DAVID Blunkett has raised the stakes in the dispute between the government and the media over coverage of the Iraq war. One might have thought that he had enough to do handling his immediate responsibilities without engaging in this tricky area but in New York on Wednesday he went out of his way to criticise those UK media which have correspondents in Baghdad, saying: “For the first time in our history we not only have thousands of journalists with our troops, but we have broadcast media behind what we would describe as enemy lines, reporting blow-by-blow what is happening.” He complained of the “equal credence” given to reports from Baghdad and those from correspondents with the coalition forces, “as though they were moral equivalents”. Mr Blunkett has apparently forgotten that there were reporters from western media in Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War, but the substance of his criticism is probably to be found in the phrase about “moral equivalents”. Since the war began I have listened to many reports from the BBC's man in Baghdad, Andrew Gilligan, and I have never heard anything from him that was other than a factual description of what life has been like there during the bombing campaign. The BBC is careful always to point out that his movements are restricted and his reports monitored. I am sure that if he were asked to broadcast Iraqi propaganda he would refuse and that the BBC has taken sufficient precautions to be able to know if he were doing so under duress. Ross Benson of the Daily Mail, who is also in Baghdad, responded angrily to Mr Blunkett's comments: “To suggest in some way that I am a stooge of Saddam is deeply offensive. It is the responsibility of all journalists to see what we can and then to sort the wheat from the chaff and draw the most sensible conclusions we can.” In this morally uncertain war I suspect that most members of the public can understand the difference between a reporter in Baghdad and one “embedded” with the coalition forces - and find it useful to hear from both of them.


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