Embeds on killing ground

Fallujah coverage a ‘catastrophe’The “one-sided” coverage of the US assault on Fallujah has been described as a “journalistic catastrophe” by a leading broadcaster.

Shocking pictures were broadcast by NBC news on Monday of a US marine killing a wounded Iraqi in a mosque on Saturday.

But notwithstanding this critical coverage, Channel Four News presenter Alex Thomson said the overall picture has been a warped one.

Regarding the reporting restrictions on embedded reporters, he said: “It’s bad enough only being able to cover one-side of this war – but it’s worse when you can only cover one side of the war and do it badly. It makes a one-sided view even more one-sided”.

The Washington Post reported that the insurgents offered embed spots to western media as well but said only a French photographer took them up on it. He was detained by US forces as he fled his hosts when he felt he was in too much danger.

It is not yet clear how NBC correspondent Kevin Sites got his footage past the military censors.

He was embedded with a US Marine Corps unit clearing suspected insurgents during the assault on Fallujah when a marine was filmed pointing his gun at a wounded man lying on the floor of a mosque, and then shooting him in the head.

Thomson said: “We have been prevented from using footage of a wounded American soldier, so I don’t know how this got out, perhaps it was just the confusion of war.”

“Embeds work fine as long as the war is going well – but the testing time for them will come when things start going wrong. I think if the military had their time again they would not have let that footage get out.”

ITN’s Martin Adler, who won a Rory Peck prize for his often highly critical embedded reports from Iraq, suspects that the time between the mosque incident on Saturday, and NBC’s transmission on Monday, may have meant the broadcaster was able to bypass the military-controlled battlefield transmission unit to get its footage out.

He said: “My impression was that the people who are embedded in the Fallujah operation were operating under heavy restrictions. I suspect this was taken out of the area because it was so stunning and shocking.”

He added: “My experience was, when I was at headquarters, I was operating under strict restrictions but working with smaller units on their own, building up meaningful relationships, people let their guard down.

These people are worried about where the next shot is coming from, not what you are shooting with your camera.”

The MoD currently has about half a dozen journalists embedded with the Black Watch. It is understood to operate a similar system to the US whereby footage from correspondents is transmitted using military-operated Forward Transmission Units near the battlefield. These transmit material after it has first been “security vetted”

By Dominic Ponsford

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