ITN asks MoD to intervene in war-reporting ban

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LONDON -- Britain's biggest commercial news organization, Independent Television News, has called on defense secretary Des Browne to intervene after being told by the Ministry of Defense that its reporters will be banned from travelling with British troops in hostile war zones.

ITN received formal notification that the MoD will no longer allow ITN reporters to be "embedded" with British troops in such troubled areas as Iraq and Afghanstan, in a letter delivered Friday to chief executive Mark Wood.

ITN has called the action a "flagrant abuse of power" and warned that banning its reporters from frontline action will have ramifications on how other news organizations report from war zones and how they cover the actions of British military forces.

The defense ministry action comes after it made complaints on Oct. 24 about two ITN news reports broadcast earlier this month that dealt with the treatment of wounded British servicemen.

The reports that aired on ITV -- titled "Betrayed? An Investigation" -- suggested that injured troops were being flown into England under cover of darkness to avoid damaging press coverage, and are thought to have identified some British soldiers without the consent of their families.

ITN and MoD top brass have been in talks for most of the week about how to resolve the dispute, but ITN has refused to retract its coverage.

"ITN has made every effort to respond in full to these complaints and rejects them as unreasonable and unjustified. It does not believe there is any justification for the punitive action the MoD has confirmed it is taking today," Wood said in a statement issued Friday evening.

"We stand by the journalistic integrity of our reports, which we believe are robust, well-sourced and in the public interest," he continued. "We find it alarming that the MoD has taken this step and is undermining the work of a news organization which has a reputation for fair and balanced reporting of the operations of British troops deployed in conflict zones. We consider this to be a flagrant abuse of power and we call on the Secretary of State (for Defense), Des Browne, to intervene immediately and restore fair treatment to ITV News."

The MoD could not be reached at presstime but, in a letter sent to ITN's Wood earlier this week, the ministry's anger was plain.

"You should be under no illusions about the level of anger that exists as a result of items you carried on your programs," the letter said. "To be clear: we are not seeking to stop you reporting on Iraq or Afghanistan, speaking to our spokespeople here or in theater(s) or reporting the news. However, until we have satisfactory answers ... the MoD feels unable to guarantee that our people will be treated fairly, honestly and (have) their privacy respected."
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