On air: Should soldiers risk their lives for journalists?

Stephen Farrell There’s another angle to Afghanistan in the news today – the rescuing of New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell. A British soldier was killed during the raid, along with two Afghan civilians. Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi, who had been captured along with Stephen Farrell in Kunduz, was also killed during the rescue. On the Times discussion forum today one poster, KC, reflected the views of many there.

This is absolutely disgraceful that a soldier has to put his life at risk in an effort to save someone who shouldn’t be there.

Should soldiers rescue journalists who find themselves kidnapped or endangered in a warzone?

Stephen Farrell wasn’t ’embedded’ – attached to a particular army unit. He and his follow journalist had gone of their own volition, and under their own steam to Kunduz where they were investigating an air strike on two hijcked fuel tankers.

Most people would agree that journalists serving in war zones serve a very useful purpose. They risk their lives to bring the truth of war to those of us who want to know what goes on, but can’t go there ourselves. But when things go awry, should soldiers be risking their lives to pick up the pieces?

Many people posting on this discussion forum say no.

Would journalists still go to dangerous areas if there was no chance of someone – be it the UN or armies – to help them if they got into a tight spot?

And another questions – can journalists genuinely say they are independent reporters if they are rescued from one side by the other?

44 Responses to “On air: Should soldiers risk their lives for journalists?”

  1. 1 T
    September 9, 2009 at 14:26

    KC has a right to his opinion. And I have a right to say it’s ridiculous.

    Would he say the same thing if he was the jourmalist in that situation? Or, is it better to not have any journalists there at all? Just be blissfully ignorant because those “terrorists” are being killed far way. And you can watch from the safety of your home on TV?

  2. 2 Kara
    September 9, 2009 at 14:45

    No they should not journalists should take a step back from front kind and report in safe areas soldiers have enough to deal with keeping themselves safe and there conrads take a step back journalists for your own sake

  3. 3 Maccus Germanis
    September 9, 2009 at 14:46

    While a temptation to say that jounarlists should live with the results of taking what could be termed uneccessary risks, the refusal to act against the captors would have been counterproductive to the goal of establishing law and security in Afghanistan.

  4. 4 James
    September 9, 2009 at 14:56

    I think its really sad that a soldier should offer the ultimate sacrifice for a very avoidable situation.Even though behind our minds we know that that gallant calling might come at anytime to serve Queen and Country.Its emotionally disturbing that such a loss occurred in the situation.Finally I feel more sad for the journalist who must be dealing with a broth of emotions between call of duty and the guilt of human life loss

    September 9, 2009 at 15:22

    There are no contradictions in this event. The journalists were behaving responsibly and so were the soldiers. It was a kidnapping incident and it is the work of the soldiers to save civilian lives journalists included. This operation seems to have taken place in area which is a patrol area of the British Army. Spare the American marines from any jibes or else the NATO forces will be seen to be waging a sectarian war of their own through this insinuation. Its uncalled for and we should rightly grieve the loss of this particular soldier.

    • 6 RightPaddock
      September 10, 2009 at 14:30

      @Arthur – Kunduz is under German Command, not British.

      I imagine that the German command are under orders to keep a very low profile until the German elections are concluded – especially after last weeks debacle when they called in the air strike on the two fuel trucks.

      Merkel isn’t looking as comfortable today as she was a couple of months ago. She’ll probably have to stitch up another coalition with the Social Democrats, rather than teaming up with the Free Democrats which was her hope. She might even lose to a Social Democrats/Left Party coalition, who would almost certainly pull the Germans forces out rather quickly.

    • 7 Halima
      September 11, 2009 at 08:32

      I agree – though I think it is a delicate balance. Journalists need to behave responsibly and not put themselves or others at risk when this can be avoided. We need journalists to tell the world what is going on is out of the way places and in places of conflict so we can make informed democratic decisions which will impact on those areas. But there are journalists out for the sensational and a way to get their name in headlines and they are a danger to everyone. How do we distinguish? I do not know, but mountain rescue teams have to risk themselves for stupid people who go climbing unprepared and in bad weather. do they disguinish betweent the sensible climbers and the hothead youths? Do doctors distinguish betweeh the idiots who get themselves drunk and do stupid things and the “legitimate” patients? No. I is part of their job. It should be the job of the editiors to reign in their irresponsible journalists or perhaps some sort of castigation for journalism “without due care and attention” . I do not know. I am sad that lives get lost in these situations. I find it deeply painful, but am not sure I would tell soldiers not to rescue anyone, no matter how ill-advised that person is.

  6. 8 Dinka Aliap Chawul,Kampala-Uganda
    September 9, 2009 at 15:32

    If journalist work for their interest,i might say, yes.

  7. 9 patti in cape coral
    September 9, 2009 at 16:11

    Journalists have an important job to do, but I’m afraid they do make a soldier’s job harder than it already is. In the end the problem isn’t the journalist, though, it’s the kidnapper.

  8. 10 John in Salem
    September 9, 2009 at 16:17

    No more than they would for any other non-combatant who is acting recklessly. Think of it as natural selection – being stupid in a war zone is a capital offense punishable by death and people who don’t know that have no business being there.

    And I would also say that if there is a difference in value between the life of an embedded journalist versus an independent one then the whole concept of embedding reporters needs to be tossed. In addition to the questionable impartiality of a protected journalist reporting only what the military wants you to see, reporters who know they might be rescued might also be emboldened to take chances they otherwise would not and so jeopardize the safety of people unnecessarily.

  9. 11 Tom K in Mpls
    September 9, 2009 at 16:26

    This should be more than one question. Should anyone risk their lives for anyone else? Sometimes.

    Should anyone put their lives in obvious peril beyond their control just to earn a living? No.

    This case is not so clear. When the military has the initiative in a small operation, their casualties are usually low. But their are no guarantees. The reporter was taken from a relatively safe area. C’est la guerre.

  10. 12 Michael in Ft. Myers, Florida
    September 9, 2009 at 16:58

    In today’s extreme high dollar journalism environment there is so reason that the reporter’s bosses couldn’t pay for private security. It is ridiculous to ask soldiers to risk their lives when there are indeed journalists embedded with troops safely, who are bringing the news to the world. More than half of all security forces in Afghanistan are private firms anyways, so one cannot argue that isn’t a more viable and just plain “common sense” option!

  11. 13 Tom D Ford
    September 9, 2009 at 17:12

    September 9, 2009 at 15:22

    “There are no contradictions in this event. The journalists were behaving responsibly and so were the soldiers. It was a kidnapping incident and it is the work of the soldiers to save civilian lives journalists included.”

    I agree,

  12. 14 Colin Sundaram
    September 9, 2009 at 17:22

    09. 09. 09

    Nobody should die fighting for others is my opinion but it is not feasible or practical. As an example fire fighters die fighting fire for others – can we say they should not? Everyone is not trained to fight to save ordinary people from the hands of criminals/dangers hence military/police personnel are needed to release hostages and in the encounter their lives remain at risk to save another life. It is a very difficult subject for me to analyze to reach a conclusion as to whether it is right to send a soldier/police to save the life of an individual who had gone to a war zone on his own to report from there or as a adventure tourist who wanted to enjoy real life war himself or herself.

  13. 15 steve
    September 9, 2009 at 17:46

    Should we look the “root cause” of why the taliban kidnap civilians?

  14. September 9, 2009 at 18:17

    It seems that there is an unusual amount of New York Times journalists that are caught in these compromising situations. Does the newspaper force them to go to these very dangerous areas? Or is it their doing so they can make a name for themselves in an increasingly competitive jouranalism world?

  15. 17 nora
    September 9, 2009 at 18:35

    Without journalists at the front of conflicts, we would have no eyes and ears save the politicians. In every war, a high number of journalists are killed. Let bitter bloggers have their say—citizen soldiers need journalists or they would be exploited more than they are by their own governments.

  16. 18 Tom D Ford
    September 9, 2009 at 18:35

    “Should soldiers risk their lives for journalists?”

    The other part of this question is:

    Should journalists risk their lives for soldiers?

    Because journalists do risk their lives to get the truth out about the effects of political decisions that endanger soldiers lives.

    If politicians are allowed to mislead soldiers into endangering their lives without the courageous efforts of journalists to find out the truth and expose those mis-leaders for what they really are, too many soldiers will continue to lose their lives.

    Journalists save lives by risking their own, to get at the truth!

  17. 19 Dictatore Generale Max Maximilian Maximus I
    September 9, 2009 at 18:36

    Q: Should soldiers rescue journalists who find themselves kidnapped or endangered in a warzone?

    A: Absolutely YES! With some qualifications though!

    Preferably Mr. Stephen Farrell & Mr. Sultan Munadi should have been ’embedded’ BUT even if they weren’t they were performing the most important role of the Fourth Estate: Keeping the people informed (not perfectly though)! For all those who believe in democracy and Power of the People the journalist is one of the most important cogs in the wheel.

    Soldiers as well as members of the Fourth Estate perform a very important role in ANY democratic society. Saying that they died as they knew the risks (said of soldiers) OR that they died as they took a risk in chasing a good story (said of journalists) are opinions I am very much opposed to!

  18. 20 Manjil
    September 9, 2009 at 18:37

    A soldier’s job is to protect the people of the country and the country from the enemy. They may have to risk their life for doing so. However, the journalists are also responsible for that.

  19. 21 Cliff Lawton
    September 9, 2009 at 18:37

    Why do the military have the responsibility of rescuing these journalists?

    If they want to go and pursue a story in a dangerous situation, it is their problem, not the soldiers.

    This particular journalist has been kidnapped before, is he stupid?

    How can this death of another soldier ever be justified?

  20. 22 steve
    September 9, 2009 at 18:38

    It’s ironic that the military came to save a journalist who went out to report on a story that’s designed to make the military look bad. Why don’t journalists provide half the coverage of suicide bombings as they do with accidental deaths of civilians?

  21. 23 EchoRose
    September 9, 2009 at 18:39

    I know of soldiers who are VERY disappointed that the work they do is NOT more in the forefront of the mainstream media…it makes them feel as if no one cares. I am SURE they are appreciative of ANY journalists who will likewise risk their lives for a greater purpose.

  22. 24 EchoRose
    September 9, 2009 at 18:42

    Is the Afghan military out there saving their own journalists?

  23. 25 Alex
    September 9, 2009 at 18:44

    If this latest reporter to be kidnapped was specifically warned not to visit the area and ignored the advise to get a scoop, he is partly responsible for the death of his stringer, a British soldier and 2 Afghan civilians.

    You cant blame the military for rescuing him but you can blame him for ignoring advice. It’s not the first time he’s been kidnapped, maybe he should be more careful.

  24. 26 EchoRose
    September 9, 2009 at 18:44

    The media needs to grow a conscience!

  25. 27 nora
    September 9, 2009 at 18:52

    to echorose:

    Journalists are individuals and they can have a conscience. “The media” is a tough complex of work environments with different interests. Demand for the truth will out.

  26. 28 Keith- Ohio
    September 9, 2009 at 18:52

    I agree with the commenter that noted that NYTimes suppress a story if one of their own is captured, but will publish every detail concerning another captured person. This, and the fact that they will risk a soldier’s life for a story show that they consider themselves to be at a higher standard than these soldiers. It may be “freedom of press”, but it’s also hypocrisy. Still, I believe they should be held to the same standard as any other civilian who is captured.

  27. 29 Judith Bienvenu
    September 9, 2009 at 18:53

    I think if my son or daughter was in the military, and they lost their life trying to rescue some reporter who had gone where it was too dangerous, I don’t think I’d be very happy.

    Journalists seem to be taking more and more risks for the story (witness the 2 who were captured by North Korea), and then their governments or miliatary have to spend all sorts of resources and risk more lives to get them out? I don’t believe in rescuing folks from their own stupidity.

    Unless of course the rescued person is able to refund the costs of the rescue operation.

    I fully believe the journalists feel they can get just a bit better story. Maybe so. We don’t need all those stories, and I don’t think our militaries should be risking their lives to pull stupid people out of situations they shouldn’t have been in in the first place.

    cheers. You folks do a great job

    • 30 RightPaddock
      September 10, 2009 at 14:46

      @!Judith Bienvenu -the journalists were taken hostage in Kunduz province in the north of Afghanistan, where it is supposed to be relatively safe as compared with the south & east in provinces of Helmund and Oruzghan where the British forces normally operate.

      As well as asking “where were the Afghan Army?”, we should also be asking “where was the German Bundeswehr?” Kunduz is their area of command, why were they not conducting the rescue. The British commando’s were operating on unfamiliar territory which would have increased the risks. I wonder if the fact that Germany is about to have an election is why their army were conspicuous by their absence?

  28. 31 Bert
    September 9, 2009 at 18:56

    I think that journalists who do not follow the instructions of the military, as to where they can go or not, cannot expect to be rescued. Same as any other civilian.

    Then there’s the other discussion, concerning the use of foreign military to rescue Afghan journalists. The immediate question that comes to mind: why aren’t the Afghan military involved in all of these rescues? I didn’t realize that the US or UK military were expected to do the whole job in Afghanistan?

    The reason that support for this operation is down dramatically is exactly this. There is a limit to how much of these “liberation services” we feel our soldiers should be expected to provide.

    Just as Afghans might feel that their journalists are being “valued less” than coalition journalists, US citizens are starting to feel that the lives of US soldiers are perhaps being taken for granted from those in Afghanistan who stand to benefit from our presence?

  29. 32 Carole in OR
    September 9, 2009 at 19:02

    It is heartbreaking that a soldier died, regardless of the circumstances. Of course we rescue a journalist, not because he is a journalist, but because he is a human being who does not deserve to be abandoned.

  30. 33 CJ in Canada
    September 9, 2009 at 19:04

    This is to whatever guest said “we are more civilized” than our advesary. Has he forgotten or never heard of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam?

  31. September 9, 2009 at 19:10

    The presence of a free and independent press in combat zones is indispensable to monitor the use of lethal force against other human beings in our name with our tax dollars. To protect them is to protect our constitutional right to know what our government is doing.

  32. 35 Jim Newman
    September 10, 2009 at 00:13

    Hello again
    No! It’s absolutely disgraceful that a British soldier should put his life at risk to save a journalist in Afghanistan. The British soldier shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
    Isn’t that what KC meant?

  33. 36 Tan Boon Tee
    September 10, 2009 at 04:01

    Is it worth saving a life at the expense of four other equally invaluable lives?

    The reporter knew he was taking a great risk after being forewarned not to enter dangerous zones. Yet he ignored. In which case, why sacrifice the lives of others to rescue him to make him famous?

    Let this be a lesson for all future journalists – taking unnecessary risk at your own perils.

  34. 37 scmehta
    September 10, 2009 at 06:37

    Journalists are also soldiers in their own rights; after all, they most of the times volunteer and risk their lives, to give their people and the whole world the first hand account of the happenings whenever and wherever. Don’t the soldiers help and save their each other in the time of need?

  35. 38 Oli Townsend
    September 10, 2009 at 13:34

    To make the decision to send British troops into an area of great threat Gordon Brown is a fool. A peaceful negociation was under-way and was looking hope according to most, but Brown decides to kill innocent people including one British paratrooper. And I agree we should not reason with hostage takers but I don’t agree with the endangerment of British and NATO forces for no reason.


  36. 39 Sharon
    September 10, 2009 at 14:33

    This journalist went into an area that was known to be volatile without any thought for the consequences of his actions. Yes, it’s good to know what’s going on “on the ground” but we need ALL journalists to be responsible and not put themselves in danger, thus resulting in situations like we have here. No story is worth a life. It is reprehensible that this wasn’t the first time Mr Farrell had been kidnapped in a war zone. He got himself in exactly the same situation in Iraq, and the fact that this time resulted in the loss of lives, not only that of a British Serviceman, but of his interpreter and two Afghan civilians is something I hope he can live with, I certainly couldn’t! Mr Farrell obviously has a total disregard for his safety, and that of his colleagues, and should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for this being the cause of loss of lives. My heart goes out to the families of those who died, and my thanks to a brave soldier for laying down his life unncessarily.

  37. 40 East Boy
    September 10, 2009 at 16:46

    I found my distaste and anger building the longer the 10 o’ clock news item on the rescue of this ‘journalist’ went on. On and on about him, who he was, who he worked for, and how he’d been in a similar predicament before in Iraq (which only serves to bring even greater shame on him to once again be so stupid as to cause difficult decisions to have to be taken about putting soldier’s lives at even more unnecessary a risk than normal)! Then,after several minutes of ‘him’ we get a rather casually presented passing reference to the loss of the soldier’s life involved in the operation to rescue him! Shame on your profession’s abilities to be so self promoting and so unable to work out who most ordinary members of the public would deem to be newsworthy! The brave soldier and his very sad loss of life.. NOT the arrogant, stupid journalist that caused it!!

  38. 41 Dennis Junior
    September 10, 2009 at 16:47

    This is the link that wason BBC Radio 5 Live…
    Message # 7

    Yes, the journalist should have been rescued…But, the best punishment is that he SHOULD BE required to reimbursed the Ministry of Defense a small fee for the cost of the operation….

    So, that way, other Journalists will not do the same stunts in the future….

    =Dennis Junior=

  39. 42 K. Bradley
    September 11, 2009 at 05:30

    As a former soldier, i know the decision had to be political, no General worth his salt would risk his troops for a journalist.

  40. September 16, 2009 at 08:56

    A few questions come to mind on reading all the comments above.
    Would the Bristish Army or any other army have gone in if the journalist kidnapped was a Afghan civilian or from a local paper?
    What exactly was ‘news’ about the event that the journalist felt he was uncovering?
    How did knowing about this ‘breaking news’ from this reporter, change the attitude of people who felt the dire need to be informed.
    And, how did it all this ‘news’ and ‘pressure’ from people impact governments’ decisions on handling the Afghan conflict?
    The journalist had a choice, the soldier did not.

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