'Reporters Hold Back' Says IFJ After Three Journalists Die in Afghanistan Ambush

The world's largest journalists' group the International Federation of Journalists today called on journalists and media organisations to pull back from unsafe front-line reporting of the Afghanistan war after three reporters were killed in an ambush on Sunday.

"Journalists must not go into areas that have not been secured," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, "these colleagues apparently died following a lead from a Northern Alliance commander who said he was leading them into an area the Taliban had surrendered. In fact it was a trap."

The IFJ says that it would be reckless to follow in the wake of a fighting force that cannot provide basic security. Two French journalists, Johanne Sutton of Radio France Internationale and Pierre Billaud, working for the Luxembourg-based RTL network and a German colleague, Volker Handloik, reporting for the magazine Stern, were among a group of six journalists travelling on the roof of an armoured personnel carrier that was fired upon close to the front-line in north-eastern Afghanistan. The three were apparently dislodged from the personnel carrier and shot by Taliban forces while the others escaped.

According to Australian correspondent Paul McGeough, one of the survivors, they had been invited by an Alliance Commander to visit a trench recently surrendered by the Taliban. "When we got there, they had not surrendered," he said.

The IFJ sent a message of condolence to the families of the victims and called for media organisations to act quickly to minimise the risks to their reporters. The IFJ itself is urgently engaged in putting together an emergency series of risk-awareness briefings in Pakistan for journalists covering the war.

"These journalists died tragically trying to cover a story that all the world wants to know about, but they should not have been put at such risk," said Aidan White. "When the story is moving fast journalists have to follow, but they must do so at a safe distance. It is clear they cannot rely on the assurances of commanders in the field."

The IFJ has again called on all media to follow the international codes of safety for journalists and media staff adopted by major news groups. "No story is worth a life," said the IFJ, "Journalists and media organisations must make sure that safety is the first concern, particularly in this uncontrolled and ill-disciplined form of warfare."