The violence in Iraq  has made it almost impossible for reporters to work, writes Vincent Graff in The Guardian.  Much more efficiently than the curbs imposed by the former government of Saddam Hussein, the reality on the street has meant reporters hardly dare to venture out of their hotel rooms.  And it has prevented the full story from being told.

Vincent Graff writes in The Guardian:

Every year it is the same at the Royal Television Society’s journalism awards. Before the backslapping can begin, there is a moment of reflection. The hacks stand in silence, while the names of journalists who have been killed over the past year doing their job are projected onto a large screen. Every year the same? Not this time. At last month’s ceremony, the names just kept on coming. It felt like an age for the 138 names to roll past.

A report this month from the International News Safety Institute confirmed that the death toll in 2006 was the worst on record. And no one will have been surprised to learn the name of the country with the grimmest news for journalists.

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. During those years, the landscape for reporters on the ground has changed beyond recognition. You may recall the phrase that was tacked on to the end of every TV correspondent’s­ package from Baghdad when Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime was at its most powerful: “This report was compiled under Iraq’s reporting restrictions.” Today, there are, of course, no government­-imposed restrictions (there is not much of a government to speak of). But the limits on what journalists can do, see and say are unimaginably greater than they were in the 1990s.

“It’s so different, it’s like visiting a different country in a different era. There’s not the faintest similarity,” says the BBC’s John Simpson.

“Under Saddam, you were followed around and reported on — and you knew that — but you could walk anywhere at any time of night. Now, the danger of kidnap, a bullet or a roadside bomb so restricts the ability­ to find out what’s happening that you’ve got to wonder sometimes if it’s worth it.” There was a brief moment, in the aftermath of Saddam’s fall, when, in Simpson’s words, “I thought it was going to be Paris in 1944.”

Tim Marshall, foreign affairs editor of Sky News, recalls: “When the statue came down, I was in Iraq, driving up from the south. For the first time in 20 years you could move around, do what you want, speak to who you want. It was so amazing not to have one of Saddam’s goons accompanying you everywhere.”

Martin Fletcher of the London Times recalls evenings out at restaurants and parties in the palatial, marble­-floored “mini-palace” that served as his paper’s Baghdad bureau.

But the writing was already on the wall. Within a few days of Saddam’s ousting, a man was shot. “We thought very little of it at the time — just one of those things,” says Marshall. “Nobody realised then that they had planned for an insurgency all along. They’d got everything ready for this moment.”

Marshall is back in Baghdad. A few days ago, he went out there to put together packages for a special “Iraq week” that runs until Friday. There are no marble floors in Sky’s makeshift bureau. He and his team are based in a former family home surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. At the end of the street is a government checkpoint. Outside the front door stands an armed guard. Behind it, a vicious dog.

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