A news correspondent who works for an Arab Satellite retells the story about how he was rushed to Iraq during the American invasion in 2003 to cover the broadcasting of the war for his news channel. He was sent without any information regarding his protection or any notification of his financial or moral rights in case he was injured whilst working in the danger zone. As for training for news coverage in combat areas, this was unheard of and never proposed. All he did was take some medication which was supposed to protect him from any hazards of a biological warfare.
During his assignment in Iraq, he felt naïve after a local newspaper published a report concerning the issue of sending reporters and correspondents without guaranteeing protection for their lives, whereas before, he thought that safety would be the most basic of rights guaranteed by employers. Over the last two years, he reviewed many of his posts and concluded that that the only reason he had not been killed or hurt in Iraq as many Arab, Western, and Iraqi correspondents have been was due to mere luck.
Perhaps the situation of Iraq during the past two years has changed the way people perceive Arab media agencies and newspapers and their responsibility for the protection and security of their correspondents. Presently, people increasingly believe that these agencies have more responsibility. With the exception of a few, the security provided by the Arab media agencies and newspapers is not relative to the dangers they face in conflict areas that are mainly in our region. Moreover, the Western agencies which have now become more concerned about the safety of their employees, and the large financial amounts of life insurance imposed on them by Western laws to secure their correspondents, has driven them to hire local correspondents who do not cost as much and are not protected by such laws.
In Iraq, the number of Arab and Western correspondents decreased significantly and were substituted for more Iraqi correspondents and photographers. Thirty of these correspondents and photographers have been killed since the war started in Iraq. Immediately after the downfall of Saddam, Western media agencies and institutions attempted to set up protection systems for their employees in Iraq by contracting with private security firms. However, this proved to be inefficient as it caused a certain militarization of the journalists and correspondents.
The second step involved increasing the number of local correspondents and photographers employed as substitutes. This, however, made the locals a target of both the insurgent armed groups, and the American forces as we saw with the bombing of Arab media bureaus in Baghdad on the eve of the invasion.
What about the protection of Iraqi journalists? The question immediately arises: does the substitution for Arab journalists by Iraqis mean a decrease in the responsibility for their well-being?
If one objective of the new government is to establish a new generation of an Iraqi professional media workforce, then it should protect these journalists. It should also guarantee that the dangers of the profession will be counterbalanced by protection and rights that were not guaranteed by the previous regime of Saddam Hussein which also not allow for objective and professional journalism. Today, in return for professionalism and objectivity, security and safety are required.