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100 articles – ‘Embedded journalism: A distorted view of war’

A 2010 reflection about embedded journalism by Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn joins our list of the '100 articles' about journalism that every journalist should read.

‘Embedded journalism: A distorted view of war’ by Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn’s piece for The Independent in November 2010 looks at embedded journalism and the effect that it can have on the reports that are reproduced in media outlets.

His focus is the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, where embedding became common because it was impossible for journalists to wander about looking for stories ‘without extreme danger.’

Cockburn is an experienced war reporter who has the longevity of experience to compare these recent wars with earlier conflicts, where journalists were free to roam and were afforded protection by virtue of their role.

His article shows the way in which military strategy and results can be misinterpreted by journalists who are too close to the action —misinterpretations which are then treated as fact by editors and, subsequently, the public.

Journalists such as Jerome Starkey have indicted the culture of embedding in military units, arguing that journalists have little choice but to accept the information they are given and are unable to protest for fear of jeopardising the access that their position gives them.

Cockburn does not go down this path, as he avoids placing any blame on military outfits. Instead, his article is a reminder of the importance of physical freedom to a journalist’s ability to report accurate, unbiased information, and of how journalistic freedom is compromised in the face of targeted attacks against the media.

Suzannah Marshall Macbeth is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University. She blogs at equineocean.

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