CNN second network to be expelled from Iraq

March 22, 2003|By Craig Nelson | Craig Nelson,COX NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - After weeks of intense struggle over CNN's coverage of the crisis in Iraq, authorities here have ordered the network's crew out of the country, its senior international correspondent said yesterday.

"We've been expelled," said Nic Robertson. He and Rym Brahimi have been handling on-air duties since CNN's Baghdad correspondent, Jane Araf, was banned from the country in 2002.

In its expulsion order, Iraq's Ministry of Information said CNN had fueled rumors and painted false impressions of Iraq and the war.

Robertson and his crew planned to leave at daybreak Saturday. It was not immediately known whether yesterday's massive bomb attack would hinder those plans. The usual exit route from Baghdad is by highway to the Jordanian border. U.S. forces are now in western Iraq, where they have taken control of at least one airport, and an attempt to drive through the area would be dangerous.

CNN soared to media prominence with its coverage of the 1991 gulf war. Its attentive viewers in the latest war include Iraqi officials, who have scrutinized the network's coverage and assigned Information Ministry employees to monitor every move of its employees here.

One point of contention was the decision by CNN to move three days ago from an office adjacent to the Ministry of Information building to an 11th floor suite in the Palestine Hotel on the east bank of the Tigris River. CNN, as well as scores of other news organizations, noted fears of a bomb attack against the ministry as the reason for their move.

Another source of friction was what Iraqi officials persistently described as bias and fear-mongering in CNN's coverage.

"They spread rumors that panicked other journalists, including the allegation that the [government-owned] Hotel Rasheed was a legitimate military target," a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

The simmering conflict with Iraqi officials climaxed late Thursday, when authorities here ordered the CNN crew to cease its coverage of a U.S. attack in progress and confiscated its tape.

"I'm very disappointed," said Robertson, who has been in Iraq since Jan. 16. "I'd like to stay. It's a very important story. But from the beginning it has been a struggle against many obstacles."

CNN is the second American network to be expelled from Iraq. Fox News was ordered from the country last month. MSNBC, ABC and CBS each have a correspondent remaining in the country.

Robertson, 40, a Briton, and senior executive producer Ingrid Formanek, 47, a Czech native, were both in Baghdad for CNN during the 1991 gulf war; Robertson as an engineer, Formanek as a producer.

In an interview in Baghdad last month, Formanek explained why she wanted to stay despite the war.

"If you're a journalist, the natural drive is, or should be, to be in the center of the storm," she said. "I would think that every journalist in the world would want to be here."

Rym Brahimi, 34, is the daughter of a prominent Algerian diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi, who was named by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in November 2001 to have overall authority for U.N. humanitarian, human rights and political efforts in Afghanistan.

For Brahimi, in contrast to Robertson and Formanek, Baghdad is her first hotspot. But as an Arabic-speaker, she has been able to interview people in Iraq without a translator and has added depth to CNN's coverage.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Brahimi said she was staying in Baghdad willingly.

"I still think it's important to cover this," she said. "I am afraid. I am terrified."

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