Kuwait, April 3: On the three major roads leading out of north Kuwait, the Kuwaiti Army manning checkpoints check each vehicle as much for saboteurs in the rear as for journalists trying to get into southern Iraq. The coalition command does not want more journalists than they can manage, having already taken in about 500 reporters as ‘embeds’.
The closer the coalition forces get to Baghdad, the more intensive the military operations in Iraq and the more difficult it is to get into the country. The fortuitous few who have managed to get into southern Iraq are now being weeded out and pushed back into Kuwait. The only journalists welcomed are ‘embeds’ with units of the coalition forces. In nine out of 10 cases, the ‘embeds’ are American or British, in six out of 10, they are more likely to be from television.
“The battlespace is not safe. We have ability to take a certain amount of ‘embeds’ and we are encouraging others to leave,” Colonel Chris Vernon, spokesman for the British forces in charge of southern Iraq says in deliberate understatement. The ‘encouragement’ like the tactics the British claim to be using to overcome Basra, is hostile as well as benign.
Among the latest to receive the less kindly form has been Arnim Stauth. Stauth works for WDR Radio, a German station. Weeks ago, Stauth had access to the Forward Press Information Centre when it was still in Kuwait at a camp near the border. The F-PIC has since been moved to Umm Qasr. The F-PIC in Umm Qasr is now a camp for media representatives from the “Coalition of the Willing”. Only yesterday, six television journalists were taken into the camp — two from TVA (Spanish), two from Rai (Italian) and two from a Dutch channel.
“Your colleague, John Tully, asked us to get out,” Stauth told Vernon today. “Tully further said: ‘Germans and French want to get their shitty stories out of my camp. That will not be allowed.’ Will you please give me your definition of a ‘shitty story’'” Germany and France have opposed the war.
The coalition command’s policy is that journalists “will have as much access as they have contributed troops on the ground”. On conducted trips, the public affairs department says its policy is to take one international for one British and one American journalist.
In the early days of the war, when a few ‘unilaterals’ — Pentagonese for independent journalists who are not embedded with units of the coalition forces — did manage to make it to southern Iraq, they were subsequently escorted out when found. Sabine, a producer with France 2 and six journalists from Arab News who made it to Basra and were nearly caught in a crossfire, were put up for a night in a camp of the British 7th Armoured Brigade and early in the morning ‘escorted’ out. Four other journalists who had slept a night on a platform at Umm Qasr port were denied access to a hotel that was occupied mostly by troops. The soldiers ignored them when they found them at the port but did warn them that they would be helpless if the officers found out.
“Such things are happening against all free reporting regardless of nationality,” says Stauth indignantly. Beside him a reporter from the Daily Mirror, London, agreed. She tried getting across the border yesterday. “Is there a bias in favour of television,” she asked Vernon.
“We’ve looked across TV,” he replied. “Some print editors did not want their reporters embedded and it is only now that they are realising their error.”
Editorial managements of some newspapers in Britain refused to accept the ‘embedding’ policy because it was thought that would compromise credibility as such reporters will put out “only what they see through the gunsight”. While the debate will continue, a few stories from ‘embeds’ do not do the military proud. The Washington Post’s ‘embed’, for example, was able to give an eyewitness account of the killing of women and children in a car near An Najaf.