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Committee to Protect Journalists Web Site
War in Iraq Special Report
War in Iraq Discussion Transcripts
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Live Online Transcripts

NEW! Subscribe to the daily Confronting Iraq or weekly Live Online E-Mail Newsletters and receive highlights and breaking news event alerts in your mailbox.

War in Iraq:
The Safety of Journalists

With Joel Simon
Acting Director,
Committee to Protect Journalists

Tuesday, April 1, 2003; 1 p.m. ET

A photographer, Moises Saman, and a correspondent, Matthew McAllester, who both work for Newsday disappeared from their hotel in Baghdad a week ago. The newspaper thinks the two have been detained by Iraqi authorities. Their families have appealed to Jesse Jackson to help locate their loved ones and secure their release.

Meanwhile, four other journalists remain missing. Johan Rydeng Spanner, a freelance photographer with a Danish daily, and Molly Bingham, a U.S. freelance photographer, were last seen in Baghdad a week ago being escorted by Iraqi officials from the Palestine Hotel. And an ITV cameraman, Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Othman were last seen in southern Iraq on March 22 when their car came under apparent coalition forces fire.

What can be done? Joel Simon, acting director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), was online Tuesday, April 1 at 1 p.m. ET, to discuss these cases and what CPJ and others are doing in the search for the journalists. He will also talk about safety and access concerns in covering the war and embedded vs. non-embedded reporters and correspondents.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the global defense of press freedom.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

washingtonpost.com: Joel Simon, welcome to washingtonpost.com. What exactly is the Committee to Protect Journalists doing to locate the missing journalists?

Joel Simon: We're an organization of journalists and our first instinct in a situation like this is to respond as journalists so we are seeking to gather information, confirm reports and disseminate what we know to the media in the hopes that publicizing the fact that they are missing will draw additional attention to their cases.

We are also, through various channels, seeking to make contact with Iraqi authorities. At this point we believe that the missing journalists are in Iraqi custody.

Somewhere, USA: Who do you think is holding the journalists?

Joel Simon: We believe that Iraqi authorities are holding the missing journalists. The four missing journalists, Molly Bingham, freelance photographer, Matt McAllester, photographer and Moises Saman, both from Newsday and Danish photographer Johan Spanner, all disappeared from their hotel in Baghdad early in the morning of March 26. An eyewitness saw Molly being taken away by Iraqi security. There has been no sign of any of the four journalists since then.

Washington, D.C.: What can the Iraqis gain from holding journalists?

Joel Simon: We believe that the Iraqis still care to some extent about international public opinion. That is based on the fact that despite the apparent danger, about 100 journalists continue to work in Baghdad. We can't imagine what they could possibly hope to gain by detaining these journalists. We can only hope that this is some bureaucratic issue.

There are reports that some of the missing journalists were questioned about their visa status by Iraqi authorities before they went missing.

Vienna, Va.: How many journalists are missing?

Joel Simon: There are six journalists in total missing. The four that we already mentioned and two other reporters for London-based ITV who have not been seen since March 22. They are cameraman Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Othman. On March 22 two vehicles operated by ITV journalists were fired upon near Basra. Correspondent Terry Lloyd was killed. Cameraman Daniel Demoustier was injured but is now safe. The other two journalists have not been seen since.

Alexandria, Va.: Are the embeds any safer than the regular reporters in Iraq?

Joel Simon: So far most of the cases involve so-called independent journalists; however, the images that embedded reporters are sending back makes clear that they are reporting from dangerous environments. And we have had a number of close calls. Certainly we are concerned for the safety of embedded journalists.

Washington, D.C.: Is the current Gulf conflict any different from Desert Storm in 1991 as far as journalists covering the story?

Joel Simon: It's night and day. Desert Storm was primarily covered by a small group of "pool" reporters who were tightly controlled by the Pentagon. Of course, CNN had several journalists in Baghdad and there were a few independent journalists who were able to enter Iraq during the hostilities.

This time there are an estimated 500 embedded journalists. There are an estimated 100 journalists in Baghdad and there are hundreds of independent journalists in both northern and southern Iraq.

Jonesboro, Ga.: With the lives of journalists so much in danger, why do you do what you do? Altruism, ego or a case of super machismo (sorry, female journalists ). Personally, I will not go to any of these violent countries if you paid me a million dollars. Kudos to you guys! You are great.

PS: I am skeptical of the embeds because in all likelihood they will not want to 'offend' their 'bed-mates' for fear of being thrown out of the program. What do you think?

Joel Simon: Our view is that we all benefit from having journalists present and providing us with information about what is happening on the ground in Iraq. While we are pleased that the Pentagon has accommodated a large number of embedded journalists, we believe that the full story cannot be told from their vantage point. We also need the perspective of independent journalists inside Iraq.

Los Angeles, Calif.: Are there any reporters devoted full-time in Baghdad to finding the whereabouts of the missing journalists?

Joel Simon: As far as we know all of the reporters who are currently there are concerned about their colleagues and have made efforts, either individually or collectively, to inquire about their whereabouts. We recognize that they also have a job to do -- reporting on the conflict itself.

Wheaton, Md.: Do you think fear of reprisal is actually affecting the coverage in Iraq as it does in Israel where reporters are afraid to ever criticize Arafat or Hamas?

Joel Simon: We have had no indication from any of the many journalists we have spoken to in Iraq that they are afraid of direct reprisals from the Iraqis although they are cognizant that the situation is volatile and could change.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company