Journalists Endangered at Iraq Checkpoint

Reporters in Iraq are putting new meaning into the phrase "duck and cover."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Anne Cooper there is a "serious and relatively new" threat.

Several of the journalists it is trying to protect have been fired on, or at least above and around, at the only media checkpoint for access to the International Zone in Baghdad.

In a letter to Commanding General George Casey, CPJ Executive Director Anne Cooper detailed two incidents this month--she says there have been several others--in which reporters for NPR and The Wall Street Journal had warning shots fired over their heads, with threats of worse.

According to NPR senior producer J.J. Sutherland came under fire Oct. 3 after his driver dropped him off 100 meters or so from the checkpoint. "Immediately the Iraqi guards began yelling and shooting warning shots over my head," he says in the letter, "close enough that I could hear the snap of the bullets as they passed by," adding that he "did not see the American forces present doing anything to try to prevent [it]."

According to the letter, WSJ reporter Farnaz Fassihi was being picked up near the checkpoint the same day when shots were fired over her head by a U.S. soldier, and later U.S. and Iraqi soldiers warned they would shoot her and her driver if they again stopped near the checkpoint.

Cooper says the problem is confusion over how journalists are supposed to approach the checkpoint as they try to enter the zone to cover press conferences, conduct interviews with U.S. and Iraqi officials, and imbed with units. "You can't just drive right up and let people out," says Cooper. "There is confusion over at what distance they are supposed to get out, 100 yards, 200 yards? There are no signs. Different people are doing different things and getting shot as a result.

"Just tell us what to do," says Cooper.

Casey has yet to respond to the Oct. 14 letter, according to Cooper. CPJ is also still waiting for a response to its Nov. 28 letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the detainment of Iraqi journalists.

Last month, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) expressed concern about journalist's safety in Iraq and urged both Casey and Rumsfeld to talk with CPJ and others about the issue.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.