October 1, 2009  

In harm’s way

TO THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT for its order to rescue a war journalist, a decision that resulted in the deaths of a British soldier and three Afghan civilians. U.K. Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth added a strange twist to the debate over war journalism ethics when he and Foreign Secretary David Miliband authorized the rescue of an Irish-British journalist, working for The New York Times, who was kidnapped in a high-risk area in Afghanistan. The journalist was freed, but a paratrooper, an Afghan journalist/interpreter and two more Afghan civilians died in crossfire. The mission was instigated by the government and defended by Downing Street as “the best chance of saving life.” The risk of losing life was clearly underestimated. A journalist entering danger zones does so at his own risk. While it is noble to look after the civil rights of a citizen in harm’s way, this decision legitimizes journalists as targets in war zones, which creates an implied expectation that journalists can spend public money and blood in pursuit of a story.