Reporting restrictions

Tom Roeder of the Colorado Springs Gazette kicks off his Iraq Notebook blog by uploading a copy of the original reporting restrictions agreement he signed with the US Military before heading to Iraq,

It’s fairly rare for reporters, always fond of their constitutional rights, to agree to any government-imposed restriction of their activities. It’s important for readers to know what rules the paper agreed to. link

“Embedded reporting is better than no reporting,” so the theory goes. Although the situation in Iraq appears to be better than it was a year ago, reporters – like the BBC’s Ceri Thomas – are still more likely to find themselves reporting from behind the razor wire,

As journalists, we spend too much of our time glimpsing Basra through razor wire fences or the bullet-proof windows of a Land Rover. We get out of the fortified bases into the city and the villages beyond as often as we can, but each trip is immensely labour-intensive – and much more dangerous for the soldiers who accompany us than it is for us. link

It’s almost certain the conclusions of Sarah Miskin’s March, 2003 report Media Under Fire: Reporting Conflict in Iraq hold more true today than ever before,

An inherent tension between the goals of the media and those of the military gives the latter an incentive to attempt to control the information transmitted to the public in order to ensure public support for the conflict. Such controls have proved successful over the past two decades, and were especially so in the previous Gulf conflict in 1990-91. In hindsight, it was obvious that many of the stories relayed to the public were not true and were, in fact, part of a deliberate campaign of misinformation. link

War reporter and cartoonist David Axe expands on this theme on his blog, having been previously evicted from his embed position in Iraq in 2006,

One thing I’ve learned is that the way in which an army handles media says a lot about its values, its confidence in its mission, and—dare I say it?—its effectiveness in modern warfare, where perceptions are critical to success. link

How journalists can escape this trap, or if it is even possible, is the question. Partnerships like the one Reuters has with the Global Voices network of bloggers help extend reporting beyond the razor wire even if getting into bed with bloggers throws up other questions about reliability and bias,

“We’re not the alternative to having good foreign news coverage,” [says Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices]. “Bloggers aren’t able to do what really talented professional journalists can. Bloggers for the most part have jobs. They’re not able to spend days staking out a story. But we provide more perspective, more depth and more color than you’re likely to get in a conventional newspaper.” link