Before 2003, media reporters had little access to information on different battles fields and they were particularly unhappy about the 1991 gulf war and 2001 US Afghanistan invasion. The term “embedded journalism” came into use first in the year 2003 when US military responded to the great pressure from the media and decided to incorporate about 700 reporters in invasion of Iraq. Therefore, embedded journalism is a practice of directly placing journalists together with the military in a battlefield, allowing them to record and report on the military activities and their own experience. The process involves special training after which reporters receive military outfits, transportation to the war cites, shelter, and food in their stay in the battlefields. Before acceptance to join the military, reporters sign contracts that give a standard or guidelines of when and what they can report on. This paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of embedded journalism.
First, embedded journalism improves the relationship between the government and the armed forces media. After journalists embedment they become part of the military troop that travels around with them recording their activity in accordance to the agreement. Reporters depend on the military for food, shelter, and protection from the enemy. The regular contacts between the two build trust and reduce the common suspicion that normally exists between the two parties. Both informal and formal settings that develop during the embedment period can result in great transparency because the government and the armed forces will find it easy to pass information freely.
Secondly, embedment of journalists allows them to travel with the military watching their every move. They are like watchdogs that make the military responsible of their every activity. According to Komarow as quoted in college of journalism and mass communication, US media helped in making sure that the US armed forces were held accountable for bombing an Afghan wedding party. This is after the initial investigators went to the scene together with the journalists for investigations and they unearthed a hidden agenda that in bombing, US armed forces wanted to erase evidence. Pressure from the media caused them to take responsibility (Berens, 2004, p.1).
Thirdly, since the embedded journalists can access the battle scenes, they get more information and faster than those removed from the battle zones. Hannah and Baylor concur with this and argue, “Reporters travelled by aircrafts to and from the battle zones and were free to observe the combat operations” (Hannah, 2007, p.8). With the modern technology then this accessible information can be passed on instantly to other destinations. Fourthly, embedded journalists receive information from different perspectives. Their physical presence allows them to talk to the soldiers, commanders, and talk to the people around the battle filed. Multiple sources of information make interesting stories.
Embedding of journalists has so many disadvantages. First, the contract that journalist’s sign with the military hinder them in their reporting. According to Lehrer, “Before joining their battalions, the embedded journalists had to sign a contract restricting when and what they can report” (Lehrer, 2012, P.1). Embedding is the driving force behind coverage and embedded journalists can only describe military actions in general terms and they are restricted from reporting on future missions. Those who opt to stay outside the embedment are not left free since the government to comply at times harasses them. According to Rajan, “the distinction between patriotism and fair reporting becomes fuzzy in such circumstances” (Rajan, 2005, p.13).
Secondly, embedded journalists work hand in hand with the soldiers and depend on them for protection, food and other social amenities. This closeness may hinder proper scrutiny and reporting of foul actions. Fortner and Fackler argues that, “It become quite difficult for all but the hardest-nosed reporters to be absolutely honest about the soldier who fed them, transported them, and saved their lives from the enemy” (Fortner, Fackler,2011, p.756). This tells us that it is hard for embedded soldiers to avoid biasness in their reporting.
Thirdly, an embedded journalist has huge amounts of information that is not complete per se. This is because interesting news incorporates information from all sides ranging from the military from both sides, viewers on the ground, and the journalists views. They cannot provide news on how the war is affecting civilians, the consequences of the war in which the government is engaged. Kurthen, Alarcon, and Immerfall questions on whether an embedded journalist has enough freedom of movement and access to information to report objectively (Kurthen, Alarcon, Immerfall, 2006, p.179).
Fourthly, embedded journalists work in a very risky atmosphere. The fact that they work with the armed forces and move about with them means that they depend on them for protection when they are in the battlefield. Just like militants themselves, they are not sure of being alive in the next hour leave alone surviving the battle. Thomas as quoted in media depictions of the Vietnam and Iraq wars journal “Reporters stationed at Iraq find that their press badges serve as either a hindrance or a danger as they have been targets of violence in numbers unprecedented by any other war” (Aalai, 2008, P.184). The enemy views embedded journalists as a target and this makes them hard to do their work since out of fear they cannot move about by themselves.
Embedded journalism has its good side and bad sides. The advantages of working with the military as an embedded journalist are that one gets support, protection from the enemy, and enabling transparency between the government and the military. Embedded journalists who are financed by taxpayer’s money are expected to report on the actions of the armed forces and make them accountable for their actions. On the other hand, embedded journalism has so many disadvantages in that the quest of objectivity arises out of the benefits journalists receive from the military. In addition, contracts signed by the embedded journalists cause them to abide to the rules of what to report on or not.
- Aalai, A 2008, Media Depictions of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, ProQuest, USA.
- Berens, C 2004, Embedded Journalism: The Good and the bad, Viewed 2 May 2012, <https://journalism.unl.edu/cojmc/alumni/jnews/0304_winter/komarow.shtml>
- Fortner, R & Fackler, M 2011, The Handbook of Global Communication and Media Ethics John Wiley & Sons, USA.
- Hannah, J 2007, A Portrait of War: Case Studies of the Operation Iraqi Freedom Media Embed Program, ProQuest information and learning Company, USA
- Kurthen, H, Alarcon, A, Immerfall, S 2006, Safeguarding German-American Relations in the New Century: Understanding and Accepting Mutual Differences, Lexington Books, Germany.
- Lehrer, J 2012, Pros, and Cons of Embedded Journalism, Viewed 2 May 2012, <https://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/jan-june03/embed_3-27.html>
- Rajan, N 2005, Practising Journalism: Values, Constraints, Implications, Sage, India.
- Tuosto, K 2008, The “Grunt Truth” of Embedded Journalism: The New Media/Military Relationship, Viewed 2 May 2012, <https://www.stanford.edu/group/sjir/pdf/journalism_real_final_v2.pdf>