In Pakistan, war coverage is a booming business
The arrival of hundreds of journalists for CNN, the BBC, and other media prompts a jump in prices, from hotels to cellphones to T-shirts.
In this leafy, glitzy city of mansions and embassies, the carpet merchants and taxi drivers are smiling. For war and crisis have brought journalists by the hundreds, and with them credit cards, expense accounts, and shopping lists for friends and families back home.
On television screens, the outside world sees Pakistan as an impoverished country in deep social turmoil, with daily protests against growing civilian casualties - now estimated at 1,500 according to the ruling Taliban - in neighboring Afghanistan from the four-week-old US-led bombing campaign, and hard-line religious leaders continue to urge young, impressionable followers to take up arms in support of the Taliban.
But another Pakistan exists, too, where anger and violence bring war correspondents, who have generated a sort of mini-economic boom.
The evidence is clear on the roof of the five-star Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. Once the bastion of pigeons and satellite dishes, the wavy concrete rooftop, since Sept. 11, has become home to a few dozen wooden platforms where news presenters from CNN, the BBC, Fox News, and others report before a gorgeous backdrop of the wooded Margalla hills or Pakistani government buildings.
The backdrop comes with a hefty price tag: $500 a day for a four-square-yard wooden platform. (Tent and armed guard not included.)
Downstairs in the hotel itself, room rates have gone up three times since Sept. 11, from about $135 per day on Sept. 12 up to $275 today. Some news organizations have moved out, renting lavish homes instead, but CNN still occupies most of the fourth floor at a cost of close to $15,000 per day.
"It's not like we're going to stop covering this story because we've blown our budget," confides a producer for a Western TV news network. "If you're going to cover this story, you have to have a lot of people here, and you have to be on all the time. It's outrageous, but it's the cost of doing business here."
For journalists, the wartime surge has increased costs in other ways as well.