The triumph of ‘hotel journalism’: How the media operates in Baghdad

January 2005: Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way, writes Robert Fisk from the Iraqi capital

<p>The Palestine Hotel, a base for many foreign journalists, was bombed in October 2005 </p>

The Palestine Hotel, a base for many foreign journalists, was bombed in October 2005

“Hotel journalism” is the only phrase for it. More and more western reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the streets of Iraq’s towns and cities. Some are accompanied everywhere by hired, heavily armed western mercenaries. A few live in local offices from which their editors refuse them permission to leave. Most use Iraqi stringers, part-time correspondents who risk their lives to conduct interviews for American or British journalists, and none can contemplate a journey outside the capital without days of preparation unless they “embed” themselves with American or British forces.

Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. The New York Times correspondents live in Baghdad behind a massive stockade with four watchtowers, protected by locally hired, rifle-toting security men, complete with NYT T-shirts. America’s NBC television chain are holed up in a hotel with an iron grille over their door, forbidden by their security advisers to visit the swimming pool or the restaurant “let alone the rest of Baghdad” lest they be attacked. Several western journalists do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad.

So grave are the threats to western journalists that some television stations are talking of withdrawing their reporters and crews. Amid an insurgency where westerners – and many Arabs as well as other foreigners – are kidnapped and killed, reporting this war is becoming close to impossible. The murder on videotape of an Italian correspondent, the coldblooded killing of one of Poland’s top reporters and his Bulgarian cameraman, and the equally bloody assault on a Japanese reporter on the notorious Highway 8 south of Baghdad last year have persuaded many journalists that a large dose of discretion is the better part of valour.

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