Kill the messenger?

Last Wednesday, the International Press Institute issued a report saying that 119 journalists have been killed this year, the highest total since it started keeping track in 1997. Government officials are suspected by the Committee to Protect Journalists of being responsible for more than one third of these killings, more than criminal groups or terrorists are. In Gaza, last week, three media representatives were killed by an Israeli missile. Rather then suggesting their deaths have been a mistake, an Israeli Defense Forces spokesmwoman, lt. col. Avital Leibovich, told the Associated Press: ‘The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.’ And what may that exactly mean? The rocket was aimed at a car carrying Mahmud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama who work as cameramen for Al Aqsa TV, which is run by Hamas and whose reporting frequently reflects that affiliation (IHT, NOv. 26th).They were covering events in central Gaza in a vehicle that had TV written on the roof. The car in front of them was occupied by journalists from The New York Times. This car was not hit. So the Al Aqsa people were eliminated in cold blood, just like that. Reporters without Frontiers and Human Rights Watch spoke up in protest, the latter saying in a státement: ‘Civilian broadcasting facilities are not rendered legitimate military targets simply because they broadcast pro-Hamas or anti-Israel propaganda.’ Israeli officials reacted by saying that Hamas uses journalists as ‘human shields’ and that foreign correspondents ‘should stay away from Hamas positions and operatives’ if they don’t want to get killed. It seems that the rules have changed as much as the nature of wars, with its suicide bombers and homemade explosives that make no distinction between targets. In Syria, especially chaotic these days, the very thin line between reporting on the civil war and becoming a victim has led to the death of a more than average amount of reporters.
Being a war correspondent, cameraman, photographer, radio reporter or videographer certainly is a risky job. It needs a lot of experience to know exactly what to do and when. Acknowledging the fact that the media are cutting foreign operations for budget reasons, it is logical that new, young, cheaper and less experienced players arrive in the field. This cannot mean that we leave them to die in exchange for a free flow of information. Unesco has fortunately recognized that more is at stake than dangerous working conditions. It has convened a series of meetings, investigating ways to increase journalists’ safety. The public opinion, especially in the Middle East, Europe and the U.S., should enhance the pressure on irresponsible governments to respect free press even in war zones. Especially in war zones.

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