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Unlimited Access by Journalists Essay

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Updated: Mar 6th, 2019


The purpose of this case study is to critically evaluate the statement of whether unlimited access by journalists to the battlefield is important to good war reporting. The media with particular focus on journalists have become important sources of information on the current happenings that are taking place in various parts of the world. The general reliance on the media for news and information has helped shape the perceptions of the general public and the world around us.

The mass media which has continued to set the agenda for dominant news events that affect our everyday lives. The role of the mass media especially becomes important during periods of war such as the second Iraqi war where the general public requires updates on the goings on of the war. The journalist during this time carries the huge responsibility of interpreting what is going to the uninformed world, ensuring that the information presented is credible and sane (Keane 2005).

The need for journalism and good reporting during times of war has begun to gain some importance over the recent past. This new line of thinking was initiated by forces such as market liberalism, the collapse of dictatorships, the decline of the public service broadcasting media and the formation of democracies that propagated poor local and foreign policies.

War reporting mostly has its background from the Vietnam War where American journalists were allowed to roam around areas of conflict and report on the goings during the war. Since then, media coverage during periods of conflict and war has revolutionised to where it is today where reporters and journalists are able to use real time technology to bring real time war stories and images to the living rooms of the general audience (Keane 2005).

Background on War Reporting

The first instances of war time reporting were during the American Civil war where reporters and journalists relied on still photography to relay images and videos of the war. During the First and Second World War, the media around the world began to mobilize the use of the radio to gain support from the general public during the wars and also to give an accurate account of the wars.

These wars also relied on print media to relay images of wounded soldiers and people as well as of enemy leaders who had instigated the wars. The invention of the radio during the 19th century ensured that there were substantial changes to war reporting during that time. It was not until the Vietnam War that the first televised depiction of the war was beamed to many households around the world (Keane 2005).

Apart from televising the conflict, the Vietnam War provided many journalists and reporters from around the world with unlimited access to the battlefront lines of the war. This unlimited access provided journalists with information and news as well as images of the battle front which were then relayed to the rest of the war. The war provided an extensive TV coverage of the various types of combat that were employed by both the Vietnamese and American soldiers.

The war also demonstrated the high-tech tools of communication and technology that were employed by the news reporters and news agencies who were covering the war. The televised Vietnam War provided a foundation for real time war reporting where reporters were able to provide live news feeds while they were on the ground. Real time war reporting ensured that the public was able to gain truthful and honest information that was not doctored in any way.

This however was not the case in “Dessert Storm” where majority of the news was provided by a single broadcasting network, CNN, and the news content available on Dessert Storm was doctored by the Pentagon. The Second Iraqi War was however open and journalists were accorded unlimited access to both the American and Iraqi troops who were in the battle fronts (Keane 2005).

Globalized media news coverage therefore began during the 19th century with media coverage technology such as overland and underwater telegraphy and the emergence of news agencies such as Reuters and CNN. These technological advances later led to the development of more advanced news coverage media such as geo stationary satellites, computer networked media and electronic data exchange.

Such advancements have enabled many news agencies and media news rooms to provide news to millions of people around the world. The unlimited access to war stories has been matched with the various technological advances that have made it possible to conduct live news coverage and delivery (Keane 2005).

Unlimited Access by Journalists to the War is Important to Good Reporting

One of the most dramatic developments in the past decade has been the emergence of the media as a powerful tool during times of war. The 21st century has seen audiences around the world being exposed to military strategies being executed during live news coverage. To discuss the statement of whether unlimited access to journalists during periods of war is essential to war reporting, the positive and negative sides of live news coverage need to be discussed.

The positive side of live news coverage is that the audience is able to get information that is not doctored in any way. The information relayed by most news reporters and journalists most of the time portrays the reality on the ground (McCullagh 2002).

However some of this information which is always accompanied by disturbing images might affect the target audience. Therefore, the downside of live news coverage is that very gory details of the war usually pass to the audiences of this live news coverage. Another negative aspect of live news coverage is that the news content serves as a means of angering the audience to the events of the war.

This happened especially with the Vietnam War and the recent Iraqi war in 2003. Such negativity during the Vietnam and Iraqi wars also sought to deepen people’s resentment towards the various governments that were concerned with the war because of the images of innocent men, women and children who had been caught up in the conflict (McCullagh 2002).

To reduce the levels of resentment and negativity that the audience had towards the government, news agencies began to perform content selection activities where the images and language that were used to relay the news information were filtered to ensure they were appropriate for general viewing. This was especially done during the Iraqi War where images that came out of Baghdad during the war underwent some scrutinization by the news agencies to ensure that they did not evoke feelings of negativity and resentment.

Content scrutinization also ensured that the rest of the world was kept at pace with the goings on in Baghdad when it came to the capturing and execution of Saddam Hussein. Such practices ensured that journalists and reporters who had unlimited access to the war were able to practice good journalism and war time reporting (Keane 2005).

Another aspect that has ensured that news agencies and journalists have unlimited access to wars and armed conflicts is the First Amendment Act which states that the press has the freedom to conduct their activities without any interference from government agencies or other authoritative bodies.

This has however proved to be untrue especially during Dessert Storm where the Pentagon doctored most of the news content to portray a different version of events than those that were going on the ground. In most of the wars that have taken place in the past, the media and news agencies operated under strict security controls meaning that they were offered limited access to the battlefront lines and combat areas.

The limited access made it impossible for these news reporters to relay military strategies and information to the general audience around the world. This limited access was mostly in evidence during the First World War where the media had a limited influence on the military strategies used during the war and the national security policy of the US (Curran 2005).

During the Second World War however, the media were accorded reduced restrictions where they were able to report on outpaced war events as well as live transmissions of bomber crews. The media offered extensive support to the military during this time as it was able to relay military strategies and national security policies on the war to audiences around the world.

This unlimited access to the war generated support from the audience who received information on the ongoing war efforts. The relationship between the media and the military during periods of war became cooperative and amicable in nature. This relationship made it possible for news agencies and reporters to receive unlimited access to wars and armed conflicts during times of unrest (Curran 2005).

The Korean War that took place during the 1960’s proved that news agencies had power over security policies and military strategies as they were able to influence government policies on security and safety of the general public. The media was able to receive home support during the Korean War as a result of the radio and TV that transmitted information and images on the war.

The Vietnam War was the first to feature the use of extensive news coverage during the armed conflicts and combat that took place in Vietnam. During the war, media houses and news agencies especially from the US enjoyed unlimited access to the various combat zones during the war and they were allowed to conduct their news reporting activities under more relaxed rules and restrictions based on military and government sanctions (Curran 2005).

Vietnam War accorded many journalists and reporters with low levels censorship as well as convenient transportation to the various areas that were experiencing armed conflicts. Reporters were able to roam around the various regions that had been affected by the war to relay images of the aftermath to the world audience.

As the Vietnam War continued to expand, the US security policy became more obscured as the public became more sensitized to the war. Journalists became charged with the role of not only reporting the goings on of the war but also in reporting the health status of the Vietnamese people who had been affected by the war.

News agencies were able to facilitate national debates on under-considered military strategies as well as ill-communicated national policies formulated by the US government. As the media coverage of the war went on, public support became to wane as it became apparent that the media and the military were in conflict. This made it difficult for most journalists to exercise good reporting during the war given the emerging government and military restrictions, limiting their access to combat areas (Curran 2005).

This situation was however reversed when the military accorded CNN coverage of Dessert Storm where the media house was given power to shape the ongoing crisis. This type of system led to the development of two camps that would be used in analyzing war coverage. The first system dealt with the belief that the media was able to perform an independent coverage of the war despite many severe military restrictions.

Reporters were able to perform the own independent news analysis without the help of the government and the military. This ensured that the press was able to provide people with the most realistic coverage of the war.

The second camp dealt with restriction of the media’s coverage by the military and the Pentagon during times of war. Media proponents who fell under this line of thought were viewed to perform media coverage activities that were deemed to be far from ideal by authoritative bodies such as the Pentagon and the government (Keane 2005).

Unlimited Access to Journalists during the Iraqi War

During the second Iraqi War in 2003, 600 journalists who were covering the battlefields of the war transmitted news coverage as they travelled with both US and coalition forces in the various combat areas and zones in Iraq. This was possible as a result of the embedded journalist program that was conducted by the Pentagon where journalists would be granted limited news coverage to the war as long as they were trained on military combat to ensure they were prepared for any eventuality during the war.

From the perspective of the Pentagon, the journalism embedded program was meant to sever a long standing conflict that existed between the media and the military over aspects of journalist freedom in combat and war zones.

The embed boot camp program was meant to acclimatize journalists to the war conditions that existed in Iraq during the war. Journalists who wanted to participate in the program were equipped with military helmets and uniforms and they were meant to sleep in barrack bunks and also eat military food to ensure that they were ready for the situation in Iraq. The embed program also ensured that the reporters were trained on military jargon as well as tactical marches and combat first aid (Lindner 2008).

Reporters who underwent the embedded program were required to sign a contract that was meant to signify their agreement to the ground rules of their news coverage. This contract meant that their news reports would be reviewed by the military before they were released to the news agencies for dispensation to the general public.

The contract also stipulated that all cameramen and reporters would be escorted at all times by military personnel especially in the combat areas and zones. The contract also provided the government with the authority to dismiss any of their news content at any time for any reason (Lindner 2008).

The program was however criticized by many sociological researchers as the level of media content and news coverage that would be gained from this program would depict the military’s version of the war rather than the real depiction of the war itself.

The program was seen as a way of training the reporters to identify with the military given that they were trained on military jargon and they wore military uniforms during their stay in Iraq. The embed program and training also meant that reporters would not be accorded the freedom to roam in various combat areas which meant that they reported the war in a military-centric way (Lindner 2008).

Reporters and journalists who were embed for Iraq experienced a lot of information constraints that made it difficult for them to perform good war reporting activities during the Iraqi War. At times, these constraints led them to make certain assumptions that were not entirely true on the war especially with regards to the weapons of mass destruction that were claimed to exist in Baghdad.

The embed program also limited their access to important news items and stories such as the number of American and coalition forces who had lost their lives during the war. This forced them to pursue specific types of stories that were deemed to be suitable by the military and the American government (Lindner 2008).

Several commentators and reporters who were incorporated into the embed program argued that the program made it easy for them to cover the experiences of American troops during the war while it made it difficult for them to gain coverage of the experiences of Iraqi civilians during the war.

From the perspective of the Pentagon, the easy access to soldiers was seen to be the major strength of the embedding program while many media commentators saw the major flaw of the program to be the inability to access Iraqi civilians to get their personal accounts and experiences during the war. The journalists who took part in the program during the war were able to get deep coverage on what was going on in a particular military unit as a result of their interactions with the soldiers (Lindner 2008).

While the embed program was the dominant form of reporting during the early days of the Iraqi war, other forms of access were available for news reporters who did not want to be limited on their news reporting activities. One such option included the stationing of reporters in Baghdad where the journalists attended press briefings organized by Iraqi government officials.

These independent reporters were escorted by official Iraqi minders on tours of the city during the war which meant that they had unlimited access to combat war zones and areas as well as to the Iraqi civilians. Even as the administration of Saddam Hussein collapsed, the Baghdad stationed reporters were able to take to the streets without any military restriction to cover the conflict that was taking place in the Baghdad streets (Lindner 2008).

Large news agencies such as the New York Times opted to fund an independent reporter who had the freedom to roam Iraq and gain vital news content for these news agencies. These independent journalists were able to gain unlimited access to Iraq through countries such as Iran and Turkey in the months that preceded the second Iraq War.

This enabled them to follow the advancement of American and Kurdish troops in the Mosul and Kirkuk areas of Iraq that were heavily affected by the war. Other independent reporters covered various battle fronts in Iraq such as Fallujah and Basrah, relaying the images of fighting Iraq soldiers to our living rooms.

These independent reporters ensured that the news relayed to the world audience was actual and realistic in nature. Their unlimited access ensured that the two perspectives of the war were appropriately and adequately covered. These two perspectives included those of the Iraqi soldiers and civilians and the perspectives of the American soldiers and other coalition forces that were involved in the war (Lindner 2008).

These independent journalists were able to represent a distinct set of journalistic locations during their live media coverage which enabled them to produce certain types of news content that was different from the embedded journalists who had limited access to certain war and combat zones in Iraq.

Although various media accounts suggested that both the embedded and independent reporters stationed in Baghdad had a narrow view of the war, the independent reporters were meant to provide a wider perspective of the conflict in Iraq because of their freedom to roam at will to various battle fronts and combat zones.

The independent reporters were the least constrained meaning that they had the ability and power to perform objective war reporting of the situation in Iraq. This demonstrated that unlimited access to war zones was an essential component when it came to good war reporting (Lindner 2008).


The discussion had focused on whether providing journalists and reporters with unlimited access to battle fronts are essential in good war reporting. The discussion has dealt with the background of war reporting with focus on past wars such as the First and Second World Wars as well as the Vietnam War where the first televised depiction of the war was aired to millions of viewers around the world.

The discussion has also focused on unlimited access to journalists where it has been discovered that reporters who have unlimited access to various war zones and combat areas are able to provide a full coverage of the events of the war. The arguments and discussion within the case study have demonstrated that providing journalists and reporters with unlimited access to the battle fields is an important aspect in good war reporting.


Curran, J. (2005) What democracy requires of the media. London: Routledge

Keane, J. (2005) Journalism and Democracy Across Borders. London: Routledge,

Lindner, A.M. (2008) Controlling the media in Iraq. American Sociological Association, Vol.7, No.2, pp 32-38.

McCullagh, C. (2002) The production of media messages: who sets the media agenda? London: Palgrave Publishers

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