AP Chief: Journalists Need Access to Battlefront

By: ADAM YEOMANS

Journalists need reasonable access to battlefields to provide the public a realistic view of what is happening in Afghanistan and other war zones, the top executive of The Associated Press said Thursday.
Tom Curley, president and CEO of the AP, said the coming months will tell whether the Obama administration’s decision to deploy thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan “provides a true path forward or is just another turn in the bend of what so far seems to have been an aimless ? and deadly ? war.”

Curley’s speech kicked off a conference on war and journalism at the University of Kentucky. The conference, Covering Conflicts in a Modern World, continues through Saturday and features discussions on the role of media in foreign policy, military and media relations, media ethics in conflict reporting, war reporting and war in film. It is open to the public.

Pressure to reform Afghanistan’s weak government and fight corruption have increased since President Barack Obama took office last year. Another 30,000 U.S. forces are heading to Afghanistan to try to oust a resurgent Taliban and secure large swaths of the country.

News organizations covering the conflict could not take credit for the latest changes in U.S. tactics, Curley said.

“But the fact is that war coverage by a free and independent media with reasonable access to the battlefield forces policy makers to deal with the reality of what is happening on the ground instead of what they want the public ? or even Washington ? to think,” he said. “Nowhere is truth more at risk ? or more elusive ? than in today’s wars.”

News media had been reporting the chinks in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan shortly after American forces drove the Taliban from power following the Sept. 11 attacks, Curley said. Soon afterward, the U.S. focus turned to Iraq.

“The repercussions of this can’t be understated: While official reports were claiming a beaten-down Taliban, AP was reporting just the opposite,” he said. “The U.S. administration already was looking to Iraq, of course, and didn’t have the resources to devote to Afghanistan, which helps explain such official misinformation. It had to make Afghanistan a success to enable Iraq.”

Journalists covering conflicts like the one in Afghanistan understand the risks they take to cover the story, Curley said. Late last year, AP photographer Emilio Morenatti lost his lower left leg when the Stryker vehicle he was riding in ran over a bomb. Two soldiers also were badly wounded.

“This relentless risk of harm separates war coverage from all other journalism we pursue everyday. AP spends more money on it per story than anything else we do,” Curley said. “I am convinced … that it is more important than anything else we do.”

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