Reuters moves to keep reporters safe in battle zones

NEW YORK - In the wake of the accidental killings by US forces of two of its cameramen in Iraq, Reuters has mounted an ongoing campaign to improve safety precautions for journalists working on the battlefield.

The effort has centered around the death of Mazen Dana on August 17, when a US soldier shot him after mistaking his camera for a rocket launcher. Since then, the news group has been trying to persuade the Pentagon to incorporate measures that would improve communication between journalists and the military.

A military report on the incident, recently released to Reuters, made several recommendations toward this end. They include weekly meetings between the military and media in the field, better accreditation processes, and a review of the military's rules of engagement.

"The recommendations were great," said Stephen Naru, global head of media relations for Reuters. "Many of them were recommendations that we had made ourselves months and months ago. But at this point, that's where they stand. They're simply recommendations."

A Pentagon spokesman could not be reached for comment, and Naru wasn't aware of any timeline for the implementation of the guidelines into military policy.

In addition to pushing for the changes, the PR effort has been critical of aspects of the investigation into Dana's death, grabbing attention in major newspapers and magazines. In a release issued last week that supported the recommendations, Reuters disagreed with the conclusion that Dana's death "was justified based on information available ... at the time."

Nevertheless, Reuters executives and journalists have been working on the issue with classes in military schools. Reuters also has offered to host a conference on the issue, which, Naru said, is in the nascent stages. "It's not about publicity," said Susan Allsopp, Reuters head of media relations in London. "It's about effecting change."

Although the Pentagon's pre-invasion decision to embed journalists with military units was then a major story, it has since receded into the background as many news outlets have pulled their reporters out. In 2003, 13 journalists were killed in Iraq, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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