NEW YORK (AP) – Concerned about the safety of their personnel, five American television networks have taken the unusual step of pooling resources to cover fighting in Iraq.

ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News Channel have agreed to share the reports of a single camera crew embedded with the U.S. military in Fallujah, the city that’s been at the center of Iraqi violence since four American contractors were killed March 31.

Illustrating the danger, a CNN assignment editor in the pool, Tomas Etzler, was slightly wounded in the head and back during an attack Monday, said Eason Jordan, CNN’s chief news executive.

“There’s no police force to speak of, civilians are engaged in military efforts, it’s a very unstable situation,” said Bill Wheatley, NBC News vice president. “There’s not much law and order.”

The five networks, which employ three normally competitive security firms, are also sharing information on safety threats in the region, Jordan said.

“It’s fair to say that there’s been an unprecedented level of cooperation and preparation among news organizations, especially TV news organizations, regarding safety precautions in Iraq,” he said.

The pool in Fallujah is currently made up of personnel from different organizations. The networks are also supplementing coverage with material from news services like Associated Press Television News, which has been providing independent pictures from Fallujah.

The networks are also sharing use of a satellite dish to minimize travel along the dangerous road from Baghdad to Fallujah.

Networks are usually loathe to share resources and information but do so occasionally in unusual circumstances, such as the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I really don’t feel the competitive edge in Iraq,” said Paul Slavin, ABC News senior vice president. “First and foremost, I feel the need for our people to be safe and to get the material we need to inform the American public. If the competitive instinct drops to third, then so be it.”

CNN has reduced its personnel in Iraq since two of its personnel were shot and killed outside Baghdad in January. But the network still has three crews there.

The networks are reluctant to specifically discuss security precautions or threats to their personnel. Three journalists for Czech Television were reported missing in Iraq on Monday, and at least two of them are believed to be kidnapped.

Fox News Channel’s participation in the Fallujah pool was briefly threatened after Oliver North, working as a correspondent in Iraq, traveled with the U.S. military to Fallujah and reported from there just for Fox over the weekend.

After a conference call Monday, the networks agreed that any future material gathered by North in Fallujah would be available to all five, according to executives at two networks who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Fox News spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.

AP-ES-04-12-04 1716EDT


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