Independent Journalists Fight Their Own War in Iraq; AIVF Advocates Support for "Non-Embedded" Reporters
by Eugene Hernandez with additional reporting by Brian Brooks
In the early hours of the war this week, viewers watching the events unfold live on television no doubt noted the continual use of the term "embedded journalists," referring to reporters who are based with U.S. troops abroad. These journalists are offered what is described as "unprecedented" access, but with restrictions sometimes placed upon what they can say and when they can say it. While most U.S. television networks have pulled their "non-embedded" journalists from hot spots, they have also relied upon journalists who are working independently to provide reports.
The Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) is speaking out in support of independent journalists in these first days of the war in Iraq. On Wednesday night, as the war began, the AIVF issued a statement urging its membership to contact government leaders to voice concerns about the safety of independent journalists who are covering the war.
Citing media reports, AIVF is expressing concerns that independent journalists have been threatened or are targeted for attack by the U.S., and the organization is advocating that these reporters be protected.
"We strongly condemn threats leveled against independent media makers and the free flow of information," the AIVF said in its statement.
"AIVF is raising real concerns," CameraPlanet's co-president Steve Rosenbaum told indieWIRE yesterday. "And they're both about the short-term danger and the long-term impact of censorship and restriction of voices in this important and complex story." Rosenbaum's company has a number of journalists covering this war, from the "non-embedded" Peter Arnett in Baghdad for National Geographic to other solo reporters on the scene.
Rosenbaum explained that the journalists are facing safety issues as well as, in his words, "a powerful and pervasive force that is driving 'the story' and pushing all alternative voices and viewpoints off the air."
Arnett, well known to Americans for his work for CNN during the first Gulf War, is reporting live and also taping a number of news packages for networks around the world. He has been moving between two hotels in Baghdad, according to Rosenbaum, since the El Rashid hotel (home base for some reporters) is thought to be a U.S. target. Rosenbaum said that the U.S. is not denying that the hotel is a target.
"Free speech is a fundamental right provided for in our Constitution," said the AIVF in its advocacy message. "And the opportunity to have a voice and to hear a diversity of voices and viewpoints is part of what we cherish as Americans."
Noting the work of video journalist May Ying Welch, the daughter of former AIVF board member Loni Ding who is currently reporting from the region, the AIVF said that work by independent reporters such as Welch is, "providing the type of informed and truly independent viewpoint lacking in mainstream media coverage."
AIVF executive director Elizabeth Peters noted a concern about the broader issue of allowing diverse opinions to be heard. In a conversation with indieWIRE, Peters acknowledged the need for the military to maintain secrets in order to protect the lives of U.S. troops, but said the organization is concerned about the dismissive tone that some military officials have taken with regard to the safety of independent journalists who are not part of the "embedded" program.
"Protecting the freedoms and safety of filmmakers and journalists (is) going to be a battle all its own," Rosenbaum concluded. "And one that I'm committed to."
The AIVF is encouraging its members to contact Congressional representatives with their views on the matter.
[For more information, please visit: http://www.aivf.org.]