The protection of journalists and news media personnel in armed conflict
31-03-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 853, by Alexandre Balguy-Gallois
With journalists covering "wars" finding themselves confronted with ever more complicated, delicate and dangerous working conditions, it is important to recall their special protection under international humanitarian law. In this article, the author looks at the protection regime offered by IHL to journalists and the media in the context of armed conflicts, both under the general regime of civilians and civilian objects, as under the specific provisions concerning journalists.
The recent war in Iraq is a perfect illustration of the growing risks faced by journalists working in conflict zones. It is therefore important to call renewed attention to the fact that attacks against journalists and media equipment are illegal under international humanitarian law, which protects civilian persons and objects, as long as they are not making an effective contribution to military action. The media cannot be considered a legitimate target, even if they are being used for propaganda purposes, unless they are being exploited to instigate grave breaches of humanitarian law. Journalists and media personnel also benefit from precautionary measures – not confined to them alone – such as the principle of proportionality and the obligation to give advance warning. There is nonetheless an evident need for the adoption of a new instrument, on the one hand to reaffirm those elements of humanitarian law that apply to journalists and media personnel, and thus to re-establish the authority of certain basic rules that are all too often flouted, and, on the other hand, to improve existing law and adapt it to the requirements of today, for instance the phenomenon of “embedded” journalists. Such is the goal of the “Declaration on the safety of journalists and media personnel in situations involving armed conflict”, drawn up in 2003 by Reporters without Borders.