London, April 9 (Reuters): News organisations demanded answers from the US yesterday after US fire killed three journalists in Baghdad.
Journalists from Reuters news agency, Spain’s Telecinco and Arab TV channel al Jazeera died after a US tank fired on a hotel packed full of journalists and US air strikes hit Jazeera’s offices, prompting calls for an investigation. “It’s hard to believe this was just a mistake. We want proof this was not a deliberate attack on journalists,” said Severine Cazes, head of the West Asian desk at Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders. The latest deaths in Baghdad bring to 10 the number of people killed while working for the media in Iraq.
The Pentagon said it regretted the deaths. It said it had repeatedly warned news organisations of the dangers in Iraq.
“War is a dangerous, dangerous business, and you’re not safe when you’re in a war zone,” the defence department’s chief spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters. News organisations said this was not enough.
“While US officials have expressed regret for the loss of life in these attacks and stated that they do not target journalists, they have left the impression that they bear no responsibility for protecting journalists operating independently in Iraq,” the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote in a letter to US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
More than 1,000 journalists are in Iraq covering the war including more than 200 in Baghdad, media watchdogs say. Most journalists killed so far have been independent reporters. Hundreds more are “embedded” with US-led forces.
The CPJ attacked the US for what it said seemed to be heavy-handed tactics. “The evidence suggests that the response of US forces was disproportionate and therefore violated international humanitarian law,” it said.
“We call on you to launch an immediate and thorough investigation in to these incidents”.
US forces said they had been responding to sniper fire when a US tank fired at Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, killing Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Telecinco cameraman Jose Couso. But journalists on the scene said they heard no fire.
In a separate incident, al Jazeera said cameraman Tarek Ayub was killed in a US air raid on Baghdad. The Arab network accused the US of deliberately bombing its offices to silence a powerful voice in the Arab world.
A number of news organisations were considering pulling their reporters out of Iraq after the latest deaths. Spanish media organisations said Spain’s defence ministry had recommended their correspondents leave Baghdad and broadcaster Telecinco said it was pulling its reporter out. The head of the Arab Journalists Union (AJU), Ibrahim Nafei, also “condemned the Anglo-American attack on journalists while in Baghdad to cover the aggression”.
The demands of 24-hour television coverage, hundreds more journalists and multiple battle fronts have put journalists under added pressure in this conflict. But they have been better equipped and better trained than any previous war.
Nevertheless, watchdogs demanded safeguards.
”We also urge you to take measures to ensure that similar attacks do not occur in the future,” the CPJ said in its letter.