Reporters on the Job

Anonymous in Basra: The Monitor's policy on anonymous sourcing is to "avoid the use of anonymous sources." It states, in part, that "where such use is unavoidable, the source's point of view - or potential source of bias - should be indicated as fully as possible."

Today's story about Shiite militias creating a climate of fear in Basra, Iraq (page 1), reflects a judgment call that the use of some anonymous sources seemed unavoidable. Correspondent Steven Vincent says that "this was one of the most sensitive stories I have covered in Iraq - and what I have written only skims the surface of the problem. To be blunt, Basrans live in a state of fear. No one who criticizes the religious parties is willing to allow their real names in print. I've edited quotes in some cases to further disguise the identity of the speaker."

In accordance with Monitor policy, Steven did identify the individuals to his editors.

The Iraqis Steven interviewed said that the climate of fear is worse than under Saddam Hussein. He was told that, "when Saddam killed people, he did it in secret, for a reason. Now, the Shiite militias kill in the open, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

"Everyone here says that they know the identity of the thugs who enforce Basra's new theocracy, just as everyone knows - or thinks they know - who is behind the assassinations," says Steven. "It is a topic on everyone's lips, discussed all over the city. The problem is making the accusation too public - and no one is exactly sure what 'too public' means."

But according to the Iraqis he interviewed, being identified as having spoken to an American journalist is definitely "too public."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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