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Ditch military clothes or risk mistaken identity, journalists are warned

Ian Burrell,Media,Culture Correspondent
Wednesday 02 April 2003 00:00 BST

The Ministry of Defence said yesterday it had warned journalists in Iraq to stop wearing military-style clothing or risk being confused with the armed forces.

Officials in London contacted broadcasters after watching television pictures that showed correspondents in army fatigues filing reports from the battle zone.

Before the conflict, the MoD advised the 80 British journalists currently "embedded" with coalition units that they should wear blue clothing to show they were non-combatants.

An MoD spokesman said that the practice of journalists wearing military-style clothing was "something that we are aware of".

"We have spoken to our media operations teams out in the Middle East and given them a reminder that the recommendation is blue ­ just in case any of the journalists have forgotten it," he said.

Among those who have appeared wearing combat-style clothing while on camera are the ITN correspondents Tim Ewart and Bill Neely, who are both with British forces in Iraq. Ewart is embedded with HQ 1 (UK) Armoured Division while Neely is attached to Royal Marines 42 Commando.

A spokeswoman for ITV News said that journalists made their own decisions on what to wear, often based on the advice of the units they were working alongside. She said: "correspondents had to carry all their equipment and needed to be versatile. It's no good if they have lots of lovely light blue clothing and they're going to an area where they need more protection. It's all decided on a local level what they feel safe with. We are not going to be telling them what to do from here."

The Sky News correspondent Emma Hurd has appeared on camera filing war reports wearing green clothing. A spokeswoman for the channel said: "She wasn't wearing combats, just green civilian clothing. Sky News thinks it's very important for us to distinguish ourselves as journalist civilians working alongside the armed forces."

The BBC said that it had "no set policy" on dress for journalists and crews working in the war zone. "If we had one it would be to wear what is safe ­ certainly don't dress up for the cameras," said a spokeswoman.

Many journalists have taken their own helmets and body-armour to Iraq after taking hostile-environment training courses prior to heading for the Gulf. But the protective equipment can blur the distinction between soldier and non-combatant. Making a clear distinction is not always easy for reporters who risk being in the line of fire in doing their job.

As well as the embedded reporters, hundreds more journalists are working independently and the military authorities have no influence over how they dress.

The MoD spokesman said that the Geneva Conventions stipulated that non-combatants who were not wearing military clothing should not be fired upon. He said embedded journalists in combat clothing who were captured by the Iraqis should not be at risk because they held documents verifying them as war correspondents. But reporters working independently of the military had "nothing but their press cards", he said.

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