Kidnap highlights war reporters' bravery

Journalists don't have it easy these days. Not only is their integrity and accountability increasingly questioned, but they find themselves on the real firing line like never before.

Last week's dramatic capture of The Sunday Telegraph contributor James Brandon in Iraq looked for 24 hours like he would become the 30th journalist to be killed in a combat zone this year. These figures are rising steeply year on year.

At a recent Reuters event, The Sunday Telegraph deputy editor Matthew d'Ancona defined the war on terror as 'a propaganda war'. In other words, journalists' reports - and their experiences - fuel the direction of the war.

Journalist Michael Ignatieff describes the phenomenon in his Balkans-set novel Charlie Johnson in the Flames, in which a villager is burnt alive by a militia leader to illustrate to the media that they have caused her death simply by reporting from the region.

Hence journalism has become 'the story' as never before. And never before has journalism come so uncomfortably close to public relations - often regarded as its nemesis. Journalists need protection, and that is often afforded by an authority of one kind or another.

The newish process of embedding journalists within regiments created debate about the purity of reporting that takes place through lenses monitored by their hosts. Journalists might be safer that way, but they are more controlled.

Of course, PR people populate war zones, too. The army, peacekeepers, interim governments, invaders and the invaded alike all need people to keep information (and yes, disinformation) flowing freely.

But nothing compares to the danger that war reporters face. It's worth remembering that there is still such a thing as the journalist-as-hero, the person who puts his or her life on the line to let the world know what is happening 'out there' so that politics and people can be moved as a result.

Brandon was in an apparently safe hotel when he was dragged out for the media to report on.

He was getting the story of what was happening in Iraq for British readers and he nearly paid with his life.

We should be grateful that he is alive, and grateful that people like him still pursue this kind of journalism. In these times, we sometimes forget.

- Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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