Mark Damazer: The lessons of the Iraqi war 'embeds'

From an address by the deputy director of BBC News to News Xchange, in Budapest
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"Embedded reporters" may be a new term but the idea that journalists would be doing their trade and their profession alongside troops fighting for their trade and profession is not entirely new; it goes back to the Crimean War. In the First World War, the embedded reporters (although they were not called that) ended up receiving knighthoods or their American equivalent. So far, thank God, we've been spared that.

At the end of the war the BBC decided there had been so much hot air about the practices of embedding that we should do some research. So we commissioned Cardiff university, and here are some of the results.

Overall the journalists felt that it had been worthwhile and they hadn't sold out. Everybody spoken to had been aware that there could be censorship, that reports could be unnecessarily delayed, words could be asked to be changed; in fact, very little of that happened.These were not naive rookies who went into conflict gung-ho, unaware of the dangers that could come about by being embedded with military units.

There were differences at a very early stage in planning between the MoD and the Pentagon. The notion that public opinion itself was a key variable was far more straight forwardly in the minds of the Pentagon than of the MoD. The Pentagon simply thought the journalists would be sympathetic.

The cliché about the Americans and British seems to me to have been brilliantly fufilled. In the MoD there was a deep entrenched suspicion about the whole programme - "we'll have to put up with it". That was clearly reflected in the way they went about it. "It may be necessary for democracy," they said, "but if we had our choice it's not the kind of thing we'd get up to."

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