Edinburgh Television Festival: Nato-based war reporters under attack

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JOURNALISTS WHO covered the Kosovo war from Serbia and those who reported events from Nato headquarters clashed at the Edinburgh Television Festival yesterday over the impartiality and quality of their work.

Robert Fisk, the Independent foreign correspondent who reported on the war from Belgrade, made a stinging attack on the journalists who broadcast from Nato headquarters. And Mark Laity, the BBC's defence correspondent, questioned the language used by reporters who sent dispatches under Serbian censorship and the amount of coverage they had devoted to Nato bombs that missed their designated targets.

In a session that brought together foreign correspondents from all the main channels to discuss whether television had covered the war impartially, Mr Fisk said that after watching 55 daily briefings from Nato's headquarters in Brussels he had seen only six challenging questions asked.

He said: "I found that journalists, instead of asking challenging questions and going constantly at statements made by Jamie Shea [the Nato spokesman], that most questions were about the kinds of aircraft being used and whether they had to refuel. They were questions more suited for a magazine called Aircraft Weekly and did not address the major issues of the war." Mr Fisk clashed with Mr Laity over whether correspondents based in Serbia only ever described the ethnic cleansing of Albanians as "alleged ethnic cleansing". Reporters including Julian Manyon from ITN and the BBC's Jeremy Bowen denied they had used the word "allegedly".

Mr Laity said that he had "concerns" over the reports that came out of Serbia about Nato air strikes that did not hit their targets. "I am not saying the reporters there were not doing their best. But I am concerned about proportionality. The reports were accurate within themselves, but if it was the other way around it would have been equally wrong to report on 10 bombs which hit their targets and not report on the 10,000 which missed them."

But the journalists who have covered the war were all united in their condemnation of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary. He has accused journalists of being duped by the Serbian lie machine and of not being daring enough to have tried to enter Kosovo to find evidence of ethnic cleansing.

The session was told by Mr Manyon that Mr Campbell should go back to manipulating lobby correspondents. He said that it was Mr Campbell's first war and that he was naive and had had to operate under a steep learning curve.