Schlesinger said the Pentagon had to accept some journalists would always operate outside the system of "embedding", and called for "sensible and prudent" measures to prevent them being killed.
"The bottom line is that the military and media organisations must work together to improve journalist safety and ensure that it is approached on a programmatic, operational level that is relevant to all conflicts, not just the current one in Iraq," he concluded.
Schlesinger's comments came as an ITV Tonight programme investigation uncovered new evidence on Fred Nerac, the ITN cameraman, and his translator Hussein Osman - neither of whom has been seen since a shooting incident between coalition forces and Iraqis close to Basra a year ago today.
New witness reports suggest the pair may have been shot by US troops after they were picked up by a group of Iraqis in a pick-up truck.
Reuters welcomed the report's recommendations, and offered to host conferences of journalists and US military in both Baghdad and Washington to discuss ways of making war zones safer for journalists.
A total of 14 journalists died in Iraq during the war, among them Terry Lloyd, the veteran ITN correspondent killed in the incident with Nerac and Osman.
Kaveh Golestan, a distinguished Iranian cameraman working for the BBC, was killed on April 2 when he and producer Stuart Hughes stepped on landmines while filming in Kurdish northern Iraq. Hughes had to have his lower leg amputated.
BBC translator Kamaran Abdurazaq Mohammed was one of at least 18 killed on April 6, when an American warplane bombed a Kurdish convoy travelling with US special forces. John Simpson, the BBC's world affairs editor, was hit by shrapnel in the attack.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004