Tuesday 22 January 2008

Arnim Stauth on war reporting

Yesterday at the War Studies department at King's I listened to Arnim Stauth talking about his career as a war reporter. At the moment he's doing some work for CNN, but most of his reporting has been done for ARD/WDR in Germany. He was the first journalist to report the Taliban uprising at Qala-i-Jangi in November 2001 and followed the British into Southern Iraq in 2003 operating around a mile behind the front line. Here are a few things that caught my attention:

  • He said journalism has "a mission in a democratic society" It is based on values and these values are violated in war by both sides in a conflict. We need to give people the information they need so they can act as responsible citizens.
  • Sometimes as a reporter you have to decide whether you want to go for the human interest story or a piece providing context and analysis. Stauth suggests that as a reporter you should go for the former and leave the newsreader back home to provide the rest.
  • Stauth's clearly a meticulous researcher, and his journalism benefitted from simply having more knowledge about a subject than the people around him - both other journalists and military press officers. He took a Geiger counter with him to Iraq to demonstrate the dangerous levels of radioactivity present after the use of depleted uranium shells by Coalition forces - a story based on simple, but effective, research prior to the conflict.
  • He prefers slower editing to the short, sharp edits that characterise American news reports. "Often the tragedy of war happens on one face", he says, and if that face makes compelling viewing why cut away too quickly?
  • He was critical of 'under-fire' piece-to-cameras suggesting they were irresponsible and that the German public do not appreciate the bravado. Compare this approach with BBC journalist, Jeremy Bowen, who observed in a documentary that if you do enough 'under-fire' pieces you won awards. But Stauth's caution hardly made him immune from danger. He found himself 50 yards from the Taliban uprising at Qala-i-Jangi and wondered whether he would have to shoot at the Taliban to defend himself before fleeing the fortress.


Anonymous said...

I recently saw an old 2001 documentary in which Mr. Arnim Stauth put in an appearance. This documentary was made during the Taliban's Qala Jangi uprising. I noticed that Mr. Stauth mentions a wish to talk with the "demonized" Taliban.

He is obviously no friend to America. I'm sure he has never seen the Taliban in action as they beat women with thick rods for the crime of wearing their sleeves too short. That is just one of their brutalities.

When he takes his little geiger counter around looking for evidence of non-existent DU, I'm sure he walks to the left. The far left actually.

Isn't objectivity required if one is going to mediate something? Especially when that something is war?

Radical, far left nonsense has crept into the world media causing them to put their honor away and place their ideologies out front for all to see.

I thought the evil of the Taliban/al Qaeda was right out of central casting for all to see. How wrong I was.

Mr. Stauth and his media cohorts refuse to see. They don't even look for it. Even worse, they seek to draw a veil over the eyes of the public as they attempt to propagate their own beliefs.

One can't help but wonder why when all we ask is objectivity.

Daniel Bennett said...


Thanks for your comment. I've seen the documentary you mention too.

(Just as an aside: If Mr Stauth were a friend of America, would that make him more objective?)

I think most people see that some sections of Al Qaeda and the Taliban are pretty evil. I can't speak for Mr Stauth but I'm sure he wouldn't condone the treatment of women by the Taliban regime, or attacks carried about by Al Qaeda.

On the other hand I think it might be important to recognise that both the Taliban and Al Qaeda are complicated groups of people rather than 'demonizing' them.

A colleague here at King's is doing a PhD on Al Qaeda. He talks about three levels of Al Qaeda - a central core, 'signed up' affiliates and then an outer group who occasionally work with them.

Similarly, the Taliban is not simply one group of people all with the same goals and aims.

If there is going to be a strategy to end terrorism then I suggest that working out who the real enemies are is far better than creating new ones by killing indiscriminately.

This certainly seems to be Petraeus's take on the situation, who like Mr Stauth also seems to see some value in talking to insurgents:

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