Posted by Alec Hamilton
We have all seen the images from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and numerous other conflicts around the world. Reporters from a variety of news agencies put their lives on the line in order to inform the public. Dressed in flak jackets and helmets, these war reporters endeavor to deliver their broadcasts no matter the difficulties, whether it’s in the middle of a mortar barrage or under heavy small-arms fire. War reporting has evolved over the past few decades, but never as drastically as it has in the last 10 years when reporters were embedded in combat units, enabling them to report directly from the battlefield.
Despite these new developments and increased access to the conflicts, reporters still face challenges when reporting during times of war. There is perpetual tension and conflict between the media and government over access to information, what can or cannot be published due to national security reasons, and the safety of the journalists themselves. During the Iraq war, the American public was bombarded by on-the-scene reporting from the battlefield and they were able to witness first-hand the relentless push towards Baghdad in almost real-time. However, an article published in the Boston Globe by Jeffrey McMurray in April of 2010 painted a stark difference between what Americans saw on TV and what really happened behind the scenes.
In the article, titled “Reporters discuss dangers, ethics of war coverage”, McMurray discusses a conference at the University of Kentucky he attended where prominent journalists spoke about government censorship during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The journalists, including Tom Curley the President and CEO of the Associated Press, stated that the media coverage in Iraq and Afghanistan relied too heavily upon government-supplied information and not enough first-hand accounts. Reports from the journalists in Afghanistan that the Taliban was resurging conflicted directly with government reports that the Taliban was all but beaten.
The speakers at the conference also emphasized that “war coverage by a free and independent media with reasonable access to the battlefield forces policy makers to deal with the reality of what is happening on the ground instead of what they want the public– or even Washington– to think . . . . . Nowhere is the truth more at risk—or more elusive—than in today’s wars.”
War reporting and the issues surrounding it bring into play blurred lines and murky ethical problems:
- Where do journalists and governments draw the line between the public’s need to know and national security?
- Where do media corporations draw the line when determining where to send war correspondents and what is an acceptable level of risk, despite the convictions of the journalist in question?
- How do embedded journalists stay objective in their reporting when the units they are reporting on are responsible for the journalists’ safety and may have even saved their lives?
- Do journalists belong on a battlefield where units have to devote resources to their protection and perhaps endanger the soldiers’ lives?
- How much control should the government have over media coverage during a time of war?
How would you, as fellow journalists, answer these questions or handle being a war correspondent?