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[] NYT 9.10.01: Afghanistan Is Pushing TV To The Sounds Radio Used,
New York Times
October 9, 2001

The Media

Afghanistan Is Pushing TV To The Sounds Radio Used

By Jim Rutenberg and Bill Carter

For all of television's technological advances, its video phones and high- speed satellite hookups, its coverage of the first two days of strikes against Afghanistan has provided so few pictures that television news executives compared their reports to radio dispatches.

In fact, some even said radio reporters in World War II were better off. "Not only is there a lack of pictures, we don't even have people to describe things there are no Edward R. Murrows anywhere," said Paul Friedman, the executive vice president of ABC News.

During the day yesterday, there were no clear pictures of the damage inflicted by United States and British strikes inside Afghanistan and very little reaction, if any, from the streets of the major Afghan cities. Viewers have at times been shown pictures that are more confusing than they are enlightening.

The problem is twofold. As is common in the opening phases of an offensive, the Pentagon is offering little detail about the missile attacks. And despite weeks of positioning, the networks found Taliban-controlled Afghanistan nearly impossible to penetrate.

"It's very hard to know where things are happening," Mr. Friedman said. "And if you did know, it would be very hard to get people there."

News crews trying to advance into Taliban territory have been hobbled by poor road conditions and sandstorms and, now, by the missile attacks.

At least two networks NBC and CNN have people in Taliban territory. But their reports have been sketchy, and their video phone images are often almost indecipherable.

For a moment yesterday afternoon it seemed as if MSNBC was filling its screen with the hazy night- vision images of explosions. But little explanation accompanied the images, and they could have been nothing more than searchlights flashing in the distance.

CNN at times filled its entire screen with a night vision image of something it was not clear what. The image then faded to nothing but green-hued static accompanied by a "CNN Exclusive" banner.

"There's not a lot of detail in this," the CNN anchor Aaron Brown said glumly at one point yesterday. "And there's not going to be."

Late yesterday afternoon, CNN began showing images that the network said came from an area of Kandahar that had been under attack. But only blurry structures could be seen and any damage could not be deciphered.

Some news executives said they hoped that their reporters stationed with the Northern Alliance rebels would be able to advance closer to the action as they trailed the insurgents.

But that assumes the insurgents would advance. And there are concerns about the safety of crews who get too close.

"I'm not going to send people wth kids in there to die," said Jim Murphy, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News with Dan Rather." "You have no control over people's fates if they cross that border."

The only clear images and there is not much had come from Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language satellite news channel. They have been a bone of contention for the United States networks. CNN said it had an exclusive arrangement with the channel, but the other networks have been tapping into the channel.

CNN has complained but has shied away from enforcing the agreement, apparently to avoid an appearance of pettiness during the crisis.

Though access was largely controlled during the Persian Gulf war, reporters were somehow able to get in position. Bernard Shaw reported on the rumbling bomb blasts from a hotel room in Baghdad.

And during the conflict in Bosnia, Christiane Amanpour of CNN reported extensively near shelling in Sarajevo.

But in yet another reminder of just how different this war is from those other conflicts, Ms. Amanpour yesterday was reporting from a rooftop in Islamabad, Pakistan, far from the action.

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