By Sarah SukJapan Today
March 26, 2003
A group of journalists defending freedom of the press worldwide said Wednesday it will send a representative to one of the U.S. military battalions taking part in the Iraq war to monitor the treatment of accompanying media personnel. Robert Menard, one of the founders of the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), said the U.S. Department of Defense agreed Tuesday to accept a representative at one of the units.
"Yesterday, we received the official response from the Pentagon accepting that one of our journalists will be able to join one of two battalions operating in Iraq," Menard told reporters in Tokyo. Reporters Sans Frontieres, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), has yet to decide on which squadron to join and who to send, but that the representative will be incorporated by Friday with a mission to check how the journalists covering the unit were being treated, he said.
"The person will see whether the journalists can actually do their work...how the U.S. hierarchy is behaving toward journalists and if there is the same kind of treatment given to American journalists and those from, say, France which did not support the U.S. decision" to launch an attack on Iraq, Menard said. Menard, secretary general of Reporters Sans Frontieres, speaking in French, expressed surprise that the Pentagon accepted the group's request, and without any conditions, saying the U.S. government will be taking "some kind of risk" as to how it will be evaluated. "We were rather surprised by this positive response by the U.S. administration because we were expecting a refusal," he said. "They were courageous enough to accept it and I think we should think about it because it is something completely new."
Menard said he believes Reporters Sans Frontieres is the only organization that has asked the United States for permission to monitor the working condition of journalists in war situations and it is likely the first time for the U.S. military to allow an NGO to conduct such checks. Regarding the coverage of the military campaign on Iraq, he said the quality is much better and the disseminated information more diverse compared with the 1991 Persian Gulf War in which a U.S.-led multilateral force expelled Iraq from Kuwait. But one of the reasons for the improvement is that, this time, a number of journalists are traveling with the military units operating in Iraq, which means there is also added risks posed to them, Menard said.
Only several days into the war, two journalists have died and two disappeared, while another pair have been injured in Iraq, he explained. In the Gulf War, four journalists died, as opposed to nine fatal casualties among media personnel in the antiterrorism military operation in Afghanistan, launched in October 2001.
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