These two articles from CNN International Networks boss Chris Kramer raise some excellent points about the hijacking of the internet and the need for more trauma-counselling for journalists across the world.

The issue of traumatic stress in the ranks of the media is a controversial one. Only in the past year have organizations such as the BBC, CNN, the Freedom Forum and the Rory Peck Trust, taken to funding research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among war correspondents and those who work with them. The terrifying carnage in America has now given them thousands more journalists to study-what we could now call the urban war correspondents.

By and large – despite their apparent intellect – members of the media have up to now believed they are immune from what they cover.

They sally forth in their thousands each year to cover hostilities and disturbance, the world over, safe in the belief that they cannot be touched — mentally or physically — by the mayhem around them. Then they return to the safety of their homes and their families and pick up where they left off.

The majority of the media industry is in denial over the existence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as it pertains to them, and has only in recent years accepted the most basic of thinking when it comes to preparedness for what many of them do on a regular basis. I speak from bitter experience or in common parlance, I have a victim’s eye view.

In 1980, I was briefly a hostage in the Iranian embassy in London. I was there to take delivery of a visa to visit Tehran on behalf of the BBC, where a large number of other hostages had been seized by Iranian Revolutionaries inside the US embassy. It was a masterpiece of bad timing as, within minutes of arriving inside the building in Princes Gate in Kensington, it was stormed by six Iraqi-backed terrorists from a disputed border region in Iran.

Before the siege was broken six days later by the Britain’s Special Air Services, the gunmen had killed one hostage and were threatening to murder another each hour before blowing the building up and all of us with it.

On the second day, I faked a heart attack to get out. Back at the BBC my bosses offered me counselling. Another suggested I went out that night and got drunk, got laid and got back to work the following day. I passed on the counselling and chose the latter and now know how wrong I was.

I went through many years of hell, for the most part concealing this from all those around me. I couldn’t travel in planes, in elevators, on escalators. Couldn’t go to restaurants, cinemas or theatres.

My problem was typical. I was afraid to admit I had lost my nerve. Afraid I would lose those juicy assignments.

These days I am much wiser and better understand that journalists cannot be immune from the stories they cover. That the flak jackets they wear and the armoured vehicles they may travel in are not effective protection against mental and emotional stress.

At the BBC in the early 90s managers introduced confidential counselling for staff and training for managers to spot the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was – and still is – very controversial. Now organizations such as CNN have similar schemes in place.

But frequently BBC and CNN bosses are told by their staff that “real” men or women don’t need the counselling. Many reject the “victim” belief and continue to deal with their pain in more conventional ways, sometimes through drink or drugs.

It has taken the media industry far too long to realize that it is perfectly natural for journalists – like other folk – to feel the effects of trauma. There is nothing particular about the work that they do that keeps them immune from what they experience and to deny it and think otherwise is unnatural at best and dangerous at worst.

I find it most curious that in the United States of all places ,where they invented the notion of grief counsellors, most people in the media haven’t until fairly recently given it a moment’s thought. Virtually no acknowledgement at all within most of the industry that PTSD even exists among their ranks. Even though counselling for the armed forces, and police and fire personnel is routine and has been for years.

The media needs to wake up to PTSD as worthy of debate . And an open-minded acceptance that members of the profession are more than likely to be affected by the stories and conflicts they cover.

Media bosses need to recognize that and take steps to provide voluntary – and confidential – counselling for staff at every level. Last month’s grotesque attack on urban America, and the obvious effects on our staff, should have brought it to our attention again.

* CHRIS CRAMER IS PRESIDENT OF CNN INTERNATIONAL NETWORKS AND CHAIRMAN OF NEWSCOVERAGE UNLIMITED,A NEW CHARITY SET UP TO HELP MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA DEAL WITH THE LINGERING EFFECTS OF WITNESSING HORRIFIC TRAUMA. NEWSCOVERAGE UNLIMITED CAN BE CONTACTED AT [email protected]

THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES EXTRACTS FROM “SHARING THE FRONT LINE AND THE BACK HILLS”,PUBLISHED THIS MONTH BY BAYWOOD PUBLISHING INC OF AMITYVILLE, NEW YORK,OR VIA E-MAIL AT [email protected]

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HIJACKING THE INTERNET

As America and its allies prepare for their war against terrorism another dangerous conflict is well under way. It is the war of the internet and it has become a war of hatred, misinformation and cynicism.

Within hours of the terrorist hijacking and attack on Washington and New York on September 11th, another and extremely worrying kind of hijacking was taking place of the Internet and e-mail.

Respected news organisations like CNN and Reuters have become the target of this conflict which, in this case, had its roots at a university in Brazil. And it could be the most serious example yet of how unscrupulous people swiftly use email for their own cynical purposes. In CNN’s case, following the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks we, in common with many other broadcasters around the world, showed a brief sequence of some Palestinians in East Jerusalem, including children, celebrating the tragedy. It was shocking video – provided by the Reuters Television agency – and was obviously used to depict one of the grimmer sides of international reaction.

What appears to be a simple, but naive, chat-room posting by a student from Sao Paulo’s Unicamp (Universidade Estadual de Campinas) which made serious allegations about the authenticity of the images, turned into a full scale attempt to blacken our reputation

Shocking as the hijacking of his comments by others with more sinister agendas what galls is the almost total disregard for normal journalistic standards by groups who claim to be the ‘alternative media’ which posted it without properly checking with CNN or Reuters.

One such web site Indymedia.org which states, ‘ Indymedia is a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth’, posted the following in its chat room copy on 12th September, just one day after the attacks.

“CNN using 1991 footage of celebrating Palestinians to manipulate you. Dated 10.32pm Wednesday September 12th.

All around the world we are subjected to 3 or 4 huge news distributors, and one of them – as you well know is CNN. …I guess all of you have been seeing (just as I’ve been) images from this company. In particular, one set of images called my “attention: the Palestinians celebrating the bombing, out on the streets, eating some cake and making funny faces for the camera.

Well, THOSE IMAGES WERE SHOT BACK IN 1991! Those are images of the Palestinians celebrating the invasion of Kuwait! It’s simply unacceptable that a super power of communications as CNN uses images which do not correspond to the realty in talking about so serious an issue.

A teacher of mine, here in Brazil, has videotapes recorded in 1991, with the very same images; he’s been sending emails to CNN, Globo (the major TV network in Brazil) and newspapers, denouncing what I myself classify as a crime against the public opinion. If anyone of you has access to this kind of files, search for it. In the meanwhile, I’ll try to ‘put my hands’ on a copy of this tape.”

‘A crime against public opinion’ strong words, and given credence when posted and circulated without any validation. It does not take much imagination to realise the potential damage, anger and danger false and baseless rumours can cause

Fiction had become fact, and CNN was flooded with calls from viewers and journalists all of which were receiving an e- mail which contained these false allegations. CNN quickly launched its own very brief internal inquiry, and within a short time determined the veracity of the video. In its statement dated September 14th it described the allegations as “baseless and ridiculous”.

Reuters followed up with their own official denial on September 20th:

“Reuters rejects this as utterly baseless. The videotape in question was shot by a Reuters camera crew on September 11th in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the United Sates.”

Reuters also welcomed a detailed statement from UNICAMP saying that the student in question had described what his tutor told him to an Internet chatroom. Then, after establishing it was untrue, withdrew the allegation. The student told UNICAMP that he believed his domain had been attacked by a hacker and several, distorted e-mails had been sent on his behalf.

As the flood of calls to CNN started to subside, it suddenly flared again with a new and equally sinister twist. A senior BBC official was purported to have supported the allegation – though when contacted by CNN he denied it and said his name, address and e-mail had been hijacked by unknown persons.

The tragedy in America has been the signal for other, baseless allegations to be made against the media with the Internet as the weapon. Fictitious CNN websites have appeared in the past week together with other allegations, disseminated via e-mail in South Africa, that CNN had allegedly reported that the attacks had been planned in South Africa.

E-mail attacks on broadcasters by lobby groups and those with special interests have become the norm in recent years. Many media executives routinely change their e-mail addresses to avoid the daily onslaught of spam attacks.

But this was different; this was a concerted attempt to distort the news not just lobby against certain aspects of it. Cyber-terrorism like urban terrorism is now an everyday occurrence, and it is equally as difficult to defend against it.

Bitter irony when you consider that some of the earliest embracing of the Internet was by the US military to contain civil unrest in the event of a catastrophic war.

Peter Fray

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